July-December 2020


Resurgence of an Apologetic Exchange about its Christian Origin and Hindu Influence

John Main is the originator of a type of Christian contemplative prayer that is accessible to all and is based primarily on the recitation of a ‘mantra.’ Since he was initiated into the practice of meditation by a Hindu master, one can legitimately wonder about the contribution of Hinduism to his Christian understanding of contemplative prayer. In this article, we show that Main’s practice of meditation is certainly influenced by the Swami’s teaching, but that it is nonetheless faithful to the spirit of Christian prayer and bears witness to a new coherence that is at once faithful to its tradition and indebted to another spiritual current.

John Main est à l’origine d’un type de prière contemplative chrétienne accessible à tous et basée principalement sur la récitation d’un « mantra ». Depuis qu’il a été initié à la pratique de la méditation avec un maître hindou, on peut légitimement s’interroger sur l’apport de l’hindouisme dans sa compréhension chrétienne de la prière contemplative. Dans cet article, nous montrons que la pratique de la méditation de Main est certes influencée par l’enseignement du Swami, mais qu’elle n’en est pas moins fidèle à l’esprit de la prière chrétienne et témoigne d’une nouvelle cohérence, à la fois fidèle à sa tradition et redevable à un autre courant spirituel.
The Benedictine monk John Main (1926-1982) is the originator of Christian Meditation, a particular way of meditating that is practiced in more than 120 countries. This type of contemplative prayer is accessible to all and is mainly based on the recitation of a mantra, maranatha being the one most often recommended. According to Main, this prayer is fundamentally Christian and closely corresponds to the way of meditation described in the writings of John Cassian (c.360-c.435) and The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous mystical text of the fourteenth century. However, it was Swami Satyananda, his Hindu master, who introduced him to the practice of the mantra even before he became a monk. It is therefore legitimate to have questions about the contribution of Hinduism to Main’s Christian understanding of contemplative prayer.
This is not a new question. It has been the subject of debate in Catholic circles for several decades. I first became interested in it when I prepared a day-long workshop entitled L’enseignement de John Main: racines et résonance, which I hosted in Ottawa in April 2016 to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Christian Meditation in Quebec and the French-speaking regions of Canada.
There are some who suspect that this form of meditation is a Hindu practice disguised as Christian. This perception has given rise to the debate between those who denounce the intrusion of foreign elements into Christian contemplative life and those who endeavor to prove the historically Christian character of this form of prayer. Still others defend the idea of a meditative practice that is evidence of a new coherence, one that is both faithful to tradition and indebted to other spiritual currents, Hinduism in this case.
I am in agreement with this last perspective and propose to argue in its favor as follows: First, I shall trace the influence of Swami Satyananda’s teaching on Christian Meditation. Second, I shall show that the characteristics of Christian Meditation are indeed those of Christian prayer. Finally, I shall describe how, in spite of the similarities, the use of the mantra in Christian Meditation differs from the practice of the sacred word as explained mainly in the ninth and tenth conferences of Cassian and in The Cloud of Unknowing. I will conclude by evoking the challenges and conditions linked to Christian Meditation as an heir to the contemplative tradition and as it continues this tradition according to its own ascetical and theological coherence.
It should be noted that this study is essentially based on the writings of Main. I do not intend to show how the practice has evolved, notably under the impetus of Laurence Freeman, but rather to grasp how its founder envisaged it from his own experience.
The influence of Swami Satyananda
John Main’s encounter with Swami Satyananda was decisive for his vocation to spearhead of contemplative renewal within the Catholic Church as well as for his way of practicing and teaching Christian Meditation. His first encounter with the Swami took place while he was stationed in Malaya (British Malaysia) from 1955 to 1956 as a civil servant in the British Colonial Service. He was sent to the Swami’s ashram to deliver a message from the Governor in recognition of the Swami’s charitable works, in particular the orphanage run by the ashram. Main strongly resonated with the fact that the life of ashram revolved around the daily practice of meditation, not the kind of discursive meditation he was familiar with from the Exercises of Saint Ignatius, but rather a form of meditation that was non-discursive and beyond concepts. Main was immediately attracted to this way of meditating,[1] and thus this visit that began as a mere formality had such a profound effect on Main that he asked to become the Swami’s disciple. For the next year and a half he returned to the ashram every week to practice meditation under the guidance of the Swami.[2] Later, when he was teaching law in Dublin, the death of his nephew brought him face to face with the questions of life and death. He was forcibly struck by the fact that the most important thing in his entire existence was his daily meditation, and he decided to structure his life on his meditation and sought to do so by becoming a monk,[3]
The practice of meditation very quickly marked his time as a monk at the Benedictine Abbey of Ealing in the suburbs of London. His understanding of meditation was what he had been taught by his Hindu master. It was a way of awakening to the fact that God is to be sought within oneself[4] and that silence is the privileged space for doing that. Therefore, discursive prayer was of little interest to him. However, when his novice master asked him from the outset not to devote himself to the kind of meditation he learned in Malaysia and instead to pursue a way of prayer that involved thought and imagination,[5] Main followed his counsel even though this type of prayer became more and more unsatisfactory.[6] Nevertheless, with hindsight, Main saw this time as a period of grace. According to him, the novice master, without being aware of it, taught him detachment. By detaching himself from what was most important to him, he came to see that obedience is the foundation of his monastic life.[7]
Years later, this obedience led him to accept the invitation of Leonard J. Crowley, Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal, to establish a monastic community in Montreal, a dependent priory of Ealing Abbey that would be a center for the teaching and practice of contemplative prayer.[8] Main met Bishop Crowley in Montreal in October 1976 while on his way to Gethsemani Abbey where Thomas Merton resided. The Trappist monk played a significant role in supporting Main’s conviction that his role as a Benedictine monk would be to dedicate his life to the teaching of contemplative prayer.[9] In March 1977, he obtained permission from his superior to leave Ealing Abbey and go to Montreal. He was accompanied by Laurence Freeman, who was a novice at Ealing. In a letter to one of his correspondents, Rosie Lovat, he set out his vision of the new foundation: “Our plans go ahead here and we are now coming within sightof our dream, that is a community of monks, sisters, a lay community of married people and families, all joined together by meditation, albeit obviously at different levels of commitment but each with a growing commitment.”[10] Main now began to teach what is known as Christian Meditation, whose popularity led to the creation of the World Community of Christian Meditation in 1991, nine years after his death in 1982.
Christian Meditation is mainly characterized by the use of a mantra (maranatha) to prevent the mind from wandering about. This way of meditating, therefore, is therefore not discursive, it is not about thinking about God or Jesus.[11] However, it is not without object, as some followers maintain—a point that cannot be dealt with here. According to Stefan Reynolds, the practice of the mantra testifies to Swami Satyananda’s influence on Christian Meditation as well as its relationship to non-duality (advaita).[12] The very fact that the Sanskrit word mantra has been retained in reference to the formula repeated during this form of contemplative prayer is an obvious sign of this. One can ask why Main chose to use this word, whereas his disciples often prefer to speak of a prayer-word, no doubt to avoid any ambiguity with regard to the non-Christian origin of their practice. But there are other issues. Main’s understanding of how a mantra works is sometimes close to the way a Hindu understands it. For Swami Satyananda, and this is true in general for Hindus as well as Buddhists, the mantra accomplishes its purpose above all by the sound it generates rather than by its conceptual or symbolic meaning.[13] The mantra produces a sound that intensifies the vibration of the meditator until it is in tune with the ultimate vibration, OM, the inaudible sound that symbolizes the Absolute beyond all forms and images.
