Tuesday, February 19, 2019

OOPS! New York Times promotes cultic Transcendental Meditation

On February 12, 2019, Marisa Meltzer, NYT's Wellness Columnist's article describing Transcendental Meditation could have been a purchased advertisement by the organization. She describes the meditation as a 20-minute exercise that could be performed anywhere (click here to read the article), but does not question anything about the method or organization, accepting all as promoted.

While the writer seems to enjoy the twice daily rest, she fails to review the cultic aspects of the larger organization. She does not mention upselling to further courses, TM-Sidhis' mystical so-called powers, Ayurvedic therapies, gemstones, architecture, nor an elaborate global network of businesses, people, and finances.

The article unintentionally describes the early stages of succumbing to cultic influence. After listing a host of celebrity promoters of TM, she wonders "Could TM give me the artistic vision of George Harrison?"

Describing TM's private instruction, she describes the small room with a puja ritual, an altar with fruit and flowers, kneeling to a Sanskrit chant, as if none of this would be in conflict with a so-called "scientific technique". She was sworn not to divulge her secret two-syllable mantra. She does not. 

She mentions follow-up sessions, checking of meditation, an old video of Maharishi, then continues to meditate on her own at home. The TM office is described as simple, "lacks the decor of some of today's buzzy wellness clinics. Instead there's a staff that seems genuinely devoted to teaching and will hold your hand through the learning process." The current cost of learning TM, "based on a sliding scale of income, from $500 to $960 for the course. There are discounts and scholarships for students, veterans, domestic abuse survivors and other populations."

Sounds harmless enough.

This piece promoting Transcendental Meditation exposes the author already beginning to ignore her critical thinking. The piece normalizes secretiveness of TM's mantra, kneeling before an altar during a Sanskrit chant to learn a supposedly scientific practice. There is no information about the organization or its many controversies. 

The concluding description of her meditation experience is no different from merely day dreaming or taking a walk twice daily, "but letting them (thoughts) just happen and not act on them for 20 minutes has given me some perspective for the rest of my day. What if I let more of my thoughts just sort of travel in and out without taking the time to obsess over them?"

So, why not just daydream twice daily or take a walk without the expense and cultic allure of Transcendental Meditation?

Perhaps Maharishi was correct that charging people to learn Transcendental Meditation would assure their continued practice and involvement, and willingness to promote.

I'll take a walk.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Transcendental Meditation Teaching Agreement

Here, for the first time online (as far as I know), is an agreement that prospective meditators were required to sign before receiving instruction in how to practice Transcendental Meditation.

This particular document likely dates from the mid-1990's, though there is no date or number on the form to confirm that. I think it likely that this, or some very similar agreement, is still being used as one of the forms that teachers of TM expect to have signed by the student before proceeding.

As I mentioned in my previous post here on this subject ("What did you sign when you started TM?", November 14, 2018), teachers of Transcendental Meditation have been instructed to not allow these forms to leave with the meditator who signed them, nor would you have an opportunity to take some time, at home, overnight, with your attorney if you want to, to review the agreement and fully understand what it says before going through with TM instruction. This unwillingness to disclose the contents of these agreements to those who have signed them has historically extended all the way through the teacher training course, as was documented in this letter from a TM teacher/attorney in 1995.

I am not an attorney and anything I write below does not constitute legal advice.

My discussion and comments on this agreement follow below the image, click through on it to see it full size. Here's a pdf version.

Starting from the top. Before the mid-1990's, the formal nonprofit organization that offered TM in the United States was the "World Plan Executive Council" (WPEC).  That entity was dissolved and now the "Maharishi Foundation" serves that purpose.

Clause 1: You must affirm that you're learning TM "for the sole benefit of my own personal development." Presumably if you are a journalist or investigator going through the process to learn firsthand what all the fuss is about, you are in violation of this agreement if you signed it and went through with instruction, or initiation, as they used to call it.

Clause 2: "However, no specific benefits of the practice of the TM program are promised to me and no express or implied warranties (including warranty of merchantability) are made." In other words: "Everything you might have heard, you might have read even on our own website, what we told you, or what you think we told you might be wrong. You might find out that there is absolutely nothing to TM and no benefit to paying for whatever is going to happen next. We're off the hook."

Clause 3: "I agree not to disclose the confidential aspects of the Course..." I find this one particularly hilarious, because there is absolutely nothing about the process of teaching TM (the "Course") that isn't available by spending about fifteen seconds searching on Google, or clicking through on some of the links you'll find on the right side of this blog. I was personally responsible for putting the first bits of these so-called "confidential aspects" up on the Internet (so far back, it wasn't even a web site, it was an FTP site!) in the early 1990's. Thus far I haven't heard one official word of protest from anyone formally connected with the WPEC, Maharishi Foundation, or anyone else... that's because the entire process has been in the public domain for many decades if not centuries, back in India. People there would probably laugh at you if you claimed to have any proprietary claim to these things, because so much of it is just part of the everyday spiritual culture there, and you'd already know about it if you lived there and cared about such things.

