Monday, May 12, 2008

Why I Think the TM Org Is Religious

This article is not likely to be news to readers of TM-Free Blog. But just as I thought it worthwhile to create a one-sheet summary of the dangers of the TM Org, I'd like to start a similar post on TM and religion.

Here's my stab at it.

There has been a fair amount of controversy over the years about whether the Transcendental Meditation Org is a religion. I'm of the opinion that any organization and its members have the right to determine what they are, be it science, religion, social group — or some strange hybrid of various human endeavors.

So it would seem to me the question could be regarded as settled with the TM Organization's and the Maharishi's insistence that TM is not a religion.

But looking a little deeper, other organizations have the right to declare beliefs and practices to be religious in nature. Especially when they deem that TM's beliefs and practices are at odds with their religions' doctrines. And American courts have the right to hold an organization religious when they threaten civil liberties.

A high-ranking Catholic prelate stated in 1984 that TM is in contradiction to Catholic doctrine and dogma. The current Pope Benedict, before being elected Pope, wrote in 1989 that yoga and meditation could be counter to Catholic teachings — mentioning TM explicitly.

New Jersey Federal District Judge Meanor offered his summary judgement in 1987 when a group of parents sought to block teaching TM in the schools: "Although [TM] defendants have submitted well over 1500 pages..., defendants have failed to raise the slightest doubt as to the facts or as to the religious nature of the teachings of the Science of Creative Intelligence and the puja. The teaching of the SCI/TM course in New Jersey public high schools violates the establishment clause of the first amendment, and its teaching must be enjoined." This finding of TM as religious has been upheld numerous times in American courts (see sidebar below).

I believe that much of the controversy around TM and religion swirls around definitions of terms. Here is good article on the complexity of defining religion.

But to have some touchstone for what constitutes religious belief, I'll rely on the Wikipedia definition: "Religion is a set of beliefs and practices, often centered upon specific supernatural and moral claims about reality, the cosmos, and human nature, and often codified as prayer, ritual, and religious law. Religion also encompasses ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and mystic experience. The term 'religion' refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction."

Here are the main indications of the religious nature of Transcendental Meditation:

  • "a set of beliefs and practices, often centered upon specific supernatural and moral claims about reality":

    • In addition to his books on spiritual maters, The Science of Being, On the Bhagavad Gita, Love and God, the Maharishi founded the Science of Creative Intelligence, replete with discussions about one's relationship to God, enlightenment, spiritual philosophy, and more

    • The philosophical, religious, or whatever opinions expressed run counter to some religions' dogma or doctrine

    • explicitly indicates that TMers will come to experience God personally in his tape, "Shaking Hands with God"
    • the Maharishi taught a grace prayer to say before meals
    • the Maharishi asked advanced meditatiors, "sidhas," to recite hymns from the Rig Veda, one of Hinduism's most sacred texts that explicitly worhsip Indra, Agni, and other gods

    • the Maharishi created groups of hundreds of "pandits" who recite the Vedas, sacred Hindu hymns, in order to bring world peace and harmony

  • The Maharishi founded his Spiritual Regeneration Movement as a religious organization, with the Maharishi as Spiritual Head

  • Supernatural & Mystical beliefs & practices taught by the Maharishi (unproved or unprovable):

    • enlightenment, including God Consciousness, Brahman Consciousness, Krishna Consciousness

    • a single principal underlies all creation: Creative Intelligence (the union of Hindu gods, Shiva & Shakti)

    • freely discusses personal relationship to God and gods, particularly how they are improved through TM

    • supernatural abilities: levitation, reading minds, knowledge of past & future

    • supernatural beings: gods (devas & devatas), angels (gandharvas), demons (rakshasas & asuras)

    • divine incarnations (avatars): Krishna, Rama, others

    • puja, a ceremony of religious offerings, to the Maharishi's dead teacher, Brahmananda Saraswati. Some SRM TM teachers were told that the performance represents the offering of the TM initiate's soul and fruits of action to the dead teacher. (One wonders how long it will be before puja is performed to the Maharashi, now that he is dead.)

    • the TM mantras, despite the Maharishi's claim that they have no meaning, are well-known invocations of Hindu gods

    • religious objects: shiva linga (worshipped), auspicious jewels & crystals, religious calendars of auspicious days of Hindu gods, such as Lakshmi, Saraswati, Hanuman, Shiva, Krishna, and others

    • yagyas (pujas, ritual offerings) to Ganesh, Lakshmi and other Hindu gods, performed in Hindu temples

    • religious orders: celibate Monks & Nuns (Purusha & Mother Divine)

    • suggesting to some TMers, and requiring others, to practice celibacy to speed "spiritual evolution"

    • celebrate Hindu gods' & other auspicious holidays, such as Guru Purnima, Diwali, and others

    • the explicit teaching that TM as superior to all other religious or spiritual paths

  • a host of teachings that are kept secret from the public and prospective TMers

  • the Maharishi disregards and dismisses other religions' beliefs:

    • states that Christ never suffered, contrary to central Christian doctrine that He suffered to cleanse the world's sins

    • asserts lower and higher selves in contradiction to Buddhist doctrine of no-self (anata)

    • worshipping images and gods in contradiction of Jewish & Christian law

I've done my best to summarize my major concerns about the religious nature of the TM Org and the Maharishi's teachings. I'm sure that my fellow editors and our readers will have additions, deletions, and qualifications. You would do me a personal favor if you would note your thoughts in the comments section below so that I can improve this article.

