Thursday, April 03, 2008

Who Cares What the Mantras Mean?

I wrote a post on "Why I Think the Transcendental Meditation Org is Dangerous" some time ago. Readers have written me with a number of suggestions or questions. I'm gradually incorporating their input into the essay at my site. Below are questions and answers on just why the mantras' meanings are important to religious people.

(H/T to reader David Kaufmann for raising questions that I answer below.)

Q: Are you saying other forms of meditation are dangerous, or just TM? Are you suggesting the mantras have special, "spooky" powers?

The physical side-effects I mention only happen rarely with the basic daily 2x20 meditation. Most of the dangers occur with prolonged meditation, in the TM movement known as "rounding" — or with advanced techniques, such as the "TM-Sidhis." In these cases individuals are instructed to meditate for 3, 4, even 8 hours a day without the supervision of knowledgeable, experienced meditators, such as a guru.

I have, however, received some reports of difficulties for practitioners of the Centering Prayer, a Christian meditation that is quite similar to TM. So my personal opinion is that the mantras themselves probably have nothing to do with negative side-effects. Rather it's overindulgence in meditation and its associated advanced techniques that cause the problems. Similarly, I see little indication that the harmful results of over-meditating have to do with the unusual beliefs of the Transcendental Meditation movement.

Q: Aren't you indulging in "magical thinking" by implying the "acoustics" of the silent mantra are harmful?

Couple of points. Usually mental health professionals use the term "magical thinking" only when it results in serious dysfunction in a person's life. Most religious beliefs contain some element of magical thinking, but they are not a concern if they do not cause pain for the individual.

My concern regarding the mantras coming from Hindu gods' names has to do with a person's right to choose their own religious beliefs. I personally am not concerned about repeating the name of Hindu gods. However, quite a number of religious individuals are very concerned. Many that I've talked to feel defiled, embarrassed, and ashamed when they find out they have been meditating with a means of worshipping another god.

In my belief, people have a right to "informed consent" and to decide for themselves whether they are worried about invoking Hindu gods or not. Isn't their very real pain upon discovery more relevant than whether they are indulging in magical thinking? (You may read about the nature of "informed consent" in medicine here.)

Whether Hindu gods exist or not, many believing Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other religious individuals are emotionally disturbed when they find out about the mantras. Whether they are right or wrong about their beliefs is beside the point.

The pain they experience is real.

If the TM Movement feels that the meaning of the names are not important, why have they chosen to keep this information secret from new initiates for decades?

By the way, I have been told by really old-time initiators that early meditators were told which god they were invoking with their mantra. Only later did the Maharishi choose to keep this information secret. You can check out the meaning of mantras for yourself. Originally the Maharishi only gave one mantra, "Ram," which is a common name for "God" in India. Every Indian initiated would have known what it meant.

Q: If you are implying that mantra meditation is potentially harmful, that would seem to be going too far. Thousands, possibly millions of Hindus, Buddhists, and others practice mantra or japa meditation of some sort and seem to be happy with the results.

Actually, it is well known in India that mantra and other forms of meditation can have negative side-effects. Among others, they may be known as "kundalini" side effects. (A list of kundalini symptoms is here. Strategies for dealing with these symptoms is here.)

In traditional Indian teaching, a guru takes relatively few students so that he can monitor their progress and difficulties. The guru will adjust the student's practice if someone begins to experience these dangerous side-effects. This is not possible in the mass-produced system the Maharishi taught. Transcendental Meditation teachers have little experience compared to gurus. Also the Transcendental Meditation Movement gives no instruction to teachers regarding kundalini side-effects.

In the West, meditation has been sold as an "absolute good." That means TM and other meditation teachers tell prospective students that meditation (1) has only positive side-effects, (2) improves all areas of life, and (3) anyone can learn to meditate.

None of these points are true.

John M. Knapp, LMSW

No comments:

Post a Comment