There's no question that they know this already. From an interview conducted in 1996 with the same TM teacher/attorney, who sent the letter I referenced above:

(Interviewer): Were you aware that the "Steps of Initiation" and so forth are on the Internet and have been for six months or more? 
(WPEC Attorney): [long pause] Uh, that may be.

Clause 4:  "...the organizations teaching the TM program do not give advice on medical or psychological treatments." I've encountered some evidence to the contrary recently, but it's unlikely that an individual just doing "2x20" TM and having no further significant contact with the organization is going to run into this. On the other hand, if you want to spend lots of money for "yagya" (astrological) consultations, you might see otherwise.

The tendency for long-term meditators to avoid medical treatment in favor of "ayurveda" and other quackery offered by various TM connected organizations is well known among those who are familiar with that subculture. One aspect of that avoidance has been documented, by the staggeringly low rate of measles vaccination among students at the "Maharishi School of the Age of  Enlightenment," a grade school for the children of meditators at the movement's United States home base in Fairfield, Iowa.

From my point of view, one of the long-term goals, from the organization's side, is the subtle influence of personal choices such that the movement's products are favored over those from other sources. There is much to suggest that this attempt to establish a personal preference for "Maharishi" branded products, including with respect to healthcare, sometimes to the neglect of one's own health, is prevalent in and around the cultural bubble in which Transcendental Meditation is central.

Clause 5: This is the liability waiver, which is of the blanket, "it doesn't matter if we were grossly negligent, you won't be suing us," sort. What's particularly interesting is the justification that's given for it: "In order to ensure that the activities of these organizations and the individuals who work on their behalf are not hindered by the burdens involved in defending legal proceedings..."

Throughout the whole process of learning TM, there's a not-so-subtle expression of the fact that TM teachers and the organization act from the position of a belief in what's most accurately described as religious, or Vedic, supremacy. They've expressed the belief that they're doing work that is divinely inspired, that it's of Vedic origin, that it comes from a religious tradition and its scriptures. Teachers refer to "ancient meditation texts" - actually meaning the Vedic scriptures themselves - and perform a ritual, the puja, before every TM instruction session, that demonstrate devotion to long gone individuals who believed themselves to be the custodians of a pure form of Vedic, religious, wisdom.

Every religious culture has its theocrats, who believe that their version of "God's law" - actually a construction of the imagination of a few people - has precedence over civil law and should apply to everyone. This is an example of that hierarchy: that they shouldn't have to be bothered with earthly lawsuits even in the event that what they're doing may be, on occasion, grossly negligent.

As a practical matter, whether or not this liability waiver can be made to stick in court is debatable, and to my knowledge it's never been used or challenged. Requirements for such waivers vary from state to state, and the state in which this agreement is expected to apply is never specified. Some states require an enumeration of the kinds of bad outcomes - injury, death, etc. - that might result from the activity covered by the waiver. Even though there are case studies and many anecdotal reports of negative consequences of even initial TM instruction - dissociation and anxiety being the most common negative effects - they are not mentioned here. That's because, of course, TM is sold as being uniformly beneficial for every single individual, regardless of the facts, and that's because TM teachers and the organization believe they're offering a product that is beyond earthly origin, pure, "life-affirming," and has no negative effect. Reality suggests otherwise, as it often does for people who incorrectly believe that their relationship with divine powers offers them some kind of immunity from obvious earthly consequences.

Clause 6: This merely says that the organization has the right to defend its teachers. The reference to "proceeding" seems to anticipate that the liability waiver might not apply in every case.

It's always a good idea, when you're paying a lot of money and are asked to sign something, to at least read what you're about to sign before you sign it. With all the marketing, and cultural expectation that reinforces the impression that TM is an ultimate cure for everything and that something as simple as meditation can't ever result in bad results, perhaps it's easy to avoid the fine print and just sign your rights away for all time. The fact that, as far as I know, you won't be allowed to take this, or the current version of, this agreement home and perhaps have an attorney at least glance at it before you learn TM, seems to suggest that the organization would like to avoid full disclosure of its practices and methods, right down to the legal documents prospective meditators are asked to sign.

They've always considered aspects of what they sell to be "private," even while those portions have long been freely available. That evident obsession with secrecy and privacy (some of which I personally witnessed back in the day) even extends to the most basic paperwork that's placed before every new meditator for their signature. It's about time that changed, isn't it?

Postscript: I noticed that if you Google for the entire phrase, "not hindered by the expense and other burdens involved in defending legal proceedings," the only matches that come up are from a much more lengthy and formal agreement on the website of a local center of another organization of Indian origin that offers meditation instruction. This organization also makes claims of uniqueness for their methods. I have no way of knowing if this language was copied from one organization to another, or if it's common to use this kind of phrase in liability waivers elsewhere in the world, but it's interesting that this exact phrase appears in widely separated but somewhat similar places.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Dead Men Can't Complain About What's Done in Their Name

One of the questions I often ask, when looking over the present landscape of everything left behind in the wake of Maharishi’s arrival in the West, is: how did he successfully convince so many people - including me, at one point, many years ago - that what he was selling was worth paying real money for, spending time doing, endorsing, in some cases, throwing both rationality and one’s own life completely overboard to help spread all over the planet?

Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Brahmananda Saraswati aka Guru Dev,
and Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
It’s a reverse engineering sort of task, and as time goes on, and more and more celebrities (Tom Hanks, now? Really?) sign on with their slobbering endorsements of TM, hitching their reputations to Mahesh’s legacy - both the public and not-so-obvious parts of it - I think it gets to be a more vital question.

We’ve already seen plenty of people once trained as scientists, who have since uncritically adopted the religious fundamentalism of Vedic absolutism and who then tried in varying degrees to wrap that in scientific-sounding language, even getting their missives published here and there. Their participation enabled their “movement” to maintain the momentum of what are completely speculative, if not specious, claims of scientific legitimacy or validation.  Meanwhile, a few of the most high-profile, wealthy women in media here in the US have also contributed their own endorsements, what would have cost millions of dollars were it in the form of purchased advertising. One of them even appears front and center on the tm.org website at this very moment.

There’s a claim that appears right in the middle of the Transcendental Meditation introductory lecture - that somehow, this method of meditation that every TM teacher insists is somehow unique and special, is the product of some ancient oral tradition. But is that actually true? There is much to suggest that much of what’s offered in the instruction process of TM, if not a large portion of the movement’s offerings, are actually a relatively recent invention, which incorporate bits and pieces of the spiritual traditions of India.

That invention, I think, was carefully constructed and honed, over time, to provide an introductory path for potential meditators that would eventually select for and produce some number of people who would be committed, unquestioning, lifelong devotees. It straddled the line between being attractively novel, and being unattractively unfamiliar or too exotic. And one of the ways in which this was done, was to mimic the monotheistic culture of the West in the performance of the ‘puja,’ the ritual that every TM teacher must perform, and every prospective meditator must witness and to some degree participate in, through the provision of certain items used in the ritual, before instructing an individual in the practice of the TM technique.

What does a prospective meditator see, when entering the room for private instruction in TM? On a table will be something of an altar, with a candle and burning incense, and a colored photograph of Brahmananda Saraswati, the “Guru Dev” of TM culture, the guru whom Maharishi once served. While the traditions of India on which everything about TM centers - Vedic, or perhaps Hindu, spirituality, it’s your choice of specific labels - are polytheistic, in which almost anything can be a focus of worship, all of that is discarded for this ritual, over which the image of a dead guy is the primary focus. One particular individual is demonstrated as the focus of adoration and devotion, as one of the very first things that happens to a meditator, moments before they first start practicing the TM technique. All the polytheistic concepts, if mentioned, will be introduced to the meditator, at some much later point; all of this progressive revelation, to people who are unlikely to have any familiarity with these traditions, is of recent design.

Which brings me to the question: why perform this ‘puja’ ritual at all, before meditation instruction? One possible reason is that the coupling of mantra meditation with a personal belief system, for some people increases the perceived effectiveness of meditation. This relationship has been described by Herbert Benson, who was at one time a collaborator on scientific studies of TM, with Robert Keith Wallace, a meditator and devotee of Maharishi who later became the founding president of the movement’s university, MIU, now MUM. He parted ways with Wallace when they disagreed over the uniqueness of TM, Benson taking the view that “the key physical changes could be elicited regardless of any particular meditation technique.” Benson coined the term “relaxation response” and holds that it can be triggered by various methods, with meditation being just one of them.

Benson later wrote about what he called the “Faith Factor,” his observation that “a person’s religious convictions or life philosophy enhanced the average effects of the Relaxation Response.” Which, I think, is a “factor” that very obviously exists in the course of the TM instruction process - though it’s masked if not outright denied, when TM teachers insist that there is no philosophy, belief system or religion involved in the practice of TM.

Regardless of what TM teachers are trained to say, there is some belief inherent to the process, as there is when anyone buys a product that they think will help them somehow. When a TM teacher says that what they’re offering is the product of an “oral tradition” from “ancient meditation texts” that goes back “thousands of years,” it follows that anyone who accepts those claims as legitimate believes that they’re coming in contact with something that’s much bigger than themselves, not some trivial thing invented recently by an opportunistic businessman. All of those somewhat inflated, self-aggrandizing characterizations, in and of themselves, lie in the realm of philosophy and belief, of a “worldview” in which a particular method of meditation is a precious and unique facet of “ancient” “tradition,” with all the weight those words convey. Once the words “world peace” are associated with TM, as they are in the name of David Lynch’s organization, it’s clear it’s not just a worldview, but it can be an all-encompassing, global cause, a “World Plan,” as it was once called, to bring about transformative change to the rest of the planet, by way of an “effortless” mental technique. The barrier to entry to join this cause is quite low, all one needs to do is pay a fee and go through the process, what used to be called an “initiation,” to learn the technique.

Sitting in the middle of this initiation ritual is the presence of a dead man as the focus of something in the realm of deference and devotion if not outright worship. On that point Transcendental Meditation exhibits a weird similarity to other patriarchal religious and spiritual traditions, including Christianity, likely familiar to the initiate. It also reflects the common cultural aspiration that some individual hero figure will arrive and, with the wave of his hand, correct all the world’s problems and set everything right for everyone.

