Meditation, Delusion and Deception
David J. Bardin
He’s really not so transcendental
A true master of mental manipulation has targeted Washington, D.C. He calls himself Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. His devotees adore him, simply, as “Maharishi.” He sells Transcendental Meditation, with a Capital “M.” It differs from many kinds of small “m” meditation. So better examine it carefully before you buy.
His trademarked product, TM, has reputedly made him a billionaire. He lives reclusively on a luxury estate in Holland, far from the tax collectors of his former headquarters, in India, Switzerland and the U.S.A. But Maharishi’s agents are again in Washington, D.C., hunting for government funds to propagate TM and donations from unwary individuals.
Public funding by the District of Columbia, the federal government or a state would be unlawful because TM is a religion — not the science it pretends to be. Donations would be unwise because TM can harm people in the large doses Maharishi promotes though it carries no warning labels.
TM is a religion
Federal courts ruled years ago that Maharishi’s TM is a religion (Malnak v. Yogi, 440 F.Supp. 1284 (1977), affirmed, 592 F.2d 197 (3rd Cir. 1979). Government funding to propagate TM is therefore unconstitutional.
During the Carter Administration the Department of Health, Education & Welfare (HEW) and the New Jersey Department of Education funded an “experiment” to teach TM and its “Science of Creative Intelligence” (TM/SCI) as an elective in five public high schools. Teachers specially trained by TM taught students four or five days a week. If it “worked” the course would be taught statewide.
Several parents, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, Inc. (a Christian group based in Berkeley, California) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State asked the U.S. District Court for New Jersey to enjoin this experiment. These plaintiffs argued that TM was a religion and that the teaching of TM in public schools and the government funding were both an “Establishment of Religion” in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. TM representatives argued that TM is a secular science, not a religion.
Federal Judge J. Curtis Meanor ruled that TM is a religion. He enjoined HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano, Jr., N.J. Commissioner Fred G. Burke, school officials and TM’s umbrella organization itself from using public funds to propagate TM. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia unanimously affirmed. Judge Meanor’s injunction is still in effect today.
These judges looked to the religious nature of Maharishi’s SCI textbook, which was being taught, and the religious nature of his puja initiation ceremony, which TMers must go through individually to receive their secret meditation mantra. Without that mantra it is impossible to practice TM.
At the compulsory puja ceremony, held outside the school building, each student brought some fruit, flowers and a clean white handkerchief that were taken and laid on a table in a closed room. The student’s teacher would bow and make offerings many times to an 8″ by 12″ color photograph of Guru Dev, said to be Maharishi’s teacher, who had died in the 1950s. Each student’s teacher also sang a chant in Sanskrit and the student received “his own personal mantra which is never to be revealed to any other person.” (592 F.2d at 198.)
TM witnesses swore that the chant was a purely secular expression of gratitude to teachers. However, Judge Meanor read an English translation prepared by TM and found not one word of thanks in it. Rather, the chant describes a deified Guru Dev as “the Lord” and “Him” (with a capital “H”), among a slew of divine epithets quoted by Judge Meanor. For example:
The Unbounded, like the endless canopy of the sky, the omnipresent in all creation to Him, to Shri Guru Dev, I bow down, the Eternal, the Pure, the Immovable … to Shri Guru Dev, I bow down.
Nonetheless, a Catholic priest, Protestant minister and Jewish rabbi who practiced TM, testified that TM and the puja chant had no religious meaning — even after they had read TM’s English translation. For example, Rabbi Harry Sprig of Los Angeles practiced TM, recommended it to his congregants, called it “primarily a scientific technique,” studied Maharishi’s SCI and somehow found no conflict between his own religion and either the translated text or the accompanying ceremony. In sharp contrast, Rabbi Seymour Siegel, Professor of Theology at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, swore that in “the cultural setting of the United States and in the tradition of both Hebrew and Christian theology” such terms are “descriptive exclusively of a Supreme Being or God.”
Researchers will find that the District Court opinion in Malnak v. Yogi extensively excerpts Maharishi’s “scientific” SCI textbook and reprints the full text of his puja ceremony chant.
TM is not a science
TM’s “scientific” claims as a branch of physics are spurious. Physicist Heinz R. Pages, Ph.D., executive director of The New York Academy of Sciences, prepared an affidavit on behalf of ex-TMer Robert Kropinski in 1986 for a court case here in Washington, D.C. Pagels wrote as a “theoretical physicist specializing in the area of quantum field theory”:
My summary opinion is that the views expressed in the literature issued by [TM] that purport to find a connection between the recent ideas of theoretical physics — unified field theory, the vacuum state and collective phenomena — and states of consciousness attained by transcendental meditation are false and profoundly misleading. No qualified physicist that I know would claim to find such a connection without knowingly committing fraud.
TM hurts people
Maharishi’s lieutenants speak of promoting 20-minute doses of relaxation. How could that really hurt you (even if how-to lessons and “your own” secret mantra were overpriced at $600)?
They don’t tell you about the advanced (Sidhi) courses (priced at over $2,000) that Maharashi began to sell in the late 1970s. Advanced TMers meditate for hours at a time. That can stimulate delusions and hallucinations.
