Eastern Mysticism

Man must take a leap of “nonreasonable faith” in the monistic worldview of Eastern mysticism. What makes Eastern mysticism the choice of a new generation of religious seekers, and how does it fulfill man’s spiritual hunger?

1. Eastern mysticism is nonrational and borders on the irrational. In Zen Buddhism, for example, one’s intuition is pitted against one’s reason. The Hindus consider the mind to have all the stability and perception of a “drunken monkey” while the Hare Krishnas refer to the mind as a “garbage pail.” All this might seem contradictory to the Western mind, and it is. But remember that the West has given up on rational explanations for the way the world works. Maybe East is best. If man is nothing more than a machine, why would we hold rationality in such high regard anyway? Western rationalism has failed.

Perhaps another reason behind the popular abandonment of rationalism in the West is its inability to provide spiritual satisfaction. As Zen master D.T. Suzuki explains, “Zen has come to the definite conclusion that the ordinary logical process of reasoning is powerless to give final satisfaction to our deepest spiritual needs.“1

We are often confused by the incessant chanting and the intellectual void associated with meditation on a mandala or some other fixed image. But these are simply the ways of the East. Much of Eastern thought is without intellectual content and meaning. The goal is to transcend the world of things and to reach a spiritual world beyond. The point is not to understand but only to do. This is the appeal of the East.

The Western reliance on rationalism has failed. In the West, the law of non-contradiction reigned (A is not non-A). The East knows nothing of such distinctions. In Western rationalist terms, “to know reality is to distinguish one thing from another, label it, catalog it, recognize its subtle relation to other objects in the cosmos. In the East to ‘know’ reality is to pass beyond distinction, to ‘realize’ the oneness of all being one with the all.“2

2. Eastern mysticism is monistic. The Christian believes in a personal God Who is separate from His creation. We have called this the Creator/creature distinction. God did not create the world out of Himself, using the “stuff” of His own being to bring the universe and man into existence.3 “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of the things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3; cf. Genesis 1:1-2).

Eastern thought makes no distinction between man and cosmos. The name for this is monism. Monism “is the belief that all that is, is one. All is interrelated, interdependent and interpenetrating. Ultimately there is no difference between God, a person, a carrot or a rock.“4

Consider the ethical implications of such a view. The way you treat a person and the way you treat an animal are to be no different. This is why many advocates of monism are vegetarian. An animal is sacred; therefore, it cannot be killed for food. All is one. God and evil transcend the world of forms and plurality. God does not overcome evil. There is no value judgment in “good” and “evil.” Ultimate reality is beyond good and evil. These rational and Christian concepts must be jettisoned in favor of an undifferentiated oneness.

The entertainment business has been quick to pick up on monism. In the Star Wars series, monism is quite evident in “the Force,” a benign entity that neither condones the good nor suppresses the evil. The music industry was invaded in the early sixties by the Beatles, who held a monistic worldview.

In 1967, the Beatles made their now-famous link-up with a then-unknown guru, Maharishi Yogi and his occult-sounding product, Transcendental Meditation. In the same year Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote “I am the Walrus” which opened with the pantheistic declaration: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” “Instant Karma” followed in 1970, and the next year saw the release of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” with its alternating chorus of “Hallelujah” and “Hare Krishna.“5

Charles Manson adopted the monistic worldview of the Beatles, and at the LaBianca murder scene in 1969, he scrawled in blood on the refrigerator door the misspelled “He[a]lter Skelter,” a song title from the Beatles’ “White Album.” The ambiguity of right and wrong became a reality for Manson. In Manson’s words, “If God is One, what is bad?”

3. All is god. It follows from monism that if there is god, then all is god. Pantheism (pan means all; theos means god) is the theology of the East. There is no personal God who stands above creation. In fact, there is no creation as such. To speak of a creation would mean to postulate a Creator, someone distinct from the cosmos. Thus, the pantheist agrees with the naturalist that there is just one level of reality, although the naturalist would not consider it to be “spiritual” or “divine.” In pantheism, there is no God who is “out there.” God and the material world are one and the same. The word god should be used to refer to the sum total of reality rather than to some being distinct from the rest of reality.

