By Amelia Bacic-Tulevski
Are Christians permitted to practice meditation and yoga? Does karma mean "what goes around comes around?" Is reiki a legitimate therapeutic technique with promising results? In scrupulous detail, Amelia exposes the spiritually fatal nature of these and other elements of Far Eastern spirituality.Contemporary American life is riddled by suggestions of how to become “spiritual” without having to be Christian. One yoga studio at a time, the ancient religions of the Far East, as well as New Age interpretations of the same, are slithering their way into Western life and converting the hearts of Christians of all denominations.
For some, the appeal is religious. Meditation and yoga promise to put man in touch with his so called highest nature. Seekers who yearn for a more “enlightened” state of being find the mantras, riddles, parables, and sayings of the Far East mesmerizing. They are intrigued by the idea of a perpetual cycle of reincarnation; they are even more intrigued by the idea of being liberated from its chokehold. They are dazzled by notions of supernatural powers—the idea that “masters” can summon and harness energy in order to heal diseases and transform the course of one’s life. To the atheist or Christian whose faith is weak, the enticement of these religious practices and philosophies can be tremendous.
Of course, not everyone who embraces the ways of the Far East is interested in their religious implications. Some may hold their own convictions, while others may shun the idea of faith altogether. For these people, the appeal of the Eastern religions is supposedly not religious at all. They only intend to tap the bounty of health benefits that they have come to believe these Eastern practices offer. The American Psychological Association heralds meditation as a means of reducing stress and altering one’s overall perspective on life.1 Many mental health practitioners incorporate other Buddhist-inspired techniques into their therapies, as well, and draw upon its philosophical teachings.2,3 Medical research has found the practice of yoga to be beneficial in alleviating heart and lung diseases, as well as improving musculoskeletal and mental health.4 Even though evidence-based medicine claims to shy away from everything unscientific, the National Institute of Health initially saw enough promise in reiki, a Japanese “energy therapy,” that it funded substantial research toward assessing its therapeutic potential.5 For reasons such as these, people who have no interest in the spiritual aspects of the Far Eastern religions are still eager to accommodate their practices and teachings. Even if it means abandoning important aspects of their own faith, sadly, it is a price that they are willing to pay.
From the Orthodox perspective, this trend of incorporating aspects of non-Christian spirituality into Christian life is a dangerous one. It is dangerous to assume that one can superimpose one’s faith in Christ onto a set of Buddhist, Hindu, or other spiritually-based practices and still remain authentically Christian. It is dangerous to assume that these practices and teachings can be stripped of their religious properties and be utilized as mere exercises and motivational or inspirational thoughts. Most dangerous of all is to assume that the Christian and non-Christian paths are alternate routes that aim toward a common, ultimate goal, or that they are only alternate descriptions of what is essentially the same path. In reality, they are distinctly separate roads heading in precisely opposite directions: One path leads toward Christ, the other away from Him; one toward theosis and salvation, the other toward detachment and living for the moment. Man cannot be both Christian and existential at the same time.
Archimandrite Sophrony explains:
Indeed, Christians must seek, look within, contemplate, be aware, and be transformed; these are not just Eastern ideals. Whether these efforts can lead a person toward better health or any understanding of truth, however, depends on their foundation and their focus. If Christ is not both the foundation and the focus of everything that a Christian seeks, what, then, is he seeking? What is more important or necessary to him than salvation? What does he truly need that God will not provide him through faith, the Holy Mysteries, prayer, fasting, and good works? What problem, at its root, has the holy Orthodox Church not encountered and offered resolution to again and again throughout the centuries?
To the person who is truly secure in his Orthodoxy, these questions do not have answers; the Lord provides all that is necessary, and the Church is the only resource truly equipped to provide access to His help. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.7 To the person who is tempted to look elsewhere, however—and particularly to the teachings of non-Christian religions, it is important to understand the risks inherent in doing so. By examining the physiological and spiritual effects of several aspects of Eastern religious practices and teachings, the present paper is meant to clarify some of those risks.
