(Investigator 94, 2004 January)
The aim of Transcendental Meditation (TM), as with other types of meditative and relaxation techniques, is to release stress and tension thereby improving emotional, physical and mental well-being.
It teaches that suffering can be eliminated merely by meditating on your mantra (your personal secret Sanskrit word) for short periods twice a day. It is alleged that you will feel more energy and less tension, develop a more positive outlook, become healthier and happier, and your whole life will be changed.
Like most of the cults which sprang up in the sixties and seventies, such as the Moonies, Hari Krishnas, and Children of God, TM has the same basic mixture of Christianity and Eastern philosophy, and has proved by far to be the most popular and successful self-help therapy.
After spending five years studying the philosophy of Yoga in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi emerged with his message of Transcendental Meditation, "Even if only one tenth of the adult population of the world were to meditate regularly for short periods every day and so produce these infinitely peaceful influences which arise at the deepest level of consciousness, it would take not more than a few months to improve the quality of life around the world. War would become impossible for centuries to come ... if young people would accept my mind, the hospitals would be emptied."
The ultimate achievement in TM is to levitate, and several centres have been operating around the world offering courses: on how to overcome gravity.
The Maharishi's teachings quickly found willing disciples among those seeking spiritual experiences, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Mia Farrow and Shirley MacLaine. Its devotees claim that it is an instant, non-chemical tranquilizer for the relief of nervous tension.
Its attraction would seem to be its simplicity – one can learn the technique, a short course, then practise it for twenty, minutes or so each day.
The Transcendental Meditation, or TM movement, owes its popularity and appeal to those seeking a quick fix for the stress and strain of modern life, and to those interested in spiritual growth and mysticism. The main components of the TM programme – the rejection of materialism, dietary practices, yoga and meditation, basically follow the traditional vedic line. However, the founder of the TM movement, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, came in for considerable criticism from fellow swamis who felt that the Maharishi was offering the world a distortion of the sacred Hindu teachings.
Disillusionment is usually felt by most members a few months after enrolling in the expensive courses, and TM was struck a blow when the formerly enthusiastic Beatles publicly admitted that their studying with the Maharishi "had been a mistake" when the guru persisted in making sexual advances to their girlfriends.
When objectively examined, TM is simply a Hindu meditation ritual, mass marketed in the language of Western relativity physics. On the credit side it does have short term benefits but then the same result can be achieved by completely relaxing twice a day and letting your mind go blank. On the debit side, TM instructors (Scott 1978) have revealed that it can be harmful for those who become trapped in the state of mind the Maharishi calls "cosmic consciousness" – extended meditation which causes a person to become withdrawn and detached from the world around him and subject to hallucinations.
Regarding the control of stress, strain and anxiety, and some of the cures attributed to TM and other competing Eastern mystics, it is revealing to note that the personal lives of the preceptors and practitioners do not bear out the claims. Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society suffered from diabetes, asthma, rheumatism, blood pressure, eye problems and heavy weight. Vivikananda, who introduced Yoga to the west was also a diabetic and asthmatic and died young. Datta Bal the scientist guru died of cirrhosis, and Rajneesh died of a massive heart attack before he reached sixty.
The failure of TMers to demonstrate that they can overcome the effect of gravity is well documented. In Britain a dozen believers paid over $4000 each to go to Switzerland where TM instructors initiated them into the art of levitation. When they returned, David Berglas, a prominent magician offered to repay each of the levitators their investment if they would appear with him on TV to demonstrate – they all demurred.
In April 1991, at Washington, D.C., USA, three people who sued the Transcendental Meditation Movement for falsely promising to teach them to fly (without an aircraft), reached an out-of-court settlement.
A prolonged mass meditation by 4000 trained TM meditators in the same city, ostensibly to reduce the violent crime rate, not only had no effect, but the Washington police data actually had the crime rate going up at the time!
Australia too, has had its share of those claiming to be able to levitate. Vince Betar, who, in 1978, gave the Melbourne Age photos of himself 'levitating' – but declined to be photographed by an Age photographer. Colin Barnes, a TM teacher, likewise made the claim in the Melbourne Sun, but declined to demonstrate, as did Chris Porteons of the Mona Vale (NSW) TM Centre.
Even academic Dr Byron Digby went as far as to state on an ABC Science Show in May 1980, that he personally levitated twice daily in the form of hops lasting about a quarter of a second. He also stated that, "we open ourselves to every kind of investigation." When challenged by the Australian Skeptics, Dr Digby failed to rise to the challenge.
In recent years the TM organisation has turned to politics to spread the word under the banner of the Natural Law Party
James Randi, the American magician and sceptic, has had on offer for decades, a prize of $10,000 to be paid to any person who can demonstrate the power of true levitation – there have never been any applicants.
Bach, Marcus. 1992. Strange Sects and Curious Cults. Dorset Press, New York.
Cristopher, M. 1975. Mediums, Mystics & the Occult. TY. Crowel Co.
Denniston, D. and McWilliams, P. 1975. The TM Book. Warner Books. NY.
Evans, Dr C. 1973. Cults of Unreason. Geo. C. Harrap & Co.
Hanna, David. 1979. Cults in America. Belmont Tower Books. N.Y.
Kovoor, A. 1980. Gods, Demons & Spirits. Jaico Publishing. Bombay.
Plummer, Mark. 1981. Are Meditators Levitators? the Skeptic, 1(2):1-1.
Randi, J 1986. Flim Flam. Prometheus Books. Buffalo. NY.
Scott, R.D. 1978. Transcendental Misconceptions. Beta Books.
From: Edwards, H.. A Skeptic’s Guide to the New Age.
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