Mindfulness has no scientific evidence and does have risks Photo: Omnes

Mindfulness and the Catholic Faith: Psychologists’ Research and Experts’ Testimonies Warn Against the Practice

A method with a marketing orchestration that intervenes in the psycho-spiritual sphere, in the order of beliefs, in people’s psyche, which is of clear Buddhist root, able to attract followers also in some Universities, to permeate the academic arena.

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Luis Santamaría del Río

(ZENIT News – Porta Luz / Madrid, 02.01.2024).- Over the last decade people and entities –linked in the main to Buddhism or who validate it — have been advertising in the West so-called “Mindfulness,” succeeding in making it fashionable. The term stands for a technique of meditation with roots in Buddhism, — specifically in Vipassana meditation — which American biomedical Jon Kabat-Zinn  (b. 1944) and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022), among other authors, have popularized in the West, and in which one focuses on being intensely aware of what one is sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Some of its followers affirm that they were stripped of their spirituality, to be able to use it without a link to Buddhism, although many professionals and studies warn against the practice of Mindfulness.

In the Spanish digital newspaper “Redacción Médica,” Miguel Angel Santed, Vice-Rector and outstanding academic of the Spanish UNED’s School of Psychology, who knows and has studied this advertized “training of the mind,” whose roots are in Buddhism, revealed some truths that alert to prudence. Mindfulness has no scientific evidence and does have risks, says this distinguished Spanish psychologist, in a report published in Portaluz in 2017 (click to read). Moreover, an interesting scientific study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, warned about the bad effects on the psyche of some individuals who are followers of this practice, as referred to in the report Study of European Psychologists Reveals a Close Link between the Practice of Mindfulness and “Spiritual Narcissism, also published in Portaluz. No less important is the explicit red card raised by Father Javier Luzon, Doctor in Theology, Bachelor in Philosophy, priest and exorcist, who pointed out in Portaluz that with Mindfulness “you authorize demons to take charge of your personality.”

However, its advertising boom has continued and the numbers leave no room for doubts. Already in 2017, a statistical study revealed that the percentage of Americans who practiced mindfulness tripled in a few years, from being 4.1% of the population in 2012 to 14.2% in 2017. The realms of its use are the most variegated: from schools to companies, passing through psychological therapies and medical treatments and a long etcetera. It has also been introduced in some Catholic realms. And here, the question arises: is the practice of mindfulness compatible with the Christian faith?

When Cardinal Ratzinger Alerted about Oriental Meditation

Although mindfulness has become more fashionable recently, the fact is that the spread of Oriental meditation techniques has a long history in the West. Much earlier than the popularization of mindfulness, was the boom of yoga (which has been imposed worldwide) and of other techniques, such as Zen, transcendental meditation, etc. Hence, in 1989 the Church reacted at the highest level, with a document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with the explicit approval of John Paul II: the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church about Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, also known as Orationis Formas.

This Letter responded to the “interest that has arisen in these years in different forms of meditation linked to some Oriental religions and their peculiar ways of prayer,” looking for “the value that non-Christian forms of meditation might have for Christians . . . especially . . .

Oriental methods,” from Hinduism and Buddhism primarily. Starting from the fact that, as Vatican Council II pointed out, “the Catholic Church does not reject anything that is holy and true in these religions” (Nostra Aetate, 2).

Some Very Specific Clues

According to the document, however, what has been experienced in the last decades in different ecclesial realms is a powerful attempt, not exempt from risks and errors, to mix Christian with non-Christian meditation.” In this connection, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pointed out that the techniques “of harmonization between Christian meditation and Oriental techniques must be continually examined with a careful discernment of contents and methods, to avoid falling into a pernicious syncretism.”

Syncretism is the danger, namely, that Christian elements be mixed in an illegitimate way with others incompatibles with the faith, because proceeding from totally foreign  cosmo-visions to the way that Christianity has to see the world, understand man and, especially, of believing in God and relating to Him. Hence Orationis Formas insists on explaining well the meaning of Christian payer, which consists in “a personal, intimate and profound dialogue between man and God” and “is always authentically personal, individual and at the same time community prayer,” it clarifies.

