Samadhi Cultivation Through the Prayer and Meditation Practice Found in Christianity, Islam and Judaism
If you read the Buddhist sutras, you'll find countless discussions centering on the various methods for attaining the samadhi realms of concentration, as well as detailed descriptions of these states.
The neat thing is, when you look closely at the writings of Christian, Islamic and Jewish saints, you'll also find an emphasis on samadhi as well, including descriptions of the same common techniques used to cultivate it. That's right - all the religions use similar techniques to cultivate samadhi since it's a nondenominational stage of spiritual attainment. It's just that organized religion doesn't bother to let you in on this fact.
Nonetheless, the prophets in the Bible only became prophets because they attained varying stages of samadhi, and the saints in the various religions of the world became saints for the same reason as well. It's all due to samadhi attainments, or to the higher achievement of getting the Tao.
If through prayer or other cultivation practices you can silence your mind, then you can attain the state of spiritual grace we call samadhi. But if you don't cultivate, then it'll always remain out of reach. Of course if you do attempt to cultivate samadhi-whether through a life of quieting prayer, meditation, or other forms of spiritual transformation-then it's also possible to achieve the siddhis or superpowers mentioned in Hinduism and Buddhism, the miracles of the Christian saints and Biblical prophets, the shamanic powers of shamans, or the "adornments" of Sufi Islam. They were only possible because of spiritual cultivation, and achieving some definite level of samadhi attainment.
Now Sufism has a variety of meditative practices for attaining samadhi, Judaism has Kabbalah practice for attaining samadhi, and Christianity has historically used a variety of techniques including vocal prayer (equivalent to mantra recitation), silent prayer (equivalent to emptiness meditation), Jesuit visualizations (similar to mandala visualization practice), and Augustinian methods of contemplation (equivalent to shamatha-vipashyana) to enable its adherents to enter into samadhi.
Rather than turn to an Eastern tradition, let's look at how Saint Augustine might explain the shamatha-vipashyana cessation-contemplation meditative technique found in a variety of the world's traditions:
The terms "recollection" and "introversion" used by Christian mystics are the means for identifying the standard shamatha-vipashyana practice of Buddhism, also known as vipassana or cessation-contemplation practice, which entails gathering thoughts through concentration so as to shut off the busyness of the mind.
The result is a state of internal quiet we call mental solitude, one-pointedness or samadhi, and then a practitioner must look into or contemplate this quiet to develop their prajna wisdom. Prajna wisdom and samadhi are the two principles you must cultivate on the spiritual path.
This is the actual essence of shamatha-vipashyana, cessation-contemplation practice. But don't think that this is the only samadhi practice used in Christianity, for the practice of reciting the rosary is akin to the mantra practices of the East, and Saint Augustine's method of contemplating God as "the Light unchangeable" is no different than equivalent spiritual practices found in Buddhism and Hinduism and the Esoteric Schools.
All that's been changed are the words used to transmit these techniques.
The Cloud of Unknowing, a medieval Christian cultivation text, elucidates a number of cultivation exercises by which spiritual practitioners can learn to mentally empty themselves, and this is described in Christian parlance as "putting other thoughts away."
The Cloud of Unknowing calls these "special ways, tricks, private techniques, and spiritual devices" whereas they are our basic, standard cultivation methods common to all genuine spiritual schools. In other words, they are nondenominational spiritual techniques and they are used by all the various spiritual schools because they work they enable you to achieve samadhi and ultimately realize the Tao. So if you hear one school saying it's higher than another, you can laugh because you now know the truth.
As an example of a samadhi cultivation technique the author of the Christian work, the Cloud of Unknowing, advises the aspirant to concentrate on a single syllable such as "God" or "One" just as we would find a Hindu concentrating on "Ohm" or "Brahman" in the East. He goes on to say,
Another example taken from Islam shows a clear description of this same technique of mantra repetition, which is called "dhikr" in the Sufi tradition:
In the Greek tradition of Byzantine spirituality, we can find rudimentary instructions on anapana (the cultivation practice of following the breath) combined with mantra repetition, which are practiced in order to reach the samadhi realms. For instance, the Philokalia contains instructions for reciting the Prayer of the Heart as follows:
Make no mistake-such exercises for attaining samadhi are commonly found in all the world's religions because they are the very heart of the path to true spiritual development. Furthermore, most of these exercises are based on the same cultivation techniques, which is why the path to God should be considered nondenominational.
Religions simply tend to wrap various skillful or unskillful dogmas and cultural pertinents around this true spiritual path in order to preserve it, but these wrappings also tend to obscure it. Nonetheless, all the genuine religions and genuine cultivation schools recognize both the existence and importance of samadhi spiritual attainments, and so most all major religions teach various spiritual practices for attaining the samadhi realms of meditative absorption.