Main tends to make this interpretation of the mantra his own [14] when he, following his master, says that the mantra, “is like a harmonic. As this harmonic vibrates within us, a resonance begins to be created. This resonance leads us to the fullness of being. . . . Thereafter, the harmonic creates a resonance between oneself and every creature, between oneself and the whole creation, then a unity between oneself and one’s creator.”[15] Several times in his writings, he enjoins us to listen to the sound of the mantra and to make it resonate within us.[16] The power of the mantra thus lies in its phonetic quality: “The importance of ‘Ma-ra-na-tha’” he says, “is both that it is one of the most ancient Christian prayers there is and that it possesses the right sound to bring us to the silence and stillness necessary for meditation. As a prayer word its meaning is important, but during the time of meditation we do not think of its meaning but recite it as four equally stressed syllables.”[17]
This interpretation of the mantra is not insignificant and corresponds to a certain anthropological and cosmological perspective whereby the world is understood as the emanation of the Ultimate, the fruit of the original vibration that becomes less and less refined over the course of time. According to this point of view, the goal of yoga is precisely to awaken one to the primordial sound in order to become united with the supreme presence (atman-brahman) in a process of reabsorption. Colette Poggi, a specialist in Shivaism Kashmir, describes this complex relationship to the mantra in the practice of pranava yoga as follows:
“OM is Brahman, OM is the universe, OM is consent. Taittirîya Upanishad. Thus, as this verse suggests, by pronouncing the akshara OM, aloud, in a whisper, or mentally, the practitioner acquiesces to the order of the world, enters into resonance with the fabric of reality, vibrates in unison with the infinite vibratory matrix in which the universe arises and resorbs itself.[18]
Main willingly takes up this vibratory aspect of the mantra from Hinduism, as he does the advaitic (non-dual) dimension of meditation, which we will consider anon, but he incorporates it into a Christian vision of the world. He makes this clear when he writes,
I learnt to meditate from a man who was not a Christian but he certainly believed in God—knew God—and had a deeply vital sense of God dwelling within him. Now it may be significant that it was not until 15 years after I learned to meditate with him that I began dimly to understand what my master had taught me and to understand the incredible richness of its full exposition in the Christian vision.[19]
Characteristics of Christian Meditation
The teaching and practice of Christian Meditation is at first glance part of a contemplative renewal in response to a crisis of spirituality within the Catholic Church. John Main perceives that Christianity is cut off from the source of life, having lost contact with the mystery of fullness, a power that is to be received as a gift.[20] According to him, the great weakness of Christians is that they may know the truth theoretically, but it doesn’t really live in their hearts.[21] Every merely intellectual theory is impersonal, and therefore only plausible, whereas the experience one has of it is the basis for knowing that it is true.[22] In other words, there is no knowledge of God without self-knowledge,[23] which is too often lacking among Christian. Since Main’s intention is to respond to the need to regain access to this divine life, the real challenge is “that we should recover a way of deep prayer that will lead us into the experience of union, away from surface distractions and self-conscious piety.”[24]Christian Meditation is the form of deep prayer that Main appropriates and proposes in a language adapted to the contemporary mentality. He does this, for example, when he situates it in a relationship with God, understood no longer in terms of reward and punishment, but of fullness and division, or when he prefers to speak of alienation rather than sin.[25]
Thus understood, meditation bears the seeds of a specific vision of the Church that is turned towards the world and bears witness to the divine mystery. The Christian community is not meant to be self-sufficient and preoccupied only with its own salvation; rather, it is empowered to act for the common good and to do so with humility. “The Christian in his prayer,” says Main, “renounces his own power. He leaves self behind. In so doing he places absolute faith in the power of Christ as the only power that increases the unity among men because it is the power of love, the power of union itself.”[26]
The image that then emerges is of a Church as leaven rather than fortress, a Church that, like Christ, is willing to make itself vulnerable (kenosis) and sees its mission not as perpetuating its own existence, but giving itself so that all may draw life from the living God, from God’s saving love.[27] This kind of renewed and triumphant Church does not strive to impose or convince but reaches out in love by incarnating the truth it has received, truth that coexists with diversity.[28] The harmonious coexistence of religious, cultural, and doctrinal differences is based on the unity that is experientially realized in our own hearts.[29] For the Christian, unity corresponds to Christ, who is all and in all.[30] Thus, for Main, the authority with which the Church communicates this experience of unity depends on the capacity of its members to make it their own truth.[31] This is what makes Christian Meditation a true ecclesial work in the service of peace.
In the passage for April 30 in Silence and Stillness in Every Season: Daily Readings with John Main, Main describes the essence of this “deep prayer” and its spiritual dynamics.[32] He writes,
The central message of the New Testament is that there is really only one prayer, and that is the prayer of Christ. It is a prayer that continues in our hearts day and night. It is the stream of love that flows constantly between Jesus and His Father. It is the Holy Spirit.
It is the most important task of any fully human life to become as open as possible to this stream of love. We have to allow this prayer to become our prayer, to enter into the experience of being swept beyond ourselves into this wonderful prayer of Jesus—the great cosmic rive of love.
In order for us to do this, we must learn a most demanding discipline that is a way of silence and stillness. It is as though we have to create a space within ourselves that will allow the consciousness of the prayer of Jesus to envelop us in this powerful mystery .[33]
From this description, three major elements emerge that allow us to identify what is at stake in Christian Meditation.
First of all, it basically corresponds to unceasing prayer; at least that is what it proposes for the neophyte. Main associates this prayer with the Holy Spirit,[34] with a flow of love,[35] with the fact of being pulled beyond oneself. We are to experience God as the depth of our being, which means entering into the experience of Jesus himself,[36] a Trinitarian experience understood as the intimate relationship between the Son and the Father that is possible thanks to the Holy Spirit.
This prayer lived as a permanent state in God has five main characteristics:
  1. It is beyond all that is transitory.[37] To meditate,” Main emphasizes, “does not mean turning one’s back on life, but on all that is fleeting in order to know who is eternal from this moment on.”[38]
  2. This continuous prayer is a life in God who is love, a life of fullness in harmonious communion with the whole of creation.
  3. It is the place of true joy.
  4. This state of union is already present in the depths of each one. It is not created or imagined, nor is it the fruit of our efforts. It is enough to awaken to it: “All our seeking for secret knowledge, hidden ways or teaching has been rendered unnecessary because the ultimate secret has been revealed: ‘the secret is this—Christ in you.’ So, in prayer we are not striving to make something happen. It has already happened. we are simply realizing what already is, by travelling deeper into the unified consciousness of Jesus, into the wonder of our own creation.”[39]
  5. Finally, this state of prayer is non-dual; it reconciles all opposites in what is beyond time, where it is impossible to “experience the experience.”[40] Rather, it is a matter of entering into experience to the point of verifying the famous expression of the desert fathers that the one who truly prays is not aware of it.[41] “The central task of our life, in the Christian vision, is to come into union, into communion. Putting this from the point of view where most of us start, it means going beyond all dualism, all dividedness within ourselves and beyond he alienation separating us from others.[42] Main further states that “meditation will bring us into deeper and deeper realms of silence. It is in this silence that we are led into the mystery of the eternal silence of God. That is the invitation of Christian prayer; to lose ourselves and to be absorbed in God. . . .[43]
We should here note the influence of Swami Satyananda, for whom the experience of non-duality is at the heart of meditation practice. He was a monk of the Order of Ramakrishna and followed Swami Vivekananda’s Advaita Vedanta, which he later studied with Sri Gurudeva - Shankacharya of Jyotirmath from 1940 to 1953. His teaching is closely linked to the Advaitic tradition of Adi Shankara (788-820). Before undertaking his work in Malaysia, Swami Satyananda spent time with Sri Ramana Maharshi, one of India’s greatest sages of non-duality (advaita). Later, with his Hindu master, Main discovered a non-dual interpretation of union with God that led him to formulate an apophatic understanding of Christian prayer according to which there can be no “experience of God.”[44] To experience God would mean to make him an object. But God is not an object; God simply is, without qualification. To see God is to become absorbed in God. There is no other way to divine union. Consequently, it is impossible to submit or surrender to God:
We can no longer seriously think of ourselves as summoned to “surrender” to God. In any surrender we retain the failure to dissolve the illusion of dualism. There remains an I to surrender, a Thou to surrender to. And in the light of the reality of God it matters little whether such dualism is retained due to fear or false piety. The result in any case is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia. We cannot surrender to the one with whom we are already united.[45]
The dualistic approach, which for Main is characteristic of spiritual childhood, is incompatible with the experience of union to which meditation gives access; it is also overtaken by the “new age of presence”[46] inaugurated by Jesus and which advaita allows Main to rediscover by casting new or forgotten light on the Trinity,[47] the central premise of Christianity, in an effort to preserve the greatness of God, a mystery beyond all images and all thought and yet at the heart of creation.