TM insists it can teach you to levitate and fly. (“Yogic flying” lessons may cost $3,000.) TMers don’t really fly. They hop, from a cross-legged yoga position. They develop awesomely powerful thigh muscles. They may develop aches. After hop, hop, hopping across a room, TMers coming out of their altered mental state may believe that they flew even though it never happened. Major TV programs have shown how “flying” TMers really hop. You can borrow a videotape to see for yourself.
The Washington City Paper reported (July 13, 1990, p. 14) that former TM teacher and yogic flyer Diane Hendel: “saw little creatures with wings” during intensive meditation periods. They were like my pets. They’d tell me things. ” Hendel was encouraged to believe that these winged beasties were “devas” — Hindu spirits of nature. “I began not to be able to tell who was a person and who was a deva,” she said. Hendel sought counseling, eventually quit meditating, and left the movement.
Intensive meditation can make TMers seem lifeless or flat, their personalities crushed and buried, devoid of emotion. In some cases, the meditator may go into involuntary meditation, which could be devastating if driving a car or at many kinds of jobs. Stanford psychologist Leon S. Otis (who believed many people could benefit from the 20-minute relaxation) concluded that his data raise serious doubts about the innocuous nature of TM. In fact, they suggest that TM may be hazardous to the mental health of a sizable proportion of the people who take up TM. (Adverse Effects of Transcendental Meditation, Update: A Quarterly Journal of New Religious Movements, 9, 37-50 ).
Maharishi has taught devotees that a TMer is healthfully “unstressing” when symptoms of distress accompany his meditation. Ex-TMers have sued TM, alleging severe harms. TM has generally settled out of court, including cases in Washington, D.C.
TM’s failure to communicate “warning labels”
Dr. Otis urged TM to “publicly recognize that problems may be engendered by meditation and so instruct potential initiates as well as to provide guidelines to both the general public and the psychotherapeutic profession for their amelioration.” An ethical guru would prepare for harmful side effects, and would immediately instruct sufferers to ease off on their meditation. Instead of “warning labels” about harmful side effects, however, Maharishi taught his aides to welcome adverse symptoms as evidence of “unstressing” and to encourage even more intensive meditation.
Debunking the “Maharishi Effects”
It is intensive, prolonged meditating that TM promotes and for which it claims all kinds of marvelous “Maharishi effects” when it is performed by masses of meditators. It is hard to keep up with TM’s claims for mass meditation. TM’s “intellectual” center at Fairfield, Iowa, called “Maharishi International University” (MIU) churns them out.
TMers claimed they influenced the weather at MIU while concrete was poured for buildings (the “Domes”) in which hundreds could meditate. A dispassionate study showed that the concrete contractor checked the National Weather Forecast each time before deciding to make a delivery the next day and that the meditators sought warm weather only later in the day, after the forecast on which the contractor relied was already made. (Trumpy, An Investigation of the Reported Effect of Transcendental Meditation on the Weather, The Skeptical Inquirer, VIII, 143 [Winter 1983/84]).
TMers claimed that if 1% of a city’ s population meditates regularly the crime rate would go down. In Fairfield, Iowa, 13% of the population meditates, yet crime has not gone down. (Randi, Flim-Flam, cited in Rational Enquirer, newsletter of the BC Skeptics [Vancouver, April 1989]).
TMers claimed that meditators massed in Jerusalem in 1983 brought about social benefits including “a solution to conflicts in the region that were impossible of solution until now.” Mordecai Kaffman, Director of the Research Department of the Kibbutz Child and Family Clinic, dismissed TM methods as unscientific and TM “claims of positive results in the Israeli context” as unconvincing; he branded TM’s theory of “unified field” as incredible. (The Use of Transcendental Meditation to Promote Social Progress in Israel, Cultic Studies Journal, 3:1 ).
TM is a tyrannical sell-out of the New Age
Pulitzer prize winner Michael D’Antonio recently surveyed the status and varieties of the “New Age” movement in America. He discusses TM in Chapter 6 of HEAVEN ON EARTH — DISPATCHES FROM AMERICA’S SPIRITUAL FRONTIER (Crown 1992). As a friend of the New Age, who wanted to find something positive in TM, D’Antonio concludes:
I would have welcomed the discovery of a middle way, a path to spirituality that was consistent with reason. But TM, as it is practiced at MIU, isn’t a middle ground. For the first time in my travels through New Age America, I worried that I was observing a cult rather than a culture . MIU and the Maharishi would take control of everything — right down to matters of food, shelter, and child rearing — for the most devout.
TMers, D’Antonio sadly concludes, “have accepted rigid, authoritarian control in exchange for security. Far from being a place where individuals grow and innovate, the Fairfield TM community is regimented and constricted. All conflict, doubt, perhaps even all genuine emotion, is stifled and covered over with a pleasant veneer.”
The Department of Education recently published the student loan default rates for all universities and other participating institutions in the country. MIU was listed as a 5-year private institution with 175 student loan borrowers in 1992; of whom 12.9% were in default (the highest default rate of any 4 or 5 year college or university in Iowa). As a taxpayer, you are already subsidizing MIU. Think twice before giving TM any more.