Monday, June 21, 2010

Escape from Transcendental Meditation

Albert Miller was central to the founding of in 1995. In addition to writing valuable articles, he was invaluable in the original brainstorming for the site. Below is his personal story of entering, and eventually leaving, the Transcendental Meditation Org. Originally written in 1995, it is surprising how much his concerns are still the topic of our discussions decades later.

by Albert B. Miller

I first read about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in a Coronet magazine article in 1971. It was a review of the guru's latest Western activities and his new book, The Science of Being and Art of Living. He was attracting people with a sort of mystical charm and his message about transcendental meditation sounded intriguing; TM was in vogue and a lot of people were doing it, I read. "Do less and accomplish more," the yogi had said, voicing one of the alleged benefits of the meditation practice.

Apparently with genuine altruism he wanted to help people reach high potential. Contact with "Being" for self-fulfillment was the immediate goal; spiritual regeneration, enlightenment and cosmic consciousness were grand objectives.

Once learned, I read, TM would neutralize stress and quickly improve all aspects of mind and body. Its continued practice, he asserted, would open doors to higher states of consciousness where you would acquire a host of supernormal qualities such as "pure creativity" and "spontaneous right action."

That part was too much to expect from merely meditating, I thought at the time. Normally I would have dismissed statements like those as pure fantasy, banking on my New England heritage of discrimination and downright caution. But for a workaholic like myself, the stress management claims for TM sounded useful, even plausible, and the mere possibility of unfolding one's inner potential made it seem worth the investment of $75. I called the TM center in Los Angeles and was meditating one week later.

The twice daily routine, with eyes closed, slowed me down considerably and gave my body and mind some much needed rest. A marvelous feeling of well-being ensued, which I credited to TM. And the local TM activities provided ready-made social contacts that were generally missing from my life. (In addition to being a workaholic, I also had a tendency to be a loner.)

The Vision

From then on I read everything I could find on TM, did the meditation regularly and attended weekly meetings, asking questions to understand subtle experiences and manage occasional difficulties with the practice. I became a sort of expert on it after a while, encouraging others and expecting high attainment. I planned to become a teacher of TM, was active at local TM centers, and started preliminary training.

TM residence courses were next, two-to-seven days in length, where we did up to six meditations a day instead of the normal two. Before each meditation we would hyperventilate with a breathing practice called pranayama, and then did a series of body stretching exercises known as yoga asanas. [sic: Albert appears to have reversed the order of asanas then pranayama.] There were quiet discussions about movement-related subjects, and we watched endless videos of Maharishi extolling the benefits of TM from every conceivable angle. Evening meetings on residence courses ended by listening to tapes of Indian pundits softly chanting hymns from the Hindu holy book, Sama-Veda.

Following one three-day residence course, I walked into my house and immediately hallucinated with a clear vision of personal distress: I was in ocean waters swimming against currents that were pulling me seaward, unable to make it back to land. The vision came and went but was always the same. It was in full color and so intrinsically real that I would sink into myself, so to speak, with each reappearance and I had a hard time holding on to present reality. The vision slowly subsided over twenty four hours and finally went away. My TM teacher said: "Something good had happened." I was not reassured.

In 1979, after meditating regularly for eight years and not feeling particularly enlightened by it, I decided to take the advanced meditation course called TM-Sidhis, hoping to get better overall results from the daily practice. At that time, I owned and operated a magazine publishing business in Laguna Beach, California. After learning the TM-Sidhis, I continued my meditation program with the added technique for another six years without noticeable advances, apart from having less concern about everything in general.

The Plunge

Most of the people I met through the TM movement in California had moved to Fairfield, Iowa, where they practiced their meditation in one of the big golden domes on the Maharishi International University (MIU) campus, located in Fairfield. There was a dome for women and a dome for men, each with space for a thousand people. Meditating in large groups like that was said to be much more profound, and you didn't have to be an MIU student to participate. That was an incentive for me; most of my friends were there and the cost of living in Iowa was about half of what it was in Laguna Beach.

I sold my business and moved to MIU in January, 1986. The change of pace and new horizons were instantly rejuvenating: a circle of close friends with a common cause and living on a college campus at my age were immediate boosts to morale and ego. My friends and I credited TM and TM-Sidhis in the golden dome for this new lease on life. One of the other alleged benefits of doing TM is that you will receive the support of nature in every endeavor: I felt supported; I believed it all.