The second element that emerges from the way Main describes what the New Testament has to say about God’s unconditional love is his statement about the action required of those who meditate. They are to open themselves up to the divine flow of love mentioned above, allowing themselves to be absorbed in it and by resemblance becoming in some way this infinite presence. For this to happen, it is enough to be available here and now to the action of God who knows better than anyone what we need.[48] There is basically little, if anything, to do except to consent. There is no need for words, which, unlike silence, are incapable of making the divine presence a reality for oneself. This is why Main calls his meditation a prayer of faith,[49] a way of simplicity,[50] poverty,[51] silence,[52] love,[53]and attention.[54] However, while other mystics, for instance the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Madame Guyon, or, closer to us, Henri Le Saux, essentially promote an “active passivity” by emphasizing our total and unconditional dependence on grace, Main insists on a third element, the ascetic dimension, as did Augustine Baker OSB, thanks to whom Main discovered Cassian: “. . . the repetition of a formula is not what caught Baker’s attention in Cassian. . . . he searched the Conferences for general inspiration to validate the interior life of prayer.”[55]
This third element—one that is especially true for the beginner—is the necessary discipline of silence and stillness,[56] which allow one to be open to the work of God and make oneself available to the work of the Holy Spirit, an availability that is not at all self-evident. Because of the many distractions that darken the human mind, entering into the silence of the Presence is demanding and therefore requires asceticism.[57] Main presents Christian Meditation as “the great way of purification.”[58] Like a mirror, the mind is cluttered by many false images that one has of oneself. Each repetition of the mantra helps to dislodge them in order that we might to gradually reach full transparency.
The discipline proposed by Main for this silence and stillness consists essentially in the incessant and unconditional recitation of the mantra during the meditation period, in addition to other technical elements such as keeping one’s back straight[59] and eyes closed, maintaining a calm and natural breathing, and practicing for 20 to 30 minutes each morning and evening. Main sees in the use of a mantra the beginning of our pilgrimage towards the source,[60] but he refuses to reduce it to a technique that leads us to the integral consciousness of who we are fundamentally.[61] To enter this path we must enter more and more deeply into silence, going beyond words and thoughts and doing so under the increasingly conscious motion of the Holy Spirit.[62] Although the mantra is not an end in itself and refers to what is beyond itself, he presents it as the way par excellence, sometimes giving the impression that it is the one and only way.[63] For Swami Satyananda, the mantra sums up the essence of meditation. Main tends to adopt this understanding, which at first glance may seem exclusive, for he sees little value in other ways of meditation. Several passages in his writings suggest that meditation can only be understood in terms of the repetition of the mantra and the stages this repetition goes through. “It responds,” he says, “to all the requirements of the masters of prayer.”[64] “It is the best way to cope with distractions.”[65] “I can sum up meditation in three words: Say your mantra.”[66] He recognizes that this is the way to meditate that he has been given to practice and that he does not know any other way.[67] He recognizes that this does not invalidate other was of meditating, because there are de facto numerous methods in existence.[68] Nevertheless, he puts forward the claim that the practice of the mantra is universal and noted that it has been practiced by many Christian spiritual teachers since the earliest times of Christianity.
Debate concerning the repetition of the prayer word
Following a dispute over policies at the school he was in charge of at Ealing Abbey in England, John Main became headmaster of Saint Anselm’s Abbey School in Washington, DC.[69] It was there that he read Holy Wisdom by the English Benedictine and mystic Augustine Baker (1575-1641) and, in the section devoted to John Cassian (360-435), discovered that the way of the mantra is not at all foreign to Christianity. By drawing a parallel between the teaching of Cassian on prayer and the meditation he learned from Swami Satyananda,[70] he came to understand that his mission in the Benedictine Order was to teach meditation.[71] He was thus encouraged to deepen his knowledge of the spirituality of the desert.[72] Main was convinced that the practice of the formula (or verse) taught by Cassian was identical to what he had learned from his Hindu master,[73] a point that several of his disciples reiterate.[74] He concluded that this practice was followed in Benedictine circles, since Cassian was a bridge between the spirituality of the desert and Western monasticism.[75] On the one hand, Saint Benedict refers to Cassian in his Rule, and on the other, the “Conferences [Cassian’s writings] have been read by all generations of monks since the fifth century.”[76] It is not surprising, then, that Main was comforted to know that the way of the mantra found its place in the Benedictine family very early on. According to Paul Harris, this is especially true in the case of Henri Le Saux OSB, one of the few authors other than Cassian and the anonymous fourteenth-century author of The Cloud of Unknowing whom Main recommends for further reading at the end of his book Word into Silence, to inspire his readers to embark on the path of meditation with perseverance and determination.[77] These elements sufficed to confirm the tendency of Main and many of his disciples to present Christian Meditation as a common, even dominant and central practice of the contemplative tradition. However, Adalbert de Vogüé specifies that “ . . .  Latin monasticism has not produced a phrase analogous to the Jesus Prayer, nor has it even used any other Christian mantra in a sustained way.” [78]
What exactly is the situation? Did the authors mentioned above really teach meditation in the same way as Main? Many practitioners believe the teaching is the same,[79] but there is no unanimity. Some assert that this Hindu meditation is Christian only in appearance.[80] It is also worth noting that the Vatican expressed its critical opinion of Eastern methods of meditation and their influence on Christian prayer with the publication of the “Letter on Christian Meditation”[81] signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (1989) and the document on the New Age, “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life” (2003).[82] Even today it happens that students tell me about some parish circles in which Buddhist and Hindu methods of meditation, or those influenced by them, are regarded the work of the devil. Even if this kind of criticism appears to be quite rare and sporadic, it is nevertheless sufficient to put the followers of these practices on guard and to react by affirming their fundamentally Christian character.
A more nuanced and constructive perspective was provided by an online conversation that James Arraj had in the 1990s with members of Christian Meditation, among whom were Thomas Ryan and Paul Harris, to determine the influence of Swami Satyananda.[83] The following were some of the questions asked: “John Main learned to meditate using a mantra from his Hindu teacher, but what goal was his teacher aiming at? Was it the same goal as Christians have when they pray? If not, does this kind of mantra meditation become Christian just because a Christian makes use of it?”[84]
In order to provide at least a partial answer to these questions while taking into account the various positions, we will focus on the repetition of the prayer word as a central characteristic of Christian Meditation. While Main is in accord with the Fathers of the desert, Cassian in particular, and also with The Cloud of Unknowing and such modern authors as Thomas Keating and Henri Le Saux with regard to what is essential, namely to be in an immediate relationship with God beyond any image[85] and to be in an attitude of total availability without recourse to any personal effort or strategy,[86] we nevertheless note three major differences about the use of a prayer word. The first relates to the nature and role of the word to be repeated, the second to its application, and the third to the conditions of its use.
We should note at the beginning that this is a complex subject. Divergences do not necessarily cancel out convergences, and vice versa. Nuances are necessary and it is important to take note of them if we are to have an enlightened debate on the nature of the various methods of meditation and the stages of the contemplative path. The difference between the various teachings are not as obvious as some might think.[87] The risk remains that differences will be dismissed out of hand in favor of a consensus that may ultimately give the impression of a form of inclusivism, where commonalities serve a single vision of meditation. Here, then, are a few elements that, though worthy of further study, are sufficient to show the richness and relevance of the present debate at a time when there is increasing talk of awakening or of interspiritual dialogue.[88]
The nature and role of the word to be repeated.
We begin by noting the relationship between attention and intention in Christian Meditation and the prayer of consent, two forms of contemplative prayer that harken back to the same sources, principally the Conferences of Cassian and The Cloud of Unknowing. According to Keating, the word used in the prayer of consent is first of all an intention,[89] that of creating the conditions to manifest one’s availability to God, to say “I am here and waiting for you!”[90] The role of the sacred word, according to him, is therefore not that of the mantra: “We do not keep saying it until we drill it into our consciousness. It is rather a condition, an atmosphere that we set up, that allows us to surrender to the attractive force of the divine Presence within us.”[91] From this point of view, the sacred word, unlike the mantra, is not interventionist. It is not a means of reaching a desired state, but a renewed desire to let oneself be caught. “The sacred word is not a vehicle or means to go from the surface of the river to the depths. It is rather a condition for going there.”[92]While this understanding of the mantra must be qualified, since meditation for Main is not about trying to make something happen but about learning directly from the reality that sustains us,[93] the distinction made by Keating is still useful.[94] It is also important because it involves at least three other distinctions.
