Could the Bible really contain teachings similar to Zazen, a type of Buddhist meditation? What if I told you that something akin to Zazen (and many other Eastern style meditations) was at the core of Biblical teachings, in both the Old and New Testament? In this post I will show you why I believe it is.
Google the words “Biblical meditation” and you will find dozens of sites proclaiming that meditation from a Biblical standpoint doesn’t resemble “Eastern” style concepts and techniques. Folks, those statements are heresies. Of course they do! Anyone making this proclamation doesn’t understand the mystical origins of their Bible. They’re speaking from a very superficial reading of the scriptures without any knowledge as to the background and times in which those scriptures were written.
No disrespect to these websites, but we need to expose how silly some of these arguments can be.
The top-ranking website from a Google web search on “Biblical meditation” states,
“Biblical meditation is object oriented. It begins with reflective reading and rereading of the Word and is followed by reflection on what has been read and committed to memory.”
While there are benefits to this practice, it’s certainly not meditation—that’s called studying and memorization.
The same website states, “In Scripture [meditation] does not mean to sit and…empty the mind…Such is dangerous and opens the mind to demonic attack.”
Meditating to realize the self does not open the mind to demonic attack!
The second highest-ranking website under the same search contains this statement:
“…it [Biblical meditation] is not, as many may think, some mystical experience or jumping through hoops to achieve a spiritual nirvana…
Actually, a mystical experience is exactly what it is!
What does Jesus think about meditation?
In Matthew Chapter six we have an obvious reference to numerology, in which Jesus emphasizes an eastern-style concept of meditation five times. The number five represents the senses (I wrote a similar article about David choosing 5 stones to slay Goliath HERE). In those five instances (Matt. 6:25, 6:27, 6:28, 6:31, 6:34), Jesus suggests deep meditation by denying thought: “Take no thought…” he states, and, “Which of you by taking thought can…”
If we were to take this section of Matthew literally, we would have to believe that Jesus is telling us to live day-to-day without planning for our future. That would be ridiculous! Esoterically, Jesus is teaching a particular state of consciousness during deep meditation outside of where one comes to a place of extreme contentment. We are again reminded of that scripture in Psalms:
“Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalms: 46:10).
Old Testament Proves Eastern-style Type Meditation
Many websites across the web use the Bible verses below to support their argument that Biblical meditation is simply scripture recital and subsequent memorization:
“But his delight is in the Law of the LORD, And His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
“This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night…” (Joshua 1:8).
The word law, which I have underlined in the scriptures above, is referring to the teachings and instructions of the Torah. When Joshua was instructed to meditate on the law, it is speaking about the Torah. And when the Psalmist instructs us to meditate on scripture day and night, it is speaking of the Torah. So what is the Torah?
The Torah is most commonly known as the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This is a vastly incomplete understanding of Torah, but even if we were to limit the Torah to these first five books of the Bible, I would also have to ask: why would Christians want to meditate on something to which they believe Jesus came to abolish? Much of the Torah is about the laws / teachings that God gave to Israel through Moses. If Jesus fulfilled them, why then would God want us to meditate on something fulfilled and done away with thousands of years later?
It all seems a little bit silly now, doesn’t it?
So what is the Torah, really? Why would God’s people be instructed to meditate on it day and night, practically living it, which is asking a lot more than just reading it and committing it to memory?
Perhaps a monumental revelation is given to us in one of the most prominent commandments of the Torah itself, the “Shema.”
“And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:5).
There is a profound revelation waiting to be unveiled in that scripture. Loving the LORD with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and might is not just outward activity; it is a state of being. The power of following this command lays in one of two outcomes of regular meditation practice: the disciplined mind. Can you imagine the necessary power of concentration to follow such a commandment? The Jewish nation has all sorts of commandments to help them maintain this constant awareness of God. Jews will teach you that the yetzer hara, or “evil inclination” of the lower nature, constantly seeks to usurp the holiness a Jew is called to. Therefore the outward commandments in Torah were necessary to constantly remind them about the inner conscious experience of being connected with God.
