Monday, February 12, 2007

Lifton's Thought Reform Criteria Applied to TM. Parts Four and Five of Eight.

You may begin Part One of this series by clicking here.


"Cultic confession is carried beyond its ordinary religious, legal and therapeutic expressions to the point of becoming a cult in itself." (1)

Forced confessions are used by a variety of cultic groups, especially in closed Large Group Awareness Trainings (LGATs) or cult-like all night Bible revivals. TM does not agressively employ this method of thought reform (we got a break on this one!)
TM employs this tactic on applications for advanced courses, and for publicly "sharing of experiences" with Maharishi.

On applications for advanced courses, an applicant must essentially prove emotional stability by stating that he or she never had need for therapy or other forms of external support outside of the TM Organization. It is also important to state that one does not abuse drugs or alcohol. The nature of the application, and desireabilty of acceptance to advanced courses, often encourgae a person to lie about external associations. Applicants often lie, denying marital counseling or other involvements. On the other hand, I know of many individuals who avoided seeking help because they feared being ostracized from advanced programs.

Cult-like public confessionals are "an act of symbolic self-surrender. Making it virtually impossible to attain a reasonable balance between worth and humility." (2)

TM confessionals exist in “sharing of experiences” when meditators come forth to share spiritual visions such as, “golden soma dripping down my scalp,” or “past life visions of torturing others during the inquisition, and now burning off such karma through prolonged meditations,” or "envisioning the mantra as the guide leading me through the portal to pure Absolute bliss." These are actual confessionals that I heard from others. The more "flashy" one's experience, especially if it involved visitation by Hindu dieties or karmic connections to past lives, the greater Maharishi praised the confessor.

However, TM teachings deny validity of psychotherapy. Confessing one's inner insecurities and goals comes close to true therapy and is thus officially avoided with TM.

Maharishi teaches that, “therapy merely stirs up the mud in one’s consciousness. For true help one must transcend to the deep Absolute pure bliss of one’s awareness. Through repeated exposure to the transcendent layer of life, the transcendent will gradually permeate all levels of one’s awareness. In this way the mud, or stress, of one’s life is washed away. Therapy works only on the surface level of life and is of no use.”

If someone received effective therapy, he or she might decide to leave the TM organization!

With experience confessionals, an unstated spiritual hierarchy is created amongst participants, "The more I accuse myself, the more I have a right to judge you" (3). This encourages those with flashy experiences to feel superior to those who do not speak of such inner glamor.

One former TM-teacher, "Governor" said, "I think there was a kind of informal confessional -- or at least I thought there was when I wrote my Lifton paper for Jajna. On staff, there was a kind of competition to claim the most fucked-up award for our pre-TM days. I used to do so much acid, my first marriage was a nightmare before TM, etc., etc. It wasn't ritualized with speeches from the dais, but it was a kind of bonding-confession."


“The totalist milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic doctrine or ideology, holding it as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. Questioning or criticizing those basic assumptions is prohibited. A reverence is demanded … Offers considerable security to young people because it greatly simplifies the world and answers a contemporary need to combine a sacred set of dogmatic principles with a claim to a science embodying the truth about human behavior and human psychology.” (4)

Maharishi’s Science of Creative IntelligenceTM, the Holy Tradition of Spiritual Masters, the copyrighted ancient Ayur Vedic methods are deemed infallible sources of truth. Questioning the veracity of these myths is akin to blasphemy for a devoted TMer.

Maharishi began to use Wallace and Benson's studies of brainwave during TM as the basis of a 'scientific verification' for the effficacy of Transendental Meditation. Benson later proved identical results found with practitioners of traditional forms of Buddhist and Judeo-Christian meditation. The sacredness of TM research however continues.

Larry Domash, PhD, Deepak Chopra, MD, John Hagelin, PhD and other educated devotees continue to apply scientific terminology to the esoteric teachings of TM, to marketing their beliefs. Stress researchers receive funding for research on TM, when in fact other methods would prove as beneficial, as Benson demonstrated.

For those not versed in true science, this blur of science and esoterica creates a belief system based upon distorted science, thus Lifton's "sacred science."

This post is dedicated to Joel, Angel, Debbie, Rudy, Deja, Debby, Noel, Angelica, Harry, Brendon, Shuvender, Jennifer, Nikky, Gena, Caroline, Jenny and others whose reality was shaken to this core during involvement with TM's sacred science and twisted psychology.

The next installment of this series, parts Six and Seven, may be viewed here.

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


Sue said...

i am reminded of one of the core quotes of Maharishi's regarding thoughts during a meditation;
'When cleaning house, dust flies. why bother to look at dust?"
The entire base of TM spiritual path is purification based on meditation (and diet). There is indeed an unspoken heirarchy within the group. But once I heard him say that "If you like someone, you'll say they are highly evolved!"

Sudarsha said...

An interesting quotation, Sue. I might like to use it. May I quote you?

There is a difference between looking at the dust as in trying to analyze it and simply being aware of it (in terms of what arises in meditation) so that it can more easily let go of us.

Hopefully I'll get to this in the completion of of "Mantras" soon.


Gina said...

Hmm, Interesting quote. You must be "highly evolved."

Sue, back to your earlier post about Lynch's creativity.. Ideas come to him in meditation.

That implies that Lynchs analyzes the "flying dust" of purification?

OK, I'm falling into the illogical quagmire. Just couldn't resist the irony.

Sue said...

Yes, you can quote me.

Anonymous said...

Gina, I have to say, characterizing the reporting of experiences of consciousness as "confessionals" in the Liftonian sense seems to me to be a gigantic stretch.

Sue, one of the points I've heard TM teachers make concerning the "dust" kicked up in meditation is that if any of it is really a good idea, it will come back to you after you've finished meditating, so you shouldn't worry that such ideas will be lost if you simply let them pass during meditation.

Maybe someone should ask Lynch if that's the case with him.

One teacher told the story of the meditator who had a thought while he was meditating that seemed absolutely brilliant, a way to end world hunger forever. He was afraid he'd forget it, so he came out of meditation for a moment to write it down, then resumed meditating.

When he was finished, he remembered he'd had a brilliant idea for ending world hunger but not what it was, so he was very glad he'd written it down.

He eagerly grabbed his scrawled note.

It read, "Xerox doughnuts."

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Dear anonymous,

I heard a similar story with a different punchline: How to end the energy crisis? "Pave the roads with peanut butter."

Likely stories created by some creative initiator, like Andy Kaufmann. Unlikely to have any basis in fact, naturally.

They served to make TM practice sweet and endearing. They did little to expose the darker side: unstressing and lost opportunities.


Anonymous said...

They probably aren't authentic, no, but at least the "Xerox doughnuts" one makes the point memorably (the "peanut butter" one doesn't make much sense even in context).

Remember, the question was whether, contrary to instructions, Lynch "analyzes the dust," given that he says he gets his best ideas during meditation. I'm suggesting that if they are really good ideas, he'll remember them when he's through meditating, so he doesn't need to "analyze the dust."

(Me, I don't seem to get good ideas during meditation, but I get a lot more of 'em in activity than I ever did before I began TM.)

Judy Stein

Post a Comment