Sunday, August 18, 2019

From the archives: "TM and Cult Mania" on meditators' responses to criticism

I think a lot of people, who are new to the whole field of raising criticism and objections to Transcendental Meditation, may be a bit unprepared for the kinds of reactions that I've long been on the receiving end of. Hostile reactions from meditators, TM teachers and others who are almost reflexively supportive of any effort to spread the practice of meditation far and wide are common, and they usually take the form of avoidance, distraction or personal attacks on the person raising the objection to TM, along with the usual repetition of the "main points" of belief and doctrine that they constantly say are absolutely, positively not a part of learning TM. (You can even see some fifteen to twenty year old e-mail I've received containing much the same, here.)

Now that a few allegations of what the David Lynch Foundation's program of introducing TM into public schools might actually be doing there, have made it into a major newspaper, these sorts of responses are now likely to again be seen in any forum where these issues may be raised.

As evidenced by my experience on Facebook over the past few days, you will even see "haha" laughter reactions when serious issues of US constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state, or students' allegations they are being forced to meditate without their or their parents' fully informed consent, are brought out for discussion and comment. But these are the old habits of people who some might think should be loving, peaceful souls, because they'll sometimes also brag to you that they've been meditating for 40 years or more in the first few moments that you encounter them. They're acting from their insistence that their personal, mental experience is exactly what they say it is, and because they still unquestioningly believe what they were told long ago, the agenda that doesn't exist: that the world will magically transform itself to "Heaven on Earth" if as many people as possible will do exactly what they do.

The second two-thirds of the name of the David Lynch Foundation is, "for consciousness-based education and world peace." Get told enough times that you're working toward "world peace" while sitting with your eyes closed, and obviously strange things eventually begin to happen.

So here's an excerpt from the book, "TM and Cult Mania," which was published way back in 1980. Obviously the authors had some experience in dealing firsthand with meditators and TM promoters, because the descriptions in the book are very similar to what I saw, as far back as the early 1990's when first encountering the TM cheering section in online Usenet newsgroups, and to what I've again seen over the last few days.  This excerpt clearly comes from an academic perspective laced with sarcasm and perhaps the kind of fatigue that comes from having seen the same bad behaviors of meditators over and over again, a fatigue with which I'm quite familiar.





TM and Cult Mania, by Michael A. Persinger, Normand J. Carrey, and Lynn A. Suess. Christopher Publishing House, 1980



Thursday, August 15, 2019

More on TM in Chicago schools: Allegations of coercion, inducements and "bribe rewards"

As reported on here at the TM-Free Blog a few days ago, on July 26 (2019) the Chicago Tribune reported on the appearance of a Chicago high school student and teacher at a Board of Education meeting, objecting to an ongoing program by the David Lynch Foundation (DLF) and the University of Chicago that introduced Transcendental Meditation (TM) into Bogan High School.  Shortly after their appearance before the Board of Education, that student, along with another recent graduate of the school, and a parent spoke of even more disturbing experiences with school teachers, personnel, and meditation teachers who were part of the TM program in their high school, in two Facebook videos.


Read the original story here at the TM-Free Blog:
Chicago Tribune reports on allegations made by high school students, that they were coerced to practice TM  

The Chicago Board of Education hearing was recorded, and the testimony of the student and teacher, which were described in the Tribune article, can be viewed directly on YouTube. They raised objections before the Board, to the obvious religious content of the “puja” ritual, which is central to the instruction of Transcendental Meditation - which, according to a 40 year old Federal appeals court ruling, disqualifies such programs from being offered in public schools. Dasia Skinner, the teacher and school employee, told the Board that 60 students that she spoke with all had similar accounts of having gone through the “secret” puja ritual. “All of this was done without parents’ knowledge or the students’ understanding,” she said, and that students were told, “whatever happens in this room, stays in this room.” They both alleged that students were coerced to join and continue with the program, and were disciplined if they did not comply. 


About a week later, in a Facebook video, these allegations were repeated with considerably more detail during interviews conducted by Dasia Willams. Two students stated that they were offered tangible rewards, and that some other students were offered money, to join and to continue participating in the program. 


Former Bogan High School student Amontae Williams repeated what the DLF’s “Quiet Time” facilitator, a TM teacher, told him: “that it [TM} should help me feel good, to practice it every day." This is part of the usual instruction that TM teachers have long been known to give to meditators - it’s even part of the pitch that promoters of TM have always used - but if this program were to be considered part of a formal scientific research study, such a statement in this context would constitute a questionable coaching of a research subject since it creates an expectation of a positive result. 