Hopefully you see where this is going. If not, I’ll come right out and say it: to the earliest and wisest of the Jewish sages and mystics, the essence of Torah isn’t really about the laws contained in the first five books of the Bible. Yes, on its most basic level, the Torah encompasses the literal aspect of these laws in first five books, but it is not limited to them and it certainly is not limited to the literal interpretation of them. The Torah, at its highest level of understanding, is the breadth and depth of human consciousness.
A scripture in the New Testament had this to say about Christ, who came to fulfill the Torah:
“For in him [Christ] dwelled the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9)
Get my drift?
The only way to probe the vast nature and potential of human consciousness is through deep meditation. Even the prophesies of old, which many Jews teach as the highest and most noble experience of the Old Testament prophets, didn’t just come out and prophesy. According to the great Rambam (Maimonides), a prophet could not “prophesy at will. He had to concentrate his mind while sitting in a good, joyous mood and meditating.”
Another way to view the Torah is to see it as God’s wisdom deposited to us through light! The original mystics understood that this light could was received via the pineal gland during deep meditation (remember God is light). You cannot receive this light through following outward commands only. The outwards commands, combined with meditation, helps to purify the character and receive the light.
“Let your light be shinning on me, so that the sleep of death may not overtake me” (Psalm 13:3).
The “sleep of death” is the veil we remain under while we yet live until the awakening takes place in our soul. Only the light of God can awaken us. The ancient Jewish mystics taught that the Torah is light also.
Another question I would have for the authors of the websites I mentioned at the beginning of this post is how you would explain what Isaac was doing in Genesis.
“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at eventide…” (Genesis 24:63).
Scholars admit there’s no sure way of understanding what this word meant since it’s origins are unknown. However, Strong’s Concordance says it means to “muse pensively.” That sure sounds like an eastern-style meditation to me! Besides, if you take the scripture literally, then you have to acknowledge that none of the Bible had been written in Isaac’s day, not even the Torah! So he couldn’t have been meditating on the Word as some put it! I firmly believe the Biblical author meant his meditation to be about self-awareness of the divine through letting go of the five senses and entering higher consciousness.
We know through the historical writings of Josephus and Philo that early Jewish sects such as the Essenes were mystics who interpreted the Torah through allegory and symbol. Kabala, which teaches much about meditation and higher consciousness, was a huge force through the Middle Ages, but it died out during the Age of Enlightenment when rationalistic thought took precedence over transcendental experiences.
More individual scriptures revealing the meditation process
“…in the morning will I direct my prayer [prayer is not in the original Hebrew] to thee and will look up” (Psalms 5:3).
“Looking up” means to wait and watch. Jesus instructed us to “watch” as well. We watch as we meditate.
“The prideful shall not stand in thy sight” (Psalms 5:5).
The ego cannot dwell in the presence of the LORD. In is only when we transcend the ego that we can become aware of his presence.
“Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalms 16:11).
“Joy” is more like “bliss” here, attained at the “right hand” which refers to the east / right hemisphere of the brain where meditation feeds the higher nature.
“…he is my guide by the quiet waters” (Psalms 23:2).
“Quite waters” refers to deep meditation.
“He gives new life to my soul” (Psalms 23:3)
“At the voice of the LORD flames of fire are seen” (Psalms 29:7).
“Flames of fire” is known as kundalini in the East.
“I am forgotten: gone from memory like a dead person – like broken pottery. (Psalms 31:12), Holeman Christian Standard Bible.
The scripture above describes what happens during deep meditation to a tee.
“Submit yourselves to God [in meditation]. Resist the devil [ego] and he will flee from you” (James 4:7)
I love this scripture. The ego subsides as we learn to become the watcher. So do our thoughts.
As you can see from the scriptures above, the English translations only subtly reveal meditation in the Bible, but it’s there nonetheless. If you can find more, please feel free to post them in the comment section with your explanations.
