Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Dangers of Tai Chi

A man performing tai-chi at sunrise on the beach
Tai-chi at sunrise
Today's post on the dangers of tai chi is based on a book, Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki: A Guide For Christians, written by Brother Max Sculley, DSL, a De La Salle brother based in Brisbane, Australia. I first discovered this book in late 2013 as part of my effort to become better informed about the New Age and occult practices that have infiltrated into the mainstream of Canadian society, and in particular within my local community.

Prior to the discovery of this book, the thought of embarking on readings about yoga, tai chi and reiki, as well as other New Age and occult practices—material that was totally unfamiliar to me—seemed like a daunting task. The last thing I wanted was to be burdened with what I initially thought would be, volumes of reading on Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern beliefs. But along came Brother Max's book, which proved to be exactly what I had hoped for: a well written and thoroughly researched book that was easy to understand and follow. To top it all off, this book is only one hundred and eighty pages.

The Foreword and Preface are sure to impress the reader with a solid introduction to the truth about these New Age practices, that includes stern warnings from Brother Max, and then Auxiliary Bishop Julian Porteous of Sydney, Australia (Archbishop of Hobart, Tasmania), on the dangers associated with these practices. Also included are Br. Max's insights from his research and experience in Australia, and a case study of the worst case scenario that can result from these practices: demonic possession. The main content is segmented into Parts A-D that deal with yoga, tai chi, reiki, and the Age of Aquarius respectively. The Endnotes are sure to satisfy any reader's desire for further reading, followed by a much needed Glossary that provides the reader with a quick reference to the many new, unfamiliar, and bizarre terms that are rampant when reading about the New Age.

My desire to discover the truth about yoga, tai chi, and reiki complimented the thrust behind why Br. Max wrote his book; that is, to spread and increase awareness about these practices among Catholics and Christians alike. As he stated in the Preface, with his involvement in Christian adult education for twenty-five years, he became increasingly concerned that many Christians (priests, religious, and laity) were becoming practitioners of "energy practices," such as yoga, tai chi and reiki. To make matters worse, these New Age practices were performed in Catholic institutions. 

Drawing attention to another sad reality, Br. Max spotlighted how the release of Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian reflection on the "New Age," in 2003, evoked little response from local Church leaders, which for some Catholics, such silence was interpreted as assent. In light of this, and due to the popularity of these three "energy systems," Br. Max decided to write a comprehensive critique of yoga, tai chi and reiki. It serves as a timely warning against these popular mainstream practices that claim to provide wellness, health and relaxation, but in fact are inextricably linked to Eastern philosophies that are incompatible with Christianity.

As for what Br. Max has written about yoga and reiki, you may want to read my two previous posts, Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki: A Guide For Christians, and The Deception and Dangers of Reiki: A Counterfeit to Christian Healing

In Part B of his book, Br. Max has dedicated three separate chapters on tai chi: Just an Innocent Pastime, Taoist Philosophy, and To Chi or not to Chi. The remainder of this post includes selected information from these chapters, that in my view, was of particular importance: altered states of consciousness; warnings from Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, Tasmania, on the dangers of these practiceswhat exactly is tai chi, where it came from and what it is based on; how some Christians have welcomed tai chi; the problem with tai chi; meditation in movement; how tai chi has entered and gained acceptance in predominantly Christian countries; some of the key points to consider in Br. Max's answer to, should Christians practice tai chi; and my concluding thoughts.

Altered States of Consciousness

A common thread running through these three "energy systems" are techniques that produce altered states of consciousness (ASC), which as Br. Max explains in the Prefaceare abnormal mental states created by a variety of techniques, which are "...[G]enerally characterized by a significant reduction of logical thought and passivity of will. (8) At the advanced level of ASC, practitioners can achieve occult powers and even supposed divinization. There are four main dangers that can result from ASCs: mental illness, demonic influence, spirit possession, and occult bondage.

