Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Transcendental Meditation and the National Institutes of Health: An Allegory

Dear Readers:

I originally published this essay on TM-Free Blog on March 6, 2010. However, I think it may have gotten lost in the shuffle of
the recent troubles with our "comments" system. There were only 5 comments to it, and 4 of those comments have disappeared. Therefore, I am re-posting it. I hope you all will enjoy reading it.


Once upon a time, many years ago in a far off country, there lived a baker named Stephen Steddmun. He baked his own special bread, and called it Steddmun Heartibread (SH).

Many people bought and enjoyed his bread, and after some years, he started a university. He named it Steddmun University (SU). Although SU offered classes in the usual university subjects, all classes were philosophically built around the premise that SH was the basis of all things worthwhile in the world.

Steddmun's photo was everywhere: in classrooms, in students' rooms, in faculty offices. He was often referred to as "The Great Baker Steddmun."

Everybody at SU - student, faculty and staff - were required to eat at least one slice of SH at each meal in the campus cafeteria. People who did not eating the required slices, or who surreptitiously ate a different brand of bread, were expelled.

Classes began with everyone eating a half slice of SH, since SH was believed to improve intellectual functioning.

The SH recipe was a closely guarded secret, and when you bought your first loaf, you were sworn to secrecy. You also had to pay about a week's salary for your first loaf.

The Great Baker Steddmun taught that the recipe for SH came from a long line of bakers in Norway, his land of origin. Special events in the SH world therefore often began with the reverent singing of a Norwegian song, thanking the ancient Norse gods for giving this recipe to humans. It was sung in the ancient Viking language (a language now spoken only by scholars.)

Students, staff and faculty all attended special R&R month-long retreats, where they cut back on other foods, ate additional amounts of SH and other SH products, chewed slowly, breathed in the aroma of the bread, examined the SH special texture, and noted the improvements in their own lives brought about by eating SH.

At these retreats, they also cut back on outside intellectual inquiries, and instead heard many lectures by The Great Baker Steddmun. He would explain how SH was the root of all things meaningful in the world.

For instance, he said that SH was the heart of all world religions. Aren't Christians taught to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread"? And aren't Jews commanded to honor the Sabbath, which many do by baking a special bread? Even Eastern religions came from SH - macrobiotics, loosely based on Taoism, reveals that the healthiest diet is one consisting of cooked hearty grains.

SH was also the basis for civilization, Steddmun taught, for archeologists today believe that cities could only come into being after humans learned how to cultivate grain. Because cultivating grains provided a surplus of food that hunting and gathering did not, some members of the community could then devote themselves to activities other than finding food. And thus was born art, religion, government - i.e., the birth of civilization.

SH, said the Great Baker, was the secret to physical health. "Is not bread called 'the staff of life'?" And it was also the secret to mental health. "Did not the ancient Greeks say, 'A healthy mind in a healthy body'?"

Steddmun also explained that the secret to fulfilling social relationships was to eat SH. "At those times when people are truly loving and caring for each other in peace, they will say they are "breaking bread together."

SH was also the secret to politics, economics and world peace. "The French Revolution demonstrated that humans will foment chaos when they are deprived of bread. The starving Frenchmen pleaded, "We have no bread!" and when the callous Marie Antoniette replied, "Then let them eat cake," the wars began.

The Great Baker Steddmun insisted that SH was not a religion or a lifestyle. Still, many people at SU devoted their lives to SH with an almost missionary zeal, baking it, marketing it, and spending more and more hours eating SH and its related products.

The library at SU has on file hundreds of Steddmun lectures. However, the librarians have removed from the shelves books written by competing baking companies, recipe books for other types of breads, and criticisms of SH.

The National Academy of Science has awarded SU's research institute the sum of $5 million (US) to study the health benefits of SH. Ninety percent of the researchers are long-time SH-eaters. Do you think the grant is a good idea? Do you think that lack of bias on the part of the researchers is assured?

The End


A postscript:

1) The above tale was made up by me. There is actually no Stephen Steddmun, Steddmun University, or Steddmun Heartibread.

2) Every sentence in the story does however allude to a reality about the TM world. If you like, pick your favorite sentences from the story, and explain what TM thing they are referring to. (Essay question: 10 points)

3) If you don't know what some of my sentences are referring to, and want to know, just ask in the "comments" section. Other commenters who are able to accurately explain the sentences in question also get 10 points.