Amontae went on to describe the “secret” ritual while standing at a table that they’d set up similarly to that which TM teachers have long used to perform that devotional ceremony while performing meditation instruction. Working from the students’ memory of the ritual, that table contained candles, a flower, fruit, rice and a glass of water placed in front of a picture of an Indian guru.  


He was told, as all TM meditators are at this point, to keep the ritual and the mantra secret and never to discuss them with anyone. “They told me to keep it a secret. They didn't really give detail on why they wanted to keep it a secret, but they would ask me, make sure you don't tell your mantra to another student, or a teacher, because everybody has a different one." The lists of mantras given to TM teachers, that were publicly revealed years ago, only contain a handful of mantras - ten or less in total - that would be given to anyone in the age groups likely to be high school students. Thus, it’s likely that many students taught TM at a sizeable public high school would be given the same mantra. 


Amontae also repeated what Dasia said during the Board meeting:  "they said not to explain what was done in that room while the door was closed to anyone," and then added, “just to be part of the program the best that I could, participate, and I would be rewarded for it."

Dasia asked, what what type of rewards did students get for participating in the Quiet Time program? “Bribe rewards, pizza, candy, other stuff like that," he replied.


The discussion moved on to the issue of penalties for noncompliance. Amontae expressed his disagreement with the school’s administration, saying, "I don't believe I should have been put under discipline for not feeling OK and for not wanting to participate."


Amontae spoke of the castigation he received for not continuing with the program and speaking up against it, and how that motivated him to do his own research and to work to have the program removed from his school. “Twice, I was sent to the principal's office and they went off on me about it, they asked me to not say anything else about the program because I didn't work there and didn't know what I was talking about. That's what drove me to look into it, what it was really about, that's when I found out what they didn't tell me about it, I had already signed to be a part of it and now we're here."


This disciplinary action against Amontae was later confirmed by his father, Darrell, in another video the following day. “My son was given several instances of suspension because he refused to participate.”


Jade Thomas, a Bogan sophomore who’d earlier made her own statement before the Board of Education, echoed Amontae’s account of coercion, intimidation, and discipline of students unwilling to meditate. “They kind of make us do it so it's not free will, it seems that people are forcing you to do it, or that if you don't do it you get in trouble for it,” she said. “I haven't personally been sent to the office, but a couple of students I know have been sent to the office, they tell them to go to the dean's room. My friend said that she wasn't going to participate [during] quiet time, she didn't want to be quiet for the 15 minutes, that she didn't want to do the meditation stuff. They tell her to go down, talk to the principal, tell her how you feel, so she can see if she can handle that problem. The principal came to our classroom and told us there was nothing religious involved, we shouldn't worry about it, if we had any further questions, come to her office and speak to her personally with a parent."


Her account suggests that school administrators and teachers, for whatever reason, were completely unwilling to consider the students’ views, despite the easily verified and obvious religious nature of the ritual they had been a part of to begin the program, and the connotations of the mantras that they later learned about. “Basically, they make us do this stuff and they may get irritated when we wonder, or ask if it's religious," she said.


Amontae and Jade then together spoke of the kinds of incentives that they’d witnessed or heard about, that were offered to get more students to meditate in the program. Amontae alleged that some students were paid outright to participate. “Another form of getting more students lured into the program, maybe some of the more popular students got paid money, 200 dollars, 80 dollars, 50 dollars, just another form of getting more students, if you all want to make money, come and meditate."


Jade described a “celebration” that was organized for meditating students, bringing food from restaurants like Olive Garden and Pizza Nova. She characterized the food “that they brought was pretty expensive, it wasn't like it was cheap food." "It’s not like they didn't have money involved, they had people behind them to help them with it, students were okay with it because they were given payment, treats and snacks and stuff."


---


Those of us who are familiar with the tactics and methods that have been used to promote Transcendental Meditation for almost the last half century have been quite familiar with these sorts of allegations, which have as their root, the unwillingness of the founder of TM and his followers to simply come clean about the nature, origin and goals of their organizations, including the David Lynch Foundation. For a very long time, they’ve demonstrated a clear unwillingness to respect basic expectations of disclosure and informed consent when dealing with prospective meditators. They misrepresent the state of scientific research into their claims and the efficacy of their technique, and at one time, they’ve even advertised an outrageous hoax to gain attention - that people could levitate, become invisible, or gain knowledge of almost anything, instantly, simply by practicing their techniques. 


It may seem incredible that such an organization, run by the same people who were very much present for all of those literal flights of fantasy if not complete lunacy, is in any way being taken seriously today by people who work for some of this country’s most trusted, respected institutions, and major school systems. It seems to me that many people in positions of responsibility have demonstrated a negligent, complete inability to do some background checking and due diligence, when they’re approached with a product or service that’s almost too good to be true, that defies common sense if not basic science, and that is aimed at those who are most vulnerable, and least able to seek redress when they’re confronted with constant evasion of the factually obvious. 


