Thursday, June 15, 2017

Historical Query about TM and Handling Distress

I have some questions which I am hoping some of my fellow old-timers can help supplement my memory about TM teaching practices in the old days of the 1970’s.  

Beyond what is in the checking notes, did TM teachers receive any training or instruction about handling situations where meditators were experiencing significant physical or psychological problems?  Was there ever a situation in which the guidance was to stop meditating and seek professional medical or therapeutic help?   I can’t recall that there was.

The gist of the general points in the checking notes is to deal with overpowering sensations and thoughts by stopping the mantra and “feeling the body” until it ceases to be overwhelming and then starting the mantra.

Also, I have a dim recollection that some time after I left in 1976 the movement started to screen applicants for teacher training and/or the Sidhis program to preclude participation if a person had been in therapy.  Can anyone fill this in more precisely?

By way of explanation, one of the “features” of TM was/is its hostility to any other modality of work on the self.  I’m trying to document some aspects of it that are personally relevant to me.  Thanks for any/all contributions.

Friday, April 07, 2017

TM, Maheshism: cult, NRM and get-rich-quick scheme

I learned TM in 1968. I spent two years as one of Mahesh's secretaries. Then, I abandoned TM/Mahesh in 1976 (or thereabouts). I learned a lot and came away not as damaged as many I knew and observed. So between then and now, I have given my life-experience some consideration.

Yes, to begin, I am well aware that many claimed and a few demonstrated that TM was a very good thing for them. Also, many demonstrated far from beneficial results - yet, the movement seems to not know about this. Mahesh himself said that for a coin to go in the marked, it had to have two sides. But he persisted in only acknowledging just one side of the coin of TM, to the detriment of many. [That word-play will be clear later.]

Thus, the Pro-TM faction sees only good in TM/Maheshism. The other side, well, not so much. But the idea that TM/Maheshism is a cult has been a fixture of our experience and way of describing our involvement.

I have begun to question that notion. Yes, we attribute "negative" to the idea of cult and since we have many negative experiences and feelings, "cult" obviously follows. But I am not sure that that is good reasoning. On close examination during my tenure with Mahesh and on looking back: many wanted a community, a cult...ure. At first, Mahesh did not approve, but then relented: community, a TM cult...ure was good for the sticktoitiveness of the movement. It actually attracted more than it put off, at least in the early days.

Let us also not neglect to recall that Mahesh declared in no uncertain terms that TM was in no way a religion. Again, in the beginning. That the TMO [TM Organization] now celebrates Hindu festivals, deities and scriptures (how easily we overlook the pūjā - an act of worship) seems to lead to the nondescript idea that Maheshism is an NRM, a new religious movement. There is nothing particularly negative about that; it is what it is. But again it shows how Mahesh let things be as long as they were working in his favour - and, cynically, I see Mahesh giving, to a somewhat limited extent, what people wanted, as long as they gave him what he wanted.

But, why do I not think that the TMO is an outright cult? For starters, no one in the organization makes any effort to keep anyone "in" and no one cares if anyone leaves or even bad-mouths the organization. Mahesh himself never seemed to care about this or dignify it with any sort of response. On the other hand, cults are kind of touchy about being bad-mouthed and sometimes take steps to keep disgruntled followers quiet. Yet, no one on the "inside" seems to bat or have batted an eye-lash over everything knowable and secret about TM having long been available on the Internet! It would appear that the TMO could not care less. Mahesh simply laughed off bad press.

The saying that there is no such thing as bad press, while generally attributed to persons in the entertainment industry, seems also to have been one of Mahesh's mantras! He was so charming that, at least for the believers, it was just a sign of his success - or what they thought was success.

Where does this lead? I think Mahesh made it fairly clear that he didn't like the treatment he got from Guru Dev AND I think he, like so many Indians from the poor side of the divide, lustfully envied rich people. In the India I knew in the mid-70s, there were only the fantastically wealthy and the unbelievably poor with only the smallest inklings of what might have then been the hesitant emergence of a middle-class.

The RICH were envied. Being RICH was "proof" that you were somebody. AND everyone I knew yearned to be somebody.