Altered states of consciousness do not include mental states such as day-dreaming, sleeping and dreaming which are part of the natural cylce of human life. Nor should it be applied to genuine Christian or biblical mystical experiences such as visions, ecstasies or prophetic revelations, which occur not due to human techniques, but spontaneously and unbidden by the direct action of the Holy Spirit. As Br. Max notes, genuine mystical experiences result in, "...[A] world view and a morality in accord with biblical and Christian tradition; they generally help to build up the People of God in their faith, and recipients of such revelations glorify, not themselves or demonic spirits, but the one true God." (8)

At the heart of each belief system is the worship of an impersonal god, so vastly different from the personal God of Christianity, whose outstanding characteristic is loving mercy as revealed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Our Saviour and Redeemer.

The Foreword by Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, Tasmania

Archbishop Julian Porteous affirms the clarity with which Br. Max alerts and informs readers to the dangers of yoga, tai chi and reiki, adding his own warning that engaging in these techniques will lead practitioners into a world that is inimical to the Christian faith.

What readers come to quickly understand is that these techniques not only rely on physical movements, but engage practitioners to enter into an altered state of consciousness. Archbishop Porteous warns readers that the engagement of the mind, which practitioners are led to believe is necessary to achieve any real benefit, is where the real danger lies. Although these practices are advertised as relaxation, fitness, and general health, what they really represent, is a Trojan horse for dangerous spiritual infiltration. As practitioners seek to know more about these techniques, they can unwittingly be exposed to demonic powers. Here is what Archbishop Porteous had to say about the danger of such demonic exposure:
They have ventured into a mysterious world lacking the sound guidance that Christianity offers. When one encounters preternatural powers the question does need to be posed: what is the origin and nature of these powers? If they are not from God revealed by Jesus Christ, then where do they come from? Venturing further into this exotic world can lead a person to embracing a belief in and a personal subjection to powers that do not come from the true God. Indeed, a person who follows these religious philosophies to their full extent can find themselves worshiping a false God. (2)
As to the deception by advocates of these practices, Archbishop Porteous warns readers that when they declare these practices to be non-religious, they do so only in an attempt to reassure "newbies" that they are not being duped into another religion. The truth of the matter is that yoga, tai chi and reiki, have a strong theological basis that is contrary to, and incompatible with Christianity. In fact each of these practices has a spiritual origin (demonic) which draw practitioners into their "religious" philosophies. As Archbishop Porteous points out, "They all offer an alternative understanding [a typical characteristic of New Age] of the make-up of the human person and they invite people to discover their view of the divine reality." (3)

What I found particularly helpful was the archbishop's inclusion of two Vatican documents, the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditationissued on October 15, 1989, on the Feast of Saint Teresa of Jesus by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), and Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian reflection on the "New Age," issued in 2003 as a joint effort by the Pontifical Council For Culture and the Pontifical Council For Interreligious Dialogue. Both documents serve as key readings to further one's understanding and knowledge base of the New Age, and what constitutes authentic and genuine Christian meditation.

In the first document, the methods of meditation used by Eastern religions were compared with Catholic tradition of meditation. It warns of the dangers associated with embracing Eastern forms of meditation which may threaten the integrity of Christian prayer.

The second document contrasts New Age religiosity with Christian faith. It reveals the difference between the Christian faith in a personal God revealed through Jesus Christ with the impersonal energies proposed by various New Age spiritualities. Archbishop Porteous asks the question, "Is God a being with whom we have a relationship or something to be used or a force to be harnessed?" (4)

The archbishop goes on to say that Brother Max, "...[A]ddresses these questions by revealing clearly that what underpins these techniques is quite foreign to Christianity and damaging to the faith and possibly the life of the practitioner." (4) Here is how he concluded the Foreword:
This book is timely...With the widespread use of these practices and with many Catholics attracted to their use this book provides a very valuable service in warning of the dangers associated with embracing the underlying philosophies to these practices. (4)
For the Christian the spiritual life is an engagement with the Holy Spirit. This Spirit offers the pure water of saving grace. The Catholic tradition is rich in experience and teaching in the ways of the spiritual life. We have the example of the great mystics and a library of spiritual writings that offer wisdom, insight and sure guidance for anyone wishing to enter more deeply into the divine life offered through faith in Jesus Christ, who is the "bearer of the water of life." (5)
So what exactly is tai chi?