Sources:









Monday, August 12, 2019

TM in Chicago schools: Letter to the Chicago Tribune editor

This is a letter, thus far unpublished, that I submitted to the editor of the Chicago Tribune as a followup to their story reporting the allegations that have been addressed to the Chicago Board of Education about the so-called "Quiet Time" program - actually, the Transcendental Meditation program - implemented in Chicago public high schools by the David Lynch Foundation and the University of Chicago.

(More: "Chicago Tribune reports on allegations of high school students coerced to practice TM," August 10, 2019, here at the TM-Free Blog)


The point of this letter is to make it clear, that the aim of the David Lynch Foundation in introducing TM into schools is not merely some innocuous effort, allegedly directed at some of this country's most disadvantaged schools and students,  to improve young people's lives. It is instead, part of a means to implement a baldly religious agenda, of a group that at its core is obviously a religious sect, to remake the world into what they call, "Heaven on Earth." They seek to achieve this outcome by getting as many people as possible to practice a very specific form of meditation that will, as if by magic, transform the planet from a state of relative chaos to their concept of an orderly "peace." 

This agenda is even part of the full name of the David Lynch Foundation, the rest of its name being, "for consciousness-based education and world peace." Both those aspects, explanations of which were purged some years ago from the Foundation's website, are religious concepts that are drawn from the Vedic scriptures of India and sanitized of explicitly religious content for a receptive Western audience, that has often been deliberately misled by the implied falsehood that there's some broad consensus in the scientific community in support of this practice.  The religiosity of the "puja" ritual integral to the teaching of TM, and the mantras having associations with Vedic/Hindu deities, are details that are simply the tip of the iceberg, when the grandiose "let's take over the world" aspects of the TM movement - that are not well known or obvious to outsiders - are considered.

-----


To the Editor:


The basic problem with Transcendental Meditation is that it’s being taught and promoted by an organization of people who believe that, if enough people regularly repeat in their minds a special mantra, delivered in a special, private, ritualistic way - “we select only the suitable mantras of personal Gods,” TM’s founder, “Maharishi,” once said - the entire planet will be transformed into a state of “Heaven on Earth.” Thus they work to ensure that as many people as possible practice this particular brand of meditation, by means that include the questionable ethics of avoiding full disclosure of their goals and methods.


The basis for this belief, among insiders, is openly sourced to the spiritual culture of India, including the Vedas and other scriptures central to what we call Hinduism. That isn’t “scientific,” it’s an aspiration common among many religions. Despite that obvious fact, for more than a century, some Hindu fundamentalists (including “Maharishi” himself) have falsely cast parts of Vedic scripture as both scientific and as ancient precursors of modern scientific achievements. Decades ago, they deliberately recruited students who were trained in the scientific method. That tiny cohort, who’ve now been practicing TM for nearly a half century or more, have provided a veneer of Western scientific legitimacy that has gained them attention, respect and stature in secular culture that they don’t deserve. There’s no broad scientific consensus supporting the alleged benefits of meditation, or of TM in particular; like the tiny number of scientists who deny climate change, they don’t represent the authentic state of scientific consideration of their claims for TM. 


Thus we see institutions like the University of Chicago placing their reputations and dollars behind TM, along with public figures and cultural icons, who create undeserved legitimacy for a small sect of religious fundamentalists, and their practices.

Vital information and criticism that includes these facts about TM, including court opinions ruling against the teaching of TM in public schools, have been freely available for more than 25 years. Evidently, many in positions of responsibility, for whatever reason, have avoided the labor of basic research that should be mandatory whenever presented with some allegedly beneficial product or method that seems too good to be true. Given its history, the proponents of TM should never be allowed access to schools, prisons, employers, governments and other environments where the ability to decline consent may be compromised through coercion.

Mike Doughney

I co-coordinate “The TM-Free Blog,” a group collaboration founded by former practitioners of TM who are critical of the TM organization and its methods.  Since 1995, I’ve also maintained a website that’s supported that effort, that includes documentation of the organization’s teachings and methods that are otherwise unavailable to outsiders.



