Sunday, September 15, 2019

The dubious research claims of Transcendental Meditation, part 1: Truly independent research on TM is rare

PDF files containing copies of spreadsheets with all the supporting data for this article are available at the bottom of this page.

TM original research listed on the website, evaluated over
five-year periods. Meditating individuals and affiliated MIU/MUM
faculty have authored the majority of it since 1981.
For over a half century now, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the movement and the organizations that he spawned, and now the David Lynch Foundation, have insisted that their claims supporting Transcendental Meditation have been scientifically validated, and are supported by some consensus among many scientists. The prominence of TM, and the reputations of public figures who are constantly named in the media as having learned this mental technique, have rested on the assumption that these claims are completely valid. They regularly make reference to a large pile of scientific studies - the actual number of those studies varies a great deal from moment to moment, but it’s usually in the hundreds - that confirm, for them, that these assertions are always true.

But what happens when all those supportive scientific studies that they constantly mention in support of TM, are actually obtained, analyzed, sorted and evaluated? How many of them reflect the work of people who have no connection to TM at all, financial, emotional or otherwise - not as meditators, TM teachers, or faculty at the movement’s own university? Is it at all accurate for them to imply that because they can name-drop many universities, research institutions, and the titles of prominent medical and scientific journals, that some positive scientific consensus exists to support the claims they constantly make for the safety, efficacy and validity of Transcendental Meditation?

The short answer is, as you might expect, no. 

As it turns out, as far as I can determine, no systematic, in-depth study, formal or otherwise, has ever been attempted, of the lists of journal articles, reports and other publications - even letters of complaint to journal editors! - furnished by the TM program that are offered as if they were all  “published research studies.” To my knowledge, there has never been publicly available or online, a careful evaluation of any of those lists, that considers the identities and affiliations of the researchers named, the nature of the research, or even if each of the publications named actually reports on an original research study. 

There has been one major attempt to address some of these questions, by way of a ‘talk’ page on Wikipedia associated with the ‘Transcendental Meditation’ entry there. It was last edited in 2010, and it relies on a 2009 bibliography created by a TM movement affiliated doctor, Roger Chalmers, listing 341 studies. Individuals with a known connection to TM organizations have had their names bolded; of those 341 entries, 264 of them contain a bolded name as an author, meaning that 77% of the entries included an individual connected with the TM organization. No attempt was made to evaluate the nature of the published paper, or to remove entries that do not reference actual original research studies.

Another much smaller investigation, confined to 9 studies funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health that were cited by the David Lynch Foundation (DLF), showed that all 9 studies involved TM-connected individuals. (The current version of this list at the DLF’s website names 16 published papers, 2 of which are duplicates or are the second part of a multi-part article, and all of them name TM-connected individuals as authors.)

Even a TM leader who has long specialized in creating and publishing research on TM has clumsily avoided even beginning to answer this question directly. David Orme-Johnson was the chairman of the psychology department at Maharishi University of Management (MUM, formerly MIU) for twenty-three years, beginning in 1973, and for a few years he was acting president of the university. His name appears on dozens of articles, appearing both in independent journals and the movement’s own publications, focused on TM and other programs offered by the organization. Since retiring from MUM, he’s created the “Truth About TM” website, which ostensibly exists to defend the reputation of Transcendental Meditation and to support almost every imaginable claim made in support of it. On that site, on a page addressing issues with the research, he asks the question: “Are All Scientists Who Conduct Research On The Transcendental Meditation Program Affiliated With The TM Organization Or Do They All Practice The Technique?

What follows this question is a paragraph that is a perfect demonstration of the method that I’ve seen attributed to Maharishi, that he supposedly once said during a TM teacher training course: "Every question is a perfect opportunity for the answer we have already prepared."  Here, Orme-Johnson’s “answer” is to first repeat the same old party line and selling point as if he were a used car salesman who will first distract and obfuscate while attempting to avoid answering the question at all:

During the past 36 years, more than 360 scientists at 209 independent universities and research institutions from 29 countries have conducted research on the Transcendental Meditation program.