I think Mahesh wanted to be somebody; he probably felt that he needed recognition because he worked so hard ... did Guru Dev notice? He wanted the proof and, in the terms he seems to have understood, he got it.

That he openly said his organization was for the rich, that the rich knew how to handle money and, by extension, knew how to make his movement long-lived, is no surprise to anyone. That he pandered to the rich, sucked up to the rich and beguiled money from them is also no surprise and that the Pro-TM side has long rationalized this behaviour on his part is not surprising, either. How did we never actually see that Mahesh was the movement. It was always and only all about him, his ideas, his (the world plan and Mahesh are the same thing) plan.

Here's a curious thing to observe, something about which I wrote many years ago and didn't recognize at the time, that I was on to something more than the superficial and obvious: in several monster courses from Mallorca through Fiuggi and ending in La Antilla, Mahesh trained (his term, not mine) several thousand teachers. It seems that anyone with the course fee and some persistence "passed", as it were. As well, there was the subtle undertone on these courses that "more" was coming!

Just when he concocted his so-called "sidhi" programme [misspelling siddhi so that he could copyright it] is unknown; obviously he knew something about the yoga sūtras (yogadarśana) because at least one and possibly two of his so-called "special" techniques are taken directly from the third section of Patañjali's now, very well known text. And these "techniques" were known and discussed on the India courses (according to a friend who attended several India courses).

Cleverly, "innocently" (!) he sold his "sidhi" course to his recently churned out and salivating-for-more new teachers at something like $3,000 US a pop. I have serious doubts that this was some kind of koinkydink!

Mahesh was a remarkably intelligent, quick witted individual. He was clever, persuasive, obviously manipulative and driven by ... desire? ... greed? I think his constant reference to more and more was not just a turn of phrase. He knew exactly what he was doing before Mallorca! I think the test was the larger-than-the-India-courses course in Estes Park. He could endlessly give out the same old as well as new mantras. If he could do so for the 400 or so who attended Estes Park, then he could hold gigantic courses ... because even before Estes Park he had a rather clear cut, if not entirely honest plan: create a fan-base, create a desire - (he had enough charisma to sell levitation, after all) - but, was the near sacred World Plan the objective or were his intentions less "spiritual" - rake in the money.

The more I ponder this really non-spiritual (as in Spiritual Regeneration Movement) action, the more it seems clear that Mahesh was proving to somebody that he was SOMEBODY because he was so rich he could get others to invest their money in his bonkers schemes - to the extent that he ran a full double page advertisement in the New York Times and two other respected papers in which he really tried to blackmail the US government into giving him a billion dollars to test his butt-bouncing, invincibility claptrap

Nothing came of it, but a whole lot of the Pro-TM contingent chipped in and did a lot of butt-bouncing with massively unremarkable results to show for it. Some sources even contended that crime increased during the time he tried out (at their own expense, not his) his master-plan - but neither that report nor the TMO's glowing report seems to actually hold water.

On Mahesh's part, for which he seems to have sacrificed his health, credibility and respectability as he continued to obsessively preach his nonsense and feed off those sufficiently gullible who hungered for the weird and wonderful as alternative fact, Mahesh, to be crude about it, lined his own pockets! OK, there are no pockets in a dhoti. But, there are Swiss bank accounts and now wonderfully rich relatives in India. 

Oh, and CC? One person, maybe, whom Mahesh seems to have confirmed as real? Nearly 60 years and "one maybe" ? ? ? But fantastic wealth by Indian standards and not so shabby by Western standards as well amounts to something called success, even if TM/Maheshism itself remains mostly a feel-good relaxation response and no one levitates and the world is getting more and more dangerous and the TMO/Mahesh gave us substantial excuses and placed lots of blame everywhere but where it would have done the most good.

Lots and lots of so-called "scientific papers" don't really prove anything (talk, as someone said, doesn't cook the rice).

