Monday, February 26, 2007

Lifton's Criteria of Thought Reform Applied to TM. Part Eight of Eight

Lifton’s Criteria of Thought Reform - Part Eight
As applied to Transcendental Meditation
Gina Catena, M.S.

The final series installment.

You may begin and follow the series by clicking here.

Lifton's eighth criteria addresses "Dispensing of Existence."


“Since the group has an absolute or totalist vision of truth, those who are not in the group are bound up in evil, are not enlightened, are not saved, and do not have the right to exist. "Being verses nothingness"”(1)

Fully devout TMers call us (on this blog) demons, dull, sentenced to eternity in hell and worse. TM's devoted believe they have the true path to enlightenment, and others’ opinions are unworthy of consideration.

Those who have not learned TM are considered to live “lives of ignorance.” To have a life in ignorance is akin to a fate worse than death. Many TM devotees and youth, including myself decades ago, fear to live outside their global community’s protected shell. They cannot meaningfully connect with outsiders. Leaving the movement to live on the outside was one of the more difficult decisions and processes of my life. It took years to convince my then-husband to leave, and years to learn to function outside. Was it worth the effort? A rejoicing Yes!

Upon a recent visit to Fairfield, one TM friend said, “How do you make friends out there? I want to leave. We are dying here, but it takes a Sidha to know a Sidha.” Using TM’s loaded language, she stated that it takes another semi-enlightened being for her to form a friendship. She is unable to connect with non-TMers. She acknowledges her inability to relate outside of her cult mindset.

“One outside the group may always receive their right of existence by joining the group.”(2)

Once learning TM, according to the higher teachings, one’s “good karma outweighs his/her bad karma. A person has received the key to enlightenment,” or admission to the spiritually elite. Outsiders are actively recruited to join the elite group. Once initiated, a person is accepted as one-of-us. Thus, upon earning this point of entry, initiation, a person is instantly accepted as spiritually elite.

“Fear manipulation -- if one leaves this group, one leaves God or loses their transformation, for something bad will happen to them. The group is the "elite", outsiders are "of the world", “evil", "unenlightened", etc.”(3)

Leaving the TM group is not restricted to changing geographic locale. A person can leave the community, but continue in the mindset whether involved with a TM Center, or living quietly as a TM-yogi. However, to disavow the teachings is to choose a “life of ignorance.”

When still in the group, and group members moved away, we rarely thought about them. It was assumed they had chosen a less valuable life. We stayed in touch with an occasional friend, hoping for their eventual return. We were preoccupied with our TM-centered endeavors, building heaven-on-earth, our Taste of Utopia, or recruiting to Maharishi University. We were community-centric in our creativity, lifestyle and goals.

When I relocated away, it was with the implicit understanding that I would lose connection with loved ones in the community. Leaving was a painful decision, knowing that I chose a break with my history and all that I loved. Their quest for enlightenment defined my decision as a move to the-dark-side, to be “lost to the world of ignorance”.

Connections with loved ones inside the TM Movement were maintained only by my efforts. There was no effort on the part of those within the group to maintain connections with someone who left. Why should they? The lives of committed devotees are involved with something they deem more noble. That is how it goes.

TM Sidha communities busily build “Utopia” or “Maharishi’s Ideal Society,” just as Jonestown built “Paradise.” Fortunately, Maharishi lacks a taste for death. Our Fool-on-the-hill is smarter than Jones and built something of global mulitbillion-dollar proportions.

Most former TMers do not return. Their departure was prompted by awakening to TM’s underbelly. As Joseppi writes on his profile, he walked away and “until early in 2006, I never looked back.” Unlike converts who later leave, those raised in the group maintain connections, as the group is our family. If we speak our mind, our history will reject us. We keep dark secrets to protect our family and loved ones.

Upon several return visits to the community, many welcome me home with open arms. They encourage my family to return, touring us through new Vastu-Vedic buildings, crooning over Maharishi’s latest plans for global enlightenment. These developments come at high price. Further questioning reveals that many other now-grown youth left. Devotees whose children have relocated are saddened and do not understand why their adult children maintain distance.

Others will not converse with me, as if shunning. I believe that my presence, as having succeeded on the outside, threatens their paradigm. I should apologize for having a happy fulfilling life on the outside. I should have failed in the world’s ignorance.

Admitedly, it can be lonely out here, after leaving one's family of origin in cult mentality. After cult-life, nothing compares to the high of our connection and purpose.

Some folks return years after having left the community, because they struggled in the real world. Failure on the outside confirms, for True Believers, their spiritual safety net from demonic outside influences. They do not question if the TM mindset (programming) was so ingrained to interfere with outside social and professional relationships. The community jokingly refers to this latter-return phenomenon as “the rubber band effect.” This plays upon “The Maharishi Effect” wherein large groups of meditators support global peace and crime reduction.

One old friend, upon returning to Fairfield after a miserable twenty-year failed hiatus on the outside, said, “It is wonderful to be back in this pure atmosphere. I’ve returned to the womb!” He believes he returned to the spiritual source of creation. Or perhaps he returned to an emotional childhood, relinquishing himself to group directives.

Lifton’s seminal model of eight criteria of Thought Reform when taken together, create a powerful affect on the psychology and physical brain structures. Any one or two of the criteria can be identified with any group. But in combination, they form a strong group bond, difficult to combat within the psyche. Of course, there are degrees of indoctrination, just as there are degrees of alcohol use. It is important to be wary of the influence spectrum. When taken together, the dynamics can be hazardous.

“In combination, they create an atmosphere which may temporarily energize or exhilarate, but which at the same time pose a grave human threat.” (4)

There is a spectrum to be aware of. TM twice a day causes no harm to my knowledge. However, a full cult conversion is a risk for the vulnerable.

But by the grace of God, there go I.

1) Lifton, R. (1989) Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Chapel Hill. University of North Carolina Press.
2) ibid Lifton
3) ibid Lifton
4) ibid Lifton

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