Religion that Feels Good: The Appeal of Eastern Spiritual Practices.
“Eastern religions” is a catchall term encompassing a vast array of belief systems. Some, including Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism, Shinto, and Confucianism, are theistic (mostly polytheistic). Others, like Buddhism and Jainism, are atheistic. While the various Eastern religions may differ in their definitions of holiness and their ideas on how to achieve it, their spiritual practices are quite similar. Two such practices that have become commonplace in the United States are meditation and yoga.
One of the likely reasons for the widespread popularity of these Eastern exercises is the pleasurable impact that they can have on the body. When a person engages in the prescribed breathing techniques, the postures, the repetition of mantras, the guided imagery, and the perceived ability to descend into the inner depths of oneself, the body responds in a remarkable way: It enters a state of lowered blood pressure,8 slowed breathing,9 decreased metabolism,10 and a diminished galvanic skin response,11 just to name a few of the changes. One's consciousness, however, remains very much awake during the process.12 The resulting feeling is one of deep relaxation, reduced stress, an intense presence “in the moment,” and is often euphoric. As one individual who meditates has written: “I myself believe that within us are locked up torrents and torrents of joy that can be released by meditation—sometimes they will burst through with incredible force, flooding the personality with an extraordinary happiness that comes from one knows not where.”13
The reason that the body feels so at rest during and after the use of these techniques is because its functioning has been shut down, more or less, to only a minimal level of operation, one whose brain waves mimic those experienced during sleep. The heart is still pumping blood, but less so. The lungs are still oxygenating the blood, but at a slower rate. The blood is still traveling to the various body tissues, but its chemical composition is substantially different. In other words, the body still works, but it works differently, in a way that feels quite good.
Unfortunately, one of the consequences of experiencing such euphoria is that it leaves the mind in a dramatically impressionable state, permeable to all kinds of messages. Research shows that meditation and similar relaxation-inducing techniques leave a person highly subject to suggestion14 and susceptible to hypnotic induction.15 During this phase of heightened suggestibility, the soul can be steered any which way, including away from Christ. To be sure, this is one of the very purposes of such techniques.
Yoga and Meditation: Spiritual Transformation in the Wrong Direction.
It can be argued that the goal of any religion, Christian or otherwise, is spiritual transformation. In Christian Orthodoxy, the ultimate goal of transforming oneself is to attain theosis, or union with God. The faithful Orthodox strives to overcome his fallen nature and to live according to the holy image in which he was created. Through this process of spiritual transformation, the believer prepares himself to share in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity. Spiritual transformation is required in the Eastern religions, too, although the Orthodox Christian would argue that it is a transformation in the wrong direction. Because the physical exercises of the East are intended to be preparatory steps in the spiritual transformation process, they are the signposts and arrows marking the many roads leading away from Christ.
The ultimate goal of the various yoga postures, for example, is to prepare a person for indoctrination according to Hindu teachings. Specifically, the postures are meant to help a person achieve what several of the Indian religions call moksha, a concept that can loosely be described as “letting go.” It involves separating oneself from the “attachments” and “distractions” that supposedly propel the cycle of reincarnation. The Christian devotion to Christ can be considered, in these religions, one such attachment. A belief in salvation, specifically with regard to the bodily resurrection upon the Second Coming, can be considered one such distraction. Yoga is not meant to rid a person merely of stress, worries, or tension—the purposes for which many Westerners are inclined to turn to it. Ultimately, it will rid him of everything the Christian Gospel teaches about resurrection, immortality, and eternity.