First, the mantra demands attention, the ability to focus[95] in order to experience our spiritual nature. Main speaks of reconnecting with our center,[96] and this is possible because “meditation cleans the mirror. . . . We see reality without being hindered by any reflection of ourselves. . . . Meditation is powerful because it leads us to that good order, tranquility, and peace.”[97] In Hinduism, meditation leads us to the discovery that we are identical with this deep nature, the Self (ātman). In Main’s theology, mediation is about our spirit living in fullness and realizing its union with God and with all that is.[98]
On the other hand, the sacred word taught by Keating is immediately and explicitly inscribed in a personal relationship where the meditator relies more and more on the Totally-Other: Centering prayer is not just sustained attention to a special word or image or to one’s breathing, but the surrender of one’s whole being to God. It is not just an experience of our spiritual nature, which can be gained by concentrating on a particular posture, mantra, or mandala. It presupposes a personal relationship; there must be a movement of self-surrender.[99]
Second, in order to be able to realize our true nature, the mantra then aims at calming the mind, without regard for any form of otherness, whereas the sacred word by its relational dimension is a call for help, a cry addressed to God. It is interesting to note with John Dupuche, a Catholic priest and expert on Kashmir Shivaism, that the mantra is in fact a covenant: “Thus the mantra, like all words and expressions, is a bridge between the speaker and the one addressed. The mantra is necessarily said to someone. I can become the mantra only if I say it to someone who receives the mantra, who listens and accepts the mantra.”[100] This remark reminds us that the mantra is understood and practiced in many ways in Hinduism. Swami Satyananda’s perspective is therefore not the only one, and it differs from a Tantric, Tibetan, or Shivite perspective. Main’s perspective is interesting because it tends to combine the concentration aspect of the mantra (in its practice) and its relational dimension (in its theological interpretation): “In meditation,” writes Main, “we are not thinking about God at all . . . we seek to be with God, to be with Jesus.”[101] These words show, moreover, that attention and intention are two intimately linked components of all meditative practice, and that while they cannot in fact be separated, one often overshadows the other. Therefore, as far as the practice of the mantra is concerned, it is true to say that Christian Meditation is more a matter of attention than of intention.
Third, since the purpose of the mantra is to allay thoughts, it follows that little or no importance is given to its meaning, precisely to make it a means of focusing. This is the position of Main, for whom the recitation of the mantra directs one to disregard all imagination and intentionality.[102] This is not the case for the sacred word, however, and in the prayer of consent it is conceived more as an invocation. Its meaning is the object of the meditators’ full attention, even if they are, in fact, directed not to respond to the temptation to elaborate mentally on the word itself.[103] This word is a way of saying “yes” to God at those times when one is tempted to turn away, a yes, it must be said, that comes from the heart and not from a reasoned will. It therefore makes good sense to speak of centering prayer as the prayer of consent, a term that gives a much better account of the nature of this prayer. The same goes for the formula to be repeated which, for Cassian, is joined to other practices to activate ardor for God, to increase zeal in prayer,[104] to set this prayer on fire, whereas for Main, as we have mentioned above, its function is also—he might say, above all—that of the Hindu mantra, namely, to provide a resonance rather than elicit a memory. We should add, however, that resonance and memory are not incompatible, as we see is the case in the Trika philosophy of Shivaism of Kashmir. It is again a question of nuance and accent.
Putting the word into practice.
Main and Cassian agree that the practice of the prayer word (or formula[105]) has as its goal the mastery of thoughts and the stability of the mind (apatheia) in order that there may be full openness to the presence of God. It is clear that Main is the heir of the spirituality of the desert in which the place of thoughts is central on the path to divine union; for Cassian they determine our future:
Before the time of prayer we must put ourselves in the state of mind we would wish to have in us when we actually pray. It is an inexorable fact that the condition of the soul at the time of prayer depends upon what shaped it beforehand. The soul will rise to the heights of heaven or plunge into the things of earth, depending upon where it lingered before the time of prayer.[106]
However, the difference between the two authors lies in their approach to thoughts. Although they both choose to recite a word or a verse, this recitation does not necessarily have the same resonance either in its relation to the meaning of the word or to the way it is repeated. While Main invites us to recite the mantra and not to depart from it under any circumstances during the morning and evening meditations, Cassian advises us to repeat the formula at all times and in all circumstances. This difference can be misleading and calls for closer consideration. The practice of meditation calls for the mantra to be gradually anchored in the deepest part of the one’s being, to the point that it will be enough to remember it at any time of the day to enter into the presence of God.[107] In this approach, the relation to thoughts is indirect in the sense that one does not take into account the kind of thoughts they are or their meaning; one simply ignores them by concentrating on the mantra.
Cassian’s approach to the formula goes in another direction.[108] The point is never to separate oneself from it in order that one may be mindful of God at all times[109] and thus avoid the attacks of the demons—masters in the art of taking advantage of human weaknesses[110] by making use of thoughts—and to confess that one cannot do anything alone without the help of divine grace.[111] Vigilance and humility have pride of place here.[112] Let us note that in Evagrius Ponticus, Cassian’s spiritual guide, each temptation calls for a particular response; to such and such an assault corresponds such and such a formula from the Psalms.[113] The relation to thoughts is direct here, since one takes into account the kind of thoughts they are in order to choose the most appropriate verse. This is also true to a certain extent in The Cloud of Unknowing whose author says that in prayer, which is essentially an aspiration of the soul, one should choose the word sinin order to obtain deliverance from all evil or the word God to obtain all that is good.[114]
Cassian, on the other hand, proposes a single verse that is useful against all temptations: “Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, LORD, to help me” (Psalm 70:1).[115] This verse, which one can easily identify as a mantra because it is the one and only verse proposed, indicates that it has a different function, namely, to protect oneself from thoughts which are called evil because they are under influence of the evil one. When Cassian exhorts those who pray never to depart from the formula, he is referring above all to the time of temptations, that is to say, to the ascetic period, which is mainly devoted to the eradication of vices and the development of virtues. Its recitation is part of the effort to learn how thoughts function and how they become obstacles to the vision of God, which, according to the Desert Fathers, is a requirement of the contemplative life. This effort is not required to the same degree at the next stage of the spiritual path—the Gnostic or mystical phase, which is dominated by grace acting within oneself—when poverty of spirit settles in of its own accord under the motion of the Spirit. In this case it is appropriate to allow oneself to be carried along by the fervor of love to rise beyond visible things:
Sometimes the soul lies low, hidden in the depths of silence. The stunning onset of sudden light takes all sound of voice away. All its sense are withdrawn into its own depths or else are let go and with unspeakable groanings it pours out its longings to God.[116]
Unlike the mantra, the verse is not to be constantly repeated without regard to what it means, and one can stop repeating it when senses the divine presence. Its use is not as central as that of the mantra in Christian Meditation, Rather, it is one of a diverse set of elements that govern the life of prayer. Of the twenty-four conferences of Cassian, only the ninth and tenth explicitly deal with prayer; Main refers mainly to the tenth. However, in these two lectures, only a few paragraphs deal with the use of a formula. In addition to this method, the author mentions several ways of praying (supplications, orations, requests and thanksgiving[117]) and an infinity of ways to kindle one’s fervor for a life in God:[118] serious and regular psalmody, devotion to a saint, vigils, meditation, prayer, [119] or even manual labor. The formula to be recited is not imposed from the outset as the only practice to be adopted on the contemplative path.[120]
Flexibility with regard to the word to be repeated is perhaps even more evident in The Cloud of Unknowing. It is clear that its author advises us to choose a word, to fix it in our heart, and not to stray from it for anything in the world,[121] but he also affirms,
Study thou not for no words, for so shouldest thou never come to thy purpose nor to this work, for it is never got by study, but all only by grace. And therefore take thou none other words to pray in, although I set these here, but such as thou art stirred of God for to take.[122]
The word becomes useless as soon as we feel called by grace to raise our hearts to God in a humble outpouring of love.[123] Keating adopts this flexibility in the prayer of consent. When divine love infuses an attraction to itself, rest is advised: “There is no question of repeating the sacred word as if it were a magic formula to empty the mind or to force the word upon your consciousness.”[124] As long as thoughts come and go, there is no need for the word; it is useful only when a thought becomes persistent. But then again, the sacred word is not the only option; more often than not, inner movement without a word is enough. It can also be replaced by simple attention to whatever attracts our attention in a pronounced way:
One way to deal with intense restlessness, physical pain, or emotions, such as fear or anxiety, that arise at such times of unloading is to rest in the painful feeling for a minute and allow the pain itself to be your prayer word. In other word, one of the best ways of letting go of an emotion is simply to feel it.[125]
The conditions for using the word.