While the ‘puja’ ritual is conducted in the Sanskrit language that the prospective meditator is very unlikely to understand, it’s the motions, the body language, the deference modeled in the ritual that count for everything. It’s a devotional ritual, where everything the meditator is about to experience, or benefit from, is personified by an individual who allegedly revived the esoteric wisdom of the technique they’re about to practice.

Never mind, of course, that if that dead man were alive today, he might object to what his onetime ashram secretary has gone on to do. Devotion to Brahmananda Saraswati, who they call “Guru Dev,” is expressed all throughout the TM subculture with the phrase, “Jai Guru Dev.” While that phrase can be translated as “Hail Great Teacher,” it’s generally understood to refer to that particular individual.

While longtime meditators express devotion to Maharishi, the focus on “Guru Dev” as an almost mythical, distant figure draws attention away from someone who, at the time, was a living individual; “Guru Dev” becomes a personification of the effort to transform the planet through the application of everything Maharishi devised and promulgated long after Saraswati’s death. This is now exemplified by the fact that the global nonprofit that is the umbrella for the “TM movement,” that was once called by the impersonal name “World Plan Executive Council,” is now the “Brahmananda Saraswati Foundation.”

Thus it all comes full circle. To create devotees to a worldwide organization, an expression of devotion to, if not worship of, a dead man, who becomes the personification of that organization, is demonstrated every time an individual is instructed in the practice of Transcendental Meditation. The fact that this devotional ritual exists, much less its actual content, is never disclosed with any detail to prospective meditators before instruction; it’s held as a mystery and sprung on people in private, when they’re less willing to back out, after they’ve already brought fruit, flowers, handkerchief and a substantial sum of money. All of this is held forth as some kind of “scientifically validated” system, but there is nothing that can be “scientifically validated” about a devotional ritual that serves to perpetuate yet another patriarchal, dogmatic, authoritarian organization.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What did you sign when you started TM?

In the course of sorting through some contributed TM-related materials and doing a bit of research, I came across two interesting items that apparently date from the mid-1990's.

The first of these are one page agreement forms, that prospective meditators had to sign before proceeding with TM instruction, and also another version that applied to instruction in an "advanced technique" of TM. The two agreements are basically identical, with the same six numbered clauses, the only difference is that the second agreement also refers to the advanced technique.

The other is a reference in another document, that states that TM teachers are not, under any circumstances, to provide prospective meditators with a copy of the agreement that they must sign to receive instruction.

I was instructed in the mid-1970's and I don't recall seeing such a thing go by at that time, there was the basic intake form with a small statement at the bottom that had to be signed, but there was nothing this elaborate or legalistic, as far as I can remember, that needed my signature. The same was true upon receiving a so-called "advanced technique" in the early 1980's.

What documents were you required to sign when you started TM, or when you received instruction in an advanced technique or some other program offered by the same organization(s)?

Were you offered a copy of whatever you signed, or did you ask for a copy and were refused?

Inquiring minds want to know more, particularly when it comes to current practice and with the involvement of the David Lynch Foundation in attempting to promote the teaching of TM in public schools and other venues where the contents of such agreements may be an issue.

Since I know the question will come up, the unanimous answer provided by many credible online sources is that, no, you don't have to be provided a copy of a legal agreement for it to be valid; the fact that you signed it makes it a valid agreement. Though a lot of us would think it's rather sleazy, or indicative of the fact that people may have second thoughts later about what they're getting involved in, to not freely provide a copy of agreements that people are required to sign before they participate in an activity.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Book Review: "TRANSCENDENTAL DECEPTION: Behind the TM curtain - bogus science, hidden agendas, and David Lynch’s campaign to push a million public school kids into Transcendental Meditation while falsely claiming it is not a religion" by Aryeh Siegel

Published 2018 by JanReg Press
222 pages
Reviewed by Laurie

This book is different.  This book is special.

"...'Will my practice of Transcendental Meditation conflict with my religion?'  [TM spokesperson] Roth answers, 'No....' " (p. 79)

"...For our practice, we select only the suitable mantras of personal gods.  Such mantras fetch to us the grace of personal gods...."   [quote by Maharishi]. (p. 86) 

I have read many fascinating memoirs by people who have spent years in the TM world.  And I’ve read excellent books about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his Guru Dev.

But this book is different.  It doesn’t tell the story of one life.  Nor does it, like most exposes, focus on just one aspect of the TM organization (TMO), such as Maharishi’s sex life, or TM actually being a religious movement.

"...After giving meditation another shot...I had what superficially looked like convulsions and could not walk without assistance afterwards because my abdominals were clenched so tight, I was hunched over more than 90 degrees (that occurred on and off for nearly a week)...."  (p. 182-183)

Instead, it gives a comprehensive overview of the TM movement.  It brings together the many criticisms ~ over many years ~ in many fields ~ from many scholars. The result is compelling  evidence that deception is not an occasional aberration within the TMO, but one of its standard modes of operation.  Siegel documents how the TMO has:

(1)  Hidden the religious (Hindu) nature of the technique, the mantras and the TM philosophy.
(2)  Perpetrated biased research.
(3)  Posted websites claiming to be “independent.”
(4)  Misquoted people and organizations.