Even Judaism recognizes the importance of the "annihilation of thought" in spiritual practice to attain emptiness, although the goal is framed in terms of dissolving the ego in "ayin" or "nothingness," which is the Jewish term for emptiness:
In the cultivation practice of contemplating the Kabbalah, Azriel of Gerona and his older contemporary, Ezra of Gerona, even recognized the highest sefirah of the Kabbalah as "the annihilation of thought" (afisat ha-mahashavah). The Kabbalah is the major means for Jewish samadhi cultivation, which is achieved through the contemplation of the sefirot:
Hence this is the real and genuine path of Jewish practice, which is no different in objective than Christianity or Islam or Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and so forth. In Judaism, the practice of contemplation is to help you pass beyond the discursive thought of Torah study, whose only purpose is to lead one to that state. But unfortunately the majority of those studying Torah have lost sight of this foundational principle, which is why Judaism has lost its line of samadhi masters.
That's one of the reasons why the line of Old Testament prophets died out. They lost of the transmission of direct samadhi and wisdom teachings.
Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are therefore no strangers to this emphasis on cultivating samadhi, but it's just that you sometimes have to dig deep amidst the orthodoxy to find these particular teachings.
It's not that samadhi teachings are absent, it's just that they don't openly appear in a form that's easy to recognize. This obscurity is something that's come about due to both the age of these traditions, a string of institutional involvements and their corruptions, as well as the lack of accomplished cultivators in these traditions who have themselves achieved mastery of the samadhi realms.
Without having achieved mastery, it is rare to find anyone championing these particular practices and their attainments. And yet when religions do not encourage their members onwards to samadhi attainments, you must ask whether they are they really serving their purpose in leaving out this core of the spiritual path? Does salvation really only come about because of membership in an institution? Is it right when we are told we can only find salvation or liberation in the Church or as the member of some "select" group?
Think about this most carefully to determine what's logical and using your knowledge of human nature, think about this to determine what pronouncements that have come done to us have been for social and political purposes.
Sometimes the instructions on meditation in religions have been clothed in beautiful words of worship that mask their true character and intent. Sometimes they have been buried under countless centuries of religious dust and misinterpretation, or have simply suffered from the neglect that results when dogma and ceremonies are pushed to the forefront of spiritual practice.
In other words, genuine spiritual practices and pure traditions tend to become diluted and atrophy over time due to all sorts of reasons, including political meddling and the need at the top for hierarchical control of those below.
Thus the teachings on how to generate samadhi realms of concentration--which really bring people to the doorway of spiritual liberation--have tended to fall into neglect over time. The way to Tao is not based on rules and ceremonies, but people revert to these things and forget that self-realization is based on the transparency of formless awareness.
When the teachings on samadhi are bypassed in various religions, then it's very bad for the religion itself. The end result is that due to the lack of instructions, it's then very rare for any individuals within these traditions, despite their ardent aspirations, to reach any level of genuine spiritual attainment.
When there is a lack of access to self-realization methods, of course the result will be a lack of individuals with attainment. And due to this lack of familiarity and subsequent lack of accomplishment, it's therefore very rare to have individuals with any samadhi accomplishments appear to guide a flock of spiritual aspirants. However, it is relatively easy for almost anyone to lecture on religious matters while lacking samadhi accomplishments, so this is the type of instruction that has naturally come to pass for "spiritual guidance."
Such is the natural history of organized religion, and you simply have to recognize that this is the way things are.
Most institutions start out with clearly defined purposes and intents, but as any organization or institution grows old, its original purpose gradually evolves into the objective of self-preservation rather than the continuation of its original goals. The institutions become self-interested rather than remain of primary service to their original impulse. Therefore it's hard to find teachings on samadhi in organized religion as these teachings will, in effect, result in a spiritual liberation that will free people from needing the organization itself. If that would result in a transfer of political power or status, a decline in the numbers of adherents, or even a potential loss of money flows, then you can understand why these teachings would be opposed to all ends.
Of course that's a nice little bit of dialogue, but a simpler reasons is that people don't have the samadhi attainments, people don't understand them, so people ignore them and pretend they don't exist. Yet this is the true spiritual path-the true path is not going to Church, the temple or mosque but in achieving liberation through your own individual, independent efforts to get to the root source of your mind and all matter.