By now this claim or something very similar to it can be found in almost one hundred thousand online pages, at least, that’s how many hits Google returns if you take the significant words from that sentence, along with “Transcendental Meditation” as a quoted phrase, and search on them. So this sentence is the same non-answer that most people visiting that website, interested in finding out more about TM research, would have likely already seen variations of, several times over. And then there’s the second sentence, where it’s clear, he has no answer for you:

No formal survey has ever been conducted to determine exactly how many scientists practice the Transcendental Meditation program, although it is clear that many do not practice the technique.

Remarkably, Orme-Johnson then offers up a short “list of a few examples of the scientists who do not practice the Transcendental Meditation program, and the results of their research.” There’s only one slight problem: of the eleven examples he provides, only five are examples of research that was entirely the product of scientists who were not involved with the TM program in any capacity. The other six involved one or more individuals who Orme-Johnson admitted were, at least, practitioners of Transcendental Meditation. 

So this is one of the few instances this question has been broached in public, with someone who’s created a website to defend TM from the standpoint of an experienced in-house investigator. They can only come up with five, yes, just five, studies that were produced with zero possibility of that research reflecting any form of favor of a particular result, intentional or otherwise, because of the involvement of a TM meditator. Given the weakness of that reply, obviously this issue is ripe for some detailed analysis. Careful study may also show that, after decades of trying to generate interest by performing their own studies, there is still very little interest among other scientists outside the TM movement, in testing these claims or replicating the research.

There are many bibliographies circulated by a few people in the TM movement that contain up to about 400 studies, and the seven volume “Collected Papers” series published by MUM contains about 800 studies, many of them never published in peer-reviewed journals. Since those bibliographies aren’t all that accessible to the general public without considerable searching, I’ve instead focused my analysis on the list that is currently on the website as of August 2019.  I think it’s reasonable to think that the list easily reached from the front page there would contain the best and most complete picture of what they believe the current state of research on the TM program to be, and that it would contain the most recent research they consider relevant, published through 2018. Another reasonable assumption is that what’s on the website today would be a list of studies that would be of interest to prospective meditators, attempting to make a convincing case for TM, and that, unlike what has come before, it would demonstrate that research supporting all the positive claims that they make would be the product of many unaffiliated researchers, not disproportionately representing researchers from the meditating community.

University and agency logos appearing on the website
at the top of their "research studies" popup section.
Certainly that’s the impression that TM organization leaders attempt to create through the presentation of this list on that website. I’m referring to a popup section on the front page of the website which is much like what’s been included in the brochures, publications, and websites that we’ve seen for decades. The page comes up when you click on the link under the third heading, “Evidence–based/Hundreds of published research studies.” Go there, and you’ll see it’s topped by the logos of three universities and a government medical agency, followed by, “Hundreds of studies have been conducted at more than 200 independent universities and research institutions, and published in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals.”

What I think is happening here is what I sometimes call “firehosing.” It’s a situation where a lot of information is being thrown at the reader or viewer at one time in a somewhat disorganized way, as if being made to drink from a fire hose, and the recipient can’t quite keep up with the flow. Go through to those categories,  and there’s a lot to read, and it all looks substantial, important, and to some degree, hard to question at first glance. A TM introductory lecture is also a lot like this, where many unfamiliar concepts, jargon and an air of authority that comes from the assumption of being recipients of some “ancient” “tradition” are part of the presentation.  It’s hard to get a firm grasp on what the claims truly are, or whether those claims are reasonable based on the available evidence, if all you have to work with are what the marketers of TM have long produced.

After carefully gathering the list from the categories in which it’s broken into online, removing duplicates - 23 papers are in more than one category, 3 are in 3 categories - and inspecting the list, line by line, the first thing that I noticed is, despite the implied claim in the introduction that this is a list of “studies” directly performed with people practicing TM, that went through some process of peer review before publication, and not anything else, that’s not exclusively what’s listed there. The list has been padded out with other articles that don’t directly qualify as original research studies that have undergone peer review:

  • Meta-analyses and reviews of other published studies, which often contain the keyword “review,” were published in journals specifically tasked with publishing reviews, or otherwise were articles that did not describe new research but instead described research studies that were already published elsewhere. Oftentimes these are articles by TM affiliated individuals that review and promote research performed by themselves or by other TM affiliated researchers.
  • Articles that were published in collections of presentations made at conferences, symposia, and other gatherings that may not have gone through the usual peer-review process that would apply to most journal articles.
  • Opinion pieces and letters to the editors of journals by individuals directly connected with the TM movement, that either attempt to refute the conclusions of other published research, or that promote the views of the TM movement with respect to such research.
  • Other material that was not clearly a description of a research study, including a statement by the American Heart Association that TM proponents have long interpreted as an endorsement of TM, which it is not, and that was later partially refuted by the AHA a few years later.