"...[W]idely promoted by TM as 'The Maharishi Effect,'...[is] group TM meditation impacting crime...."  (p. 101)

"...Utilizing raw data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program released in September 2016, [a real estate platform] reported...'The crime rate in Fairfield is considerably higher than the national average across all communities in America from the largest to the smallest....' "  (p. 106)

(5) Invented statistics.
(6) Denied the harm that TM causes some individuals.
(7) Hidden where the money goes.
(8) Engaged in cult-like behavior.
…And so much more.  

Different sections devoted to different areas of deception, several pages of “Resources,” and over 200 footnotes make this book an excellent source for investigating the soul of the organization that seeks to spreads TM, at whatever price.

Siegel realized that with each passing day, more and more public schools would be teaching TM.  Therefore he wrote and published this book as quickly as possible.  So frankly, the writing is quite uneven.  And I wish that Siegel had omitted his personal conjectures and denunciations, which in my opinion only weaken the book, since the facts speak for themselves.  Making allowances for his time constraints, it is still the most comprehensive review of TM I’ve seen in decades.

"...The flaws in this study [Meditation for Childhood ADHD] are numerous.  The number of subjects is too small, there is no control group, and it isn't blinded....It is based purely on self-report....[Children] are told what the expected outcome of the trial is, that their symptoms will improve with TM...." (page 115) 

I strongly recommend this book to scientists, medical doctors, psychotherapists, politicians, theologians, educators, ethicists, parents, students, former- present- and future-TMers, cult experts and more.  It will help them evaluate the PR promulgated by the TMO.

I am saddened that the leaders of the TMO (from its founder on down) have seen fit to take a pleasant quasi-religious technique that helps a lot of people and harms a few, and have sullied it, themselves and the public, by slathering it with lies.

"...The overall evidence supports that TM modestly lowers BP (blood pressure).  It is not certain whether it is truly superior to other meditation techniques in terms of BP lowering...." - American Heart Association, 2013.  (p. 108)

"...The American Heart Association made a scientific statement that Transcendental Meditation was the only form of stress management and meditation technique to reduce blood pressure...." - www.TM.org.  (p. 108) 

Also - be sure to check out Siegel’s cool and very fun website, tmdeception.com, for intriguing videos, interviews, articles and insights into TM.

[Note:  To read more books reviews on TMFree, go to our main page, right hand column, last section "Labels," and click on "book review."]

Friday, May 04, 2018

National Institutes of Health Researches TM - Poorly

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "...is the nation’s medical research agency — making important discoveries that improve health and save lives….”(1)

The David Lynch Foundation, a proponent of TM, states,

“...The National Institutes of Health have granted more than $26 million over the past 18 years to study the effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on cardiovascular disease….”(2)

The TM movement likes to point out that there are over 600 published research projects showing the benefits of TM.  However, critics have pointed out that most TM research is of poor quality.  Inadequate controls, small samples, cherry picking of results, biased design, self-reporting, conflict of interest - the flaws are astonishing.(3)  Whether these flaws are due to poor researcher skills, researcher prejudice in favor of TM, or some other reasons, I don't know.

The NIH doesn't want researchers with conflicts of interest doing their research.  This led me to ask, who exactly is doing the NIH-funded TM research?  Are there any conflicts of interest?  

I have researched the names of most of the researchers studying TM with NIH money.  I’ve discovered that for virtually every study, many of the researchers are affiliated with TM.(4)  They are  Maharishi University of Management (MUM) professors, MUM researchers, MUM graduates, TM teachers.  People with these credentials have gone through months or years of TM indoctrination consisting of one-sided education and meditation retreats, which put people into suggestible states.  Further, many of these researchers work for TM for very little pay, as volunteers, or on work-exchange.  I consider these credentials indicative of bias towards TM.  In fact, I feel it would be appropriate to say that some people with such a background could be considered to have a “missionary” approach towards TM.

A few years ago, I attempted to contact NIH to alert them to the bias of many of their researcher. Unfortunately, what I learned is that the only "conflict of interest" they acknowledge is financial.  They do not consider belief/missionary zeal/faith to be conflicts of interest.  But that still leaves the question of if the NIH considers TM teachers, MUM professors, MUM researchers, etc., to lack financial conflict of interest.  After all, if an MUM professor publishes “positive” results, then more people might learn TM, and then more people might attend MUM, and then the professor might get a raise, or tenure.  Alas, the NIH website stated that concerns about conflicts of interest would only be considered before research has begun.  Also, they stated that the only strategy the NIH employs on conflicts of interest is to ask the researchers what steps they propose to take in order to eliminate the bias.

So, if you ever read that NIH research on TM has proven that TM is a unique, marvelous, beneficial technique for the human race, please consider the points above.  The research is probably seriously biased.

(1) nih.gov

(2) davidlynchfoundation.org:  “...The David Lynch Foundation helps to prevent and eradicate the all-pervasive epidemic of trauma and toxic stress among at-risk populations through promoting widespread implementation of the evidence-based Transcendental Meditation (TM) program in order to improve their health, cognitive capabilities and performance in life…."