In Christianity, God is distinct from creation. God is certainly present with His creation, but He is in no way a part of creation. To destroy the created order would in no way affect God. “The Creator God is not an impersonal force, energy or consciousness, but a living, personal Being of infinite intelligence, power and purity. God is not an amoral entity, but a moral agent who says ‘Thou shalt not’ and calls people to repentance and faith.“6

4. We are god. The consistency of monism brings us to one of its most bizarre features. If all is god, then man is god in some form. “Swami Muktananda – a great influence on Werner Erhard, founder of est and Forum – pulls no pantheistic punches when he says: ‘Kneel to your own self. Honor and worship your own being. God dwells within you as You!’“7

Eastern mysticism teaches some form of “chain of being” or “continuity of being,“8 the idea that man and God are one essence, and that in time, through an evolutionary process or a series of reincarnations, man becomes divine. Ray Sutton writes: “Life according to this system is a continuum. At the top is the purest form of deity. At the very bottom is the least pure. They only differ in degree, not in kind. God is a part of creation. Man, who is somewhere in the middle of the continuum, is god in another ‘form.’ In other words, god is just a ‘super’ man, and man is not a god … yet!“9

Of course, Christianity teaches that there is only one God: “And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none” (Isaiah 44:8). Man’s first sin was the attempt to “be like God,” determining good and evil for himself (Genesis 3:5).

5. There is no death. Eastern mysticism makes its “leap of being” from mere man to god through raising the state of consciousness, evolutionary development, reincarnation, or some combination of the three. Death is simply the final stage of growth; it is an illusion. Human beings, because they are of a “divine essence,” are immortal. Ultimately, death does not exist. For death to exist would mean the extinction of part of the One.

Reincarnation is a fundamental pillar of New Age thinking. It “solves” the puzzle of death. Reincarnation has been popularized over the years through the writings of Edgar Cayce10 and most recently, Shirley MacLaine. The Eastern variety of reincarnation would have never been accepted in the Christian West if it had not been stripped of the hideous concept of the “transmigration of the soul.”

Reincarnation, as it is usually understood in Hinduism, states that all life is essentially one (monism): plant, animal, and human life are so interrelated that souls are capable of “transmigrating” from one form of life to another. A person could have been an animal, plant, or mineral in some previous existence. However, this version is unpalatable to American tastes, so in the newer version the movement of human souls is limited to human bodies.11

Modern proponents of reincarnation have cleaned up the Eastern variety. You don’t hear Shirley MacLaine telling people that she was a rock or a slug in a former life. The typical reincarnationist usually believes that he was once some exotic personality. This is not true reincarnationism. This is “I’ve always been a star” reincarnationism.

6 Monism has spawned the New Age movement. John Naisbitt of Megatrends12 fame sees a new age dawning at the corporation level. Old industrial structures must be dismantled to compete in the information society of the future. “Look at how far we have already come. The industrial society transformed workers into consumers; the information society is transforming employees into capitalists. But remember this: Both capitalism and socialism were industrial structures. And the companies re-inventing themselves are already evolving toward that new reality.“13 But there’s more!

  • Mark Satin has described a New Age Politics14 that will “heal self and society.”
  • Fritjof Capra, author of The Turning Point,15 sees changes in science that will affect society and culture.
  • Marilyn Ferguson, whose The Aquarian Conspiracy16 is considered by many to be the manifesto of the New Age movement, describes “a new mind – a turnabout in consciousness, a network powerful enough to bring about radical change in our culture.”

Much of this literature is rooted in Eastern and occult philosophy, which emphasize oneness (monism): the unity and interdependence of all things. There is a clever mix between Eastern religious philosophy and Western religious forms. The sixties counterculture brought the esoteric music and religious ideology of the East into the West.

The Beatles made Eastern music popular on their “Rubber Soul” album when George Harrison introduced the Indian sitar music of Ravi Shankar.17 Transcendental Meditation was also popularized by the Beatles. Some of those in the ecology movement base their concern for the environment on the inherent “oneness” of the universe.18 Man and nature are one in essence. Man is not much different from the animals. He is only higher on the great scale of being. The environment should be protected, not as a stewardship under God, but because we are all god, nature included.

The advance of Eastern thought was gradual, but layer by layer it gained acceptance. As Christianity steadily lost its hold on the heart and mind of the nation, softer forms of religious beliefs were more easily embraced. Christianity’s drift into an emphasis on experience over objective, written revelation has made it easy prey for the pure subjectivism of Eastern thought.

Robert J.L. Burrows, publications editor of the evangelical Spiritual Counterfeits Project in Berkeley, California, writes: “Humans are essentially religious creatures, and they don’t rest until they have some sort of answer to the fundamental questions. Rationalism and secularism don’t answer those questions. But you can see the rise of the New Age as a barometer of the disintegration of American culture. Dostoevsky said anything is permissible if there is no God. But anything is also permissible if everything is God. There is no way of making any distinction between good and evil.“19

Os Guinness wrote about the meeting of East and West in 1973, in what has become a standard Christian critique of the decline of secular humanism, The Dust of Death. He tells us that the “swing to the East has come at a time when Christianity is weak at just those points where it would need to be strong to withstand the East.“20 He goes on to show the three basic weaknesses within the Church that open it up to Eastern influences.