Despite the claim that there are “hundreds” of relevant peer-reviewed studies published in major journals, the website list only contains 160 entries, of which 37 were these articles that, by my criteria,  don’t directly qualify as original research, leaving a remaining 123 entries for further consideration. 

In upcoming parts of this series,  I’ll discuss the actual content of some of these studies, and the 37 that I’ve disqualified. Another part will explore the identities, affiliations and demographics of the 16 individuals whose names most frequently showed up as researchers on this list. Finally, I’ll offer an explanation as to what role the creation of these research studies plays in the broader TM movement, and how that movement reflects attempts by Vedic fundamentalists in India, over the past century or so, to recast their religious beliefs and scriptures as somehow scientific in nature. In this part, my focus is on the people who are doing the research, and the degree to which they are involved with the TM organization, generally as MUM faculty. Given that the same names are repeated over and over on this list, that fact suggests the obvious: that the research on this list, and research on TM in general, is dominated by a very small number of individuals who have long had a formal relationship to the institutions of the TM movement.

Further analysis of the identities and affiliations of the individual researchers, and the frequency with which their names appear, across this list reveals a pattern that isn’t evident when only one or a few studies are under consideration. For the entire 1970-2018 period during which these studies were performed and published, fully 82% of the studies were authored by at least one TM-affiliated individual. The average portion of researchers on each study who were TM-affiliated, was 65 percent.  TM connections to these studies increased considerably after 1980, where during the 1981-2018 period, at least 92% of the studies were authored by at least one TM-affiliated person.

Doing a survey based on the list of studies currently on TM movement’s own website really isn’t that complicated, and that’s what I’ve done here. It’s easy enough to determine who’s been working at the Maharishi University of Management (previously, MIU) for decades, and a subset of that pool of people dominate the list of researchers on that list. Perhaps they’ve deliberately avoided creating such a list, for fear of what it would clearly show? 

Since in this context we can’t prove a negative - that any one individual does not practice TM, unless they’ve stated so in public or others have vouched for them, which I only know to be true with respect to two individuals named on this list - these numbers should be considered to be minimums, and there may be others named as authors in these published articles who are meditators. Learning TM, and certainly post-initiation contact with the TM organization, does involve being exposed to a substantial amount of ideology and assumptions that the movement makes about TM, and their expectations that what they offer will positively transform the world (internally referred to as bringing about “Heaven on Earth”). This exposure is particularly so for those who have gone on to take residence courses or instruction in additional mental techniques, which usually involves doubling, at least, the time spent in meditation during those courses while attending lectures or viewing videotapes. Conventionally, in scientific publishing, there isn’t a requirement that researchers disclose this level of entanglement with what they are studying, since there is no direct financial benefit to them, it’s more of an emotional or ideological disposition. But I believe that any direct participation as a TM meditator should be disclosed by researchers, beyond that of being obviously affiliated with a TM-related institution such as MUM or the DLF, and that that level of involvement should be included in any assessment of the alleged independence of the people doing these studies.

As I already mentioned, this list appears on the TM movement’s most prominent website, on the front page, where you would likely think that the most convincing case would be made “from a vast body of 40 years of research showing very powerful long-lasting reductions in stress and sustained improvements in health.” This is exactly where the implied claim that these are unbiased, objective studies produced independent of the TM movement’s own organizations, were that true, should hold up under scrutiny. It does not; overall, 82% of the studies are tarnished by the direct, unambiguous participation of Maharishi University of Management faculty and staff, and David Lynch Foundation staffers. But what trends can we identify from this list? Has there been a trend toward the production of more objective, independent research on TM, performed by unaffiliated people and then cited by the TM movement, or not?