(3) TMFree.blogspot.com:  How to Design a Positive Study: Meditation for Childhood ADHD, Abstracts of Independent Research on Transcendental Meditation, Problems with TM Research by Barry Markovsky, Evaluating Heterodox Theories, including "Maharishi Effect" (Markovsky and Fales)

(4) I have highlighted in red those researchers for whom I found TM affiliations.  (Note: Variations in footnote style is due to copying directly from research papers).

1. Stress Reduction Programs in Patients with Elevated Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. 
Maxwell V. Rainforth, PhD, Robert H. Schneider, MD, Sanford I. Nidich, EdD, Carolyn Gaylord-King, PhD, John W. Salerno, PhD, and James W. Anderson, MD

2. Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Health Promotion with the Transcendental Meditation Program and Maharishi Consciousness-Based Health Care. 
Robert H. Schneider, MD, Kenneth G. Walton, PhD, John W. Salerno, PhD, and Sanford I. Nidich, EdD.
Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa.

3. Effects of a Randomized Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation on Components of the Metabolic Syndrome in Subjects With Coronary Heart Disease.
Maura Paul-Labrador, MPH; Donna Polk, MD, MPH; James H. Dwyer, PhD; Ivan Velasquez, MD; Maxwell Rainforth, PhD, Robert Schneider, MD, and C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD

4. Long-Term Effects of Stress Reduction on Mortality in Persons ≥55 Years of Age With Systemic Hypertension. 
Robert H. Schneider*, MD, Charles N. Alexander, PhD*, Frank Staggers, MD*,  Maxwell Rainforth, PhD*, John W. Salerno, PhD*, Arthur Hartz, MD, Stephen Arndt, PhD, Vernon A. Barnes, PhD+, and Sanford I. Nidich, EdD*
*From the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa; the West Oakland Health Center, Oakland, California; the Departments of Family Medicine and Psychiatry, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, Iowa; and the Georgia Prevention Institute, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, Georgia. +Vernon A. Barnes, PhD from Maharishi University of Management

5. Reduced Blood Pressure and Use of Hypertensive Medication (American Journal of Hypertension, January 2005).
Robert H. Schneider#, Charles N. Alexander#, Frank Staggers, David W. Orme-Johnson#, Maxwell Rainforth#, John W. Salerno#, William Sheppard, Amparo Castillo-Richmond", Vernon A. Barnes", and Sanford I. Nidich#
# From the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, Maharishi University of Management (RHS, CHN, DWO-J, MR, JWS, SIN)
“ Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa graduates (VAB, AC-R)

6. Effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation on Functional Capacity and Quality of Life of African Americans with Congestive Heart Failure: A Randomized Control Study. 
Ravishankar Jayadevappa, PhD, Jerry C. Johnson, MD, Bernard S. Bloom, PhD, Sanford Nidich, EdD, Shashank Desai, MD, Sumedha Chhatre, PhD, Donna B. Raziano, MD, and Robert H. Schneider, MD
From the Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania (RJ, JCJ, BSB, SD, SC); Elder Health Pennsylvania (DBR), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention, Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa (SN, RS). 

7. Effects of a Randomized Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation on Components of the Metabolic Syndrome in Subjects With Coronary Heart Disease.
Maura Paul-Labrador, MPH; Donna Polk, MD, MPH; James H. Dwyer, PhD; Ivan Velasquez, MD; Sanford Nidich, PhD., Maxwell Rainforth, PhD; Robert Schneider, MD;  C. Noel Barry

8. Neuroimaging of meditation’s effect on brain reactivity to pain. 
David W. Orme-Johnson(a), Robert H. Schneider(a), Young D. Son(b), Sanford Nidich(a), and Zang- Hee Cho(b)
a Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa, USA 
b Departments of Radiological Sciences & Psychiatry and Human Behavior, MED SCI I, University of California at Irvine, Irvine, California, USA

9. Effects of Stress Reduction on Carotid Atherosclerosis in Hypertensive African Americans. 
Amparo Castillo-Richmond, MD; Robert H. Schneider, MD; Charles N. Alexander, PhD†; Robert Cook, MD; Hector Myers, PhD; Sanford Nidich, PhD; Chinelo Haney, MBA; Maxwell Rainforth, PhD; John Salerno, PhD 
From the Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention (A.C.-R., R.H.S., C.N.A., S.N., M.R., J.S.), Maharishi University of Management, College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine, Fairfield, Iowa; the Department of Radiology (R.C.) and Biobehavioral Research Center (H.M., C.H.  [C.H. is a TM teacher]), Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, Los Angeles, Calif; and the Department of Psychology (H.M.), University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif.  
Correspondence to Amparo Castillo-Richmond, MD, Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention, Maharishi University of Management, College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine, 1000 North 4th St, FB 1134, Fairfield, IA 52557. E-mail amparo@mum.edu 

Monday, April 23, 2018

"they need to... take out the guru crap"

This was meant to be a followup comment, but the comment it was supposed to follow up on was deleted by its contributor while I was writing. Oh well. So I made a full post out of it instead...

"they need to... take out the guru crap"

A perennial suggestion I've heard, in some form, for literally decades. This will never happen, for at least two reasons.