“The first is its compromised, deficient understanding of revelation. Without biblical historicity and veracity behind the Word of God, theology can only grow closer to Hinduism. Second, the modern Christian is drastically weak in an unmediated, personal, experiential knowledge of God. Often what passes for religious experience is a communal emotion felt in church services, in meetings, in singing or contrived fellowship. Few Christians would know God on their own. Third, the modern church is often pathetically feeble in the expression of its focal principle of community. It has become the local social club, preaching shop or minister-dominated group. With these weaknesses, modern Christianity cannot hope to understand why people have turned to the East, let alone stand against the trend and offer an alternative.“21

Western Christians have a faith that is “extremely blurred at the edges.“22 This opens them up to any and all spiritual counterfeits.

New Age humanism is anti-Christian to the core. It is a utopian dream built on a flawed understanding of man’s nature and a devotion to a westernized Eastern philosophy in which God is nothing more than a cosmic idea. The copy on the dust jacket to Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy shows that the Christian’s fears are justified: “A leaderless but powerful network is working to bring about radical change in the United States. Its members have broken with certain key elements of Western thought, and they may even have broken with history.”

With all its seemingly “good” emphasis, the New Age movement is at heart humanistic (man is the center of the universe), materialistic (self-actualization is all-important), and anti-God (the God of the Bible is dismissed in favor of self-deification). The American public, with its inability to distinguish biblical truth from anti-Christian religious subtleties, is easily sucked in by the seemingly harmless religious and cultural goals of New Age humanism.

The college campus is a breeding ground for New Age concepts. New Age ideas are upbeat, optimistic, and seemingly life-transforming. At a time when you are most susceptible to change and influence, the New Age movement can be a dangerous “friend.” Keep far from it.23

1 Pat Means, The Mystical Maze (San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1976), p. 39.
2 James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic World View Catalog (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 133.
3 Pagan creation myths abound with this notion. According to one Babylonian account, Marduk, the great stone god, “killed the dragon Tiamat and split her body in half. The upper half was made into the sky, and the lower half the earth.” John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1975), p. 69.
4 Douglas R. Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age: Is There a New Religious Movement Trying to Transform Society? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), p. 18.
5 Means, The Mystical Maze, p. 21.
6 Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age, p. 21.
7 Idem.
8 Avrum Stroll and Richard H. Popkin, Introduction to Philosophy 2nd ed.; (New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1972), pp. 100-101.
9 Ray Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), p. 37.
10 For an insightful analysis and critique of Cayce’s views see: Gary North, Unholy Spirits: Occultism and New Age Humanism (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1986), pp. 193-225.
11 John Snyder, Reincarnation vs. Resurrection (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1984), p. 19.
12 John Naisbitt, Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming OurLives (New York: Warner Books, 1982).
13 John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene, Re-inventing the Corporation (New York: Warner Books, 1985), p. 252.
14 New York: Dell 1979.
15 New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.
16 Los Angeles, CA: J.P. Tarcher, Inc., 1980.
17 North, Unholy Spirits, p. 6.
18 Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 5 vols.: Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology, vol. 5, pp. 3-76.
19 “New Age Harmonies,” Time (December 7, 1987), p. 72.
20 Os Guinness, The Dust of Death: A Critique of the Establishment and the Counter Culture – and a Proposal for a Third Way (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 209.
21 Idem.
22 Idem.
23 For helpful and balanced treatments of the New Age movement see: Gary DeMar and Peter J. Leithart, The Reduction of Christianity: Dave Hunt’s Theology of Cultural Surrender (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1988); Karen Hoyt, ed., The New Age Rage: A Probing Analysis of The Newest Religious Craze (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming II, Revell Company, 1987); Douglas R. Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age: Is There a New Religious Movement Trying to Transform Society? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986).

If you enjoyed this article, you can write and receive a free, one-year subscription to Gary DeMar’s Biblical Worldview Newsletter. Write: American Vision, P.O. Box 720515, Atlanta, GA 30328.

1 Comment

there’s nothing wrong with exploring different beliefs from other countries and peoples. so long as people are careful about avoiding cults, it’s ok to learn the ways of others’ beliefs, ideas and superstitions. and if it makes better people of them, so what? just as there’s more than one way to cook a steak, more than one way to season your food, so too, there is more than one belief to follow, and that’s fine. variety is the spice of life, and variety can be found in all things, including “religion”. people are entitled to believe what they wish, and if there are gods and after lives and all of that, i’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter which god or gods one chooses, so long as the person doesn’t go around hurting any one else. what people believe or don’t believe is really no one’s business unless those people make it others’ business. there’s more than one way to get some thing accomplished, and this goes for “religion” as well. to each their own, live and let live, etc.

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