The new readings, the new vocabularies, the new sophistications that are brought in to a religion over time--if not interjected by an enlightened sage--usually constitute a deadening of the cultivation path and true spiritual experience into a purely mental experience or intellectual realization. And over time, people begin to prefer this dead conceptual route to the hard work of genuine spiritual practice, and they think that it's the right way.
I like what Joseph said on this matter, for he wrote, 'I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, "An American, if he was given a chance to choose between going to heaven and hearing a lecture about heaven, he'd go to the lecture."'
It's unfortunate that many religions, because of their particular organizational structure, have historically discouraged the spiritual independence that individual samadhi attainments would bring, and thus tried to quell the open dissemination of such methods and the spiritual achievements they can engender. In their fear, religions tended to persecute any individuals who could possibly become free of the need for the mother organization, for they were considered a threat to the organization.
Only by maintaining its own superiority and position of power could any organization survive to maintain its dominant position in society. That's why the samadhi teachings are usually promulgated only in traditions having many independent spiritual centers, each of which stresses this goal and the importance of individual responsibility and striving on the path.
As to the traditions with a centralized leadership structure which lacks samadhi attainments itself, you'll often find these spiritual matters de-emphasized or even persecuted. Definitely they will be ignored. "We're fine already," people think, "or we already have everything in our tradition."
Sorry, it just ain't so.
Now even in those religions which suppressed the path of cultivation attainments--in that genuine cultivation practitioners had to go underground or clothe the discussion of their attainments in the disguised vernacular of the era's controlling powers--you'll always find various methods for attaining samadhi as well as descriptions of the various stages of the spiritual path.
After all, the stages and gong-fu outcomes of the path are largely nondenominational, and so they usually appear in one form or another in the various spiritual traditions despite any suppression because they are naturally bound to occur.
As an example, the following passage taken from Christianity's John of St. Thomas could be read literally as is, or it could also be taken as a description of the kundalini phenomenon clothed in the religious attire of the day. As to how you should interpret such things, it is all a matter of your own wisdom:
Here's another description of kundalini regarding the Catholic saint Philip Neri, who often felt the heat throughout his entire body:
Here's a description of a definite samadhi attainment from Christianity's Saint Teresa, who called this stages of mystical experience the "orison of union" ("union mystica"):
Another example of the nondenominationality of the samadhi experience are the spiritual attainments of Saint John of the Cross. He called the dhyana attainments a "union of love" attained through a method of "dark contemplation" wherein you wrest your personal thoughts and feelings from the soul, separating yourself from them so that you've banished mental discrimination.
In Saint John of the Cross's teachings, you therefore become "dark" in the sense that you had to give up clinging to your normal discrimination thinking and realize emptiness. That's the spiritual desert of aloneness mentioned in Christian dialogue. You also became "dark" because you had to give up your typical egotistical attachments.
The Cloud of Unknowing also talks of various methods for entering samadhi that are framed, as to be expected, in traditional Christian attire. "Think of nothing but God himself so that nothing will work in your mind or in your will but only God himself. You must then do whatever will help you to forget all the beings [external forms] whom God has created, and all their works":
This, too, is our standard form of emptiness meditation practice although the description is phrased in religious attire. In the Cloud of Unknowing you are also told to "surrender yourself to God, so that you do not admit even a single selfish thought which is your own."
It was therefore through such means of cultivation practice, or through other Christian methods such as continuous "vocal prayer" (equivalent to Hindu mantra or japa practice), the visualization practices recommended by Saint Ignatius (similar to Tibetan visualization methods), or the "prayer of quiet" and "sleep of the faculties" methods recommended by Teresa of Avila, that most Christian saints learned how to enter samadhi.
Certainly when we examine the Christian tradition of the Desert Fathers, and the spiritual exercises practiced by many of the monastics, we find the same conclusions.
These are the standard techniques of spiritual cultivation regardless of the religious tradition one follows. From these examples it's also easy to prove that the basic methods of spiritual cultivation are commonly shared across all the world's various traditions because they all follow the same common principles of practice. For instance, in following these techniques of spiritual practice, Saint John of the Cross was able to describe his own spiritual experiences as follows:
All these passages call to mind the fact that the more cultivation attainments you master yourself, the easier it'll be for you to quickly identify any hidden spiritual principles and cultivation techniques which are embedded in various religious scriptures and ceremonies and traditions.
It would be impossible for me to reveal these things in detail for all the world's religions, so the effort is left to you to discover these things for yourself as regards your own tradition. Furthermore, it's also up to you to bring this information out into the open for your peers.
That open dissemination of information you create is your own way to accumulate the merit of the spiritual path. It's a way for everyone to have the ability to access spiritual samadhi attainments within the blessings of their own religion, for this sectarian sanctioning is sometimes quite important for people who aren't wise enough for independent thinking or action in these areas.