4) In the past ten years, the National Institutes of Health of the United States have awarded over $24 million (US) to Maharishi University of Management to research the benefits of Transcendental Meditation. (See official TM website). Do you think this is a good idea? Are you satisfied that lack of bias on the part of the researchers, (most of whom are MUM meditating faculty), is assured? And if you don't think it's a good idea, what might we do about it?


Paul Mason said...

Laurie, I have found the comments that appeared on your first posting of this title.


I don't like the idea that any reasearchers are biased and I DO NOT trust the TM researchers for the reasons you allude to. You can add religious conviction to the already existing bias of it being their pet panacea. However, there are studies being done by reaseachers in many other fields where there is a lot of vested interest in a certain outcome. The parmaceutical industry comes to mind! You might ask if anti-depressants are any better than a placebo and the research now tells us probably not in most cases yet they continue to be prescribed in mass. But bias is all over the place as there is often a lot to be made in terms of money and reputation should the results come up a cfertain way. So this is a problem in general. We can HOPE that the peer review process needed to get published in a significant journal will catch errors.
Saturday, March 06, 2010, 3:38:18 PM

BTW What we can do about it is catch them in an attempt to do something demonstrably out of bounds - merely allegeing they have a bias isn't enough.
Saturday, March 06, 2010, 3:45:03 PM

Thank you Laurie for allowing us to see things a little differently through your story. IMHO, your best and most thought-provoking piece to date. Oh, I understand clearly what each sentence was referring to. More please. Would you consider adding the element of rounding as eating up to twelve loaves of bread a day, and the dire consequences to some as a result, whereas others don't seem to be bothered at all and don't gain weight or suffer healthwise? I'm sitting here chuckling considering all the crazy possibilities... such as "witnessing" or "enlightenment" or etc. etc. Good stuff all around and IMO very appropriate humor, satire, or whatever you want to call it!
Saturday, March 06, 2010, 5:17:00 PM

Very clever and accurate piece. I've suddenly got a craving for toast....
Saturday, March 06, 2010, 9:04:55 PM

Great allegory, Laurie!

I still remember the day, 1974 or 1975, when Maharishi U. librarians and faculty removed all "threatening" books from Parsons' college library - truckloads - before allowing their students and the TM community to access their collections. I attended FF High at the time.
Devotees cheered to have such a "pure source of knowledge - an enlightened library which only supported purity of the teachings."

Many of us used to visit nearby Iowa City and the Univ of Iowa bookstores for intellectual stimulation.

Thank heavens the town of Fairfield, Iowa is no longer so restrictive. The University echelon, however, remains as cult-like controlling as ever.


Sunday, March 07, 2010, 2:24:58 AM

Anonymous said...

The entire thing is dispicable! Is typical of TM. Maybe meditation fees paid for the Raj/health spa so that the TMO can charge zillions
of $. By the way, is there really an annual rice and dal eating contest at MUM? Apparently His Enormity Bevan Morris is the frequent winner!

Laurie said...

Paul, thanks so much for seeking for the missing comments and reposting them.

Lex, I agree with you that many companies - pharmeceutical and others - practice biased and fraudulent research as a way of life.  I only write on TM because it is the only area where I have some expertise.  Regarding catching the TMO in some questionable research practices, I think that has already been illustrated (see trancenet, minet.org, ec.)  This indicates a  pattern of bias in research.  Also there is the well-understood concept of "researcher bias" in which even the best-meaning researcher's biases are unconsciously reflected in their research.  Thus the NIH should not have given money to TM true believers at TM University to study the benefits of TM.

Seeker, you honor me.  I'm so glad you liked my allegory.  You have a sharp fine mind, with which you have well- critiqued my and other posters' articles, so I am pleased that you felt this was my best yet!  I liked your suggestions, and think I did address residence courses to some extent when I talked about the one-month R & R courses where participants ate large quantities of SH....(although not possible bad side effects from the practice.)

Deborah - glad you liked the article!

Gina, I always love your matter-of-fact humble contributions where you share the most outrageous stories!  If you ever write an autobiography, I hope you will include this anecdote about the library purging!

Anonymous, I couldn't follow your comment.  But hope you enjoyed the article.

Deborah said...

Nice to see this re-posted. Your perspective is so helpful. I  especially appreciated your response to the post 'What would you ask MMY?', where someone asked 'Why did you do it?' This had been bothering me for a long time, and your take on it made things suddenly fall into place for me.

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