A cult of our own making as we yearned for community and cult...ure, yet we do not have anything else to which to cling as we face the existential horror? An NRM to keep away the darkness? Delusion, magical-thinking and those wonderful alternative facts are not real - tasty ... of course, but when push comes to shove, not real. For this so many paid so much, sacrificed so much not realizing that, in private, behind closed doors, Mahesh laughed at his followers.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Review of "Greetings from Utopia Park; Surviving a Transcendent Childhood" by Claire Hoffman

Greetings from Utopia Park; Surviving a Transcendent Childhood
by Claire Hoffman
(2016) HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 265 pages

Claire Hoffman offers a tender and honest memoir about her childhood in Transcendental Meditation’s mecca in Fairfield, Iowa. Born in 1977 to parents practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM), Claire lived in TM’s Iowa community from age 5-16. For those seeking a full exposé about TM's lifestyles, this would not be the story for you.

The preface opens with the author in present time, in her mid-thirties. As a successful journalist, she is a happily married young mother living away from cult origins. She returns to her former community to resolve what she labels as youthful cynicism. She wants to believe and thus registers for an advanced TM program to learn to fly. Belief versus cynicism is the thread winding through her narrative.

Clare then weaves a beautifully written story from the 1970’s seduction of her hippy parents by the Beatles’ guru during TM’s heyday. The young adults find Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s promise of inner tranquility, world peace, and eventually a community with other meditators to be a welcome respite from their own abusive childhoods. Claire is their second child. When her father stops practicing TM, succumbs to alcoholism, and abandons his young family in New York City, her mother lacks the means to support her children. Initially they relocate from New York to the Florida home of Claire’s grandmother, then resettle in Fairfield, Iowa with Maharishi’s so-called “Ideal Society” outside his university. 

Young Claire eagerly anticipates enrolling in her third kindergarten that year to join classmates who share a lifestyle and also practice TM’s childhood mantra meditation, or “Word of Wisdom” - she quickly learns she will not attend Maharishi’s private school because the private tuition is prohibitive. Instead, she and her brother attend a local public school where classmates taunt them as “Ru’s”, short for “Guroos”. An anonymous sponsor eventually enables Claire and her brother to attend Maharishi’s school. She happily dons the requisite blue jumper and bow tie to blend with other children who together sing Maharishi songs, learn their guru’s teachings interwoven with the three R’s, and receive grades for meditation.

When they move into one of two hundred dilapidated trailer homes in “Utopia Park”, Claire and her brother merge with a close-knit subculture of unsupervised children who create excitement while parents daily attend hours of group “Program” meditation. A few unusual childhood deaths provide a shadowy backdrop to other childhood mishaps. She has a close brush with a man who befriends children and targets Claire alone for physical exploration; she runs from his apartment while he showers with the bathroom door open. She mentions others’ stories of wild teenage explorations, fathers who have affairs with teenage babysitters, and easy access to recreational drugs. She describes her world as “binary”, divided between those who follow Maharishi’s teachings versus those who are not to be trusted. Their mother struggles financially through a series of jobs with meditator companies and a series of heartbreaks with sequential boyfriends. In contrast to her family’s struggles, Claire provides a brief overview of TM’s history and mentions Maharishi’s multibillion dollar global empire.

Their father becomes sober and reenters the lives of his now adolescent children to explain that they live in a cult. Her father is a writer who encourages his children to express themselves. As Claire prepares to enter high school, her anonymous sponsorship for Maharishi school evaporates. She enrolls in Fairfield’s public high school along with other TM kids who are stigmatized because their families cannot afford Maharishi School. She finds her way with “townie” teens. After a drug laden party at an abandoned rock quarry, sixteen year old Claire can no longer tolerate the confusing lifestyle. She apologizes to her mother and joins her father in California to finish school and pursue mainstream education and lifestyle.

The story jumps forward fifteen years to find Claire, an accomplished professional, flipping perspective on her early years. She holds a faculty position with the University of California and has published articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Rolling Stone. With a supportive husband and crying baby, Claire has a crisis of meaning in her seemingly mundane life. She misses her community and connection to a higher purpose. In an ironic twist, she writes she misses the “safety” of her childhood community. 