Tai chi is commonly marketed as a means to: reduce stress; improve physical and emotional health; self defence in the form of a martial art; and fostering spiritual development. It comprises of: gentle, balanced relaxation exercises; slow, rhythmic, abdominal breathing; and forms of meditation that includes focussing on one's breathing, visualizing one's movements, and visualizing the chi (the "natural energy" of the universe that permeates all things including the human body) within the body feeling the chi move. Chi is stored just below the navel, and it can give incredible strength in combat, and can be used to heal oneself and others.

When one thinks of tai chi, the image that probably comes to mind is similar to the photo published with this post, referred to as the "physically active" practice, but there is also the "physical passive" practice, known as "chi kung" (Qigong). In chi kung, one takes up a yoga-like posture, remaining completely still, while all the time breathing in a controlled and retarded way. Where the tai chi is "meditation in movement" (explained later in this post), chi kung is "meditation in stillness." With chi kung, the methods of meditation are similar to that of raja yoga and zen meditation, and whose purpose is the same as tai chi; that is, to empty the mind and achieve an altered stated of consciousness. The ultimate achievement in tai chi and chi kung is to become divine.

According to Chinese medical theory, chi is transmitted throughout the body along a series of energy channels called "meridians." Apparently, there are fourteen such channels, where the chi radiates to every cell in the body. The most significant of these channels is just below the navel, and is commonly referred to as the "tan tien," which literally translates into "field of breath," or "sea of chi."

If any of this appears to be harmless, quite the opposite is true. Brother Max warns of the danger, "Proficiency in the ability to control the flow of chi provides the adept with a range of psychic gifts, the most prominent being superhuman powers of strength and ability to heal oneself and others." (75) It begs the question, where or from whom do these gifts come from. If it is not from God, then any achieved power, strength and ability to heal, is of demonic origin.

Some Christians have welcomed tai chi

Tai chi's entry into the mainstream culture has not limited itself to the secular world. Lured by claims that tai chi stimulates physical and mental well-being, many Christians have embraced tai chi, including religious Brothers and Sisters. The notion that tai chi movements assist with circulation and muscular toning, while in a state of relaxation, is the appeal presented in many clubs, gyms, and retirement homes.

Brother Max includes a few examples from his own personal encounters with Christians who practice tai chi, citing one in particular, a Catholic retreat centre in New South Wales (NSW). This retreat centre had a created a flyer, explaining tai chi while at the same time, promoting a local tai chi academy. He states that perhaps the interest in tai chi at Catholic spirituality centres might account for why so many religious Sisters have embraced it with great enthusiasm. He also reveals how many get duped into practicing tai chi; they become enthusiastic about it once they realize it is not a religion but a philosophy.

Citing another example of tai chi's infiltration into the Catholic community in NSW, Br. Max writes of one Catholic diocese, whose staff practiced tai chi as part of a "staff spirituality day," with the full backing of the Catholic Education Office. When Br. Max expressed his concerns, raising his objection on religious grounds, he soon discovered the level of ignorance and indifference among so many Catholics with regard to the New Age; he was politely informed that tai chi is completely neutral, and based on philosophy, and has nothing to do with religion. If this is true, what then is the problem with tai chi.

Brother Max's thesis on the problem with tai chi?

Tai chi is in fact based on Taoist philosophy, and not the religion of Taoism, developed some five hundred years after the philosophy, but what many fail to realize is that the Taoist philosophy is itself a system of religious beliefs. Here is Br. Max's thesis:
  1. Tai chi, imported from China, is inextricably linked with a system of religious beliefs called Taoist philosophy.
  2. The key beliefs of Taoist philosophy clash head-on with the beliefs of Christianity.
  3. Altering one's state of consciousness, a practice common to tai chi and chi kung, is highly dangerous spiritually. It can easily open one up to demonic influences and may result in occult powers, a number of which are specifically condemned in the Bible.
Meditation in Movement

The movement in tai chi is slow and quiet, harmonious, free-flowing and continuous, but it also engages the mind, seeking to create a balance between the mind and the body. The mind is engaged even before any physical movements, by "mindful breathing" which focusses the mind on slow, rhythmic, abdominal breathing.

