Sunday, February 04, 2007

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

Lifton’s Criteria of Thought Reform (1) - Part Three
As applied to Transcendental MeditationTM
Gina Catena, M.S.

You may read Part One of this series by clicking here.
Part Two is available by clicking here.

Lifton’s third criteria for thought reform is “The Demand for Purity.” (2)


For those who succumb to living within the TM Movement full time,

“The world becomes sharply divided into the pure and the impure, the absolutely good (the group/ideology) and the absolutely evil (everything outside the group).” (3)

Once having embraced the TM community mentality, anything outside the TM world may be perceived as a threat. It was frightening for me to consider leaving the TM community many years ago. I was afraid of the “negativity” and “ignorance” of the world. I received praise and validation within the Movement. The “purity” of our devoted community felt safe, despite regimentation, dogma, professional struggles, repressed stories of child neglect and abuse.

I was even more anxious because I lacked (professional and social) skills for the real world, after a lifetime within the Movement. My exhusband, children and I eventually left, stumbled, then thrived.

On a recent phone call, one TM acquaintance expressed fears, “I don’t know how you live out there, Gina. Your spiritual evolution is hindered from being surrounded by so much negtivity. This must be so hard for you. I know how evil the world is out there. I have a cousin strung out on cocaine in San Diego.”

When I explained that her cousin is an exception to the norm, she refused to consider otherwise, insisting, “No, there are rakshasas (evil demons) lurking everywhere out there. Anyone can succumb at any time, just like my cousin. We have the finest purity here. I could never go anywhere else, despite our problems.”

Another middle-aged devotee, also raised in the Movement, traveled the world within the Movement’s echelons for decades. In her fifties, upon returning from her first solo weekend journey exclaimed, “It’s scary out there!” She perceived the world as threatening.

Believing in the power of pure “Vastu architecture”, some TM devotees refuse to enter a building with a south-facing entrance, because it would bring mystical evil energy. These True Believers will only enter buildings of architectural purity, lest they become spiritually tainted by impure architecture. They state they can "think more clearly", or their "consciousness feels expansive" when inside pure Vastu construction.

Others who cannot afford a custom built Vastu-approved home, or an expensive remodel of their existing home, feel inadequate because their home is not appropriately pure. They avoid their south facing entrances, and apologize for lack of proper alignment of walls and windows.

Should I rejoice that True Believers avoid my home’s south-facing front entrance? In actuality, it saddens me. They could blame my south facing entryway as the evil influence upon my consciousness, inspiring this impure essay!

Each year upon his deemed birthday, January 12th, Maharishi emerges from his annual “period of silence” to inspire the Movement for the coming year’s momentum. Devoted followers “must continually change or conform to the group norm." (4) He announces another standard of inspirational purity with each new year.

The TM group norm continually changes. This keeps everyone striving for the utmost growth in purity. In the 1970’s women were required to dress in casually elegant business attire. Now women often wear sarees regardless of their culture of origin.

In the sixties and seventies, astrology and other esoterica were frowned upon; Maharishi directed us not to dabble in other forms of spirituality. We were to "protect the purity of the teaching." TM followers cheated to study astrology, past lives or other mystical teachings. Seeing a potential customer base, the TM Movement then cornered the market on esoterica with trademarked astrology, music, jyotishi consultants (Hindu mystics), mystical gem sales, architectural styles and expensive yagyas (spiritual ceremonies) to generate higher consciousness, perfect health and prosperity. Outside sources of esoterica are considered not as pure as those promoted by Maharishi’s organization.

Of course, that of the utmost "purity" (from Maharishi) comes with the highest price tag, most exclusive social circles, and greatest restrictions upon outside influence.

“Tendencies towards guilt and shame are used as emotional levers for the group's controlling and manipulative influences.” (5)

The basic concept is if one stays “with the program” he or she will eventually receive the carrot on a stick – pure bliss or enlightenment. If one leaves, he or she risks losing everything.

Another devotee jokes of having been a “rascal on the spiritual path,” as if following inner dictates were inherently impure, rather than a joyous celebration of individuality. Personal directives would deter one from the “Path.” The “Path” as outlined by Maharishi, is the only recognized pure method of spiritual advancement.

How sad to self-judge and restrict oneself, for having an inner sense of purpose.

When my good friend’s son died of an inoperable brain tumor in San Diego, a Maharishi University faculty member told her husband, “Your son died because you left the life supporting influence of our TM community.” In essence, the University faculty member said their son's tragic death was due punishment for having left Fairfield.

True devotees hold themselves to high standards of purity, continually failing to attain perfection. And we thought Catholic guilt was bad!

“Once a person has experienced the totalist polarization of good/evil (black/white thinking), he has great difficulty in regaining a more balanced inner sensitivity to the complexities of human morality.” (6)

Real life has grey zones, where an individual determines one’s own balance among conflicting demands.

When a person bases his or her life upon externally derived definitions of right from wrong, he or she may lose the ability to make personal value-judgments.

Personal self determination is especially difficult for those coming through my home after having been raised within the TM Movement. This difficulty with self-determination may account for the frequency with which many former TMers become guru-hoppers (not levitating, but jumping between various spiritual groups). Many leave TM’s dysfunction, but seek other external directives or group definition.

Even long after leaving the TM community, many individuals continue to judge others as “good” or “bad” according to a pre-measured determination of “spirituality.” Their TM-based internalized idealism continues as the barometer of worthiness.

There is no “all good”, nor “all bad”, even within the TM Movement. Most would agree that those attracted to our cult's idealism are kind, well-intentioned, idealistic individuals. We created a sweet caring community. Our goal was Utopia. In some ways, that was achieved! Many benefited through TM and association with the organization. However, many were seriously damaged.

True devotees were indoctrinated through programmatic thought reform methods (commonly known as “mind control” or “brainwashing”). Not everyone succumbs to full indoctrination, as Joe Kellet describes in his “free fall down TM’s rabbit hole.”

Those who experienced the “free fall down TM’s rabbit hole” are challenged when integrating into society. They must self determine without a spiritual drill-sargent. The challenge lies in the battle within one's own mind. In real life, there is no "absolute purity" for which to strive.

Dedicated in loving memory to: Carolyn, Ana, Doug, Levi, Marsten, Randy, Linda, Kevin and others who no longer are with us in spite of, or because of, their devotion to this “Path to Enlightenment.”

Click here for Parts Four and Five.

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
5. ibid Lifton
6. ibid Lifton

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