TM luminaries David Lynch and Bobby Roth invite Claire to meetings in Los Angeles with Hollywood celebrities recently recruited to Transcendental Meditation, causing her to question her youthful cynicism. She feels that her negativity from a TM childhood should not interfere with celebrities’ benefitting from TM. Lynch and Roth meet individually with Claire, tempting her back to her roots. The memoir concludes as it began. Claire attends advanced meditation retreats and returns to her childhood home to learn TM’s advanced meditation to fly, bouncing on high density foam. She experiences the inner bliss that initially captivated her mother. However, she fails to mention the $5,000 price tag for TM’s advanced flying program; she does not disclose her mystical meditation mantra nor advanced techniques. When Claire's daughter learns her “Word her Wisdom”, she reveals her meditation mantra is “wisdom” which Bobby Roth verifies. Claire is surprised that it’s not a meaningless sound, but fails to mention TM’s touted meaningless sounds are derived from Hindu deities.

In the Epilogue she reflects that utopia didn’t exist, but the quest for bliss, satisfaction and inner peace were hard to relinquish. She states the TM Movement was not a failure, and that her community was not fooled. She acknowledges their sincere desire to build utopia and pursuit of a shared dream… “what mattered was the believing. The willingness to believe is everything.” She admits that today “. . . one of the hardest things to see are the staff members who have worked there for decades, giving their time and their lives to a cause that is no longer there. Their guru is dead and the fortune he amassed from his followers is being fought over in Indian probate court.”

The author tenderly describes both idealism and frank details of destructive neglect in her childhood community. However, when summarizing TM’s scientific benefits, she does not question research methodology, nor mention alternatives.

In the acknowledgements section Claire thanks lifelong friends, alluding to other experiences, “I know you all have different lenses with which you view our shared past but I hope you recognize the one you read here.” She thanks Bobby Roth for “his openhearted invitation to me to keep Transcendental Meditation in my life, despite my cynical and questioning heart. It is in many ways thanks to him that I still practice - and enjoy - meditation today.” She is grateful for her mother’s love and hard work to raise her children, stating that this memoir “is really just a bumbling, inept love letter to her and to the religious experience, even though it may not always feel like it.”

Claire’s humble and honest memoir is a quick read. I recommend “Greetings from Utopia Park” for one perspective on making sense of a confusing cult childhood.

As reviewer, I must state my inherent bias. I was also raised in TM. My conclusions differ from those expressed by Claire Hoffman in “Greetings from Utopia Park”. Claire and I share many personal connections, much as would distant cousins in a small community. Some TM kids, now adults, tell me Claire’s story mirrors their own. Others share more gruesome tales. Unlike Claire Hoffman who concludes with an upbeat note about TM, my own cynicism remains unabated even as I love people from my past. I suspect that Bobby Roth and David Lynch lured Claire back to the dissociative high of TM’s prolonged meditations because her journalistic skill risked exposing their organization. In this memoir, Claire does not reveal TM’s mystical mantras nor the price tag of TM’s advanced programs, thus sheltering key first steps to cult indoctrination. She glosses over mention of TM’s many costly add-ons and monastic programs. When reading that Claire’s daughter’s mantra is “wisdom”, I wondered - did the TM Movement change mantras from Sanskrit to English after Maharishi's death? Or only for Claire’s daughter? In either case, there is no magic.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

last few hours of 2016 plus one second

It's been a long journey. Having learned TM in 1968, I quit in 1978, I wrote on this Blog for a while in the early 21st century (!) and now it all seems like a memorable film. For some I knew, TM seems to have done some substantial damage, or rather, Mahesh's misuse of TM seems to have done some substantial damage - for others, maybe not so much — who can say for sure.

The follies of youth? There were plenty of very mature, very respectable, well-established adults along the TM way since 1968. Some had qualms, some decided they had wasted time, some remained. All had something to say and I listened. Folly, it seems, is not exclusive to youth.

Although this Blog contains a lot of criticism of TM and Mahesh by yours truly, when I reflect, I prefer to remember the good times with wonderful friends and, here and there, the actual benefits I thought I received. Yes, there were dark times and very questionable "benefits". In the past, I've pretty much reflected on the dark times, a caveat for those who perhaps had their own questions and were looking for reinforcement, clarification, justification or something else entirely.