In order to practice Christian Meditation, it is enough to want to, whatever one’s primary motivation, and then to show determination in the incessant repetition of the mantra. Local, national, and international communication strategies (websites, leaflets, various activities, gathering places, etc.) make it accessible to a large number of people. In the Conferences, however, the practice of the formula is reserved for the few. Cassian speaks of it as a secret transmitted by some of the desert fathers. It is not given to everyone, only to that very small number who ardently desire it.[126] The reason for this is not specified. However, since he writes that it is a powerful method, could it be that it could cause more harm than good if it were to be practiced without the necessary preparation or maturity? One thing is certain, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing also specifies that his teaching, which includes the practice of the word, should not be given to everyone, especially not to those who are troubled in mind, garrulous, flatterers, the slanderers, those who have not yet renounced the world or who are still in the active (or ascetic) life.[127] His position is clear: “it is not a practice for everyone but only for those with a high degree of purity and maturity in the Christian life.”[128] Nonetheless, Main believes that Cassian teaches the verse to anyone who wants to learn to pray,[129] a view shared by Laurence Freeman, for whom it would be “absurd and presumptuous to say that meditation is only for the mature Christian. How can we humbly say ‘mature’ of ourselves, least of all about others?”[130] If it is right to say that the call to the contemplative life must be heard by all,[131] it is still true that this call is above all interior and does not depend on one’s own will. Hence the need for discernment, which is often defective without the help of a knowledgeable guide.
To deal with this point, we need to distinguish different stages in the spiritual path. The Christian tradition has always drawn a distinction between beginners, adepts, and the perfect. Cassian’s teaching that access to the verse should not be offered to all would seem to indicate a certain elitism that is not well regarded by today’s democratic societies, which are reluctant to prioritize skills and states or experiences. However, we should note that Cassian emphasizes that the formula is a method for beginners.[132] The path to perfection requires starting with very easy things, as is the case with children who need to learn the alphabet in order to read words.[133] Now, the beginners spoken about by Cassian do not, it seems to me, correspond to the many people who, at the present time, are being introduced to Christian Meditation. They are, in fact, at least in one of the several stages of the “ascetic phase.” This phase, as it has been described in the monastic world since Evagrius Ponticus and taken up by Cassian,[134] is not suitable for all Christians in the sense that it implies a certain degree of renunciation; in actuality, few engage in it.
According to Main, we are all beginners in meditation.[135] This is certainly true in the sense that meditation always calls us to a new way of looking at things. Since seeing things in a new way does not depend on our efforts, on which we would be tempted to rely, it is also true that living in the Spirit with complete transparency is not a given and requires that we engage in many purifications in order to gradually refine our spiritual senses. Furthermore, some have a sharper and more accurate understanding of the subtleties of the path and its dead ends than others. Thus, the question about what method is appropriate for the beginner is neither meaningless nor insignificant, for it has implications for spiritual accompaniment and the degree of preparation required for a contemplative life.
There is then a notable difference in the way Main and Cassian approach the use of the mantra. For Main, it is essentially based on silence and stillness. Cassian adds another element, withdrawal from the world (xeniteia),[136] which is prior to the other two. From the point of view of the spirituality of the desert, poverty is based on the necessity of not being concerned about the well-being of the body, nor about visible and earthly things, the honors of the world,[137] the kind of renunciation that is at the origin of monasticism and that Christ himself demanded of his disciples (Mark 6:8-9; Matthew 6:25-34). It is in this context that the practice of the formula or verse is transmitted to the novice, provided that the guide or spiritual father (abba) considers it appropriate for his spiritual development.
The monastery without walls that Main dreamed of creating[138] is different from Cassian’s idea of a monastery. For Main, evangelical poverty does not consist in withdrawal from the world but in the practice of the mantra itself.[139] Murray notes that there is a notable difference in the intensity of self-denial between the two, one that should not be overlooked: “They [the followers of Christian Meditation] combine meditation with such practices as Rolfing and Hatha Yoga, rather than abandoning all bodily concerns and cares.”[140]
Pierre-François de Béthune, a Benedictine monk and former secretary general of monastic interreligious dialogue, describes various degrees of the practice of contemplative prayer in dialogue with other spiritualities, one of which is the Main’s Christian Meditation. He writes that it corresponds to those who “adopt methods of prayer, influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam, but refashioned by Westerners such as K. Dürckheim, John Main, Thomas Keating, etc.”[141] Main, as we have seen, owes much to his master, Swami Satyananda, in his understanding of the mantra and its unquestioned repetition, as taught by another disciple of the Swami, Maharishi Masheh Yogi, in his promotion of Transcendental Meditation. Hence Philip St-Romain’s remark in reaction to the debate launched by Arraj: “Indeed, the only formal distinction between Christian Meditation as taught by John Main and TM as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is the wording of the mantra itself.”[142] Main, for his part, recounts the words of his friend, a monk disciple of Ramakrishna, after having introduced him to Christian Meditation: “Father John, this is exactly our tradition of meditating that we have from Ramakrishna himself through Swami Vivekananda!”[143] However, it must be said that Christian Meditation is not a Hindu practice. Main finds an echo of the use of a mantra in Cassian and in the Cloud of Unknowing, even if, as we have tried to show, they do not necessarily think of it in the same way. This explains, for example, why Keating, although drawing on the same sources, uses the prayer word differently in the prayer of consent than Main does in Christian Meditation.
On the other hand, the similarity of Christian Meditation with the “Jesus prayer” or prayer of the name, regarded as the soul of the hesychast movement, is more obvious. Henri Le Saux, for whom the closest Hindu equivalent to the Jesus prayer is nāmajapa, describes its progression well. First, God’s name is placed on the lips, repeated aloud or whispered. Then the recitation becomes interior, pure attention of the mind being given to the name repeated over and over again. Finally, at the higher level, when the name has penetrated the heart, prayer radiates everywhere and at all times. The transformation and unification of all desires is the experience of the Holy Spirit.[144]
This description corresponds in many ways to the steps of Christian Meditation laid out by Main.[145] While Le Saux recognizes that this prayer is more efficacious than any other—though stating that “There are indeed no methods, yet there is something which can help us further and further into the sanctuary of the soul”[146]—he has not made it the center of his spiritual life as Paul Harris maintains.[147] Nothing in his writings affirms this, although it is quite possible that Le Saux, even though he never taught it or even formally recommended it to his disciples, may have practiced it at certain times in his life, especially during silent retreats.[148] What is of highest importance for Les Saux is not the practice of a particular technique, but “simply to realize God’s presence to us”[149] in the greatest simplicity, under the guidance of a guru. Sri Gnanananda was his, and at the end of his life he would become one for his disciple, Marc Chaduc.
Speaking of Sri Gnanananda, the sage of Tirukoyilur, Le Saux states, “His communication with the disciple is never through the intermediary of things. It is direct, in depth, at the source of his being. It is true that nothing is felt except a peace which reveals and illumines—and which transforms the one who can receive it.”[150] The heart-to-heart relationship with the guru is the setting par excellence in which Le Saux awakens to advaita, the experience of non-duality that is the essence of the teaching of the Upanishads. It is at the center of his life and his theological concerns, “and no prayer remains possible for him who has realized the truth of the truth of the Upanishads.[151]
It is useful to bring this kind of precision to bear on contemplative prayer lest the simplicity that Main and his disciples claim defines Christian Meditation lead to an a priori and oversimplified identification of their practice with other types of contemplative prayers.[152] I believe it is pointless to argue for the authenticity of the kind of meditation proposed by Main by trying to connect it to the teaching or example of this or that great Christian spiritual figure and, in so doing, minimize its Hindu influence. We can understand why some would choose this approach to respond to the suspicion of those Christians who consider it to be a Hindu practice that dare not speak its name.[153]
While Murray and I believe that the Christian Meditation community, because of its involvement in interreligious dialogue, especially with Tibetan Buddhism, can rightfully acknowledge the influence of Swami Satyananda, we do not agree that Christian Meditation is “a hybrid of Hindu and Christian meditation techniques, rather than meditation in the Christian tradition.[154] It should be remembered that there is no such thing as a watertight seal between religions; indeed, all religions are the result of a great syncretic process,[155] and in this respect a meditation practice is no less Christian if it is influenced by foreign currents. We share the view of Ramon Panikkar that “John Main harmonized what he learned from the East and from the West. From every discovery there is a new creation.”[156] We are therefore reluctant to use the formulas chosen by de Vogüé: ”Indian mantra Christianized by John Main”[157] and “Main’s Christian japa[158] Even if it is true, as de Vogüé claims, that Main’s approach “is in no way trying to smuggle in under the umbrella of the Conferences, a commodity foreign to Christianity”[159] these formulas do not give sufficient account of the new creation evoked by Panikkar. Meditation as presented by Main is a new tree in the Christian spiritual landscape that has grown even beyond the boundaries established by its founder and to give its good fruit to an ever-increasing number of people.
