Saturday, December 3, 2016

On Transcendental Meditation

I was born in 1965 and - like many people in the United States of that generation - I grew-up listening to The Beatles. I was never as big a fan of the Fab Four as I was of Elvis Presley, but I have always enjoyed their music.

So, I have always known about their visit to India, where they met the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and studied Transcendental Meditation or TM, for short. Over the years, I've heard about TM but never bothered to learn more about it in-depth. I knew that it was a kind of meditation and that it got started by the Maharishi, but little beyond that.

So, when ads for TM began appearing in my Facebook timeline because two of my Facebook friends had "Liked" their page, I decided to correct my ignorance and learn more about it, maybe even take the course. I visited their homepage and did some Internet searches where I found websites and videos both supporting and critical of TM.

Besides, the David Lynch Foundation has been making the news a lot in recent months, with their ongoing efforts to have as many people as possible to learn and practice TM. I read about how many Wall Street companies are getting their staff to take the course, in the hopes it may lessen workplace stress and boost company performance. So, I decided to see what I may have been missing and consider taking the TM course myself.

But after doing some research and watching a lot of videos, my conclusion is that Transcendental Meditation isn't for me. Not only that, but I would discourage anyone I know from engaging in it. The following explains my reasons:

It Costs A Lot of Money

You wouldn't think that a course in meditation that lasts less than a week would cost nearly a thousand dollars, but it does. Currently, the price of the basic course is $960 in the United States. Nine Hundred sixty dollars to learn how to sit with your eyes closed and silently chant a mantra? Seriously?

The rationale given for charging so much is that half the money goes to the teacher, so that they can earn some sort of living from teaching TM. The other half goes to Transcendental Movement to help support its many programs around the world.

Okay. Fair enough. But, I'm wondering what kind of person learns how to be a TM teacher for the purpose of making teaching the technique their career? To each their own, I guess.

One reason given for charging so much is that people will continue the practice if they invested a serious amount of money to learn it, because people value things that they pay big money to get. I wonder if TM supporters who give that excuse remember the exercise machine fad back in the 90s, where people paid hundreds to thousands of dollars for exercise equipment that they typically used a few times and then gave-up on. I still remember all the Craigslist ads put up back in the 90s as they tried to sell-off their Bow-Flex that they hadn't used in years.

In addition to the basic course, which is the only one most people take, there are other courses offered under the TM organization and they cost hundreds to thousands of dollars each.

Who knew that getting enlightened could cost so much money?

Sure, TM supporters occasionally teach it for free and I understand that some scholarships and grants are available for people who can't fork over almost a thousand bucks. But, why would you make it so
expensive that people would even need a grant or scholarship? It's not like they're going to college.

While $960 would seem like a lot to some people, the basic course's price has actually come down. I've read testimonials of former practitioners who mentioned how the course had cost over three times what it does now. Apparently, the price was brought down in the hopes that more people would take the course. In fact, that is what happened and the TM organization has seen an increase in people taking the course, accompanied by increased revenue to the organization.

They Do Some Really Stupid Shit

While most people who do TM settle for the sitting with their eyes closed routine, there are a few people who want to go the extra mile and that means "Yogic Flying".

Remember the old Kung Fu movies where the hero walks in and sees an old monk meditating while hovering in the air? Well, levitating off the ground is supposed to be something you can do in TM if you're in a high enough level. Sadly, no one in the TM Movement has ever levitated or even seen someone else levitate and they've also never seen anyone make themselves disappear or fly through the air, which are other things you're supposed to be able to do. Most wannabe "flyers" settle for hopping off a padded mat while in a crossed-leg position. Here's a video of some Yogic Flyers
Now, tell me with a straight face that this isn't one of the stupidest things you've ever seen!

People pay money to learn how to do that. I wish I was joking, but I'm not.

Some former TM practitioners and other critics have claimed that the Maharishi even stated that people who attain a high level while practicing Transcendental Meditation would become physically indestructible and immortal. The obvious fact that the Maharishi died in 2008 puts that claim in the "Untrue" pile.

They Say They're Not a Religion, But They Are

TM supporters are very quick to claim that it isn't a religion and you don't have to change your religion to do it. Certainly, there are Christians, Muslims and Jews who do TM, but I wonder how many of them really know what's going-on when they get involved in Transcendental Meditation?

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi lived and taught from a Hindu perspective and he claimed that TM was a continuation of an ancient Vedic meditation technique. The Vedas are the holy books of the Hindu religion. You can't base something on a religious text without it being religious or religion-based. It's very simple.

Furthermore, during the TM instruction when a student is about to receive your mantra from the instructor, the student is told to bring some fresh fruit, flowers and a white handkerchief. These items are used during the puja ceremony, which is also a Hindu rite. While the student doesn't have to say any prayers (the instructor does that) the student brings the offering and stands as a passive participant in the ceremony. The actual words recited by the instructor are decidedly religious in nature. The fruit and flowers are offerings in honor of Guru Dev, the guru of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the ceremony is a form of reverencing the deceased, which is exclusively a religious observance. A picture of Brahmananda Saraswati (a.k.a. "Guru Dev") is on the altar during the ceremony and the instructor bows in front of the altar while performing the puja.

