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By Ray Yungen
What Is New Age?
My first exposure to what I later came to know as the New Age movement was in 1974 when I moved to Berkeley, California to attend a film institute. From the first day I arrived, I found “Berserkeley” (as it was nicknamed) to be a fascinating and exotic town, a place unlike any I had ever seen. The town surged with a rebellious, wacky vitality. It has been said of Berkeley that the strange and the odd are ordinary and the conventional out of place.
Berkeley had a notorious reputation as a hotbed of student protest dating from the Free Speech movement in 1964. I lived only a few blocks away from the vacant lot called “People’s Park,” which was the scene of bloody clashes between police, street people, and students in 1969. Militant Leftist rhetoric and literature were in evidence everywhere. Telephone poles displayed various manifestos and communiques from groups with formidable sounding names such as “the People’s Revolutionary Underground Red Guerrilla Commune.” Pictures of Chairman Mao and Karl Marx decorated the walls of several co-op health food stores.
There was also a very open and prevalent drug culture. Smoking pot in public was so common that it was taken for granted. I was familiar with the drug culture and radical politics through personal exposure and the media, but it soon became apparent that there was something else happening in Berkeley that I had not encountered before.
Many unfamiliar terms began to catch my attention. I met people who talked about such things as “karma” and “exploring inner space.” I frequently heard the words aquarius and aquarian, and it was commonplace to ask about a person’s “sign.”
I noticed that many of those who were using these terms were not burned-out street people but rather the articulate and well-educated. Their unusual spiritual outlook intrigued me, but I passed it off as the eccentricity associated with Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay area. Had someone told me this “aquarian consciousness” would someday spread through every facet of Western society, I would have thought them as crazy as the wildlooking street people hanging around the periphery of the University of California.
While living in the Berkeley Film House I became friends with Brian, a young man from the East Coast. Brian was personable, intelligent, and witty. With both of us being avid film buffs we enjoyed many good times together discussing the cinema,and even made plans to collaborate on a film someday.
After I had completed my film courses, Brian offered to drive me home to Oregon in his rattletrap Volkswagen bug so he could check out the beauty of the Northwest. Eventually, he settled in a city near my hometown enabling us to keep in touch.
During our visits, Brian often talked about subjects he termed spiritual or holistic. Often he spoke about Christ or “Christ consciousness” and the world peace and brotherhood which would eventually be achieved though this. It all sounded very positive.
After each of his sermons, I wondered just what it was he was trying to convey. The words he used were familiar, but the meanings he attached to them were peculiar and out of place. The exchanges I had with Brian were very frustrating at times.
Whenever I tried to present a more traditional Christian viewpoint on spiritual matters, he would become highly irritated and respond with, “The Bible is nothing but metaphor to show deeper spiritual truths,” or “The churches have completely missed the real meaning of Jesus’ teachings and have substituted rigid rules and dogma to control people instead.” Brian was adamant on this belief.
What perplexed me was how Brian had developed these spiritual ideas, which he had tried so hard to make me understand. He didn’t belong to a cult or anything of that sort, so I wondered where these ideas came from. I would ask him, “Brian, what is this?” He would shoot back, “You can’t label truth.” Although I didn’t see it clearly at the time, Brian’s spiritual outlook was a mixture of what he referred to as, “all the world’s great spiritual traditions and paths.” He talked about Jesus and often quoted from the Bible, yet he had a little shrine in his apartment to the Hindu mystic and saint Sri Ramakrishna. He genuinely felt there was no difference between the teachings of Jesus and Ramakrishna. “The great masters all taught the same thing—the kingdom of God is within,” he would declare with great conviction.
A curious spiritual movement has increasingly made itself known in the Western world. It is collectively referred to, both by its adherents and its foes, as the New Age movement. There is no question that this spirituality has the potential to impact the lives of the majority of the population today regardless of class or ethnic background.
An accurate definition of the New Age movement would be: Individuals who, in the context of historical occultism, are in mystical contact with unseen sources and dimensions, who receive guidance and direction from these dimensions, and who promote this state-of-being to the rest of humanity.
It is extremely difficult to understand this movement without first understanding the underlying belief systems and practices that accompany its agenda. Equally necessary is an understanding of where these beliefs and practices originated and how they have become pervasive.
The Age of Aquarius
The term “New Age” is based on astrology. Those who believe in astrology believe there are cosmic cycles called “Astrological Ages,” in which Earth passes through a cycle or time period when it is under the influence of a certain sign of the zodiac. These “Ages” last approximately 2,000 years, with a “cusp” or transitory period between each.
Those who embrace astrology say that for the last 2,000 years we have been in the sign of “Pisces,” the fish. Now they say we are moving into the sign of “Aquarius” or the “Age of Aquarius,” hence the “New Age.”