To answer this question, I separated the studies into 5 year long periods based on publication date. Viewed that way, it’s obvious that the golden age of independent research on TM ended by 1980, and there’s not the faintest glimmer of that ever returning. Over the 1970-1980 period, while TM was at the peak of its popularity and initiations or instructions in TM were at their historical zenith, only 39 percent of the named studies involved TM researchers. This contrasts with the period 1991 to 2018, where overall, 94% of the named studies involved TM researchers. For two five year periods after 1991, 100% of the studies had authors who were  TM participants, and for no five year period did that proportion fall below 90 percent. For the most recent period included on that list, 2016-2018, 91% of the studies involved TM connected individuals.

From this it’s clear that there isn’t a trend toward TM being an increasingly interesting subject to unaffiliated researchers. It’s evidently a stagnant field that very seldom attracts the interest of anyone other than those who have long been meditating, and when others are involved, usually they are working with meditators who are in a position to influence study design and the interpretation of data.

To sum up: there are 160 scientific papers listed on the website. From my perspective, 37 of those papers don’t qualify as original research for various reasons despite the claims surrounding the list that imply that all of them are “published research studies” directly applicable to what benefits a prospective meditator can expect from TM. 

Of the remaining 123 papers, 101 of them, or 82%, are a study in which at least one author has a documented institutional connection with TM. Only 22 studies, the remaining 18%, are studies that can’t be easily connected with the TM organization in this way, and are much less likely to have been studies in which the design, interpretation of data, or other influences would have affected the study’s outcome.

Clearly, the TM movement’s constant, misleading characterization of the evidence base to support TM, displaying the logos of institutions and repeating the phrase, “200 independent universities and research institutions,” doesn’t hold up to detailed examination. The location of the research is less relevant than the people doing the work. The people who did the research work, wherever they were, were overwhelmingly those who have experienced both the practice itself and the vast amount of ideology and doctrine that come with long-term involvement with the TM program and everything surrounding it, that go well beyond the twenty minute, twice a day practice.

Links to PDF's of spreadsheets with supporting data for this article:

Original research listed at, August 2019. These are the 123 papers describing original research studies.

Other research papers cited at, which were excluded from this analysis, because they were not original research studies.

Authors of the 123 papers describing original research studies. This list includes only authors of two or more papers on the list.

Calculations of TM affiliated researcher participation, based on the list in the first file above.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Convicted child pornography collector was a MUM trustee and major donor to TM organizations

It’s a standard article of faith among many practitioners of Transcendental Meditation, that long-term practice of TM improves moral decision making, and a movement spokesperson has even claimed that donating money to the organization will hasten one’s own “personal evolution.” The recent conviction and imprisonment of a long-term meditator, former Maharishi University of Management trustee and major donor to the cause of TM emphasizes what should be obvious: that meditators are seldom any better off than most everyone else, and the people who make such claims should never be trusted.

There are certain claims of eventual benefits that are regularly made to people after they’ve started practicing TM, that are often eagerly accepted by those who’ve had enough experience with it that, accurately or otherwise, they begin to view it as beneficial for themselves. The experience of perceived initial, immediate benefit primes them to readily believe what they’re told may come later if they stick with the program. These claims stand in stark contrast to the everyday, mundane reality of the lives of many long-term meditators. That has never stopped both those meditators, and people with positions of responsibility in TM organizations, from continuing to make specific yet completely unsupportable claims about how all meditators’ lives will be improved through the practice of TM.

Far exceeding their public promotional claims of stress-free, healthy lives made as if TM were some “wellness” cure-all for everyone, are the statements that aren’t often made in public, and that are reinforced among meditators and in the meditating subculture. One of the most ridiculous, if not corrosive, of these claims is that of “spontaneous right action” resulting from long-term practice of TM and related “Maharishi” branded programs.  But if you know where to look, you’ll find out that the publishing operation of the Maharishi University of Management (MUM) actually has printed such drivel, written by the university’s vice president of academic affairs, and former executive vice president, Craig Pearson. This places such things well beyond the realm of simple rumor, into that of fully acceptable, officially sanctioned, doctrine or belief.

