Transcendental

When it was introduced into this country in the revolutionary decade of the 60s, Transcendental Meditation, or TM, was billed as a technique for personal development and expanding consciousness.  Although the very word " meditation " was all but foreign to the American vocabulary, a glance at the popular paperback presentation, The TM Book: How to Enjoy the Rest of Your Life, prefaced by a favorable comment by Joe Namair, convinced many an American Joe to give TM a try.  The book says it's easy, effective and, best of all, fun.  Advocates of TM claim it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, decreases insomnia, relieves asthma.  They say it energizes a person to use a vastly wider range of mental powers, and therefore become more creative, as well as happier: "...every step is effortless, natural, spontaneous....And relationships are enhanced and warmed....  We become understanding, patient, tender--truly loving... (1) ''What's more, TM involves minimal time commitment--a mere twenty minutes twice a day--and no change in lifestyle.  It can be, indeed is meant to be integrated into one's daily life.  One does not even have to believe in TM for it to "work". Little wonder that by the mid-70s over half a million Americans had learnt TM: it was being taught in schools, in the Armed Forces, in drug rehabilitation programs.  It seemed to be a miracle panacea.  

 

             One of TM's most insistent claims has been that it is not a religion, that there is no need to modify one's religious beliefs in order to be a practitioner.  The TM Book contains endorsements by a rabbi, a Lutheran minister, and a Roman Catholic priest.  More recently, however, the Roman Catholic Church issued a 23-page document warning that methods such as TM can "degenerate into a cult of the body.”  The mainstream Protestant fundamentalist magazine, Christianity Today, has sounded a similar note of caution ("Dabbling in the Danger Zone," March 5, 1990).  Why?

 

            The man who sold TM to the West is Mahesh Brasad Warma.  As a student of physics at the University of Allahabad in the late 30s, he attended a lecture by a recognized guru, Brahmanada Saraswati, which changed the focus of his life from science to spirituality.  Saraswart, known as "Guru Dev" or "divine teacher”, had spent some forty years as a recluse in the Himalayas, rediscovering the Vedanta, an ancient method of attaining, by direct intuition, true knowledge of Brahma--the ultimate principle, which is the aim of Hinduism.  At the pinnacle of this knowledge is the understanding that the soul is Brahma and there follows the emancipation from all earthly existence, including one's own.  The many forms of yoga have this same emancipation as their goal.

 

            After obtaining his degree, Mahesh spent twelve years as a close disciple of Guru Dev, who encouraged him to take the Vedanta teaching to the West.  In 1953 Guru Dev died, and Mahesh retired to a cave in the mountains.  He emerged three years later, having adopted the name Maharishi (meaning "Great Sage" or "Seer"), to begin his ministry in his native India.  In 1958 he established the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in Madras.  His aim was nothing less than the spiritual regeneration of all mankind.

 

            Maharishi modified his teaching for Western audiences, whose attention he captured when, through the influence of Ravi Shankhat, he developed a following among the Beatles.  They soon grew disillusioned, however, and Maharishi adopted a more secular approach to reverse his declining popularity.  He was given a boost in the early 70s when scientific research seemed to support his claims concerning TM's physical and psychological benefits.  Using this "scientific" basis, Maharishi was able to successfully launch TM into the mainstream of American society. 

 

            TM is marketed through an organizational structure under the umbrella of the World Plan Executive Council, with headquarters in Switzerland The principal substructure is the International Meditation Society (IMS).  In 1965 the Students International Meditation Society was formed and, later, the Foundation for the Science of Creative Intelligence, aimed at introducing TM to the business and professional community.  Maharishi International University (MIU), relocated in 1974 to Fairfield, Iowa, integrates TM into all aspects of an accredited course of study.  The Spiritual Regeneration Movement works with senior citizens.

 

            Although the teaching of TM has been standardized, it cannot properly be learned from books.  It is an experience based not in knowledge but in "doing" or, as one practitioner explains, in "not doing.”  Maharishi emphasizes the importance of instruction by a qualified master of meditationwho has been trained to impart it accurately as well as to check experience.  Several thousand such "masters', most trained by Maharishi himself, teach TM at World Plan Centers, located in major cities through out the United States and Canada.  The fee for a course of instruction, four two-hour sessions held on consecutive days, ranges from $35 for a junior high school student to $125 for an adult.  This fee also entitles the practitioner to unlimited checking of the technique.  One can also attend meetings, lecture, and other activities at these local centers.

 

            Two introductory lectures, designed to stimulate interest in the program, are free.  Before beginning the actual course of instruction, the prospective student is required to have a personal interview, at which time he is given a mantra, a sound or word, to be kept secret and never said aloud, that is supposedly "in harmony with the vibrations of his personality'. (2) At the first session, which is private, the initiate is taught the TM technique, how to use the mantra.  The next three are group sessions which discuss practical details about the program, the mechanics et the TM process and the goal of the program (The TM Book describes this simply as "a life free from stress, with the full use of mental and physical potential”).  At this time students can also ask questions related to their experiences during meditation.