As if that's not enough, the actual mantras that instructors give to their students are the names of Hindu gods!

So, you participate in a Hindu ceremony and then you're given the name of a Hindu god/goddess to recite as your mantra.

For Jews and Christians, this violates the First and Second Commandments:
I am The Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them, for I, The Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.(Exodus 20:2-6)
From my not-trained-at-a-rabbinical-school perspective, it would seem that learning and practicing Transcendental Meditation is not kosher and would be considered unclean or an abomination - ("sheqet" in Hebrew or "treif" in Yiddish) - to an Orthodox Jew.

For Muslims, the prohibition of practicing any faith other than Islam would be forbidden  ("haram" in Arabic) and participating in a decidedly Hindu ritual would be considered idolatry or "shirk" (in Arabic) as repeatedly noted in the Qur'an:
“Surely Allah does not forgive that anything should be associated with him, and forgives what is besides that to whomsoever He pleases, and whoever associates anything with Allah, he devises indeed a great sin.” (Surah an-Nisā’ 4:48)

“Surely whoever associates (others) with Allah, then Allah has forbidden to him the garden, and his abode is the fire; and there shall be no helpers for the unjust.” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5:72)

“Do not associate aught with Allah; most surely polytheism is a grievous inequity.” (Surah Luqmān 31:13).

“And whoever associates anything with Allah, he devises indeed a great sin.” (Surah an-Nisā’ 4:48)
Bear in mind that, in addition to not graduating from either a schul or a seminary, I also have never graduated from a madrassah.

If someone feels the need to practice meditation, Judaism, Islam and Christianity all have rich histories that include meditative practices and are available for those who seek out instruction and you probably won't need to spend a lot of money.
They're Really Secretive

When a student receives their mantra from the instructor, they are told to never tell anyone else what their mantra is because doing that would make it powerless.

Okay, I'm in the dark here. If TM isn't religious, how can telling people what your mantra is affect it negatively? It's supposed to be a meaningless word, right? What's wrong with telling people what my meaningless word is?

As noted above, it's not a meaningless word, but the name of a Hindu god or goddess. Is TM trying to keep people from knowing how they choose mantras and what their reals meaning are? Maybe if outsiders knew the mantras TM was passing out, somebody might check to see what they mean, which they have.

I subscribe to a YouTube channel that posted two videos where the speaker taught people what he claimed was the Transcendental Meditation technique. Both videos were subsequently hit with a trademark infraction and cannot be viewed inside the United States. I assume that the complainant was the TM Movement because they would be the only ones who could make such a filing with YouTube. But, if TM is simply the modern incarnation of an ancient Vedic practice, then it can't be trademarked or copyrighted. You could only do that if TM were an original work created by the Maharishi.

I get it that the TM Movement wouldn't want someone out there teaching their technique wrong and some TM instructors have claimed that teaching it wrong can do harm to the people following bad instruction, which is the same reason the Church of Scientology used when Wikileaks posted their material on the Internet.

But, I'd like to think that most people are smart enough to know that if you want to learn something properly, you go to an authoritative source. If you want to learn TM, go to a trained instructor. I've watched hundreds of science videos on YouTube and I know that it doesn't make me a scientist.

Let's say that you've gone through all the training and spent your money. You're happy with TM but you don't want to chant the name of a Hindu god because you're a Christian, Jew, Muslim, or whatever. What can you do?

I'm glad you asked! Welcome to Duane's Mantra Trade-In Emporium where you can bring in your old mantra and walk right out with a brand-spanking new one that you'll enjoy for years! You can even share it with your friends, your family and even total strangers! The best part is that it's absolutely free!

Okay, one advantage of Transcendental Meditation is their use of a one-word mantra. It's simple and easy to remember. So, just ditch the Hindu god's name for a simple word with a beautiful meaning: Peace.
  • For Jews, the word "shalom" is appropriate;
  • For Christians, you could use the Aramaic word "shlama", since Aramaic is the language Jesus actually spoke; or you could use "eirene" (pronounced eye-ree-nee), which is Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament; and
  • Muslims could use the word "salaam".
Celebrity Endorsements

I've never seen Mark Wahlberg or Michael Moore tell people how great Catholicism is and I've never seen William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy expound on the merits of Judaism. Yet, for some reason, the TM Movement seems hell-bent on getting as many celebrities as possible to publicly come forward and tell the world how great Transcendental Meditation is. Howard Stern, Ellen DeGeneres, Katy Perry, Russell Brand, etc all have videos on YouTube where they tell everyone how great TM is how much they've benefited from it.

Hey, I'm happy for them. But, what kind of idiot is going to get into something just because Hugh Jackman likes it?