Keeping in mind that though every TM introductory lecturer insists that “no belief is necessary” to practice TM, people who’ve been meditating for decades often sound much like the following quote from  “The Complete Book of Yogic Flying,” a book which describes the TM movement’s long-running levitation hoax that they call the “TM-Sidhi program.” To insiders who do this “program,” the point isn’t necessarily to actually levitate, since every single one of them knows that all they’re able to do is simply bounce on foam rubber and convince themselves that whatever they’re doing in their minds at the same time is somehow worthwhile and beneficial, is worth spending considerable sums of money to learn, and is worth spending two hours a day, or more, doing. This excerpt is much like that:
Moral reasoning ability increases significantly after people learn the Transcendental Meditation technique, and even more after they learn the TM-Sidhi program. Moral reasoning ability, moreover, is correlated with EEG coherence; that is, the more coherent one's brain physiology, the greater one's moral development. The "moral compass" resides in a coherently functioning brain.

As we grow in enlightenment and live increasingly in accord with Natural Law, Maharishi explains, we spontaneously use our growing creativity and intelligence more responsibly, acting in a way that benefits everyone around us. This growth of "life-supporting behavior" reaches its fulfillment in Cosmic Consciousness, when we enjoy what Maharishi calls spontaneous right action. We no longer make mistakes. Everything we do is for good.
Almost every sentence of these two paragraphs is completely disconnected from authentic, generally accepted, scientific research. EEG coherence is one of the TM movement’s hobby horses, and this assertion of such a hard link between alleged TM-induced coherence and moral behavior exists solely in the realm of unpublished research performed at the movement’s university by meditators who were once trained in the scientific method. But that hasn’t stopped these assertions from becoming some of the core beliefs of thousands of meditators.

This is a more recent quote from one of the TM movement leaders who call themselves “rajas,” Howard Chancellor. He may be a Harvard graduate, but what he is talking about here is not scientific in any way, shape or form. It’s a tenet of religious fundamentalism that stems from Maharishi’s particular interpretation of the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures of India, which presupposes some universal source of thought, or “nature’s intelligence,” that can be contacted via meditation, specifically TM:
The possibility of mistake-free administration lies in the ability to think, speak, and act from the level of nature’s intelligence, which administers all life. Such enlightened administration is developed by transcending the boundaries of individuality and awakening to the universality of Transcendental Consciousness. When our mind is able to function from that level, then spontaneously our thoughts, words and actions are attuned with all of life.

Everyone practising TM is going to make fewer and fewer mistakes as time passes and their consciousness develops...
With all that in mind, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio in October 2018, here is the real-world status of a former MUM trustee (2002-2011) and major donor to TM organizations, who contributed almost five million US dollars over the course of the past twenty years.
A Canton man was sentenced to more than eight years in prison for child pornography crimes.

Marshall Belden, Jr., 70, previously pleaded guilty to receiving, distributing and possessing visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Belden was sentenced to 103 months in federal prison.

Belden on Oct. 24, 2016 knowingly received and distributed numerous computer files which contained visual depictions of real minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, and which files had been shipped and transported in and affecting interstate and foreign commerce. On Jan. 26, 2017, Belden possessed a computer and an external hard drive, each of which contained child pornography, according to court documents.
Canton, Ohio newspaper, The Repository, reported more details of his arrest and court records:
“Whatever moral compass he had just got lost in what he called his hell,” [psychotherapist in his defense Candace B.] Risen testified.

She said that Belden exhibited compulsive behaviors and characteristics of a hoarder.
The morning a search warrant was executed at his home, the defendant’s computer was on and he had approximately 50 windows open related to or displaying child pornography, according to court records filed by prosecutors.

From September 2015 until the search warrant on Jan. 16, 2017, Belden downloaded at least 134,000 images and about 1,100 videos depicting minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, according to court records.
According to the Repository, Marshall “Marsh” Belden was “known for his charitable efforts in Stark County and restoration and development projects in downtown Canton.” But the tax filings of the charitable foundation run by Belden and two other trustees reveal that he had other, evidently more important funding priorities beyond his local area.