The Christian character of the meditation practice taught by Main is thus rooted in its theological, ascetical, and ethical coherence, grasped and preserved from what emerges as the essence of the contemplative tradition since the Gospel. Let us note that this tradition is not static; it does not consist in reproducing identically what has been done in the past. Rather, it is kept alive and develops by being enriched by the always unique spiritual experience and practice of men and women, sometimes in dialogue with other religions, whose ascetical and theological insights are both new and resonant with those of past experiences and practices. De Vogüé refers to this development in these words: ”Methods serve us, and each person ought to make his or her own, with the actual data of his or her own nature and background”[160] This is the case of Main whose
rediscovery of the basic practice learned from his Indian master, in an author expressly recommended by St Benedict, allowed him to re-form the unity of his spiritual being on this practice, by reconciling these two elements: the wisdom acquired in India and the gift of self in Christian monasticism, the experience of Eastern meditation and loyalty to the Benedictine tradition.[161]
Thus what he proposes has something unique. Since it is linked to his own life journey; it cannot be otherwise. But unique here does not necessarily mean marginal.
It may be true that in the beginning, novelty meets with resistance. This was the case for Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, and many others. But once it is anchored in a structure that gives it a coherence that is certainly specific but in conformity with the spirit of those who preceded it in faith, it has no choice but to become an aspect of the tradition. If Main and Keating each take up the teaching of the Cloud of Unknowing and use it to counter the accusations of their detractors, they nevertheless end up with two different and original approaches to meditation, two coherences open to the same mystery. Hence the importance, when one adopts a practice, to follow it fully by grasping its profound logic. The coherence must be preserved. By this we mean the capacity of a method of prayer, whatever it may be and whatever its parameters, to lead the meditator on the contemplative path, with its stages, its obstacles, and the counsel of spiritual accompaniment, until it reaches a life in fullness, of love and freedom, in union with the Trinitarian God.
Christian Meditation derives this coherence from the structure that was put in place by Main and his disciples. It allows each person to devote him/herself to it with confidence and security. Since it would take another article to explain in detail the content of this coherence, let us simply note that the founder’s teachings, the publications of his disciples, its group meditations offered at regular times, the guidance offered by facilitators, its relationship to lectio divina and to the liturgical life of the Church, and its resourcing seminars are all elements that give meditation practice its orientation and effectiveness.
However, if this structure is lacking, meditators who are then poorly accompanied may find themselves in a dead-end situation. What if the animator, whose main task is to remind people to be persevering in the recitation of the mantra, does not make it a personal practice? What happens when a meditator switches from one method to another in order not to become discouraged or because she is slow to see the fruits of the mantra? What about a meditator who was attracted by a prayer of such simplicity and then feels guilty about letting go of the prayer word because he has become dissatisfied with its repetition that seems to lead him nowhere, sometimes after many years of practice? Good guidance is fundamental.
For the Fathers of the Desert and The Cloud of Unknowing, it was the master (abba) who performed this function for the novice. In Christian Meditation, which is accessible to the many, it is the structure just mentioned that provides guidance. Hence the importance of the reminder on the site of the Diocese of Hamilton in Ontario (Canada) by the local branch of the international community for Christian Meditation:
Christian Meditation follows a common practice or steps that are observed globally. It is not meant to be interpreted or modified (e.g., playing nature CDs or soft background music during meditation), so it remains true to its original purpose and intent.”[162]
For Main, being part of a tradition that is judged to be reliable is the condition for carrying out this journey towards the unknown to which meditation leads us when our mind expands in love, It should be pointed out, however, that the reliability in question principally rests not on the homogeneity of the practices that constitute it but on the preservation of the coherence—theological, ethical and ascetical—specific to each of those practices.
The contemplative renewal that in our day contributes to vivifying a Church that is “out of breath” is characterized by its diversity (of practices and influences) and by its dialogical dimension (with other religions, with other Christian confessions, with the body and the environment, etc.). This renewal owes much to Christian Meditation and continues to pose questions new and old. Their impact on the future of the Christian faith cannot be minimized. In this sense, the contemporary recourse to apologetics, which is inherent in Christian theology, has its relevance, but on condition that it not be primarily at the service of dogma and a Church closed in on itself, but rather directed at aiding people who are on a spiritual quest. It is not a question of defending God, but the human being in God whose desire is to enter into the silence of the heart and to preserve intact the openness to this loving Presence in which alone we find salvation. At a time when there are many who are attracted to silence and many who are ready to help them in their spiritual quest, such theological discourse is healthy and even desirable. However, it needs to be anchored in an experiential approach to the contemplative path, with “access to the inaccessible” as its raison d’être. Otherwise, it risks going astray by locking itself into sterile and counterproductive quarrels.

Translated and edited by William Skudlarek

[1] John Main, Christian Meditation: The Gethsemani Talks (Medio Media Publishing, 2001), 13.
[2] Ibid., 14.
[3] Ibid., 15. See also Paul Harris, John Main. A Biography (London, Medio Media, 2001), 27.
[4] Harris, John Main, 22.
[5] Ibid., 28.
[6] Main, Christian Meditation, 16.See Harris, John Main, 29.
[7] Harris, John Main, 29.
[8] Paul Harris, ed., John Main By Those Who Knew Him (London: Medio Media, 2007), 93-94.
[9] Harris, John Main, 44.
[10] Harris, John Main, 46.
[11] John Main, Word into Silence (New York, Paulist Press, 1981), 5.
[12] Stefan Reynolds, PhD, is an oblate of the World Community of Christian Meditation and author of “Hindu Mantra Meditation and Christian Contemplative Prayer. Swami Satyananda (1909-1961) and John Main O.S.B. (1926-1982)” in Dilatato Corde 4, no. 2 (July-December 2014).
[13] “If Main did not attach particular importance to the contents of Isaac’s phrase but only retained the principle of repeating a phrase, this can be easily explained by considering the Hindu tradition of the mantra, which is somewhat undetermined and left to the choice of the meditator.” Adalbert de Vogüé, “From John Cassian to John Main: Reflections on Christian Meditation” in  John Main: The Expanding Vision, ed. Laurence Freeman and Stefan Reynolds (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2009), 105. The article is a translation of “De Jean Cassien à John Main. Réflexions sur la méditation chrétienne” in De Saint Pachôme à Jean Cassien. Études littéraires et doctrinales sur le monachisme égyptien à ses débuts. Studia Anselmiana 120 (1996).
[14] “John Main shows his Hindu influence in stressing that it is not so much the meaning of the word as the sound and vibration that
is important in the practice.” Reynolds, “Hindu” Accessed April 6, 2020.
[15] Main, Christian Meditation, 14.
[16] Ibid., 41, 43, 45. See John Main, Silence and Stillness in Every Season, ed. Paul Harris ((New York: Continuum, 1977), 1.
[17] John Main, Inner Christ (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1987), 109.
[18] This quote is taken from an unpublished text of talk given by Colette Poggi to yoga practitioners.
[19]Reynolds, “Hindu” Accessed April 6, 2020.
[20] Main, Silence and Stillness, 156.
[21] Main, Word, 5; Christian Meditation, 25, 28; Silence and Stillness, 42.
[22] Main, Christian Meditation, 28.
[23] “In learning to meditate, we must pay attention firstly to ourselves.” Main, Word, 3. See Kim Nataraj, The Weekly Teachings archive, Year 2 Letter 42.