For me, TM/Mahesh set me on a course of seeking, looking for some sort of resolution to that niggling suspicion that there was something I hadn't yet found that I ought to keep looking for. After nearly a decade of sifting through the Yoga Sutras (yogadarśana), word-by-word, I concluded that Patañjali and Mahesh were on different paths, in different countries, going in different directions totally unaware of one another. Further reflection lead back to the place where I had begun in 1964 and I once again turned to the teachings of the Buddha. Now, quite the opposite of 1964, there is an abundance of material freely available.  Maybe, sans TM/Mahesh, I wouldn't have had the drive to pursue my curiosity. Who knows!

I think my primary thoughts with some 6.5 hours (and that one extra second) remaining in this very troubled year of 2016 focus on one particular thing: take that niggling feeling just a little more seriously.

Happy 2017. Make the most of it; do what you can for yourself and then for others. 


Wednesday, July 06, 2016


one of our readers has sent us his TM story:


by Dave H.

When I tell my friends that I once was involved with a cult, their eyes get wide and their response is generally, “You?” And then they want the details.

So I tell them that I was one of those people who got caught up in Transcendental Meditation when it was sweeping the U.S.A. in the 60s and 70s. I explain the initial meetings, the Puja ceremony, the post initiation checking meetings, etc. I even tell them that for awhile, TM actually brought me some benefit.

I was never one of those uber-movement types, although I did attend a residence course or two in Fairfield, Iowa, where I was introduced to “rounding” and the whole TM thing took further root. Had I not awakened, I could have easily been drinking the Kool-aid.

Then MMY announced that we could all learn to levitate and the Sidhis program was launched. The shock of it forced me to examine what I had become involved with and thankfully, the critical thinking I had learned in college began to kick in. Levitating? Becoming invisible? How could I belong to an organization that advanced such thinking and demanded high fees for the “knowledge?”

I immediately stopped doing TM and promised myself I would never think my mantra, “Shirim,” again.

But it wouldn’t go away. For over a decade that pesky mantra would creep into my thoughts: waking, sleeping, dreaming. At first I gave it no notice, just shutting it off whenever it would appear. But after many, many years of putting up with it, combined with all of the wacky stuff coming out of the TM movement, its continued presence became a major concern for me. I wanted it gone.

I consulted with a therapist, a very capable person, but not experienced in cults. He suggested that I pretty much do what I had been doing, shut it off when it showed up in my thoughts. But that was not good enough for me.

I live in a very beautiful part of Southeast Minnesota, an area with 300-foot bluffs and an incredible paved bicycle trail system. One weekday summer morning I walked out a couple of miles on the trail. Not many people out there that early in the morning. I stopped on a bridge and decided to shout Shirim as loud and as many times as I could. It was strange how guilty I felt for even thinking about doing this. Guilt and fear manifested themselves, as if something really bad would happen to me. That’s how deeply the movement hooks had gotten into my psyche. 

But I did it. I shouted that mantra out into the light of day, loud, clear and often. Then I came back a couple of days later and repeated the experience. And then a third time.

It didn’t happen overnight, but after a couple of weeks I noticed that the mantra and I were no longer joined at the hip, and its encroachment into my life began to diminish. And today, it doesn’t show up at all.

When I read of all the junk that the true-believers in the TM movement accept as truth … Jyotish, Yagyas, Sidhis and such … I am so blessed to have my once-abandoned critical thinking skills and pleased that the mantra no longer has power over me.

And all I had to do was shout it into the atmosphere.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Book Review: "The Secret of the Mantras" by Richard Blakely

I just finished reading "The Secret of the Mantras" by Richard Blakely, and I highly recommend it.  This memoir of a baby boomer growing up in the U.S. and moving to France in time for the student uprisings of 1968 includes a 3-month TM Teacher Training course in Rishikesh, India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Beatles. 

What a fun read!  What a witty sense of humor Blakely exhibits as he confesses his own foibles, as well as the foibles of TM life.  Of particular interest to readers of TM-Free Blog may be the following revelations:

- In 1968, Mahesh gave new initiators three mantras, chosen by age.  (Nowadays there are about 16 mantras, chosen by age.)