I joined a staff group at the Maharishi Capital of the Age of Enlightenment (MCAE) on the MIU campus. There are "Capitals" (MCAEs) in major cities throughout the world to administer local TM-movement functions, viz., promoting, lecturing, and teaching the TM and TM-Sidhi programs, holding regular meditator meetings, residence courses, large-group World Peace Assemblies (WPAs), recruiting and training new teachers and other agenda. The WPAs tend to reduce crime rates and bring about world peace when people do the TM-Sidhis in large groups, according to the Maharishi whose word was never challenged.

Capital staff people were given room and board, free access to the domes, time for extra meditation, a monthly stipend and other benefits including ayurvedic services. It was a good practical arrangement, I thought: close to the dome for improving my program and a focus of complementary activity for balance.

As time went on, I began to notice the tendency of staff people I worked with and others on the MIU campus to accept without question every new movement dogma, dictum, fee-for-services teaching and Age of Enlightenment product. World-view knowledge appeared to be missing. With notable exceptions, people were generally laid back and impressionable; some were simply mesmerized it seemed. Conversations were usually limited to movement subjects, what the Maharishi had said about one thing or another, or how to earn money. Time allotted for work assignments was always short and staff productivity typically low; there was no real work ethic. I didn't understand all of this at first; I thought it was inconsistent with Maharishi's "ideal society" of which MIU was to be a microcosm. But I tended to ignore it, went about my business, and kept my own counsel.

By then, I had become director of MCAE operations running two Capital departments on the MIU campus. As director of operations I observed meditators daily, several in my departments, who would get "hung up" during the day half way between what appeared to be the inward focus of meditation while attempting to do their job effectively, especially long-time meditators. I, too, was somewhat affected in this manner, but my work ethic and position of authority required a strong outward focus that counterbalanced this tendency most of the time.


Although enthusiastic at first with old and new friends at MIU, and with the buzz of dome dynamics, by 1989 I had become disillusioned with the entire program. It had been eighteen years since beginning the practice of transcendental meditation, nine years with the advanced TM-Siddhis technique, and there were no meaningful changes in my life, even from regular group meditation in the golden dome.

I continued to think and perform more or less as I always had in spite of being in a mild state of trance from continuous meditation routines, daily knowledge meetings and tapes, and incessant conversations full of movement clichés, slogans and euphemisms. Any merits that a person had and every positive event that occurred were always credited to group meditation; negative behavior and events were explained as being caused by one's "unstressing" or dome non-attendance.

I began to see through all this. Apart from being more rested and experiencing the benefits of relaxation, and feeling somewhat trance-euphoric, the big changes promised by TM teachers didn't happen. What was happening to me and to people under my very nose was the tendency to be unproductive, "spaced out" in the head, emotionally flat and forgetful. I noticed involuntary twitching from time to time. Delusions of grandeur were rampant.

Reported in the article: "TM in Conflict" in the San Francisco Examiner, Sept. 10, 1989: "A local Jefferson County attorney in Fairfield, Iowa said he had to commit approximately twenty MIU students to mental institutions," and that "a study completed [by Leon S. Otis] at Stanford Research Institute involving 574 subjects concluded that forty percent of those who had practiced TM for eighteen months or longer complained of being chronically 'anxious, confused, frustrated, depressed, and/or withdrawn.'"

The TM people I had known for years were obviously no more enlightened from their meditation routines than I was and the whole range of human frailties remained among them, with some mighty bizarre mutations appearing here and there. In addition to customary health problems, there was affectation, complacency, lack of objectivity, mood-making, bad manners, and undefined fears, especially among the long-term votaries.

I also noticed that local and national crime rates had increased dramatically during the past three years, contrary to Maharishi's prediction that group practice of TM-Sidhis would "take care of the crime." All of this clearly repudiated the enlightenment and world-saving formulae of the Maharishi, I thought, the yogi from the Valley of the Saints. In the parlance of cult-exit counseling, I had just "snapped."

I decided eighteen years of TM charades were enough, gave notice, stopped doing my meditation program and moved into Fairfield to do some writing. Two years later I moved to Iowa City where I became involved in the church again and with the University of Iowa. I met Iowans and began to establish real world roots in The Hawkeye State.