  

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Chicago Tribune reports on allegations made by high school students, that they were coerced to practice TM

See also, here at the TM-Free Blog: 

Recently, the Chicago Board of Education heard rather disturbing testimony from a substitute teacher and a student at one of the schools in which the so-called “Quiet Time” program was active during the past school year. “Quiet Time” is a euphemistic name that the David Lynch Foundation (DLF) uses to describe their Transcendental Meditation (TM) program that they have sought to establish in secondary schools in a number of countries, including public high schools in the United States. The DLF offers what it calls scientific evidence that such a program is beneficial to students, despite reviews and other research that indicate that, for many if not most people, such benefits are elusive to nonexistent, and that meditation may be detrimental for some individuals.

In this instance, the program was implemented by TM teachers and others working for the DLF in several Chicago high schools, including the school that was the source of these objections, Bogan Computer Technical High School. According to a 2015 University press release and web page, the David Lynch Foundation was paid $300,000 by the University of Chicago’s Urban Labs department to initiate this program in several Chicago public high schools, as part of what is claimed to be a scientific research study. The program is being supervised under the direction of several University of Chicago Urban Labs personnel. Students in the program are to meditate twice daily at the beginning and end of the school day, devoting at least part of two class periods that would otherwise be spent receiving instruction or doing other academic work, to meditation.

Along with the same allegation that was raised over forty years ago in US Federal courts - that students were required to participate in a religious ritual, in a public school, if they were to learn TM, and that once resulted in a permanent injunction against the teaching of TM in public schools - the Board heard that students were pressured into joining the program, and were subject to disciplinary action, including the dropping of grades, if they did not comply. Of course, all such tactics involving discipline or coercion of meditators in what has been promoted as a research study, would completely invalidate any claim to scientific legitimacy of any attempted published research on the benefits of meditation that may later result.

The Chicago Tribune recently reported on this Board of Education meeting which can also be viewed directly on YouTube. According to one of the Bogan High School students who spoke before the board, Jade Thomas, many students were uncomfortable with “a secret ritual and a secret mantra,” basic features of the TM program already known to millions of meditators worldwide. Her statement also clearly indicated that she and other students were coerced into joining or continuing to participate in the program. “Students don't have a choice to participate, if you don't continue participating with the program the students will be sent to the dean's office," she said. "If you talk during Quiet Time they will threaten to drop your grades. Students who don't feel comfortable doing the Quiet Time training will be forced to."

Jade also stated that for the students at Bogen, the meditation program takes time away from actual classroom instruction: “The school has had Quiet Time involved in our schedule which happens every second and seventh period.”

Dasia Skinner, the substitute teacher, told the Board that she had spoken with 60 students at Bogan who all had similar accounts of having gone through the “secret” puja ritual, which has been an integral part of instruction in Transcendental Meditation for over 50 years. “All of this was done without parents’ knowledge or the students’ understanding,” she said, and that students were told, “whatever happens in this room, stays in this room.”

The Chicago Tribune report also contained the usual rebuttals and denials from the David Lynch Foundation’s website, the school district’s chief education officer, a Bogen teacher, and other unnamed officials, insisting that the program was not religious in any way. No responsible officials named in the report, with both the University or the school district, expressed any awareness that the teaching of Transcendental Meditation includes these practices that are unquestionably part of the religious traditions of India until it was discussed at the Board meeting.

According to the Tribune article, Jonathan Guryan, faculty co-director of the University of Chicago’s education lab, stated that students were offered the chance to opt-out of the program, but it’s unclear from that whether the students, and their parents, were clearly given enough information about the program to be able to give informed consent for their participation. The puja ritual performed by TM teachers, and the mantras, have always been considered proprietary by them and their organization, and it isn’t discussed in any detail by teachers before instructing people in the practice of TM. In any case, if this program in schools were actually the subject of a scientific research study, the conventional requirements of informed consent, which do apply to studies in the social sciences, would not be satisfied by just an opportunity to opt out of a vaguely described meditation practice. Consent to participate as a test subject may also be revoked at any time; the student’s allegations of not being allowed to stop meditating or withdraw from the program is contrary to this requirement.

There is one small glimmer of good news in the article for those who have long sought to bar the David Lynch Foundation and other TM affiliated organizations from having access to public schools. The continued involvement of University of Chicago’s Urban Lab may be in doubt, given the sentiment attributed to the lab’s co-director: “Guryan said researchers have started a preliminary analysis but are uncertain whether they’ll continue evaluating the program in the upcoming school year.”

Sources:

“What’s wrong with a Chicago public high school teaching transcendental meditation? Plenty, critics claim.” Hannah Leone, Chicago Tribune, July 26, 2019.

Chicago Board of Education Monthly Meeting, July 24, 2019, presentation by Dasia Skinner and Jade Thomas. Youtube video beginning at 2:10:52.

For further reading:

Parents Against TM Facebook page

Parents Against TM Facebook video of interview with two Bogan High School students

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."]