- In 1968, Mahesh taught initiators only the Sanskrit and the hand gestures for the exotic ceremony preceding TM instruction.  (Nowadays, initiators must also memorize the English translation and the emotions one is attempting to experience during the rite.)  

-  In 1968, students meditated for hours non-stop on courses.  Due to the emotional unraveling of some Westerners, Mahesh added yogic stretching.  (Nowadays, short meditations are alternated with yoga stretches and breathing exercises.)  

- In 1968, Mahesh taught that TMers shouldn't force themselves to change habits such as smoking, drinking and meat-eating if they found the change stressful.  Mahesh said that with continued meditation, unhealthy habits would automatically fall away.  (Nowadays, "advanced" TMers are encouraged to take up vegetarianism, celibacy, early bedtime, silent meals, etc. etc.)

This last point particularly catches my attention.  I find Mahesh's level of hypocrisy? extent of unclarity on fundamental principles? unfathomable.  Whatever could he have been thinking, either then or now?  What kind of teacher is this?  

Saturday, January 09, 2016

The Dream Tiger

Several decades ago, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi gave the following comment (paraphrased here) on one of my courses:  "If a person has a dream that a tiger is chasing him, it doesn't help him at all that under his pillow he has a gun.  A waking-state gun is no protection against a dream-state tiger.  Likewise, if a real tiger is attacking, it doesn't help that in one's dream, one has a gun." Mahesh was trying to illustrate his teaching that what applies in one state of consciousness cannot automatically be transferred to another state of consciousness.

Of course we students already knew a lot about waking and dreaming.  In this lecture, he was attempting to explain three additional states of consciousness to us.  He had told us that if we practiced TM regularly, enlightenment awaited us.  In succession, we would attain "Cosmic Consciousness," then "God Consciousness" and then "Unity Consciousness."  (Historical note:  He later changed the name from "God Consciousness" to "Glorified Cosmic Consciousness.")   These, he said, were increasingly advanced states of "enlightenment."  He was using the tiger metaphor to explain that we shouldn't even bother planning for what we would do once we were enlightened, since once we were in that state, our experience of reality would change so much.

He never said it outright, but we all believed that he was in Unity Consciousness.  (Historical note:   When he announced a few years later that there was a state above Unity Consciousness, called "Brahman Consciousness," we all believed that he was at least in that state.)  I'm thinking over his tiger illustration now, and I wonder if he was not only telling us not to make plans for ourselves in "higher" states, but also that he was in such an exalted state himself that we were in no position to pass judgment on his actions.  That's one of the messages I took away from his lecture.  That anything he did, we should probably believe and obey, because he had a different, higher way of looking at the world.

Did you believe that we should not judge Mahesh according to the rules that the rest of us live by?  Was there ever a time when he did something that you felt critical of, and then reminded yourself, "We can't judge Mahesh by our standards"?     

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Conversation with an Exit Counselor, 1987

I've been cleaning out my files, and I came upon notes from my conversation with an exit counselor back in 1987.  I hope you will enjoy reading some of his comments:

"Of all the groups I have dealt with, some of the most severe casualties have been in TM.  This is in direct contradiction to TM publicity.  Meditation techniques are not appropriate for everyone, because some people have difficulty distinguishing between the inner content and outer content of their minds.  Such people can go into a psychotic state from doing meditation, because these techniques loosen boundaries between the conscious and the unconscious.  For the average person, this is a pleasure, because most people have too many boundaries there.  But for a minority of people, it is dangerous to have the boundary more porous." 

[Editor's comment:  When I saw the film "David Wants to Fly," I had the good fortune to find Dr. Herbert Benson, author of "The Relaxation Response" sitting right behind me!  I introduced myself to him, and he told me a few stories.  Included was, "I observed the course in Fuiggi, Italy.  Since I am an M.D., when I and course participants got off the plane in the U.S., I did sign a bunch of them straight into mental hospitals."] 

"So it was normal for people in TM to "freak out" -- to have highs, lows, get emotional." 

