Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Making Sense of a Nonsensical Movement

The following is something I wrote earlier tonight as part of some private correspondence. It might be helpful in trying to make sense of the TM movement's nonsense, particularly when it comes to the constant insistence that TM is "not a religion." The truth of the matter is not easily explained, in large part because of inconsistent concepts as to what a religion is.

  1. The most accurate, broad self-characterization of "Maharishi Mahesh Yogi" and the organization he established ("Global Country of World Peace") is as a means of Vedic revivalism. "The complete theoretical and practical knowledge of the Veda and its profound significance for life has been revived and understood in a scientific framework by Maharishi’s Vedic Science and Technology..." which can be found in exactly this language here and here, and similarly elsewhere.

  2. While TM devotees attempt to separate "Vedic" from "Hindu," there is very little to support this separation, and what's effectively a simple word substitution. TM devotees often claim that their particular interpretation of ancient texts that they call "Veda" is the pure form of knowledge from which later traditions they consider corrupted, such as Hinduism, were derived. These assertions are evidently unique to those associated with the TM organization, and allied religious groups in India.  All that is being sold as "Vedic" under the TM organization's auspices, that was not reinterpreted, misinterpreted or completely manufactured by Maharishi and other group leaders over time, traces to the spiritual and cultural traditions of India that are usually referred to as "Hindu." However, much of it has certain unusual twists or doctrines unique to the organization. Among these is a group of males wearing crowns and white outfits who've paid 1 million USD to become "rajas" as part of a so-called "Global Government," and who may run the organization.

  3. Likewise, there is no support for describing any part of the Vedas as "scientific." The attempt to draw connections and parallels between aspects of the Vedas, Vedic or Hindu practices, and Western scientific concepts has been common among Hindus for decades if not centuries, and continues as part of the TM organization doctrine. There is no scientific support for such claims made by TM devotees. As an example, the organization has long claimed direct association between Vedic concepts and those of quantum mechanics, put forward by longtime TM devotee and American leader ("raja") John Hagelin. While Hagelin is a physicist, his pronouncements of this nature have gained zero support from others.

  4. Supremacy of the Vedas, and Vedic practices, is foundational to the TM organization's purpose, as it says at the bottom of this page under the title "Everything Should Be Vedic." This would include the folding of other cultures and other religious practices into a system in which Vedic practice is supreme. The gaining of alleged positive benefits at every level (personal/social/national/planetary), including the "world peace"  often referred to by proponents including David Lynch (and internally as "Heaven on Earth" or Sat Yuga), is the motivator for the organization's attempt to popularize "Vedic Knowledge." The products and services sold by the organization, of which Transcendental Meditation is usually one's initial contact, are the actual mechanism by which "Vedic Knowledge" is disseminated. Unlike TM, on which the organization has focused its efforts to obtain scientific research on which to base its claims of efficacy, there is very little, if any, research on any of the other product categories, listed at the bottom of this page.

  5. Note that in this description, things that are part of implementing this "Vedic knowledge" are practices, not beliefs.  There is no profession of faith or anything of that sort which many Westerners associate with "religion." It is in this way that TM and all the Vedic products are similar to consumer products, in that they are sold as being effective, but the buyer need not know, or care, or even believe in, the specifics of why or how they are effective. (Do you know or care why your stick of deodorant works?) The key activity becomes marketing, and everything to support the claims of efficacy in the marketing, which is why the organization seems obsessed with getting any possible support, no matter how shaky, preliminary, or unreplicated it may be from the scientific community it can possibly dig up. Incessant name-dropping of celebrities who sign on to the program is also part of this process.

  6. From the TM organization's view, the whole point is to recruit individuals into a system of practices, that are believed to be a correct, pure implementation of "Vedic knowledge," to bring about "Heaven on Earth." While prospective meditators are told in introductory lectures that the ultimate purpose is to bring about world peace, they are never clear about the details of how that's supposed to happen. World peace in this system is brought about, not through individual, personal development, but through adherence to Vedic "knowledge" in every detail across all aspects of life through the purchase and use of the organization's products and services by many people in aggregate. It is at this point where involvement with TM takes the form of participation in a religious enterprise without knowledge or consent; while the individual meditator may not need to believe anything, and may even deny belief, may even think everything about the organization is completely bogus, and in the practice of meditation (the introductory product) may not be doing anything even recognizable as a religious practice, the motivations of the teachers and marketers of TM are obviously in a different realm and of a different nature, are based in a belief system that holds to unusual notions of causation that are not clearly disclosed, and that would be considered by many to be religious, although unorthodox if not completely bizarre by Western standards.

    There is no rational or scientific basis for the claim that the more people adopt these products, the more likely "Heaven on Earth" will come about, in the same way that, to cover some of the more outrageous claims made for its other products, an east-facing home of proper Vedic proportions will give its owner health and wealth, spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars to have someone in India perform a ritual would likewise give the buyer health and wealth, or that bouncing on foam rubber while thinking certain thoughts... the list goes on like this for a while.  These more advanced products carry obvious spiritual or religious connotations, while the organization continues to insist that their basis is entirely "scientific."

    Meanwhile, the simple practice of meditation does provide some benefit for some people. For some, the initial benefit serves as validation for other claims made by the organization for its other products, and becomes part of the sales pitch for deeper involvement with its programs, and continues the intended intake path.

A longer post covering similar issues.

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