Thus, the Christian who practices yoga for exercise or relief from stress faces a heavy spiritual conflict, because its postures clearly are not meant to unite a person with Christ. Some Christians are under the incorrect assumption that an existing relationship with Christ can be strengthened by the practice of yoga, namely by mingling its poses with Christian beliefs and musings. Father Seraphim Rose confirms that this is not, in fact, the case:
Just as yoga postures are inseparable from their Hindu roots, meditation cannot be separated from its roots in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, or Taoism.17 Like Christians who practice yoga, Christians who meditate often claim, incorrectly, that it can bring them closer to Christ. However, the Orthodox understanding is that the very "enlightenment" that meditation brings, the conclusions about reality and the existence of God, are lessons taught almost exclusively by demons18—the exceptions being the teachers leading the meditation sessions, whose “wisdom” is also of the demons. This false sense of wisdom is the result of the mind becoming suggestible enough to believe any message that it encounters. Simply put, if meditating Christians experience visions, they assume that those visions are holy; they believe that they are communing with the Lord and His hosts, yet, in reality, they are conversing with the minions of hell. “And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light.”19
Some proponents of Eastern-style meditation go so far as to say that the Orthodox practice of hesychasm and the concept of contemplative prayer are nothing more than Christian applications of Eastern meditation. However, this conclusion is the result of a sorely mistaken understanding of what asceticism means in Orthodoxy. Father Seraphim continues in rebuttal:
At their cores, Christian prayer and Eastern meditation are diametrically opposed. The former is the vehicle by which a person sustains his relationship with God; the latter is the vehicle by which he begins to believe that he is a god. Meditation is about disconnecting, whereas hesychasm and Christian contemplation are about precisely the opposite. The Christian ascetic never becomes or seeks to become mesmerized or self-absorbed in an absence of thoughts; he seeks stillness, not nothingness. His purpose is to achieve unceasing awareness of and communication with the Lord. The Jesus Prayer is a prayer, not a mantra on which one meditates. If it is not said prayerfully, it will not be helpful. To the contrary, the holy fathers warn that such “prayer” leads only to spiritual delusion.
Other Christians argue that the various meditative techniques can be excised of their indoctrinating components and used simply as tools to aid in the struggle against passions. In reality, such an excision is not possible. Even if it were, any Christian who relied on non-Christian practices to help him purify his life must understand that he will not necessarily have achieved spiritual growth. On the one hand, an absence of sinful deeds does not necessarily make a person holy; neither does the presence of good works. As the Scriptures clearly indicate, good works only “count” if they lead the doer to Christ.21 And on the other hand, Christians are meant to reject sin by conscious choice, not due to the effects of experiencing a trance-like state and being told to “let go” of this or that. Likewise, Christians are meant to embrace virtue because it is holy, not because of feeling compelled to do so by some teaching or vision to which they are exposed after assuming a particular posture. Otherwise, there is no holiness; there is only a mechanistic, cause-and-effect reaction that takes place.
Without a doubt, there is a cause-and-effect reaction that results from Eastern exercises, and it is more than physiological. It is very much a metaphysical or mystical process, but not one that is mediated by the Divine. It is not one of enlightenment or communion with God; it is one of supernatural deception from the underworld, even when the exerciser genuinely intends to draw closer to Christ. Despite the widespread belief that Eastern religious practices can be stripped of their religiosity and used solely as exercises to enhance mental or physical health, they cannot. It is impossible to engage in these exercises without eventually coming into contact with the anti-Christian tenets that underlie them.
“Universal Life Energy” Therapy: Encounters with the Occult.
Just as meditation and yoga have become popular practices in the Christian West, so too has the practice of reiki, a so called universal life energy therapy. Facilities offering reiki services include hospitals, holistic “healing” centers, gyms, and recreation centers. In scenarios like these, reiki is rarely if ever considered a religious practice. Instead, it is considered a non-invasive technique of alternative medicine. This perspective reflects an incorrect comprehension of how reiki is purported to work. In the context of the proper background information, the religious nature of reiki cannot be disputed.