[Editor's comment:  In the TM world, careening highs and lows were considered normal, even positive.  It was called unstressing, and we were told that it meant the person was throwing off old stress.]

I suggested to the exit counselor that TM had a special hook for the average Westerner because it backs up its beliefs with appeals to science.  He replied, "Scientology also bombards people with statistics."  

"If you have a busy, multidimensional life, to sit down for 20 minutes is okay.  But if meditation becomes a goal in itself, it's bad.  It's like fasting.  The first time you do it, it feels good, healing.  But if you continue to fast, it turns on itself.  The mind is similar - it needs information and stimulation.  Without outside stimulation, it stimulates itself.  Thus, inner material comes out.  The person becomes increasingly swallowed up in their inner world, and outside decisions and the outer world become more difficult."

"I feel TM has a callous view of people.  I've treated one of Maharishi's lovers.  She was seduced and abandoned by Mahesh.  She became psychotic.  He promised he would marry her; then she was told, "You're being sent to Switzerland." 

[Editor's comment:  This strikes me as Mahesh being callous, not the TM organization.  But I believe he set the tone, and did make policy for the TMO that was callous.]

"Dr. Herbert Benson's book 'The Relaxation Response' demonstrates that one can create TM-like results without TM.  By any autohypnosis technique, one can do this.  TM's marketing insisted that TM was distinct."

"True scientific research shows that anyone can have a TM-like response.  Almost all psychologists discredit TM research as self-serving and flawed.  For instance, the research on reduced crime is totally without controls, confounding factors, etc.  That research is extremely specious.  All TM research is designed to hook people in.  The TMO allows scientific proofs but not scientific critiques.  When you were in TM, you were only exposed to the research that they wanted you to see."

[Editor's comment:  Is TM research still in disrepute?  I think much less so.  It's being taught in some public schools and veterans' organizations.  And I believe the Surgeon General recently had an amiable discussion with a leading TM proponent.]  

Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book review: "Roots of TM: The Transcendental Meditation of Guru Dev & Maharishi Mahesh Yogi" by Paul Mason

Thank you, Paul Mason, for this book! 

The TM movement has an official story of how TM came to be spread to the world.  That story comes from the mouth of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  But we know that Mahesh loved to embroider stories.  So - what does independent historical research reveal about Guru Dev, Mahesh, and TM?

Paul Mason doesn't give us his personal conclusions.  Rather, he researches and relates the facts, and lets us decide for ourselves.  What I have decided is that the procedure of Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation, of how to think the mantra, is virtually identical to one of the several meditation techniques taught by Guru Dev. 

But other aspects of Mahesh's Transcendental Meditation differ from his master's teachings.  Although Mahesh claimed to revere Guru Dev as "Divinity Incarnate," he disobeyed a number of his guru's wishes, and as the years progressed, altered more and more of his master's teachings.

From Guru Dev's instructions to meditate one hour, Mahesh decreased it to 30 minutes, then to 20 minutes.  From the necessity of sitting cross-legged to the acceptability of sitting in a chair.  From insistence on a straight spine during meditation to the acceptability of slouching.  From no money accepted, as per Guru Dev's strict rule, to a set fee. 

And then there is the choosing of the mantra, which is part of a guru's responsibility.  According to Guru Dev, only a perfect master is qualified to choose a mantra.  Guru Dev said (p. 98), "…[I]t is very difficult to obtain a perfect teacher.  The traditional Indian Scriptures are full of mantra…but until someone will tell which is fit…the pile…will really be next to useless…[O'bserving the energy and inclination of those devoted to spiritual achievement, in accordance to their qualification…the experienced guru…deduces the mantra of one's favored god which would be of benefit to the spiritual seekers."

Maharishi did not dispense the same mantras that his guru did.  Maharishi said, (p. 263), "It is very difficult for me to find what [mantras] he was using.  Because initiation is all in private.  And I was never interested in who was given what [mantra].  I was interested in myself."  

Not holding to Guru Dev's dual criteria for choosing mantras, (see above: aspirant's "energy and inclination" plus "favored god"), Mahesh reduced the criteria to only one: "favored god."  Mahesh explained (p. 259), "The gurus choose from the tendencies, from the cut of the face…I don't go into all these vibrations, botherations.  I ask [the aspirant] 'Which god you like?'…Ask him directly, 'What he likes?' and that is it." 