All the methods of spiritual cultivation can be understood and safely practiced within the framework of all world religions-without the need of special approval or sanctions--or outside of any frameworks at all.
A key point to realize about the spiritual path is this: most every religion believes it's the greatest and highest. Each claims it possesses the unique key to salvation and the foremost religious truth. The Jews raise Moses on high, Moslems raise Mohammed, Christians raise Jesus and so on it goes. However, no single religion has all the pieces of the truth. Truth means nondistortion. Truth stands for what is real, but nothing is real except the ultimate source from which everything originates.
All religions are therefore just expedient means used to help lead you forward to realizing this source, and the effective methods they use are all just expediently created methods of spiritual refinement.
While it is true, as Constructionists would claim, that language and culture shape the ordinary religious experience, nevertheless there is indeed a definite nonsectarian spiritual path of spiritual attainment underneath the surface culturally mediated or constructed experience. The stages of this path do correspond to a universal topology of the spiritual trail and this general path can lead to different outcomes dependent solely upon how far you travel this path.
Furthermore, there are different spiritual practices for this path that can help you overturn any attachments to the mediated or constructed quality of human experience so that you can experientially find the ultimate root source underlying all of these experiences. The purpose of religion is to preserve and disseminate that path and ultimately help you climb it.
People have different mentalities and need to be reached in different ways, so different teachings need to be created for them and have been created for them so that they can understand and be lead to what is beyond the corporeal form and world. That is why all religions generally accept that God is formless and not a person, but the Bible (Torah) uses attributory phrases like "under His feet" (Exodus 31:18), "written with the finger of God" (Exodus 31:18), "the hand of the Lord" (Exodus 9:3), "the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 38:7), "the ears of the Lord" (Numbers 11:1) and so forth simply to match with people's level of understanding.
Spiritual texts commonly speak in terms that people can understand because only a communicative understanding can lead them to the transcendental. You've got to start somewhere and when trying to connect with the masses, you have to dumb things down to the lowest common denominator. Otherwise you wouldn't have an audience. Sorry to tell you, but that's just the way it is.
If a particular spiritual path doesn't offer to guide us to our fundamental source, then I'm also sorry to say that you mustn't consider it a tradition belonging to the ranks of the highest. It's a tradition that, if at all and at best, can only encompass a stage of Wisdom and Merit Accumulation, if that. If you follow that tradition, you can gain a little merit and hope to be reborn in a better life or in a minor heaven until your stock of merit runs out.
Let's not talk about the high and low, however, because you must also recognize that all the genuine religions of the world only offer piecemeal teachings of the spiritual cultivation path because there is so much to offer. Most haven't organized the information they possess as clearly as they can because, once again, very few spiritual adherents of organized religion ever end up mastering these various stages of spiritual experience.
This is only to be expected, for while all individuals are spiritually equivalent by virtue of sharing in the same original nature-in being the body of that fundamental essence--from a practical aspect there are definite differences in individual mentalities and potentials because of past conditionings and preferences.
The fact that differences do exist-such that there are the fast and slow or smart and stupid--must be addressed through a wide availability of different spiritual paths.
A variety of spiritual paths have been established by the sages in recognition of different cultural streams, as well as the varied needs of peoples in different times and places. Unfortunately, while some paths are very complete, some leave out the specifics of certain levels of attainment, and some focus in specialization on a particular level of attainment only.
The fact is, people today must come to recognize that there are various graduations of attainment connected to the overall spiritual path, and that the paths themselves are all creations of skillful means lacking an absolute nature. Thus, some spiritual teachers and teachings are indeed higher or lower than others in the world. In fact, there have been teachings and teachers at all levels of the spiritual ladder. Nevertheless, the one well recognized spiritual rule is that aspirants must climb the ladder all the way to the top and fully live out of that level of attainment.
So in conclusion, there are all sorts of cultivation paths and methods available in the world because no one path appeals to everyone or is suited to everyone, and no single method works in taming all minds. Therefore all sorts of paths and practices have been created. Even so, the practices used in Judaism, Christianity, and Islamic meditation are no different than those used in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, yoga and Confucianism when we get to cultivating the actual realms of spiritual standing.
Hope that helps in setting clear the fact that THE ADEPTS OF WESTERN RELIGIONS DO CULTIVATE SAMADHI, and use similar spiritual cultivation methods to those found in the East. While ordinary people don't realize this, why would you expect otherwise?
If you want to find out even more, then check out my course, The Various Stages of the Spiritual Experience, which goes into this in detail.
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