Central to Christian faith is the belief in a Triune God who creates and sustains life. Central to the collective teachings of the Far East, however, is the belief in an energy force (which is different from the Orthodox understanding of God's energy, or grace). Depending on the particular variants of one Eastern religion or another, the energy can be named or unnamed, personal or impersonal, but it is said to be universal and the driving force behind all life. Christians looking to justify their involvement in Eastern practices (reiki or otherwise) sometimes argue that the term “energy” is merely an Eastern metaphor for the same God in whom they believe. Likewise, there are Easterners who argue that the Judeo-Christian belief in God is merely a personified reference to the energy force, and that this personification stands in the way of their true “enlightenment.”22 From the Orthodox perspective, however, neither argument is accurate.
By looking at how the so called universal life energy is thought to operate, according to Eastern teachings in general, the fallacy in attempting to equate it with the Christian God becomes quite clear. In the Eastern religions, the life of any person’s being is thought to be only transitory; it is neither created nor destroyed, but only reincarnated into one body after another. All living (and sometimes nonliving) beings are thought to consist of the same life energy, which is why it is called universal. Although some of the Eastern religions refer to gods, there is no Father figure, no Creator; neither is there a Spirit who intervenes nor a Redeemer who saves. There is only energy, only one essence. In this sense, everything is the same: people, cows, flowers, stones, gods—they all share a common, ever-fluctuating, universal identity.
The Orthodox understanding of God's energy is very much to the contrary. God's energy is what gives each of us life, and it is what enables us to become godlike ourselves, but it does not actually make us God in essence. We are not God; we are created by God. There certainly is a Divine Energy, but it is different from the Far Eastern idea of what energy means.
We Christians understand human life in terms of the soul—a created, permanent, immortal identity that is unique to each person—and the physical body to which the soul is eternally connected. Although the body is temporal in its fallen nature, it will be renewed and resurrected upon Christ’s return; without this belief in the bodily resurrection, in Christ’s empty tomb, Christian faith does not exist.23
If one believes in this type of resurrection, then reincarnation involving multiple bodies and earthly lives per identity is impossible. Without reincarnation, however, what happens to the universal life energy upon one’s physiological expiration? If a created being's energy is the same as the essence of God, as some claim, is He partially destroyed every time a human dies?—every time an animal is slaughtered for meat, a bug accidentally stepped on, a bacterium killed by antibiotics, a blade of grass mowed? Certainly not, but this must necessarily be argued as the case if God's essence is to be equated with an energy responsible for life.
Furthermore, if God’s essence is an energy, and if the energy is universal, then it follows that God’s essence is also universal. This concept, albeit without the mention of God, is the crux of all Eastern beliefs. In fact, it is the very reason for practices such as meditation and yoga; they are meant to enable people to fully recognize and revel in their supposed oneness with the supreme force of energy. To equate this energy in any way with God, then, is to imply that God’s essence is something that people can and do share.
According to Orthodoxy, this is absolutely not true. While humans are created in God’s image and likeness, His essence is still distinct from the essences of those whom He creates (and they are distinct from one another). There are Christians who claim that the Eastern idea of universal energy is no different from the Orthodox concept of theosis, but this, too, is incorrect. Saint Athanasius writes: “God became man so that man could become gods,”24 but the “g” is lowercase. While man is called to become like God, man cannot actually become God. In the process of theosis, man’s essence is not merged with or absorbed into God’s. On the contrary, man is only deified through his prayerful and eucharistic relationship with the True God.25
Consequently, to trust in any “therapy” whose aim is to harness and channel God’s so called energy is unmistakably a blasphemous delusion; yet, this is precisely how reiki is understood to work. During a reiki session, the “master” attempts to summon the universal life energy. He believes that if he can summon it, he can tap its power and apply it toward the abatement of pain and the healing of illnesses. The way he becomes a master is by participating in an initiation ritual, during which another master supposedly transfers power to him through the laying on of hands. Once he has this power himself, he can supposedly use it to transfer healing energy to the suffering, also through the laying on of hands.