During the actual exercises, the mind leads the movement by imaging it. Brother Max cites the example of a practitioner moving in such a manner as if rowing a boat. The mind visualizes the body in action of rowing a boat, and watches the body doing so. In this way, the mind and the body are brought "into harmony." In Taoist philosophy, this process is referred to as "emptying the mind," and once achieved, it is at this point of emptiness that the unconscious mind becomes receptive to the cosmic chi.

All this is in sharp contrast to what is proper to Christianity. For Catholics and Christians alike, the approach of emptying oneself in no way implies a disconnect with the true God of Israel. The emptying of oneself that God requires is a renunciation of personal selfishness, and not the renunciation of those created things that God has given us, and has placed among us for our earthly pilgrimage. Pope Emeritus Benedict XI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, clearly makes point understood in his Letter to The Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation:
On this topic St. Augustine is an excellent teacher: if you want to find God, he says, abandon the exterior world and re-enter into yourself. However, he continues, do not remain in yourself, but go beyond yourself because you are not God: He is deeper and greater than you. "I look for his substance in my soul and I do not find it; I have however meditated on the search for God and, reaching out to him, through created things, I have sought to know 'the invisible perfections of God' (Rom 1:20)." "To remain in oneself": this is the real danger. The great Doctor of the Church recommends concentrating on oneself, but also transcending the self which is not God, but only a creature. God is "deeper than my inmost being and higher than my greatest height." In fact God is in us and with us, but he transcends us in his mystery. (19)
How tai chi has entered and gained acceptance in predominantly Christian countries

Brother Max answers this question, drawing from the Australian experience. He explains that originally, tai chi had to overcome two obstacles. The first was to gain acceptance for such a gentle, non-physical art in such a sporting nation. The second wast to gain acceptance in a country with a significant amount of Christians, many of whom would be inclined to look upon tai chi with suspicion, especially coming from pagan China.

These two obstacles did not discourage tai chi masters, who set out with determination and shrewdness to overcome them. An opportunity presented itself in the 1980s, when tai chi was marketed as a remedy to the increased levels of distress that many Australians were coping with.

Proponents of tai chi successfully marketed it to those with Christians who had a very limited, if any, understanding of Taoist philosophy. As Br. Max notes, "While presenting chi as intrinsic energy or life-force, not as a divine force, proponents and teachers often fail to mention the underlying philosophy that all created things are divine manifestations of chi and that the ultimate purpose of tai chi is to enable the practitioner to become divine." (81) Considering those who it was marketed to, such a deceptive presentation would fail to raise any concerns.

The fact remains that engaging in forms of meditation that induce altered states of consciousness is sufficient to create changes in one's belief system.

Is it appropriate for Christians practice tai chi?

Brother Max answers this question in chapter eight's, To Chi or Not To Chi. He first begins by asking the important question, "So is tai chi compatible with Christianity?" His reply, "My answer is a definite No." (99)

Christians who practice tai chi place themselves in serious spiritual danger. Those that know the truth about tai chi, clearly understand that its philosophy leads to the worship of a false god, resulting in the development of occult powers in the pursuit of becoming divine. Even if one attempted to distance oneself from the philosophy, the techniques involved with "meditation in movement" are so significant that they alter the practitioner's state of consciousness. An emptied mind coupled with a passive will exposes the practitioner to the danger of demonic influence, that in an advanced state of "enlightenment," could lead to demonic possession.

It is with this knowledge that Christians need to make a decision, either they are for Christ or against Him. Brother Max makes that decision crystal clear, citing Saint Paul Letter to the Corinthians, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons." (1 Corinthians 10:21)

I think this is an especially important reference to focus on because it really puts the practice of tai chi into perspective. What St. Paul wrote about in that scripture passage, idol worship, is disguised today in many forms, one of which is through the doorway of solutions to good health and a stress free life. Saint Paul's admonition to flea from the worship of idols is something that all Christians should pay heed to.

