When I learned TM in 1971, I was taught that TM did not require a change in lifestyle. Back then, Maharishi used to say that when a person started doing TM, their behavior automatically became better and better, therefore it was unnecessary for him to impose any rules of behavior on anyone. When I practiced TM only 20 minutes twice a day, what we were told was accurate - TM indeed did not require a change in belief or lifestyle.
But I discovered that when a person got more deeply involved in the TM organization, there were plenty of rules that Maharishi instituted. There were rules about sex and gender roles, and as the years went by, his rules became more and more anti-sex and anti-female.
So, I invite you to take a second trip with me down memory lane. (My first trip down memory lane was my essay "Acting Funny Around Money", published in TMFree on March 21, 2009.) This time, I'm recalling Maharishi's rules around sex and gender roles from 1971 to 1981 (the years I was in the TM movement), as well as how these rules played out in the lives and beliefs of his followers.
I'm writing this all from memory, so I'm sure some dates and incidents will be inaccurate. If you want, please correct my mistakes in the "Comments" section below. Also, if you'd like, share some of your own memories of sex and gender roles in Maharishi's universe, and how it affected the people who followed him. Or if you were involved in the TM organization after 1981, share with us what the new rules were. Some of your memories may be very personal, so be sure to only reveal as much as you're comfortable revealing. Or use a pseudonym - and if you do so, double check to make sure the "Comments" page is not pulling up and publishing your real name along with your anonymous name.
So here are my memories on Maharishi's changing rules on sex and gender roles.
1955 Publication of "Beacon Light of the Himalayas" by our Maharishi. Regarding Guru Dev, Maharishi wrote that Guru Dev sought as his guru someone of the highest calibre - therefore, naturally they would be a lifelong celibate.
1968? Rumor that Maharishi made sexual advances to Mia Farrow in his ashram in India.
1970? At the TM Teacher Training Course in California, USA, there was co-ed skinny dipping. (So I heard.)
1971 I was instructed in TM. "Requires no change in lifestyle. Person spontaneously acts better, more in accord with the laws of nature." (Paraphrased.)
1972 Humboldt State College, Arcata, California, USA, one month summer course. Maharishi asked the attendees if we could manage to refrain from having sex for just one month, during the course? [This was during the height of the "sexual revolution."] (Some of us didn't refrain, even so.)
1972 Humboldt. Questioner: "Maharishi, what is the purpose of sex?" Maharishi (looking uncomfortable): "Ask your doctor."
1972 Humboldt. Questioner: "Maharishi, what is the value of celibacy?" Maharishi: "Keeps the body a little cleaner, a little fresher."
1972 Humboldt. Questioner: "Jerry, [Jerry Jarvis, U.S. national director of Students International Meditation Society) does Maharishi have, like, a girlfriend or something?" Jerry: "Maharishi is a monk. He likes everybody."
1974? TM Teacher Training Course, January-May, 1974, La Antilla, Spain. Maharishi: "I'm almost scared to say it, but what this movement needs is a few good celibates."
1974 La Antilla. Questioner: "Max, [Max Fleischer (sp.?), director of the Teacher Training Course], if we find our sexual desires are overwhelming while we're on TTC, is it okay to act on them?" Max: "If you find that they're getting in the way of your being one-pointedly on the program, then take care of it, so that you can get back to your studies." (Note: And alternately, some people found that while they were rounding they had virtually no sexual urges.)
1974 La Antilla. Questioner: "Jerry [Jarvis] [or perhaps it was Max], is homosexuality bad for ones evolution?" Answer: You know, this is such a big, unknowable universe. Who's to say what is good or evil in the mind of the supreme Creative Intelligence as far as this little corner of the universe? [paraphrased.] Maharishi has said, 'It's interesting, but many people with this orientation - although Maharishi didn't use the word 'orientation' - have been very helpful to the movement.' "
1974 La Antilla. Maharishi: "I'm a monk. Seeing all these ladies in miniskirts embarrasses me...But I know they're the style, so it's okay to wear them back home." [paraphrased].