Most of the funding history of Belden’s foundation, The Olive Branch Foundation, is available online via this database. It shows that of over 6 million dollars donated by that foundation between 1999 and 2016, about 4.8 million dollars went to various organizations connected with Transcendental Meditation. The largest portion of that, about $2.5 million, went to the Maharishi Global Development Fund (MGDF) and its successor, the Brahmananda Saraswati Foundation (BSF). Both of those organizations primarily fund the movement’s activities in India managed by Maharishi’s nephew, Girish Varma, which include a chain of secondary schools and a gathering of “vedic pandits,” that are sometimes called, by them, “peace-creating experts.” Their task is to continuously chant portions of Vedic scripture and hymns in hopes that that activity will help to bring about world peace.

Belden also was connected with the since-abandoned project to establish a compound at the movement’s U.S. base at Fairfield, Iowa, in which a thousand or more such pandits would be housed, according to this 2007 report at one of the TM movement’s websites:

Dr Wynne also expressed his great appreciation and gratitude to the Vedic Pandit Board that Dr John Hagelin established in 2003. 'Those five individuals had this vision that we need Maharishi's Vedic Pandits here in order to create invincibility and peace for the nation,' said Raja Wynne. Dr Hagelin is the Chairman of the Vedic Pandit Board and the organizing power behind it. Dr Howard Settle was also on that board, along with Dr Ramani Ayer, Trustee of MUM; Marshall Belden; and Bob Brown.

Detail of  two million dollar grant in 2001 by Belden's
foundation to the MGDF, for "India construction project"
From 2001 Olive Branch Foundation form 990
Further examination of the donation history and tax filings shows that the largest single donation by Belden’s foundation was two million dollars in 2001 to the Maharishi Global Development Fund. That amount was specifically earmarked for an unspecified “India construction project.” That same year, support for a local historic preservation effort only totaled $210,000, the second largest donation that year.

Other significant donations by Belden’s foundation over that twenty year period totalled $1.26 million to Maharishi University of Management and its “Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy” run by MUM president John Hagelin. Another $1.1 million went to other TM-connected organizations, including $770,000 to the Global Country of World Peace, and $36,000 in 1999 to the Alliance for Bio-Integrity, which seeks to eliminate genetic engineering based on what Maharishi considered to be Vedic principles.

Marsh Belden as MUM trustee. From 2004
Maharishi University of Management form 990
Belden was a MUM trustee for almost half of those twenty years, so clearly he had a long-standing allegiance to the TM movement. Still, why would a wealthy individual donate millions of dollars to such an organization, instead of supporting charitable work locally or in their own country? The TM movement’s claims of both personal benefit, and its goal of somehow creating “world peace,” are attractive to some. But a recent (2017) video produced to solicit donations to the Brahmananda Saraswati Foundation, ostensibly to support their “Global Peace Initiative” - creating a body of nine thousand of the aforementioned chanting, singing pandits in India - offers some additional clues.

The video is hosted by Mustafa Nuristani, an Australian TM teacher and former journalist, who spends the first ten minutes or so going over the usual pseudo-scientific claims that are commonly held as absolute truth among meditators: that TM creates a unique, beneficial, particular state of consciousness, and that if enough people regularly achieve that state, regional and global peace will result, in what they call the “Maharishi Effect.” Personal growth is directly tied by them to the fate of the planet. But about twelve minutes into the video, things take a strange turn, where Nuristani, with the support of personal stories delivered for three minutes by a series of donor-meditators, claims that donating money to the BSF will hasten one’s own “personal evolution:”

This is the overall experience of most of the sponsors. It gives a real boost to their personal evolution. So try it yourself. Start with an amount that seems comfortable to you, and see what happens. But one thing. Please do it on a monthly basis. This creates stability for probably one of the most important projects of mankind. And it brings you lasting blessings of all the laws of nature. (Video at 13:50)