Now let’s discuss why I think Zazen is so beneficial. I will not say that Zazen is the best and that everyone should be doing it; enlightenment can come from many styles of meditation. In fact, enlightenment can come to a very few of us without any type of meditation at all. But for most (myself included), regular meditation practice is a must if you wish to get serious about the spiritual high road. So why do I recommend Zazen, and how does it relate to the Bible?
Zazen earns my deepest respects because it addresses both the spiritual and physical / practical aspects of our being. The Jewish mystics teach Torah in this way as well. They realize that you cannot separate the spiritual and physical self. Not only are they two sides of the same coin, but God is realized through both our spiritual and physical natures.
Zazen addresses this by unfolding in stages. The first stage of Zazen is to develop the concentration power of the mind. The mind needs discipline! If you’re anything like I used to be, your mind produces thoughts resembling a swarm of gnats over a pond.
Many meditation gurus will tell you that concentration exercises are not real meditation; rather meditation begins when our thoughts end. In a sense this is very true. However, a strong, disciplined mind needs to be developed first and foremost. A disciplined mind leads to a happier, healthier life in the physical world. The author of the Book of James states that a “…double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (Jas. 1:8). This is so true. A disciplined mind will make your daily life easier. It will help strengthen the body as well. When our thoughts are running aimlessly all over the place, a lot of energy is lost. Mental-emotional stress can be much more draining that physical stress. So don’t worry about concentration exercises not being true meditation. It’s just a beginning, albeit a very necessary one.
In the first stage of Zazen, the power of concentration is usually developed by focusing on the breath at the hara region, near the navel. You simply concentrate on the breath while sitting. Whenever the mind drifts off into thought, you notice the thought but quickly bring your awareness back to your breath. It usually takes a while before any degree of success is achieved, especially if you are new to meditating. Be faithful in your practice. You’ll know when you gain a certain degree of mastery. You’ll eventually be able to put your mind where and when you want it with relative ease. People who think that can skip this part in order to get into true meditation usually accomplish very little in the end! Remember, the Jewish sages also taught how important it is to gain the power of prolonged concentration.
Once this is achieved, it will help you in the next stages of Zazen. The two other components of Zazen are working with Koans and Shikantaza (just sitting).
Shikantaza is the process where you don’t do anything—just sit. No watching the breath, counting, or picking any object of focus. You are aware of all your thoughts without engaging with them. Just watch them, as Jesus says to “watch” in the New Testament. In time, your thoughts will diminish. Eventually, you will experience gaps of non-thinking. They will get bigger over time. Even though it is hard to express in words, something quite special is happening in the background here. Stick with it. Essentially you will be engaging in state of consciousness that is beyond normal waking, deep sleep, or dreaming. Some scientists are now admitting that new nerve cells and pathways are actually growing in the brain during this process. Personally, I believe you begin to awaken the 90% of the brain that scientists say we don’t use.
Working with Koans can produce the same effect as Shikantaza, although some people say it is a little more aggressive. A koan is basically a meditative riddle that cannot be solved with the intellect or logical reasoning. It’s a paradox that circumvents our intellect to achieve “right mindfulness.” By the way, Talmudic / kabbalistic teaching and learning uses methods that are very similar to the concept of the koan.
Some examples of a koans are:
What is the sound of one hand clapping?
How can the eye see itself without a mirror?
Which question is right with the answer of yes and no?
Ultimately, koans help us peer in the nature of reality to gain enlightenment.
Just for fun, here are some Christian Koans (if there is such a thing) that someone came up with. I thought some of them were pretty…well, enlightening!
You’ll hear a lot about reaching Satori and Samadhi through the practice of Shikantaza and working with Koans in Zazen. I don’t have the time or space to get into this here, but I recommend that you read THIS ARTICLE to get a better understanding. I do not endorse this author in anyway, nor do I know much about him. However, I found this article to be a good explanation.
I hope this article has helped you at least understand more about meditation and the Bible. I plan on having many more articles which probe further into this subject in the near future.