Copyright ©1995 Albert Miller. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of the author.


Sudarsha said...

Apparently with genuine altruism he wanted to help people reach high potential.

Thanks for posting this, John. Mahesh's apparently genuine altruism still rings true today in a way. It was his public face which he manipulated with consummate skill.

But, behind the curtain, the little man pulling the levers and flipping the switches was anything but altruistic. And, of course, no matter how he manipulated or who, TM just didn't do what he said it would, at least not on any scale bigger than the individual and even there he only had anecdotal evidence.

There's so much here in this reprint from 1995. I hope everyone will peruse it for those subtleties that not only ring true, but point the way to independence from our delusions about TM and Maheshism.

Deborah1900 said...

This is an amazing story. Eighteen years. How did he ever break free?

Sudarsha said...

It's a very good question, Deborah. I escaped, as it were after about 9 and a half years, then it began to come back to haunt me about 5 or so years later. The real haunting, so to speak, came with the Internet and a.m.t. But by then I had this business of questioning down a little better. There were a lot of really, really PRO-TMers broadcasting their spiel and vitriol there. That was the most convincing and most liberating experience and really got me to questioning.

ed said...

"....That was the most convincing and most liberating experience and really got me to questioning....."

This is the point in a persons' experience of TM that interests me.

Once the questioning begins, what happens next?

I wonder if the questioning goes to the heart of the matter. Many people (including me) went to other teachers and traditions to see whether something was missed or over looked. Changing meditation techniques reminds me of substituting methadone for heroin or one addiction for another.

WHAT is next?
Really, what is wrong?
What is missing?

Simply say that everything spiritual is a waste of time?
Blaming MMY and the TMO?

What happens to others when the questioning begins?
Do they arrive at any answers that satisfy them?
Or, it is more running around in circles?

Can anyone REALLY throw away the "search"?
If a person could, then this would be a REAL success...

jb9876 said...

Very informative and useful story. However, since I am a skeptic of skeptics, I'd like to point out that there is really nothing new here. All organizations are like this. Join the GOP, for example, where they promise to make the world better, and then just mismanage as usual. There you will find the zombie followers and the lying leaders. It's telling that the author went back to the Church again. Is there a pattern here? Do people raised in Church ever really leave, and so cannot fully embrace anything non-church in the same unexamined mythos-saved-in-the-future way? It amazes me that with all of the sexual predation stories and other news, the Church is still divinely led. I think the root problem is that people find that the in church its easy to believe but not act, but in the non-church approaches, like TM-as-cult, its easy to act, but there is nothing rational to believe in.

ed said...

"I think the root problem is that people find that the in church its easy to believe but not act, but in the non-church approaches, like TM-as-cult, its easy to act, but there is nothing rational to believe in."

My take is that the average person does not have a burning desire to understand what "this" is all about.

It is easy and comforting to think that visiting a certain place like a church, temple or mosque, saying formulated verses called prayers and participating in rituals will somehow guarantee your salvation pr enlightenment.

A marge majority of so-called civilized humans truly and sincerely embrace this behavior. They DO feel good about it and rarely have second thoughts. this a true settling and resolution of the doubts that plague us all or learning how to whistle loudly in the dark. Maybe, if a LARGE group is in the dark, the chorus of whistling creates the appearance of security.

The real question is whether the is a path to walk and a place to go other than here. Of maybe, is there a state consciousness that results in perceiving existence in a manner that resolves our doubts and insecurity?

Or - is the Yogic and Meditative Path merely another assortment of tunes we can whistle in the dark giving us the feeling that "we are special, select and fortunate".

Oh yes, we ARE lost and clueless but we are a very special group that embraces the wisdom of lost fools.
So unlike you that are lost. WE are TRULY lost!!

Quoting others is a symptom of laziness and ignorance but sometimes others can clarify certain ideas.

I happen to like what is recorded as the Six Words of Tilopa.

Don't Recall: Let go of what has passed
Don't Imagine: Let go of what may come
Don't Think: Let go of what is happening now
Don't Examine: Don't try to figure anythin out
Don't Control: Don't try to make anything happen
Rest: Relax, right now and Rest

During those times where we step back and let go,
the advice of Tilopa reflects the approach i feel is

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