(To read this series from the beginning, start here.)
What is the actual cost of committing oneself to practicing the basic TM technique?
Back in 1959, according to Paul Mason’s biography of the program’s founder, an initiation fee was set at one week’s pay. That amount has varied over the years, perhaps depending on whose definition of “one week’s pay” is being used. It also says something about what stratum of society the program is being marketed to. When the current fee of $2500 is considered against the “one week’s pay” rationale, the size of the fee suggests that the program is being marketed to people with an income of $130,000 per year, or more.
Along with the fee, the initiate must bring fruit, flowers and a white handkerchief. Perhaps the need to bring physical objects underscores the underlying transactional assumption, that to be involved with the movement’s programs and to gain the claimed benefits, one must bring something of substance to the table. Later, clearly, that substance is money, but at the beginning, physical offerings are also part of the exchange. Belying the movement’s claim that what it’s offering is some kind of eternal “knowledge” available to all, clearly the “knowledge” is only made available to those who can pay whatever they charge for it.
Less obvious is the time commitment. The initiation process, about eight hours in total over seven days, involves five group sessions outside of the “interview” and the initiation itself. Thereafter, one must meditate twenty minutes twice a day, and allow an additional few minutes’ time to finish meditation. What is that time worth? Perhaps the clearest way to put a price tag on that time is to consider, as I put forward above, that the movement’s target prospect makes $130,000 a year. Based even on a sixty hour work week, that comes out to about 42 dollars an hour. Given that TM requires a time commitment of at least fifty minutes a day - time that can’t be spent doing anything else - at that rate, TM costs 304 hours a year, and if that time is valued monetarily, that cost is, at least, an additional $12,750 a year.
Thus the program conditions the meditator towards the idea that involvement in the program involves ongoing expenditures of time and money, particularly when the current program becomes stale and the movement’s other products and programs become attractive. At the very high end is the movement’s ultimate product: the million-dollar residence course. While the cost and the trappings are in a different realm of price and ostentatiousness (or, perhaps, outrageousness), the underlying appeal of all the programs are the same. They offer the initiate the promise of control of various aspects of life that generally are not under conscious control.
(Continue to Part 6)