“Blessings” are a matter of personal interpretation, but one of the meditator’s stories delivered just before this is very clear what that means to them: give money, and you’ll receive money in return. Circumstances are unspecified, of course, but the meaning is clear enough:
Another large amount came to us during the year after we gave, so we decided to continue on a permanent monthly basis. (Video at 12:35)
As is often true among meditators, they often tie their well being to some “support of nature” which is the claimed benefit of regular access to the “source of all the laws of nature” that is part of the underlying doctrine that’s delivered with Transcendental Meditation. Unlike claims commonly made in the past - where becoming a TM teacher, taking an advanced course such as the TM-Sidhi program, or even wearing special gemstones, all of which come with a price tag of money and, often, time -  would enhance this alleged “support of nature,” here it’s simply the donation of money that is credited with providing this beneficial effect.
But once I started donating for this project, I had great support of nature. And my dream was just to be working for peace for the world, and actually this dream became true, I'm just working for peace. (Video at 12:45)
All of these beliefs, constantly reinforced in the social environment common among meditators, create the possibility that some meditators will start digging a hole for themselves, in search of some elusive state of “enlightenment,” and despite diminishing returns, are unable to stop. They end up spending vast amounts of time and money on what they’re told will result in their own “personal evolution,” at an eventual great cost to themselves. Often, nothing about their life improves, or the obsession with all these things is detrimental to them.

Former TM teacher John Knapp once created a handy worksheet for members of such high-demand groups to calculate how much they’ve actually spent in both money and time. The Transcendental Meditation “program” is ultimately so much more than just meditation; there are many other courses and products that are designed to extract wealth from those who participate, along with the outright solicitation of donations often aimed at very wealthy people, but not exclusively so. Small and large amounts collected from both donations and from sales of products and services, in aggregate, have resulted in a flow of hundreds of millions of dollars back to India over the course of a few decades, where that wealth is used to fund institutions that have a close relationship with a Hindu fundamentalist, political and religious agenda.

Remarkably, this tactic of claiming, or implying, direct personal benefit or renumeration as a reward for donating to a religious cause or leader mirrors the methods of “prosperity gospel” Christian pastors and televangelists in the United States. Here, the idea that donations are a “seed” that would eventually be returned to the donor in some vague and nonspecific way can be traced to mid-20th century Pentecostal preachers such as Oral Roberts. Wealthy donors would, in exchange, receive exclusive access to the upper echelons of the ministry, similar to that of Marsh Belden receiving a MUM trustee position, coincidentally or otherwise, after donating two million dollars to a related organization. The poor and others who contribute small amounts receive nothing but constant demands to send more.

As would be fitting for an organization that insists that everything about its leading product, Transcendental Meditation, “isn’t a religion” or “doesn’t involve belief,” the vague concept of “support of nature” is simplistically substituted for that of “God.” These claims of reciprocal benefit by supernatural means, that result from donating money line up very closely with the predatory fundraising practices of Christian ministries. For decades, the “not a religion” mantra, and a frequent, informal insistence that all TM critics are themselves Christian fundamentalists, have been drilled into many long-term meditators. That may interfere with noticing that the very same tactics and methods are very similar across both common elements of Christian fundamentalism and the underlying doctrines of Transcendental Meditation. Much like many other exploitative religious organizations, empty promises that personal growth or wealth will magically arrive by donating money and obeying the organization’s directions, are now used by leaders of the TM movement to sustain and grow its organizations, and in this case, send vast amounts of money back to India for religious purposes.

Ultimately, the problem is the fundamental assertions that have long been made for Transcendental Meditation, that even show up in their promotional materials, books and the introductory lecture. TM’s devotees hold them to be true no matter what, even when real-world events and facts contradict what are obviously tenets of faith in a system that doesn’t dare come clean and admit that it involves what might as well be called, outright, religious belief. The all-encompassing, with-no-exceptions, nature of those tenets is perhaps best summarized in one sentence in the introduction of The TM Book, published in 1975:
The Transcendental Meditation program changes the quality of life from poverty, emptiness, and suffering to abundance, fulfillment, and happiness.
The fraudulent audacity of this sentence is, in hindsight, rather breathtaking. That so many people have thrown away countless amounts of money and time in futile pursuit of these imaginary goals through the endless methods that the TM program provides - now openly including the simple donation of cold hard cash - should be a warning to prospective meditators. These absolutist claims of benefit, and everything and everyone that comes with them, cannot be trusted. It’s also a reminder to those who already are meditators, that if it’s not working for you, it’s time to stop.

Photo composite: Stark County Jail via The Repository, Canton, Ohio; Bureau of Prisons Federal Inmate Locator website; Wikimedia Commons

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. 


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.”


“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