[24] John Main, Word into Silence (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), ix.
[25] Ibid., 14.
[26] Ibid., ix.
[27] Ibid., 76.
[28] Harris, John Main, 47.
[29] Main, Word, ix, 13.
[30] Ibid., ix.
[31] Ibid., ix.
[32] This passage from April 30 is a remarkable digest of the preface of Main in John Main, Word into Silence (New York, Paulist Press, 1981).
[33] Main, Silence and Stillness, 121.
[34] Ibid., 51.
[35] Ibid., 48.
[36] Harris, John Main, 36. Main, Word, x.
[37] Main, Word, 29.
[38] Main, Silence and Stillness, 83.
[39] Main, Word, x.
[40] Main, Silence and Stillness, 25.
[41] John Cassian Conferences, trans. Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1985) 120. (Conference 9:31)
[42] Main, Word, vii.
[43] Harris, John Main, 38.
[44] “Prayer for John Main involved the realisation of our ‘oneness with God’ which he said was ‘the raison d’être of all consciousness.’ In one of his letters he links this to the identity of Atman and Brahman in the Upanishadic tradition. The spiritual journey, for him, starts with the discovery of the Self where we discover our own spirit in union with the Spirit of God. In one of his last letters he writes that our knowledge of God is always participatory, a sharing in God’s self-knowledge. So, he says, ‘strictly speaking, meditation does not give us any “experience of God”‘: ‘God does not experience himself, he knows. For God to experience himself would suggest a divided consciousness. . . .The more we see God the further our self-consciousness contracts, for to see God is to be absorbed into him. To have the eye of our heart opened is to lose the very sense of the “I” that sees.’” Reynolds, “Hindu” Accessed April 6, 2020.
[45]Reynolds, “Hindu” Accessed April 6, 2020.
[46]Reynolds, “Hindu” Accessed April 6, 2020.
[47]Reynolds, “Hindu” Accessed April 6, 2020.
[48] Main, Word, 65.
[49] Ibid., 23; Silence and Stillness, 6.Christian Meditation, 46.
[50] Main, Silence and Stillness, 60, 181. Christian Meditation, 46.
[51] Ibid., 44. 
[52] Ibid., 131.
[53]Main, Christian Meditation, 46.
[54]Main, Word, 3.
[55] Adalbert de Vogüé, “From John Cassian to John Main,” 110.
[56] Main, Silence and Stillness, 2.
[57] “In order to enter into this holy and mysterious communion with the Word of God dwelling within us, we must first have the courage to become more and more silent.” Main, Word, 7.
[58] Main, Silence and Stillness, 36.
[59] Main, Christian Meditation, 40.
[60] Harris, John Main, 40; Main, Word, 29.
[61] Main, Word, 3, 47.
[62] “All Christian prayer is basically the experience of being filled with the Spirit. . . .” Main, Word, 13.
[63] Paradoxically, this impression seems to be justified by the willingness within the Christian Meditation community to deny that this assertion: “I do not ask you to believe at the outset that this is the way.” Laurence Freeman, Light Within: The Inner Path of Meditation (New York: Crossroad, 1986), 2. In response to the question What is Christian Meditation? the website of the diocese of Hamilton (Ontario, Canada), says that it is “ONE form of prayer and it is a discipline that requires practice, concentration and commitment.” Accessed April 6, 2020. Click on “Additional programs” under “Faith Formation and Liturgy” and search for “Christian Meditation.” Then click on “Christian Meditation – Diocese of Hamilton.”
[64] Main, Word, 53..
[65] Harris, John Main, 41. Main, Silence and Stillness, 181.
[66] Harris, John Main, 41.
[67] Main, Word, 42; Harris, John Main, 36.
[68] “I do not wish to imply that meditation is the only way, but rather than it is the only way I have found.” Main,Word, 42. Main further specifies, “the only way that I have been able to find to come to that quiet, to that undistractedness, to that concentration, is the way of the mantra.” Harris, John Main, 36. However, there are several passages in his writings that suggest that meditation can only be understood in terms of the mantra to be repeated and its steps: “The venerable tradition of the mantra in Christian prayer is above all attributable to its utter simplicity. It answers all the requirements of the masters’ advice on how to pray. . . .” Main, Silence and Stillness, 4. See Harris, John Main, 40, 41; Main, Silence and Stillness, 181;Main, Christian Meditation, 14-15.
[69] Main, Christian Meditation, 16.
[70] Ibid., 17.
[71] Although Main was a candidate for the abbatial office twice, first at Ealing Monastery in England and then at Saint Anselm’s in Washington DC, he was not elected by either community. This changed the course of his monastic career, allowing him to concentrate on teaching meditation to lay people, and that in turn led him to become one of the great figures of the contemplative renewal. Harris, John Main, 31, 42.
[72] Harris, John Main, 35.
[73] Ibid., 34.
[74] Freeman, Light Within, 5.. (74) James Arraj and Philip Saint Romain, Critical Questions in Christian Contemplative Practice (Chiloquin OR, Inner Growth Books, 2007), 9-10.
[75] Main, Silence and Stillness, 23.
[76] Jacques Dubois, “Cassien Jean (350 env.-apr. 432),” in Encyclopædia Universalis. Accessed June 14, 2020.
[77] “One of the most inspired books of our time is Saccidananda by Abhishiktananda, a Benedictine monk who lived the Christian experience of prayer in India until his death in 1973. The book proclaims with unmistakable personal authority both the fully personal and fully universal nature of the Christian experience.” Main, Word, 81
[78] de Vogüé, “From John Cassian to John Main,” 103.
[79] Arraj and Saint Romain, Critical Questions, 10, 13, 14.
[80] See the video of Joseph-Marie Verlinde, La méditation chrétienne de John Main, accessed April 6, 2020) in which he affirms that “The so-called ‘Christian meditation’ spread by the Benedictine monk John Main, and then after his death in 1982, by his disciple Laurence Freedman, is in fact only an attempt to ‘Christianize’ an Eastern meditation technique.” In the United States, Mother Angelica (d. 2016), founder of the international broadcast cable networkEWTN (Eternal World Television Network) and during her lifetime, its main spokesperson, publicly identified the prayer of consent promoted by Keating as a New Age practice. Thomas Keating, “The Christian Contemplative Tradition”, North American Board for East-West Dialogue 46 (1993), 11. Finally, we can mention Dave Hunt (1926-2013), a prolific fundamentalist Christian apologist in the United States, who wrote, “Mantras play a major role in yogic meditation. There are Christians who imagine ‘Jesus’ can be a ‘Christian mantra’ to be repeated over and over. No! That leads to mindlessness. Any mantra (like the Catholic rosary) violates Christ’s command, ‘use not vain repetitions, as the heathen’ (Matthew 6:7). Making a mantra out of His name is thus doubly wrong.” Yoga and the Body of Christ. What Position Should Christians Hold? (Bend OR: The Berean Call, 2016), 158.
[82]Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life. See Fabrice Blée, The Third Desert: The Story of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue,
trans. William Skudlarek with Mary Grady (Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 2011), p 163-172. See also my: “Can Christians Engage in Non-Christian Practices? Eastern Meditations and Contemplative Prayer” in Paul Hedges, ed., Controversies in Contemporary Religion, vol. 3 (Santa Barbara (CA)/Oxford (GB): Preager, 2014), 277-304.
[83] Arraj and Saint Romain, Critical Questions, 8.
[84] Ibid., 8.
[85] See Conference 10:3 in John Cassian Conferences, 126.
[86] The similarity of Main to Cassian and great spiritual writers like John of the Cross is not so much in his approach to the word to
be repeated, but rather to the kind of relationship with God that is the object of the world, a state in which the person who is praying is not aware of praying. Cassian reports that Abba Antony said, “Prayer is not perfect when the monk is conscious of himself and of the fact that he is actually praying.” John Cassian Conferences, 120. (Conference 9:31).
[87] Arraj and Saint Romain, Critical Questions, 10.
[88] Letter of Richard Rohr, An Interspiritual Awakening, Center for Action and Contemplation, September 13, 2020. Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko, The New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 2015); Kurt Johnson and David Robert Ord, The Coming Interspiritual Age (Vancouver: Namaste Publishing, 2013); Wayne Teasdale, ed., Awakening the Spirit, Inspiring the Soul: 30 Stories of Interspiritual Discovery in the Community of Faiths (Nashville: Skylight Faith, 2004).