In Christianity — continues Orationis –, meditation does not have the objective that the person empty himself without further ado, but that he seek “an emptiness susceptible to be filled with divine richness.” The leading role always belongs to the Lord and, therefore, the techniques are not what is important: “genuine Christian mysticism has nothing to do with technique: it is  always a gift of God, of which the one who receives it feels unworthy,” highlights the Bishops’ document.

The Complaint of an Irish Bishop

In October of 2019, Alphonsus Cullinan, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Ireland, wrote a letter to the schools of his diocese, warning about the inappropriate practice of yoga in the schools as it is “not of Christian origin.” In the letter, he also referred to mindfulness, clarifying in the first place that something similar was practiced in the Christian tradition from the beginning.

“However, full Christian attention does not consist in emptying the mind, but in a meditation based on Christ, emptying the mind of all that is unnecessary so that we are conscious of Christ’s presence and love,” he said. And he referred to a well-known homily of Pope Francis pronounced in 2015, in which he pointed out that “one can do a “thousand courses of yoga, Zen and all those things. But all that will never be able to give you the freedom of a son.”

 To conclude his letter, Monsignor Cullinan asked the Directors and teachers of the Catholic schools that, in the centers in which they carry out their work, they encourage the students to “pray the Rosary and help them spend time with Jesus Christ “in adoration or tranquil meditation “ in the classroom.

Jesus Doesn’t Need Buddha

However, not only Church Pastors have warned believers about the risks of mindfulness. Other well-known Catholic authors have referred to the subject in their writings. In his book “Spiritual Welfare and the Discernment of Spirits,” Dan Burke, President of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, reviews the rules of Saint Ignatius of Loyola about spiritual discernment, and points out that mindfulness is one of the most recent challenges to the Church’s spirituality.

Without doubting for a moment, Burke says mindfulness is an infiltration of Buddhism, whose popularity among Catholics is based on the conviction that “Jesus really had defects that only Buddha can resolve. Therefore, we must look for answers outside the Church.” And he adds: “unfortunately, mindfulness will have a long life in the Church because it’s lucrative for those that sell it, interesting for those that buy it, and because people are desperate to find answers.”

Hence Burke insists on “warning the desperate reader that only because something is new and popular does it have a Catholic label, and the fact that you can’t find something bad in it, doesn’t mean that it’s not a ‘poisoned well.’ The Good News is that Jesus promised us peace, and He has not been lacking in His promise. He doesn’t need Buddha to help you find peace.”

It’s Not Compatible with Christian Prayer

However, undoubtedly, the most exhaustive and profound study made to date on mindfulness, from the Catholic point of view, is the book “A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness,” written by journalist Susan Brinkmann who, moreover, belongs to the lay Carmel.

Shortly after publishing her book, Brinkmann was interviewed by “The Catholic World Report” magazine in which she made clear what mindfulness is: a technique elaborated by “psychologists who have adapted an ancient Buddhist meditation technique as a means to help people suffering from different mental health problems. Because, in fact, “mindfulness stems from the Buddhist tradition and is the seventh step of the Noble Eightfold Path, which Buddhists believe is a process that leads to awaken to the true nature of the I.”

The author points out that, although “many psychologists that use the program insist that it’s not spiritual and that it can be separated from its Buddhist roots,” the reality is the contrary, given that to achieve full attention “Buddhis techniques of meditation are required,” so that — just as she reveals in her book with concrete stories — “to adopt the practice of the mindfulness  meditation can lead one away from the faith.”

 Because one thing is clear — and repeated here is what is taught in the document Orationis Formas — : there are many “Christians that incorporate aspects of mindfulness in their life of prayer, without realizing that Oriental meditation is not compatible with Christian prayer. Oriental meditation is a mental exercise designed to cause an “altered state” in order to attain enlightenment. In the West, meditation means prayer, whose objective is to bring us closer to God.”

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