 

            While many students never advance beyond the elementary stages of TM, the program is designed to lead the serious practitioner through seven progressively advanced states of consciousness.  In the sixth state, "the awareness of the Absolute begins to overflow into one's own perception of the objective world.  The world begins to appear suffused with the light of the Self, and objects which previously were only appreciated impersonally now begin to take on personal qualities - qualities which one could, if one were so inclined, describe as Divine. (3) Finally, "in the seventh state...one is aware of the Self not only within but in everything around one"...'One begins to experience that, at the most fundamental level, 'we are all one and the same.''' (4)

 

             Clearly, this "Self” is Brahma.  TM, then, is a thinly-disguised Hindu discipline, more precisely identified as a form of japa-yoga.  Furthermore, TM's religious bias is not something one encounters only in its advanced stages.  The personal interview held prior to the course of instruction concludes with a ceremony in which the initiate takes off his shoes before entering a special room where he is told to kneel before a low table on which is a picture of Guru Dev.  A fruit and flower offering, which the initiate has been instructed to bring, is placed on a white handkerchief before the picture by the initiator, who proceeds to recite a hymn, in Sanskrit, invoking the Hindu gods and praising Gum Dev as "the Unbounded, the Absolute, the Self Sufficient, the Eternal." (5) (Maharishi always ends his lectures with the words 'Jai Guru Dee”, meaning: "by the grace of Guru Dev' (6)  Themantra, which is assigned at this time, is a Sanskrit word of Hindu significance, sometimes the name of a Hindu deity.  The ceremony is mandatory. 

 

By proper meditation for two 20-minute periods every day, the masses of the world will discover absolute bliss consciousness, the natural and proper state of mankind.  -- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

           

Even if it were possible to strip TM of its Hindu theology, the technique itself is contrary to Orthodox teaching.  TM encourages mental passivity: "...once started, the process happens of its own accord without any control or coercion on the part of the individual--indeed, any such attempt would al most certainly disturb the process.' (7) "With TM there is no concern with the meaning of thoughts, (8)  while Orthodox practice demands vigilance, a precise awareness of one's thoughts and a conscious engagement in spiritual warfare.  The Christian struggles against laziness, fatigue and a multitude of other disturbances.  In TM this is unnecessary: "the state of complete mental stillness is itself charming to the attention.' (9) (The word "charming" here could be translated into Russian as prelest, a word which even most non Russian-speaking Orthodox recognize as meaning spiritual "beguilement" or "deception.")

 

            Maharishi's view of morality is equally at variance with Christian teaching.  He believes that all actions have the same final goal...The most egocentric and selfish actions are only manifestations of the search for the true Self and ultimate fulfillment [Therefore] one can never judge another’s state of consciousness by his actions alone?  (10) St. Paul writes of the need to keep the body under subjection, as a result of the Fall and man's consequent inclination to sin.  By contrast, TM claims that "no enlightened man ever had to control his body, his actions, his words or his thoughts; if they changed they changed as a spontaneous result of his higher state of con sciousness’’.  (11) 

 

            In 1978 the court decided that according to American legal usage TM does, in fact, constitute a religion.  At the same time, scientific support for TM was weakened when a Stanford research team reported that "the controls who simply relaxed twice daily for fifteen or twenty minutes, using no mantra at all or repeating a mock mantra, found comfort in the experience that did not differ significantly from what the meditators found.’  (12) While such findings have diminished TM's immediate popularity, it has had lasting impact as a channel for the successful marketing of Eastern philosophy and meditation techniques here in the West.  No longer is interest in Eastern religions confined to the counter-culture domain.  Today's MIU students and faculty belong not to some eccentric fringe but are, for the most part, clean-cut respectable members of society.  Within the Christian establishment, liberal American Roman Catholics have been experimenting with Eastern meditation techniques for years; today these techniques have penetrated even the traditionally conservative churches of Spain and Italy where, according to the Catholic publication, 30 Days (September 1989), "Christian Zen" is being taught through church structures and publications.  The same article reveals that "congregations of religious women propose yoga sessions as annual retreats; in many parishes Zen is the basis of many catechism classes; monks practice transcendental meditation as their private prayer in their cells.’’  (13) These practitioners would emphatically deny that they are in any way compromising their Christian faith.  But as one authority on cults warns, "By getting people involved in the practice, they may eventually embrace the philosophical belief which underlies it, (14) a belief which is fundamentally anti-Christian.  Among these infiltrated churches, this is a time not for caution but for alarm.

 

            The Orthodox Church, with her infinitely rich spiritual tradition, her staunch religious conservatism and her profound experience m the art of prayer, fortunately remains closed to any interest in Eastern meditation practices.  This is not to say that she has no need for concern here.  The influence of Eastern philosophies on the religious make-up of the West today is both subtle and pervasive.  Unless the Orthodox Church ensures that her spiritual treasure is handed down to future generations as a well integrated, well-articulated, vibrant, challenging and relevant tradition, she, too, will risk losing some of her children to Brahma's fatal embrace.  From which may God in His mercy preserve us all.

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] D. Deniston and P. McWilliarns, The TM Book: How to Enjoy the Rest of Your Life (Allen Park, MI, 1975), pp. 172, 173.

[2] R.S. Ellwood, Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1973), p. 234.

[3] Peter Russell, The TM Technique (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976), p. 125.

[4] Ibid., pp. 163, 101.

[5] Kenneth Boa, Cults, World Religions and You (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1977), p. 161.

[6] Russell, p. 27

[7] Ibid., p. 16.

[8] Ibid., p. 42.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., p. 122.

[11] Ibid., p. 148.

[12] Daniel Cohen, The New Believers (New York: M. Evans and Co., 1975), p. 101.

[13] Quoted in Religion Watch, October 1989.

[14] Boa, p. 162.