When he initiated Christians, Jews and Muslims, he could not very well ask, "Who is your favored god?"  And what could he possibly have asked when teaching atheists?!  So he made another change - to assign the mantras by age and sex.  I couldn't find any evidence in "Roots of TM" that there was any precedent for this criteria.  Later, Mahesh simplified the criteria yet again, to choose by age only.  Even in this he was inconsistent.  One year he would use one set of mantras and age; another year he would use another.  On occasion, he even broke these simple rules, for instance when he instructed some initiators to use teenage mantras for all adults, age 20 through 120.

And most paradoxically, was Mahesh disobeying his master by even teaching meditation?  Guru Dev had stated (p. 96), "…[N]ot everyone can be a guru.  Actually only members of the Brahmin caste are in the position to be a guru…."  Mahesh was from the Kshatriya caste, so according to his own guru, he was prohibited from teaching meditation.  (By the way, Mahesh was the secretary at the ashram.  Did you know that?) 

So how then did Mahesh justify teaching meditation?  Page 143:  "I thought, 'What to do, what to do, what to do?'  Then I thought, 'I should teach them all in the name of Guru Dev.  I should design a system, a system of puja [ritual or ceremony] to Guru Dev. ' "  This decision did not follow the letter of Guru Dev's teaching; do you think it followed the spirit of Guru Dev's teaching? 

What went through Mahesh's mind as he made these changes?  Did he tell himself that he was not really changing Guru Dev's teachings?  Did he tell himself that some of his divine Guru Dev's teachings were imperfect?   Did he decide he had surpassed his guru?  Did he rationalize that the changes didn't matter because he was teaching "inferior" Westerners?  What do you think? 

"Roots of TM" helped me understand the fourth possibility more.  As I read, I realized how different Mahesh's world was from the Western world.  I realized that underneath India's veneer of westernization, the traditional Indian ways are vibrantly alive.  It is entirely a different world view from the West's.

For instance, Guru Dev taught (p. 81):  "The man who gives suffering to the cow goes to hell.  [Intermixing of Indian culture with Western culture] has caused ignorance of the Hindu scriptures, that the cow and Absolute Divine Truth are the same.  This devout scriptural knowledge is disappearing."  

Or, on p. 47, Mahesh relates how it is to be brought up properly in an Indian family.  "The children...are told to bow down to your mother, your father, your elders, your school teacher.  It provides a great shield of security and assistance for the child....[as] this later on develops in devotion to Almighty...."

And this excerpt from the chapter "Yoga Teachings of Swami Brahmanand (Guru Dev.)"  Pps. 98-99, (paraphrased by this editor), "The principal teaching of Swami Brahmanand Saraswati was that one should routinely practice a system of [mental repetition of a word of benefit to the spiritual seeker] in order to...realize the purpose of one's life.... Realization comes from doing word repetition....By practicing, sins are destroyed...."

From p. 231, "During his stay in San Francisco, Maharishi received his first press coverage in the USA, and was rather surprised that the meditation had been dubbed a 'non-medicinal tranquilizer.'  His comment was, 'Cruel!  I feel like running away, back home.  This seems to be a strange country.  Values are different here.' "

This book is filled with gems.  Arrange them together in different ways, and many questions can be answered about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, his guru and his Transcendental Meditation. 

Paul Mason is one of the world's leading English-language experts on Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and his guru, Swami Brahmanand Saraswti (Guru Dev).  He has written, co-authored, and translated from Hindi and Sanskrit over seven books on these topics.  He is a former co-editor for TM-Free Blog.   

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Open Thread

TM-Free Blog is back, after a one-month vacation.  

Exciting new articles are coming soon, including two book reviews!! "Roots of TM:  The Transcendental Meditation of Guru Dev & Maharishi Mahesh Yogi" by Paul Mason.  And the updated, second edition of "Robes of Silk, Feet of Clay" by Judith Bourque.

Until then, please feel free to start any TM-related topic you want in the comments section.