If this comprised the extent of a reiki session, perhaps a Christian could dismiss the entire practice of reiki as hokum. However, a Roman Catholic source confirms that the practice of reiki also involves substantial contact with the spirit world.26 Reiki masters, too, admit that interaction with invisible spirits is essential to the “successful” practice of reiki.27,28 It should go without saying that Christians are forbidden from attempting to engage with demons.
Despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, however, there are Christians who believe and profess that reiki is somehow Christian and holy. They tend to argue, naturally, that the universal life energy being summoned is God’s grace. They also tend to equate the reiki masters’ laying on of hands, both in their initiation rituals and during sessions, to that of Christian bishops and priests. They conclude, incorrectly, that reiki has a welcome place within the Church, even though its insidious incompatibility with Christianity ought to be obvious.
Perhaps this is why finding scholarly literature on the subject is next to impossible. Perhaps most Christians recognize reiki to be so inherently evil that it never occurs to them to document it. Unfortunately, aside from a handful of blog posts, a Protestant online ministry or two, or a Roman Catholic magazine article here or there, the only Christians publishing anything about reiki are the ones who promote it, practice it, or pay to have it practiced on them. For the sake of all misguided souls who think that miraculous Christian healing and magical energy-healing are one and the same, may the following paragraph serve to spell out the differences:
By all means, God’s omnipotent grace is not something that can be harnessed or channeled. If it is to be requested, it can only be requested prayerfully and in the name of the All-Holy Trinity. The process of receiving His grace does not cost money, nor can it be mediated by unbelieving people who have participated in satanic initiation rituals. If any assistance seems to result from a session of reiki or the like, it is not the work of the Holy Spirit, of angels, or of saintly intervention; Christians must understand that it is the work of demons.
While there are no clinical studies, to date, that indicate that there are any medical benefits whatsoever associated with reiki, if such benefits are ever found to exist, it is certain that they will not only be short-lived, but also followed by a far worse type of suffering for all involved. The devil, the father of lies, does not truly help anyone. Bargaining with him or calling upon his minions for assistance may seem to prove effective in the short run, but in the long run there can only be hell to pay—figuratively, and perhaps literally as well.
Ultimately, whether the Eastern practice in which a Christian dabbles is meditation, yoga, reiki, or anything else, the result is usually the same: save any instances of Divine intervention, people who wade in non-Christian waters frequently end up drowning in them. After enough sessions of any of these Eastern exercises or techniques, participants tend to find their own beliefs aligning less and less with Christianity; there are countless documentaries on television and stories on the Internet that chronicle such a spiritual journey. It is not uncommon for people to taste the fruits of Eastern religions and then feel “led” or “guided” toward changes in thinking—namely, changes that involve whittling Christ completely out of their faith. Needless to say, this is the handiwork of demons. It is also the beginning of a vicious circle; the farther one strays from the True God, the farther one often feels compelled to stray.
No matter how appealing the Eastern exercises may seem, and no matter how much their underlying religious theories may seem to resonate with one’s own beliefs, Christians must not lose sight of the truth. We are called to be on guard against wolves in sheep’s clothing—against those who threaten our holy faith, whether they are false teachers, false prophets, demons, or the Antichrist himself. We are called to be mentally present and spiritually vigilant at all times. The Scriptures warn: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”30
The greatest problem for Christians is not that there are belief systems in the world that compete with Christian teaching. A far greater problem is that many Christians feel that they have to turn to those competing belief systems for support. Turning anywhere other than to the True Church for spiritual guidance of any kind is a dangerous mistake, one that can be spiritually fatal. In reality, it is the first step toward renouncing one’s Christianity altogether. The ultimate consequences of taking that first step can endure far longer than any earthly problem that one hopes meditation, yoga, or reiki will fix. Indeed, they can last throughout all of eternity.