The Aquarian Age is supposed to signify that the human race is now entering a “Golden Age.” Many occultists have long heralded the Aquarian Age as an event that would be significant to humanity. That is why one New Age writer stated that “a basic knowledge of Astrological Ages is of enormous importance in occult work.”1
They believe that during these transitions certain cosmic influences begin to flow into the mass consciousness of mankind and cause changes to occur in accordance with the spiritual keynote or theme of that particular Age. This phenomenon is known as “planetary transformation”—an event they believe will bring “universal oneness” to all mankind. The view is that as more and more members of the human race “attune” themselves to “Aquarian energies,” the dynamics of the “old age” will begin to fade out.
Just what “energies” are we supposed to be attuning ourselves to? New Age thought teaches that everything that exists, seen or unseen, is made up of energy—tiny particles of vibrating energy, atoms, molecules, protons, etc. All is energy. That energy, they believe, is God, and therefore, all is God. They believe that since we are all part of this “God-energy,” then we, too, are God. God is not seen as a Being that dwells in heaven, but as the universe itself. According to one writer, “Simply put, God functions in you, through you, and as you.”2
The Age of Aquarius is when we are all supposed to come to the understanding that man is God. As one New Age writer put it, “A major theme of Aquarius is that God is within. The goal in the Age of Aquarius will be how to bring this idea into meaningful reality.”3
To fully comprehend the above concept, one has to understand its essence which is built on a belief system commonly referred to as metaphysics. The word translates as meta—“above” or “beyond,” and physical—“the seen” or “material” world. So metaphysics relates to that which exists or is real, but is unseen. The Dictionary of Mysticism describes metaphysics as “a science dealing with intelligent forces or unknown powers.”
Although the word metaphysics is used in non-New Age connotations, it is used in reference to the occult arts so often that the two have become interchangeable. From now on, when I use the term metaphysics, I am referring to New Age metaphysics.
Metaphysics concerns itself with the spiritual evolution of the human soul. This is called the “law of rebirth,” more commonly known as reincarnation.
Metaphysics teaches that there is the seen world known as the physical or material plane and the unseen world with its many different planes. They teach the “astral” plane is where people go after death to await their next incarnation or bodily state.
Metaphysical thought holds the view that we are constantly caught up in a cycle of coming from the astral plane, being born, living, dying, and returning to the astral existence. They believe that the reason for repeating this cycle is to learn lessons that are necessary for our evolutionary training.
The Earth plane is supposed to be the ultimate school. If a person “flunks” one incarnation, he must make up for it in the next cycle. This is called “the law of karma.” Reincarnation and karma are always linked together as there cannot be one without the other. Ultimately there is no evil, only lessons to be learned. What is the main lesson? That you are God. This is the basic tenet of metaphysical thought. How does one go about “learning” this? How is this perception achieved?
The ultimate goal in metaphysics is attuning oneself to “higher consciousness” thereby gaining an awareness of these higher worlds or realms. It is taught that the most direct way to achieve this is through the practice of meditation. Meditation is the basic activity that underlies all metaphysics and is the primary source of spiritual direction for the New Age person. We need only observe the emphasis which is placed on meditation to see the importance of it in New Age thought:
Meditation is the doorway between worlds . . . the pathway between dimensions.4
Meditation is the key—the indispensable key—to the highest states of awareness.5
Meditation is a key ingredient to metaphysics, as it is the single most important act in a metaphysicians life.6
What is meditation?
What exactly is meditation? The meditation many of us are familiar with involves a deep, continuous thinking or pondering about something. But New Age meditation does just the opposite. It involves ridding oneself of all thoughts in order to “still” the mind by putting it in pause or neutral. An analogy would be turning a fast-moving stream into a still pond by damming the free flow of water. This is the purpose of New Age meditation. It holds back active thought and causes a shift in consciousness. The following explanation makes this process very clear:
One starts by silencing the mind—for many, this is not easy, but when the mind has become silent and still, it is then possible for the Divine Force to descend and enter into the receptive individual. First it trickles in, and later, in it comes in waves. It is both transforming and cleansing; and it is through this force that divine transformation will be achieved.7
This condition is not to be confused with daydreaming, where your mind dwells on a subject. The way New Age meditation works is that an object acts as a holding mechanism until the mind becomes thoughtless, empty—silent.
English mystic Brother Mandus wrote of his adventure into these realms in his book This Wondrous Way of Life. He spoke of being “fused in Light” which he described as “the greatest experience of my life” which gave him “Ecstasy transcending anything I could understand or describe.”8
In order to grasp what this movement really entails the reader must understand what was happening to Brother Mandus. He wasn’t merely believing something on the intellectual level, he was undergoing a supernatural encounter. In truth, he had created a mental void through meditation and a spiritual force had filled it.
The two most common methods used to induce this “thoughtless” state are breathing exercises, where attention is focused on the breath, and a mantra, which is a repeated word or phrase. The basic process is to focus and maintain concentration without thinking about what you are focusing on. Repetition on the focused object is what triggers the blank mind.
Just consider the word mantra. The translation from the Sanskrit is man, meaning to think, and ti-a, meaning to be liberated from. Thus, the word means to be freed from thought. By repeating the mantra, either out loud or silently, the word or phrase begins to lose any meaning it once had. The same is true with rhythmic breathing. One gradually tunes out his conscious thinking process until an altered state of consciousness comes over him.
