Friday, December 05, 2008

Revisiting TM Initiation, Part 3: The Mantra

(Please note: This is a four-part series. Revisiting TM Initiation, Part 1 was posted on 11/11/2008, Revisiting TM Initiation, Part 2: The Puja ("Traditional Ceremony of Gratitude") was posted on 11/11/2008, and Revisiting TM Initiation, Part 4: Bowing Down was posted on 1/1/2009.

The last initiate has just left. The initiator is again standing alone in the initiation room. There is a knock at the door. The initiator opens the door and welcomes the next initiate, who is carrying his basket of fruit, flowers, white handkerchief and the initiation form. The initiator closes the door and both sit down. The initiator takes the basket and looks over the form, circling and checking items with a red pen.

Fantasy Initiation #3

Question from initiate: If I have any questions as we go along, is it OK if I ask them?

Answer from initiator: Sure. (She puts pen and form on the floor.) In this personal instruction, you will receive a mantra or sound--

Q: Can I ask you something about the mantra?

A: Yes.

Q: Just now, when you were reviewing my form, were you choosing my mantra?

A: Yes.

Q: How do you know which mantra is right for me?

A: We go by the neurophysiological specificity of the individual in order to choose the mantra which is most appropriate and will bring the most beneficial -- (She stops, remembering her recent vow to herself to be honest with her students from now on.) (Author's note: See Revisiting TM Initiation, Part 2, Nov. 20, 2008.) -- well, actually, choosing the mantra is a totally mechanical, mindless process. There's no sophisticated discernment involved in it at all.

Q: But in the preparatory lecture you said that you had a complicated criteria and it took you months to learn to be a TM teacher.

A: Well, the course itself lasted 5 months. A lot of that time we were meditating. But learning the mantras themselves and how to select the right one took a total of 3 minutes.

Q: What?

A: There wasn't very much to learn. It's just a simple grid. You know, it's like if you weigh 100 lbs. or less, you get mantra "A." If you weight 100-200 lbs., you get mantra "B." If you weigh 200 lbs. or more, you get mantra "C."

Q: (Picks form off the floor and looks at it.) But I didn't write my weight on this form.

A: I didn't say it was by weight. I said it was "like" weight. We just go by the numbers.

Q: (Looks at form again.) The only number I wrote on this form is my age.

A: That's true.

Q: That's all? You choose my mantra according to my age?

A: I gave Maharishi my word that I wouldn't reveal the mantras he gave me or how to choose them.

Q: Fine, you choose the mantra by age. Then why were you circling and checking off things on my form?

A: Maharishi said to do that so it would look like we were choosing your mantra. He said to be sure to use a red pen. It makes it look more official, don't you think?

Q: (Looks at form again.) But you haven't even circled my age. You've circled all sorts of other things.

A: He specifically said to not circle the age.

Q: Then why are all these questions on this intake form? Look, I've answered all sorts of personal questions: my mental health, my physical health, what previous self-development programs I've tried, even which illegal drugs I've taken. Is none of that relevant?

A: None of it. I don't even read any of that.

Q: Oh, for pity's sake! Then what's the big deal? I'm paying you $2,000 just so you can assign me a mantra by age?

A: Oh no, there's much more to it than that. We maintain the precious purity of this teaching to ensure maximum results for every student, so that everyone who learns is assured of getting exactly what was passed down through the centuries by the Holy Tradition of Masters.

Q: So I receive the identical instructions and the identical mantra, no matter who teaches me?

A: Absolutely. (Long pause) Well, actually, no. I understand that from one course to the next, Maharishi taught different age criteria for the mantras. And on some courses he taught different mantras. And on some courses he taught by age plus sex.

Q: Didn't you feel betrayed when Maharishi told you that?

A: Oh, no. Maharishi never told us that. I found that out later, on the internet.
(Author's note: See

Q: What sort of boondoggle is this, anyway?

A: Please, don't judge so hastily. There are other things that make TM unique and wonderful, like the special way we use the mantra.

Q: What do you mean?

A: Well, as you know, the mantra is a sound that has no meaning and the effects of which are known to be beneficial. The sound keeps the mind alert, yet the meaninglessness of the mantra keeps the mind undirected. That's crucial. So, when we use the mantra in a particular way, the mind, undirected by meaning, naturally dives inward -- (Pause.)

Q: Now what?

A: I just realized that sometimes the mantra actually does have a meaning. And yet that has never prevented anyone's mind from diving inward.

Q: "Sometimes" it has a meaning? But in the preparatory lecture, you told us that the mantra has no meaning.

A: Well, before Maharishi came to the west, he taught TM in India. And the mantras he gave out were already familiar to some Indians. They knew the meaning of them, but TM worked
for them all the same.

Q: What did the mantras mean to the Indians?

A: Maharishi would choose the right mantra for the initiate by asking him, "Who is your favorite god?" The Hindus have lots of gods, you know. Depending on what the student answered, Maharishi would assign a mantra --

Q: Pardon my sarcasm, but what happened to the unchanging Holy Tradition of choosing the mantra by age, or by sex, using a different criterion each year?

A: Well, he realized that asking "Who is your favorite god?" wasn't going to mean much to westerners....

Q: So he personally invented the age and sex system?

A: I don't know. He assured us that this teaching was all passed down in its unchanging purity for generations. But anyway, the mantras he gave out in India did have a meaning to some Indians.

Q: Alright, what did the mantras mean?

A: Some of them were the names of Hindu gods, and some of them were the "seed form" of the names of the Hindu gods. I don't understand the fine points of Hinduism, but certainly some of the Indians recognized these mantras as the names or seed names of gods. Yet the Indians had no trouble doing TM. Hmm, I'm baffled. Maharishi taught us that TM can't work if the mantra has a meaning. I can't figure this out.

Q: So in the west he decided not to hand out the names of Hindu gods?

A: Oh, no, that's not so. All of the mantras Maharishi taught on my course are the seed form names of Hindu gods.

Q: What? Didn't you find that a little contradictory to Maharishi's contention that TM is not a religious practice?

A: Oh no, not at all. You see, Maharishi never told us that the mantras were the names of Hindu gods. He told us that the mantras were meaningless sounds. I learned about the Hindu gods later, on the internet.

Q: Alright, let me get this straight. You are about to teach me a technique whereby I am going to be thinking the name of a Hindu god for 40 minutes every day without my informed consent?

A: Well, yes.

Q: And yet you say in the introductory lecture that TM is not a religious practice?

A: (Laughing) Oh no, of course it isn't. Maharishi says that TM is not a religious practice. And Maharishi wouldn't lie. (Pause.) My, you're so quiet. You must have run out of questions. Well then, shall we begin?

- end -

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