[89] “The sacred word . . . is sacred not because of its meaning, but because of its intent.” Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart. The contemplative dimension of the Gospel (Rockport MA: Element, 1993), 43.

[91] Ibid., 86.
[92] Ibid., 44.
[93] Main, Silence and Stillness, 183.
[94] Man also speaks of the mantra as a vehicle: the mantra will lead you to silence, to discipline, to concentration.” Main, Silence and Stillness, 63.
[95] “Meditation is in essence the art of concentration.” Main, Word. 54.
[96] Main, Silence and Stillness, 37, 68.
[97] Ibid., 36.
[98] Ibid., 40.
[99] Keating, Open Mind, 46.
[100] John Dupuche, Jesus, the Mantra of God (Melbourne: David Lovell Publications, 2005), 22.
[101] Main, Christian Meditation, 27.
[102] Harris, John Main, 39-40.
[103] The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. Patrick J. Gallager (Kalamazoo MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), 38. Chapter 7, last paragraph. The link is to a .PDF of the edition prepared by Evelyn Underhill (London: John M. Watkins, 1922), which she describes as “not for the student of Middle English, nor for the specialist in mediaeval literature; but for the general reader and lover of mysticism.”
[104] See Conference 9:36 in John Cassian Conferences, 124.
[105] Cassian does not speak of a word to be repeated, but of a phrase or a verse taken from the Psalms: “Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, LORD, to help me” (Psalm 70:1) it is a prayer addressed to God.
[106] John Cassian Conferences, 139f. (Conference 10:14).
[107] For his part, de Vogüé specifies: “The two half-hour periods of meditation, morning and evening, of which Main speaks, obvious do not exclude this day-long occasional and spontaneous repetition.” de Vogüé, “From John Cassian to John Main,” 109.
[108] See Ibid., p 507-522.
[109] John Cassian Conferences, 132-136 (Conference 10:10)
[110] “ It is not without good reason that this verse has been chosen from the whole of Scripture as a device. It carries within it all the feelings of which human nature is capable. It can be adapted to every condition and can be usefully deployed against every temptation. It carries within it a cry of help to od in the face of every danger. It expresses the humility of a pious confession. It conveys the watchfulness born of unending worry and fear. It convey a sense of our frailty the assurance of being heard, the confidence in help that is always and everywhere present. Someone forever calling out to his protector is indeed very sure of having him close by. This is the voice filled with the ardor of love and of charity. This is the terrified cry of someone who sees the snares of the enemy, the cry of someone besieged day and night and exclaiming that he cannot escape unless his protector comes to the rescue.” John Cassian Conferences, 133. (Conference 10:10)
[111] Ibid., 135. (Conference 10:10)
[112] In Cassian’s case, “the end of these phrases to ‘say without ceasing’ was not to support continual prayer but to inculcate certain attitudes of vigilance or of humility. . . . “ de Vogüé, “From John Cassian to John Main,” 103f. See also 105 and 106.
[113] Charles-Antoine Fogielman, “Les deux traités à Euloge d’Evagre le Pontique” (Doctoral thesis in Greek patristics, École pratique des hautes études, 2015), 22.
[114] Cloud, 67. Chapter 39.
[115] de Vogüé, “From John Cassian to John Main,” 106. (Conference 10:10).
[116] John Cassian Conferences, 117. (Conference 9:27).
[117] Ibid., 107 (Conference 9:9).
[118] Ibid., 117. (Conference 9:26)
[119] Ibid., 139. (Conference 10:14)
[120] de Vogüé, “From John Cassian to John Main, ” 107 and 110
[123] “Therefore what time that thou purposest thee to this work, and feelest by grace that thou art called of God, lift then up thine heart unto God with a meek stirring of love . . . and receive none other thought of God . . .for it sufficeth enough, a naked intent direct unto God without any other cause than Himself.” Cloud, 37. Chapter 7.
[124] Keating, Open Mind, 57.
[125] Ibid., 97.
[126] “This is something which has been handed on to us by some of the oldest of the Fathers and it is something which we hand on to only a very small number of the souls eager to know it” John Cassian Conferences, 132. (Conference 10:10)
[127] Fleshly janglers, open praisers and blamers of themselves or of any other, tellers of trifles, ronners and tattlers of tales, and all manner of pinchers” Cloud, 22 100. Prologue and end of chapter 74.
[128] Arraj and Saint Romain, Critical Questions, 15.
[129] Main, Word, 9.
[130] Freeman, Light within, 7.
[131] Ibid., 8.
[132] John Cassian Conference, 140. (Conference 10:14)
[133] Ibid., 130. (Conference 10:8)
[134] de Vogüé, “From John Cassian to John Main,” 107.
[135] Main, Word, 49; Silence and Stillness, 14
[136] “This, I say, is the objective of all perfection, to have the soul so removed from all dalliance with the body that it rises each day to the things of the spirit until all its living and all its wishing become one unending prayer.” John Cassian Conferences, 130. (Conference 10:7)
[137] “We pray when re renounce this world, when we undertake to die to all the world’s deeds and mode of living and to serve the Lord with all our heart’s zeal. We pray when we promise to despise worldly glory and the earth’s riches and to cling to the Lord with contrite hearts an poverty of spirit. We pray when we promise to put on the purest bodily chastity and unswerving patience or when we vow to drag completely from our hearts the root of anger and the gleam [sic; gloom] which is the harbinger of death. John Cassian Conferences, 108. (Conference 9:12)
[138]SeeMonastery without Walls: The Spiritual Letters of John Main, ed. Laurence Freeman (Norwich UK: Canterbury Press, 2006).
[139] Main, Silence, 41.
[140] Arraj and Saint Romain, Critical Questions, 14.
[141] Pierre-François de Béthune, By Faith and Hospitality. The Monastic Tradition as a Model for Interreligious Encounter, trans. Dame Mary Groves OSB (Herefordshire UK: Gracewing, 2002), 56.
[142] Arraj and Saint Romain, Critical Questions, 15.
[143] Main, Christian meditation, 41.
[144] Henri Le Saux, Prayer (London: SPCK, 1967), 52-58.
[145] Main, Christiana Meditation, 42; Main, Word, 54-55.
[146] Le Saux, Prayer, 51; Shirley Du Boulay, The Cave of the Heart. The Life of Swami Abhishiktananda (New York: Orbis, 2005), 143.
[147] In his letter to me of March 30, 2020, Paul Harris said, “It is interesting that the mantra suggested by John Main in Christian Meditation, ‘Maranatha,’ is an Aramaic word which translates “Come Lord Jesus”. We are back again to the name of Jesus, and the Jesus Prayer, as practiced by Le Saux.” Cited with permission.
[148] Du Boulay, The Cave, 143-144.
[149] Le Saux, Prayer,3.
[150]Abhishiktananda, Guru and Disciple, trans. Heather Sandeman (London: SPCK, 1974), 16
[151] “The Upanishads and the Advaitic Experience” in The Further Shore: Three Essays by Abhishiktananda (Delhi: ISPCK, 1975/1984), 103.
[152] In his March 30, 2020 letter to me, Paul Harris wrote, “I’ve made my case Fabrice. The current Christian tradition of contemplative prayer as practiced in the Jesus prayer, Centering prayer or Christian Meditation, is the identical same way of prayer as practiced by Le Saux in his day.”
[153] Fabrice Blée, “Can Christians Engage in Non-Christian Practices? Eastern Meditations and Contemplative Prayer,” p 277-304.
[154] Arraj and Saint Romain, Critical Questions, 15.
[155] “ It can be said that all the great religions, including Christianity, are the result of an immense syncretic process that is still ongoing.” Achiel Peelman, L’inculturation. L’Église et les cultures (Paris/Ottawa, Desclée/Novalis, 1988), 144.
[156] Harris, John Main, 55.
[157] de Vogüé, ”From John Cassian to John Main,” 112.
[158] Ibid., 108.
[159] Ibid.
[160] Ibid., 113.
[161] Ibid., 102.
[162]Website of the diocese of HamiltonClick on “Additional programs” under “Faith Formation and Liturgy” and search for “Meditation.” Then click on “Christian Meditation – Diocese of Hamilton.” Accessed June 15, 2020.
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