I recall watching a martial arts class where the instructor clapped his hands once every three seconds as the students sat in meditation. The sound of the clap acted the same as the breath or a mantra would—something to focus their attention on to stop the active mind.
Other methods of meditation involve drumming, dancing, and chanting. This percussion-sound meditation is perhaps the most common form for producing trance states in the African, North/South American Indian, and Brazilian spiritist traditions. In the Islamic world, the Sufi Mystic Brotherhoods have gained a reputation for chanting and ritual dancing. These are known as the Whirling Dervishes. Indian Guru, Rajneesh, developed a form of active meditation called dynamic meditation which combines the percussion sound, jumping, and rhythmic breathing.
The Cross versus the Higher Self
The New Age and Christianity definitely clash on the answer to the question of human imperfection. The former—the New Age—espouses the doctrine of becoming self-realized and united with the universe, which they see as God but in reality is the realm of familiar spirits. On the other hand, the Gospel that Christians embrace offers salvation to humanity through grace (unmerited favor). Romans 3:24 boldly states: “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” In Romans 6:23 we read:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This gift is not earned or given as a reward for earnest or good intentions as Scripture clearly states:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
This Scripture that tackles the issue of pride sharply distinguishes all of man’s religions from Christianity. Religion persuades us that man is innately good and, therefore, can earn his way to heaven through human perfectibility or, better yet, through the realization of his own divinity. Christianity emphatically states the opposite view that man needs to humbly recognize his own sinfulness and fallibility, and consequently needs salvation through grace.
The Holy Spirit, through the Scripture, convicts the sinner of his sinful and lost condition and then presents to the despairing and repentant man God’s solution—salvation through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the Cross:
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. (Ephesians 1:7)
[I]f you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
Salvation is entirely a gift of grace bestowed on whoever believes in Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross as both God and man. Consequently, we must receive Him as Lord and Savior, understanding that it is by grace and grace alone that we are made acceptable in Christ before a holy God. Justification is God’s gift to the believer. This saving faith, also a demonstration of God’s grace, is more than an intellectual belief in Jesus’ death on the Cross but involves committing and entrusting one’s life to Jesus as both Lord and Savior—Christ’s going to the Cross was a finished work, and we as believers are now complete in Him. Nothing else can be added to this. How totally opposite from New Age thinking is God’s plan of salvation!
It all comes down to the preaching of the higher self versus the preaching of the Cross. New Agers may say God is synonymous with a person’s higher self, and the experience of God can only be discovered by way of meditation. However, the Christian admits his or her sinfulness before a Holy God and remembers he is saved only by the grace and mercy of God through the sacrificial shedding of Christ’s blood for his sins.
The message of Jesus Christ reaches out to the lost human race with the love of God who sacrificed His only begotten Son for the Swami Muktanandas of the world. The Bible teaches that man has an inherently rebellious and ungodly nature (which is evident), and his ways are naturally self-centered and evil in the sight of God. The Bible teaches that God is not indifferent to us. The sacrifice of Christ for the ungodly to reconcile us to God reveals the Lord’s love toward Man.
This explains why Christianity must be steadfast on these issues. If a belief system does not teach the preaching of the Cross, then it is not “the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). If other ways are correct, “then Christ died in vain,” rendering His shed blood unnecessary and immaterial (Galatians 2:21).
Because of this conflict, we can safely assume that Christianity is the most formidable obstacle to the New Age, standing like a bulwark against this tidal wave of meditation teachers and practical mystics. But, incredibly, many of the most successful practical mystics are appearing from within Christendom itself. Ironically, instead of stemming the momentum of New Age spirituality, it is our own churches that may very well be the decisive catalysts to propel this movement into prominence. Certain spiritual practices are becoming entrenched in our churches that, like an iceberg, seem beautiful and impressive on the surface but in reality will cause severe damage and compromise of truth.
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1. Marion Weinstein, Positive Magic: Occult Self-Help (Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing, 1978), p. 19.
2. Anthony J. Fisichella, Metaphysics: The Science of Life (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1984), p. 28.
3. Weinstein, Positive Magic, op. cit., p. 25.
4. Celeste G. Graham, The Layman’s Guide to Enlightenment (Phoenix, AZ: Illumination Pub., 1980), p. 13.
5. Ananda’s Expanding Light, Program Guide (The Expanding Light retreat center, California, April-December 1991), p. 5.
6. The College of Metaphysical Studies website, “Frequently Asked Questions About Metaphysics, Spirituality and Shamanism” (http://www.cms.edu/faq.html).
7. “Yoga, Meditation, and Healing: A Talk with Joseph Martinez” (Holistic Health Magazine, Winter 1986), p. 9.
8. Brother Mandus, The Wondrous Way of Life (London, UK: L. N. Fowler & Co. LTD, 14th Edition, 1985), p. 28.
9. Marilyn Elias, “‘Mindfulness’ meditation being used in hospitals and schools” (U.S.A. Today, June 7, 2009, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-06-07-meditate_N.htm).
To order copies of Understanding the New Age, Meditation, and the Higher Self, click here.