The first of which is what could be called  a term borrowed from the context in which psychedelic drugs were used: "set and setting." The experience of meditation, I think, really does completely depend on the setup, or what they used to call with respect to TM, "initiation."

The "guru" (technically, he's a "yogi") is a central part of the setup, he's an authority figure. So is the real "guru" whose picture is central to the instruction/ritual (puja). The prospective meditator is flooded with an overload of information, much of it metaphorical, bullshit, or both. At instruction, there's also a lot of probably unexpected sensory input, right down to the use of candles and incense. It's supposed to be special, and the fact that most people paid a lot of money for it, relative to an app, book or tape, magnifies its importance.

Photo: BBC - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on 'Meeting Point',
BBC1, Sunday 5th July 1964
All of this is by design, and as much as the organization denies that belief and ideology are part of the process, they are always present, in some form, from the beginning. The basic "bubble diagram" of the introductory lecture is both a metaphor that I think (from personal experience)  sets up an expectation of what the subjective experience of meditation will be like, and at the same time it's an ideological, if not subtly religious, statement about the nature of the mind.

Second, the long-term goal is to put some people on, and keep them on, something of an escalator of involvement with the TM organization. If you find endless droning Maharishi tapes are what drives you away, be glad! They don't want you around either. But if you're part of that subset of people who like it, think what he's saying is somehow important, feel pangs of devotion and love in the direction of the old man that are then redirected toward the organization... well, then, they really want you to stick around. They want you to meditate no matter what - that's why the so-called "checking procedure" is a flowchart with no way out (in which the meditator gives up meditating). And over the very long-term, they want enough people to contribute their labor and wealth to sustain and grow the organization, for reasons and purposes that are completely opaque to most beginning meditators.

The teaching/learning of TM is just a tiny bit of what the organization is ultimately about. It's intended to be, for some, a recruitment process. All of that is best avoided, whether one goes through with TM initiation/instruction, or not.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Simon and Schuster misleadingly sells the latest TM promotional book

It's that time again. Every few years, another book selling Transcendental Meditation, written by a nearly life-long TM teacher or satisfied customer, lands on the store shelves, with the backing of a major publisher. The latest is "Strength in Stillness," written by David Lynch Foundation executive director Bob Roth as part of the Foundation's efforts to eventually recruit government and major institutions to promote and pay for the teaching of its particular version of meditation - a product of what's actually, by any measure, a fundamentalist religious sect originating in India - to vulnerable people, including public school students.

As has been true throughout the many reruns of this routine for the past fifty years, Roth and his movement actively recruit celebrities and wealthy people to publicly testify to their view of the personal value of TM. Since we can't read their minds, it's impossible to tell if we're just looking at people who are eager to further promote themselves by following the herd and latching onto what they think will be, yet again, a superficially popular cause, or if they're just a few of the still small minority of people who learn TM and stick with it for more than just a few months. It seems likely to me that some combination of both may be true, and that given the nature of celebrity and media, those who dissent, are indifferent, or think the whole thing to be ridiculous are very rarely, if ever, heard from. In popular culture and media, we almost always only hear from those with a positive, endorsing story to tell about such celebrity-endorsed causes and charities, because the nature of the process of image-making, publicity and stardom usually filters out any other message.

Once again, we have a book with a whole pile of endorsing celebrity quotes attached, that appear in every description of the book online, in promotional press releases and on the back cover. These are the words of satisfied customers who probably never took the time (or had their assistants take the time) to do a little research on what they're getting involved in. The David Lynch Foundation is founded on the premise that Transcendental Meditation is absolutely perfect in every way and is a panacea for almost anything that ails you, anyone, or society as a whole, because the anti-science, unchallengeable, absolutist, fundamentalist Vedic religious tradition from which it springs dictates that that is so. Prospective buyers of Transcendental Meditation must look elsewhere for even slightly critical or skeptical evaluation of the practice, the rest of the products they'll eventually be offered, or the history and purpose of the organizations that ultimately benefit, over the long term, from the promotion and practice of TM in the Western world.

Obviously some of these endorsing celebrities have no idea about even the basics of what they're now practicing, and that seems to be the case for one of the endorsers of Roth's book.

Here's one line from the "Editorial Reviews" of the book found on Amazon, that can also be found in the promotional copy for the book on the Simon and Schuster website.
“The beauty of TM is that it’s so forgiving. You can’t do it wrong.” —Robin Roberts
As a matter of fact, according to TM teachers or virtually anyone in authority associated with TM, you can do it wrong. In fact, there's a minor obsession with "correct" TM practice that's supposed to be ensured by a procedure they call "checking."

Anyone who's actually gone through the whole process of learning TM, and who didn't completely ignore most of the propagandizing and existential/philosophical material offered over the course of five daily sessions, would remember that they had their meditation "checked" after they learned it, because that's what happens at the beginning of the three follow-up sessions after learning TM. "Checking," in fact, is frequently offered, perpetually, to meditators for the rest of their lives.  The stated intent is to ensure no deviation from the allegedly pure and always beneficial method that supposedly is the unmodified product of some ancient Vedic tradition from India. But if you look at the actual "checking" procedure itself, you might notice that it's really an endless loop with no exit; it reinforces the absolute necessity of regular TM practice over every other individual concern, even when the meditator is experiencing negative consequences of the practice.