1974 La Antilla. Rumors that on a previous TTC, some single women got pregnant, and asked Maharishi if abortion was bad for their "evolution." Rumor had it that he replied that the soul doesn't enter the fetus until the third month, so before that, it's okay to have an abortion.
1974 La Antilla. We are told that women have "more delicate nervous systems" than men - that they take on stress more easily and they throw it off more easily.
1974 La Antilla. TTC Teacher: "At the initiation ceremony, female teachers should make sure they wear blouses that cover their shoulders."
1974? "M" group started. (Male celibates.)
1974 A TM teacher shares with me the rumor that Maharishi made sexual advances to female TM teachers, and that those teachers have since stopped teaching TM and stopped doing TM. She and I don't believe the rumor. "Maharishi? That's impossible. Probably he is just so full of cosmic love, and they misinterpreted it." We can understand if someone gives up teaching TM, but we are horrified that they would stop meditating.
1975 Academy for the Science of Creative Intelligence, Livingston Manor, New York, USA. Director of Housing: "We don't have enough bedrooms for all the staff. Perhaps if you're engaged, you and your girlfriend could double up."
1975: Livingston Manor. Director: "There are two types of life: single life and married life. When you live here, please think of yourself as being a guest in Maharishi's home, and don't do anything that would offend him." [i.e. Celibacy is the only approved behavior for non-married people.]
1975? Teacher Training Courses and Advanced Training Courses for TM teachers start being sex-segregated. Courses become "Men's courses, "Ladies' courses" and "Couples' courses." Women are officially referred to as "Ladies" i.e. "Ladies' courses," "Ladies' dining hall," "ladies' dorms," etc.
1975: Questioner: "Charlie, [Lutes, the elder statesman of the spiritual branch of the Spiritual Regeneration Movement, Maharishi's first Western organization] is it wrong to have sex if you're not married?" Charlie: "What, do we have some guilty consciences here? It should be done in love and kindness and respect. 'Everything in moderation,' isn't that what the Greek philosophers taught? Don't strain. If you really want to do it, don't force yourself not to. If you don't want to do it, don't force yourself to. No, I don't believe you need to perform a specific ceremony first (wedding) in order to make it morally okay to engage in this experience." [paraphrase]
1976 Livingston Manor, New York, USA. Rumors that our boss was a "bramichariya," a celibate for Maharishi. Rumors that someone found him in bed with a woman.
1976 Livingston Manor. Maharishi visits the video studio here. One of the camera people is a woman. Maharishi is shocked and asks, "You allow a lady to handle the cameras?" She is taken off cameras and put in charge of make-up.
1976 Livingston Manor. Told to me by a TM teacher: "Maharishi says that if you have sex and you're not married, it's absolutely the worst thing you can do for your evolution. When you have sex, you exchange karma with that person." Me: "What if you've already blown it?" He: "Ur, then stop immediately!"
1976 A woman on staff at South Fallsburg, New York, USA, confides to me that when there is a men-only one-and-a-half month ATR at South Fallsburg, the men ogle the female staff so mercilessly that the female staff have taken to wearing baggy sweaters in public.
1976 First rumor heard of "celibate marriages." Apparently encouraged by Maharishi for faster spiritual growth.
1977? TM-Sidhis "flying" halls are made sex-segregated.
1977? Staff woman expelled from Livingston Manor for having a man sleep over in her cabin. Rumor is that a man was not expelled for having woman visitor sleep over.
1977 TM teacher tells me, "Don't tell the TM Center that my fiance slept over my house, or they'll kick me out and blacklist me!"
1977? Women who have been instructed in the TM-Sidhas are told to "rest" (stay at home in bed) for the first three days of their menstrual period.
1978? Livingston Manor. All women and all gay men are told to leave, turning this into a celibate male facility.
1978? Sex-segregated groups sent to "trouble spots" around the world to levitate for peace.
1978? Female groups are not sent to trouble spots that are most rustic or dangerous.
1978? Female higher-ups start wearing saris. But not in the traditional Indian manner, where upper chest, arms, and midriff are visible. TM women cover all these areas with their saris.
1979 On TM-Sidhis course, women are encouraged to wear high necks, long sleeves and over-the-knee dresses when Maharishi is around, and even when he isn't.