The Orthodox Church, with her infinitely rich spiritual tradition, her staunch religious conservatism and her profound experience in the art of prayer, fortunately remains closed to any interest in Eastern … practices. This is not to say that she has no need for concern here. The influence of Eastern philosophies on the religious make-up of the West today is both subtle and pervasive. Unless the Orthodox Church ensures that her spiritual treasure is handed down to future generations as a well integrated, well-articulated, vibrant, challenging and relevant tradition, she, too, will risk losing some of her children to Brahma's fatal embrace—from which may God in His mercy preserve us all.
— Father Alexey Young31
An afterword to this article is available. Please click here to read it.
Endnotes and References:
 Murray, B. (2002). Finding the peace within us: Meditation works the same curative power on healers as it does on their patients. APA Monitor, 33, 56.
 Ellis, A. (1991). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. New York: Carol Publishing Group.
 Fromm, E. (2002). The Art of Being. New York: Continuum.
 Chandratreya, S. (2011). Yoga: An evidence-based therapy. Journal of Mid-Life Health, 2, 3-4.
 National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (July 2009). Reiki: An Introduction. Publication No. D315. Bethesda: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
 Sophrony, Archimandrite (1997). His Life Is Mine (R. Edmonds, Trans.). Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press.
 John 14:6.
 Sudsuang, R., Chentanez., V., & Veluvan, K. (1991). Effect of Buddhist meditation on serum cortisol and total protein levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lung volume & reaction time. Physiology Behavior, 50, 543-8.
 Wallace, R. K. (1970). Physiological effects of transcendental meditation. Science, 167, 1751-1754.
 Jevning,, R., Anand, R., Beidebach, M., & Fernando, G. (1996). Effects of regional cerebral blood flow on transcendental meditation. Physiological Behavior, 59, 399-402.
 Orme-Johnson, D. W. (1973). Autonomic stability and transcendental meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 35, 341-349.
 Ornstein, R. E. (1975). The Psychology of Consciousness. New York: Pelican Books.
 Rose, Father Seraphim (1997). Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. Platina, CA: Saint Herman Press.
 Bernheim, H. (1884). Hypnosis and Suggestion. Paris, 15.
 Delmonte, M. M. & Kenny, V. (1987). Conceptual models and functions of meditation in psychotherapy. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 17, 38-59.
 Rose (1997).
 Meditation is an integral component of yoga, but because it is frequently practiced without yoga and apart from Hindu teachings, it is given separate consideration in this discussion.
 See Rose (1997).
 2 Corinthians 11:14, ASV.
 Rose (1997).
 Romans 11:16; Galatians 2:16, 3:24; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:9
 Notice how this Christian argument tolerantly regards the Eastern viewpoint as merely a misnomer for what (incorrectly) appears to be the same type of faith, whereas the Eastern argument considers the Christian to be handicapped by his faith in a “personified energy.”
 1 Corinthians 15:12-22
 Athanasius, Saint (1989). On the Incarnation. Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press.
 Gregory Palamas, Saint (1983). Triads in Defense of Holy Hesychasm (N. Gendle, Trans.). Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
 Spiritual battle for souls. (n.d.) Reiki: Occult Link Is Seen in a ‘Healing’ Method Spreading through Convents, Retreats.. Retrieved August 17, 2011 from http://www.spiritbattleforsouls.org/id27.html.
 Rand, W. L. (n.d.). Solutions to Improve Your Reiki Practice. Retrieved August 17, 2011 from http://www.reiki.org/reikinews/improvepractice.html.
 Reiki Spirits, Guides and Angels Heal Before, During and After Babies’ Delivery, (n.d.). Retrieved August 17, 2011 from http://www.reiki-pregnancy.com/Reiki-Spirits,-Reiki-Guides-and-Angels-Heal-Before,-After-and-During-Child-Birth.html.
 Catholics United for the Faith (n.d.). Reiki. Retrieved August 15, 2011 from http://www.cuf.org/faithfacts/details_view.asp?ffID=200.
 Matthew 24:42.
 Young, Father Alexey (1990). Transcendental meditation. Orthodox America, 10.