I like to make my own decisions, thank you.

What Scientific Studies?

Going to the TM homepage, I noticed how they claim that hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies verify the benefits of Transcendental Meditation. When you see them listed on the site, it looks very impressive.

Very impressive, that is, unless you look a little more closely and know how to read a scientific study.

While the results look impressive on the surface, looking into the identities of the scientists who
conducted the studies and learning who paid to have the studies done makes a difference.

Looking through a few studies mentioned on the site, I noticed that they were usually paid-for by the Maharishi University of Management, which is a TM-based institution and/or the scientists involved were from that institution. You can't conduct a reliable study of anything if the people involved or who were paying for it have a direct interest in having a specific result come out of the study. This is funding bias and it calls into question the validity of any scientific study, much like when the tobacco industry paid for scientific studies to prove that smoking cigarettes doesn't cause cancer. A predetermined conclusion was the very reason for the study to be conducted. A 1980 study conducted in Germany didn't result in a glowing endorsement of TM, but I doubt if the results of that study would find their way onto the TM website.

The Appeal to Tradition

In terms of age, the Hindu Vedas are the oldest existing religious texts in the world. No other religious faith can claim to have the same documented continuity as Hinduism and no religious text can trace its history prior to or contemporaneously with the Vedas. These are facts.

However, TM practitioners claim that since TM is based on the Vedas, it is automatically legitimate and the best meditation technique in the world. That is an appeal to tradition, which is the claim that because something is based on ancient knowledge, it is therefore as good, if not better than anything that came after it. In fact, there are a lot of other religious teachers who have become quite popular in the West and who hold up their teachings' basis in the Vedas and Hinduism as a mark of their legitimacy. People like Sai Baba, Sadhguru, Jagad Guru, Osho, etc all have achieved  some fame outside of India while exposing doctrines firmly or partially based in Hindu and Vedic thought. Ancient knowledge isn't automatically good, simply because it's ancient.

The Mysterious Maharishi

Little is definitively known about the Maharishi's early life. The year he was born, where he was born, his family's caste, etc are not known with certainty. Mostly, this is due to Hindu ascetics' practice of renouncing their family name and status upon entering the life of a renunciate. But, before I embrace someone's teachings, I'd first like to know a bit about them. For example, we know a bit about Jesus' life and family before he began his ministry. We don't know a lot of other things (e.g. what he really looked like, what he did between the ages of twelve and thirty, etc) but these really aren't important details for most people. We know quite a bit about Muhammad, due to the Hadiths, which give us great details about him and makes Muhammad one of the best-documented religious leaders of the past two thousand years.

But, we know the family backgrounds of both Jesus and Muhammad, we also know the names of their family members, their families' social status and where both men were born. These men lived centuries ago and we know more about them than we know about the Maharishi, who lived much more recently and died only a few years ago.

It has been stated that the Maharishi came from a family that belonged to the Kayastha caste, a caste whose varna status historically places them in professions such as rulers, warriors and administrators. It is the Brahmin caste who historical function is as priests, teachers and protectors of sacred (Vedic) knowledge. So, while the Kayastha are a high-status caste in Hinduism, for one of them to teach a sacred doctrine would seem to be above their station.

Granted, Buddha was born into this caste and some Hindus do revere him. but mainstream Hinduism considers Buddhism to be outside traditional Hindu teachings, mostly because Buddhism doesn't rely on the Vedas and is a non-theistic religion.

Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad all willingly lived simple lives, without wealth or by accumulating great possessions. Likewise, Brahmananda Saraswati, Maharishi's own guru, lived in caves as a recluse for much of his life and only reluctantly accepted a position of authority. In stark contrast, while the Maharishi called himself a simple monk, he lived an opulent lifestyle which included a personal jet and helicopter.

In light of this, it may be understandable that when Brahmananda Saraswati wrote his will and named potential successors, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's name wasn't on the list.

In Conclusion

I'd like to state for the record that I have nothing against Hindus or Hinduism. What I have a problem with is a religion-based meditation system claiming to not be religious, especially when practicing that meditation system could violate the tenets of some practitioners' sincerely-held religious beliefs. If someone is atheist or agnostic, it seems to be a way to deceive people into performing a religious act against their own belief system.

Of course, there are people who practice Transcendental Meditation and derive benefit from it, either from a small or to a large degree. If so, I'm happy for them.

But, don't try to sell me something while claiming that it isn't a religious practice, when it is and don't tell me that if I get to a "high enough level" in my meditation that I'll be able to do things like fly through the air, be in two places at once or levitate off the ground, and live forever when there's absolutely no evidence that such things have ever happened.

Trying to sweeten the pot by telling me that lots of famous people practice TM has no effect on me whatsoever.

Just put it all out there for me to look at critically and I can make my own decisions. Be honest with what it is and what it isn't, because I don't like being lied to by people claiming to want to help me while secretly wanting me to spend my hard earned money on something of questionable integrity.

Duane Browning

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