John M. Knapp, LMSW

Over 50 Years of
"Scientific" Deception


In the Maharishi's first book, Beacon Light of the Himalayas, he preached, "For our practice, we select only the suitable mantras of personal Gods. Such mantras fetch to us the grace of personal Gods and make us happier in every walk of life."


The Spiritual Regeneration Movement is incorporated with the words "this corporation is a religious one" and "the Spiritual Head of this corporation who is MAHARISHI MAHESH YOGI, need not be a member of the Board of Trustees, but can be; he shall devote his attention to the spiritual welfare of the members of the corporation and shall have the right to name his successor."


International Meditation Society incorporated as a separate religious corporation.


Students International Meditation Society incorporated without the words "religion" or "religious."


Maharishi Mahesh Yogi writes at some length about Vedic Karma Kanda [yagyas, religious rites to Hindu gods] in his On the Bhagavad-Gita: "The gross aspect [of yagya] deals with ritualistic performances to please different Vedic gods and win their blessings, while the subtle aspect [of yagya] deals with training the mind to contact higher powers and receive their blessings..... [They deal] with the rites and rituals necessary to establish coordination between the different aspects of individual life: coordination between man and other creatures, between man and the different forces in nature, between man and angels, and between man and God in heaven."


Based on the success of the secularly packaged Students International Meditation Society, the articles of incorporation of the International Meditation Society are amended, removing references to "religious" and "religion."


Former TM teachers who founded the Spiritual Counterfeits Project help Time magazine publish portions of the "secret" TM initiation ceremony, which includes obeyances to the "whole galaxy of gods"; the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; and most frequently to the Maharishi's dead teacher, who is worshiped as Brahman, the Hindu Godhead.


Anthony D. DeNaro's private meeting with the Maharishi, recalled in a sworn court affidavit: "I spent a great deal of time trying to persuade him to adopt a more honest, less commercial, approach to meditation, the Sidhi courses, the curricula, the disguised religious element masquerading as a science, inter alia.... Maharishi had a very cavalier, almost elitist, view about very serious injuries and trauma to meditators. His basic attitude towards the concealment of the religious nature of TM was: 'When America is ready for Hinduism, I will tell them.'"


Robert N. Bellah meets with Robert Winquist, a well-known TM movement insider and faculty member of Maharishi International University. Robert Bellah was Ford Professor of Sociology and Comparative Studies, UC Berkeley and author of the highly regarded Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditional World . During the meeting, as related in his sworn affadavit for the
New Jersey Court case, he "expressed [his] opinion that TM definitely seemed to to be a religion and I wondered why the people in the TM movement denied its religious nature. [Winquist] replied by affirming that it is certainly true that TM is religious but stated that they did not admit that to be the case for public relations reasons." Winquist has remained a key figure and major spokesman for the TM movement to this day.


New Jersey Federal District Judge Meanor offers his summary judgement when a group of parents seek to block teaching TM in the schools: "Although [TM] defendants have submitted well over 1500 pages..., defendants have failed to raise the slightest doubt as to the facts or as to the religious nature of the teachings of the Science of Creative Intelligence and the puja. The teaching of the SCI/TM course in New Jersey public high schools violates the establishment clause of the first amendment, and its teaching must be enjoined."


TM movement begins selling yagyas, said to "remove obstacles," "bring about prosperity," "ensure success in business." Yagyas come in classes, A, B, and C. Although no official word is given, insider rumors speculate that class A are sacrifices to avert astrological influences, classes B and C are to obtain favor from Ganesh, Lakshmi, and others.


New Jersey Court case upheld by Federal Appeals Court, Third District.


Malnak v. Yogi cited as an important precedent in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education — the epoch-making ruling barring teaching Creationist science in public schools as a religious activity.


Superior Court of the District of Columbia rules that TM is a religion, subject to all protections and restrictions, in Hendel v. World Plan Executive Council.


The TM movement begins mailing calendars of "Auspicious Days" for yagya performances, naming Ganesh, Lakshmi, Surya (the Sun), Vishnu, Radha, Bhuvaneshwari, Saraswati, Durga/Kali, Shiva, Hanuman (monkey god), and many other gods. It should be noted that many of these gods are invoked by the TM mantras — as revealed by their secret meanings.


The TM movement begins publicly broadcasting images of Shiva lingas on the Maharishi Channel, the TM Org's video website. It had long been rumored that TM insiders worshipped the linga with offerings of ghee and flowers

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