But TM teachers, when "checking," are to avoid anything that might cause the meditator to stop, or to view meditation in anything other than the most positive light.  It says so in the "General Notes" that are part of the checking procedure instructions dictated to every TM teacher in training: "Checkers should be careful to mention negative aspects as little as possible." "World peace" and other claimed collective benefits of TM, that they call the "Maharishi Effect," are to them completely dependent upon maximizing the total number of meditators on the planet, thus the constant insistence upon "correct" and regular practice.

Those of us who've stepped back and critically examined TM and the teaching of it often notice that, when something bad happens to a meditator, others will likely reach for a few standard excuses for the fact that meditators often don't experience the benefits that are claimed to come with the practice. Very high on that list, if not the top two excuses, are "unstressing" and a blame-the-victim gambit that can be summarized, among other ways, as "improper technique" that should be corrected through "checking." (Even we critics are sometimes told that we're "unstressing" and "need a checking.") 

For an example of how these habits play out among meditators, you can read the undisputed facts in a Federal court decision in the lawsuit that followed the 2004 murder of Levi Butler in the TM Movement's own Maharishi University of Management cafeteria. To my critical eye, long-term involvement with TM and the organizations that teach it, and this particular preoccupation with how meditation is practiced, contributed to the inability of school administrators to get help for a student experiencing a psychotic episode. In the middle of that kind of crisis, an administrator was questioning the correctness of the student's TM practice and effectively blaming the student for his psychotic state. Avoidance of anti-psychotic medication, possibly encouraged by the well-known anti-medical views of the school's authorities preoccupied with medicine's "side effects," may also have been a contributing factor.

On March 1, 2004, suddenly and without apparent provocation, [Shuvender] Sem stabbed fellow student John Killian (Killian) in the face and throat with a pen. Two fellow students were restraining Sem when Dr. Samuel Boothby (Dr. Boothby), a MUM administrator, approached the group. Dr. Boothby led Sem into an adjoining conference room and discussed the attack. Dr. Boothby questioned Sem about any relationship Sem might have had with John Killian and what Sem had done earlier that day, including Sem's TM technique. Dr. Boothby informed Sem he was using an improper technique when completing his TM exercises. MUM administration did not summon law enforcement or campus security; instead, Sem was placed into the custody of MUM's dean of men, Joel Wynsong (Wynsong). Killian went unassisted to the hospital, where he received several stitches.
Wynsong took Sem to Wynsong's on-campus apartment. Once at his apartment, Wynsong began his own meditation exercises, and, after completing his meditation, Wynsong discovered Sem had left the apartment. Wynsong located Sem in the campus dining hall and decided to allow Sem to mingle with the students. Sem began another abrupt and unprovoked attack on fellow student Levi Butler, stabbing Levi multiple times with a knife. Levi died from multiple stab wounds to the chest.3
Sem was taken into custody, and on March 3, 2004, Dr. James Brooks (Dr. Brooks) performed a psychiatric examination. Dr. Brooks noted Sem had a history of chronic paranoid schizophrenia and had been treated with anti-psychotic medication but ceased taking the medication several weeks before coming to MUM in January 2004. Dr. Brooks also noted Sem had been to the MUM health clinic in January but had not been treated for psychosis at that time.

As for the rest of Roth's book, no, I haven't read it. I'd expect it to be yet another book-length infomercial that leaves a lot of readers disappointed that the book doesn't actually teach TM, it just sells it. The critical reviews on Amazon uniformly point out this discrepancy between buyer's expectations and the content of the book. This has been true of every book that Transcendental Meditation promoters, teamed with mainstream publishers, have offered for the past 50 years. 

Sunday, February 04, 2018

religion and politics: two sides of the same coin of any given cult

There was, or at least seemed to be, a time, before Mahesh went totally crackers with his narcissistic obsession for fame and fortune, that TM had a side that recognized the personal worth of those who got involved. Individual personal worth wasn't particularly marketable, however (or Mahesh couldn't bother to focus on that kind of thing) and so, it went the way of all flesh before the juggernaut of religion and politics, entities only concerned with their own continued existence.

Religion-Politics, a collective noun meaning me first; CULT = ORGANIZATIONAL survival comes first. Experience demonstrates that "cult" is not all that different from religion-politics, something CNN documents on a daily basis most days and elected officials (appointed favourites in the case of Mahesh and cults) forget and behave as if they never knew their obligations to those who support the cult/religion-political entity.

Since raping and pillaging went out of fashion at the end of the Viking era, what was Mahesh to do for his ego-organization to survive? That, unremarkably, is sadly obvious to everyone, except those true-believers to whom it is totally invisible. But this has not been different with any cult/religion-political-entity. The CULT comes first, and YOU owe it everything (otherwise your personal worth is less visible than a boson particle).

The point of this tiny rant? If it isn't obvious, you are CULT-ified. But, if it is obvious, then, perhaps you owe some obligation to those lost boys and girls still imagining that what they truly fantasize is not the same thing as Reality.