Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Scientifically validated. Except when it's not.

Promoters of the Transcendental Meditation program, including the David Lynch Foundation, always work to place scientific studies of the introductory practice of TM in the forefront of any media coverage of the subject. These often uncritical stories in media, sometimes written and placed by TM teachers themselves, are a tiny part of the whole story. TM is only the initial product offered by the global TM movement; there are many other things related to TM, sold by the same organization, offered as enhancements to TM practice, that they claim will improve one's life. The details of such additional practices and products are generally not discussed in any detail, if at all, during the initial process of offering and teaching TM; almost all of them are supported by zero recognizable scientific evidence, and in fact, some of them are completely ridiculous when viewed from a rational, skeptical perspective.

One such set of products is "Maharishi Vedic Astrology." Yes, you read that right. The same organization that promotes the allegedly scientifically validated Transcendental Meditation sells astrology. This form of astrology, which is, as with all things sold by the TM movement, is claimed to be part of the religious, Vedic traditions of India, and thus should be accepted without question as being safe, effective, and of course, better than any other form of astrology that might be offered, say, by your friendly neighborhood storefront psychic.

But as with all things related to TM, there is a price tag, and unlike your neighborhood storefront psychic, "Maharishi Jyotish" consultations, which claim to offer predictions of future events after determination of a horoscope, are billed at the rate of ten dollars per minute, in fifteen-minute increments.

The other part of this "Maharishi Vedic Astrology" is "Maharishi Yagya," which basically involves the performance of various rituals of Vedic origin by specially trained people (analogous to clergymen, exclusively male) to create alleged "life-supporting effects." The basic claim here is similar to the core doctrine the movement holds with respect to all sounds they believe are "Vedic" in nature, whether that be the mantras offered in TM, or more elaborate rituals or recitations of Vedic scriptures. As I described in detail earlier, in my article, "Is it a religion, or a dessert topping?" all of these practices are undisputably those of religion, not of science. As with Jyotish, they don't come cheap; these rituals are performed for fees ranging into the thousands of dollars.

The religious nature of these products is somewhat downplayed on the TM movement's own publicly-available websites, such as http://www.maharishiyagya.org/. But if one signs up for regular e-mailings about the subject, the underlying religious nature of the program is quite explicit, up through the attribution of various commonly recognized deities of the religious traditions of India as being the means by which these products supposedly have an effect on individuals and society.

Here is an example of this kind of mailing, excerpted from this month's message from Maharishi Yagya Programs USA, sent from the address, maharishiyagya@maharishi.net.

Maharishi Yagya Performances
During the Day of
Maha Shiva Ratri
Promote Spiritual and
Material Progress
20th February 2012
Maha Shiva Ratri

In the ancient Vedic tradition Shiva is known as the embodiment of perfect silence. The Sanskrit word ‘Shiva’ has been translated as ‘the pure one’, because he represents pure consciousness beyond all activities of the three gunas (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas). The trident he is carrying in his right hand represents his sovereignty over the field of activities of the three gunas.

Maha Shiva Ratri
Day of Shiva

20th February

Awakening Shiva in One’s Consciousness
Promotes Enlightenment and Material Progress
Shiva is said to be the destroyer of ignorance. He is often represented as being immersed in deep meditation. When the mind turns inward in the practice of the Transcendental Meditation® program, it comes closer and closer to the total value of knowledge within. At every step the ignorance decreases and the knowledge increases. In the Vedic texts knowledge is said to be the greatest purifier. The name ‘Shiva’ has therefore also been translated as ‘the One who purifies everyone’. Purification of mind and body is the basis for spiritual and material progress.
Maharishi Yagya performances on this special day of Shiva bring knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment and fulfillment to the individual and help to accomplish the following purposes:

  • To promote spiritual progress
  • For gaining knowledge
  • Prevention of illness and danger
  • To improve relationship
  • To promote freedom from obstacles
  • To promote fulfillment of desires
  • Removal of resistances and troubles for happiness and health in life and promotion of positive support
  • Promoting good fortune; elimination of obstacles and promotion of supportive influence on the basis of the Kundali
Maharishi Yagya Performances Improve One’s Life
Maharishi Yagya performances enliven the Laws of Nature in your own physiology and harness the power of Natural Law to fulfill your desires. If you are interested in Maharishi Jyotish consultations and Maharishi Yagya performances, please contact our office for further details

These sorts of promotional mailings run completely opposite to the position that the global TM teaching organization has taken for decades, that everything about TM was, in fact, not religious in nature. Today, that position is just a bit modified, in that the practice of just the introductory program of TM, itself, is now claimed to be not religious, or secular, in nature. This modified claim is itself still a bit disingenuous if the internal goal and doctrine of the movement, and the mission of each and every current teacher of officially-sanctioned Transcendental Meditation, is entirely centered on the stepwise, progressively-revealed, inevitable, induction of meditators into such advanced programs which are entirely religion based. There's also the small matter that this sort of ritual and doctrine were always at the core of the organization, even if such things were generally not talked about or kept "private," as with the details of the "puja" and "Holy Tradition" which must be witnessed by each person who learns Transcendental Meditation today.

The marketing of TM attempts to emphasize some claim of scientific validity, naming some hundreds of supporting scientific studies to create some reputation of effectiveness. These attempts are somewhere between futile and ridiculous, when the totality of the Transcendental Meditation program - which includes astrology, horoscopes, and such antiscientific practices, offered with the intent that they eventually become everyday aspects of each individual's practice of TM - are included in any rational evaluation of TM claims.

Photo credit: John Stephen Dwyer [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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