1979 Creating Coherence Course, MIU, Fairfield, Iowa, USA. Men and women have separate dorms, separate "flying halls," separate sitting areas in meetings, separate dining halls, separate work crews.
1979 Creating Coherence Course. Staff are divided into "men's work crews" and "ladies' work crews." Men can choose from construction, painting, office work, grounds, electrical work, etc.; and women can work in the office. My request for a physically active job is met with astonishment by the man in charge. He thought women are more "delicate" than men and would prefer an indoor, sitting job where they can wear pretty clothes and not sweat. I explain that when I am physically active, I "experience bliss." Dumbfounded, he agrees to start a "ladies' painting crew," which I become a member of.
1979 MIU. During "Forest Academy" (rounding semester), students are encouraged to keep their "metabolisms low" by no kissing, etc .
1979 Creating Coherence Course. Married course participants are instructed to have no public displays of affection. This even extends to no public hand-holding.
1979 Creating Coherence Course. Married couples are instructed to always be together, to do everything together, to sit together at meals, to always walk next to each other, etc.
1979 Creating Coherence Course. Married couples count as one person: on CCC issues, the Director of the Men's Course gets one vote, the Director of the Ladies' Course gets one vote, the husband and wife Co-Directors of the Couples' Course, Maharishi explains, "are of course one person," and get one vote.
1980? Creating Coherence Course. I tell a woman friend that I would love to be on the construction crew and learn how to build houses. She says, "Oh, no, you don't want to be under a house in the mud. I can see you in a beautiful dress with a flower in your hair."
1980? Formation of "Purusha" one-year (?) courses for celibate men and "Mother Divine" one-year (?) courses for celibate women.
1980 Less and less women are appearing in high-ranking positions in the TM organization.
1980 Maharishi tells us that although the TM-Sidhis program will give us immortality, only people who have been life-long celibates can be immortal. He tells us that those sidhas who have ever had sex will not be immortal, but we will live a long time.
1980? CCC. Some higher-up tells the men, "Decide if you are going to be celibate or not. Either make a decision to live that way or to not live that way, but then stick with it. Don't just go back and forth on it."
1980 Someone asked Maharishi what to do if they weren't getting along with their spouse. Maharishi replied, "Do you sleep in the same room?" (Unclear what this meant. Perhaps he meant if they had sex they would get along better?)
1980? CCC. Freezing cold winters in Iowa. I wear woolen pants, and flannel long johns over them. Our supervisors at work are male bramichariyas. Word comes down, "Please don't wear your long johns in public. We have celibates working here; it makes them uncomfortable."
1980 CCC. Money before everything. Women are told that if they work for Sidha Corp. International, they can only take off two, not three, paid days of "resting" during their menstrual period.
1980 CCC. The TM-Sidhis seem to have various effects on peoples' sexual responses. For instance, as soon as I learn to "fly," I cease having interest in men or in sex. I find, at age 28, I have sexual urges only once a month. I assume I am in touch with my natural cycles, and feel very proud of my spiritual evolution. I also have heard about one married woman, after she learned the TM-Sidhis, still enjoyed cuddling, but she recoiled from having sexual relations with her husband. Then, there is the 27-year old female friend of mine who confides to me that following the meditation/"flying" program, she sometimes finds herself so sexually aroused that she actually has to masturbate in the "flying" hall. Another single woman friend of mine on CCC became pregnant. (This must have taken a great deal of initiative, since the courses were sex-segregated.) (She went on to have an abortion.)
1981 MIU. Discussion amongst women about a women's rights club on campus. One woman says, condescendingly, "Those woman who talk about 'women's liberation'; well, we know what women's liberation is really about." We all nod smugly in agreement.
1981 Evolving men's consciousness in the Age of Enlightenment: I am chatting with a male course participant
who is on the construction crew. I say that I would love to learn construction. He says, "I don't think it's right for women to do construction, because then they get more muscled, and they're no longer so attractive to men." I've always regretted that I didn't ask him what he thought about the value of high income, aerobic exercise, fresh air, weight-bearing exercise, useful skills, etc. for women.
That's the end of my reminiscences. Now it's your turn!