This is how Brother Max applied St. Paul's admonition to tai chi, prompting Christians to ask a very important question, "The tai chi-er who makes a total surrender of mind and heart to the cosmic chi is performing a personal act of worship to a non-existent idol which masks demonic powers, and in doing so, runs the serious danger of being in communion with demons. Should such a person be approaching the altar of the Lord?" (102)

Another aspect of tai chi that should alarm Christians to its dangers, is the potential for practitioners to obtain a variety of super-human powers that are demonic in their origin. Through the combination of mind altering techniques, and the worshipful surrender to false gods of chi, adepts have acquired super-human powers that defy rational explanation: feats of extraordinary physical and aggressive strength, seemingly miraculous healings, predicting the future, reading minds, astral projection, and communicating with the spirit world.

The practice of tai chi brings with it an altered state of consciousness that combined with idol worship induces communion with the demonic. It is at this communion with demons that supernatural powers are produced in the adept. Some may perceive such powers as identical to the Christian charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, but this is nothing but a attempt by Satan to counterfeit authentic Christian gifts, something that Satan is capable of doing. For anyone seeking to determine the source of any package of "gifts," one only look to the actual gifts and how they are used. As Br. Max states, if these gifts are used for channelling, then such gifts are contrary to biblical teaching and occultic. He goes on to further state that, "Suffice to say that if such extraordinary gifts are exercised by someone claiming either to be a god or on the path to divinity, then such gifts come not from the Spirit of God but from Satan." (104)

One final point that I will include from Br. Max's answer to whether or not Christians should practice tai chi, spotlights the false claim made by some Christians involved in tai chi, that they neither accept the Taoist philosophy nor perform any mind altering techniques. As Br. Max states, any tai chi master would deplore such a hollowed-out version of the art. According to such claims, a person would not be performing tai chi, but a graceful from of callisthenics. Brother Max goes on to explain that, if one performs these "graceful callisthenics," not part of a tai chi class or watching a tai chi video, then it would appear there is no spiritual danger. On the other hand, if one is participating as a member of a tai chi class, then one can be influenced unconsciously by the occult power emanating from the teacher or others in the class. (107)

My concluding thoughts

Since my initial post on Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki: A Guide For Christians, in February 2014, I have had the opportunity to discuss the dangers of these New Age and occult practices with a few individuals. From these exchanges, there were a few that listened attentively, some politely rebuked me, while others simply did not take it seriously. 

It seems that most of those who I have communicated with, fall into the skeptic category. Why are they so skeptical. I cannot say for certain, but I suspect there a few reasons:
  1. The message is simply discarded because of the messenger.
  2. Due to some actually being practitioners of these "energy systems," the claims that I have proposed, in their view, do not match the reality of their experiences.
  3. The mention of the spiritual battle, the demonic or Satan, is considered by some, the talk of fanatics.
  4. Most if not all, have neither experienced the dangers themselves; nor have they ever seen or know of anyone else who has; therefore, my claims are non-sense.
  5. They personalize the issue in other ways; some women derived a perceived "positive experience" with their girlfriends at yoga classes, and so the mention of ASCs and the demonic was completely preposterous.
Although Satan successfully convinces many that he does not exist, the reality is, he does exist. Those that don't believe in the devil, don't believe in the Gospel. 

Perhaps it would be most fitting to mention Giotto di Bondone's fresco, depicting the expulsion of the devils from Arezzo, by the Franciscan Friar Brother Sylvester. He was sent by St. Francis of Assisi to rid the town from these unseen enemies who had besieged Arezzo, causing discord and division amongst the townspeople. Saint Francis' instructions were simple and clear, "Go up to the town gate," he said, "and in the name of almighty God command the devils in virtue of obedience to go away immediately." (St. Bonaventure's Major Life of St. Francis, Chapter VI, No.9.) Brother Sylvester did what he was told. The devils were immediately expelled, and all arguments, resentment, anger and hatred ceased; peace was restored.

May we never be so foolish or prideful to think that demonic influence has nothing to do with the New Age and occult practices.

May we repeat the well known prayer, etched in the St. Benedict Medal, as our renewed fidelity to Christ, and our renouncement of Satan, "Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux!" The English translation, "May the holy cross always be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!"

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