A few days ago I was reading the April 30, 2012 issue of The New Yorker magazine. I chanced upon an article entitled, "The Secret of the Temple: The discovery of treasure worth billions of dollars shakes southern India" by Jake Halpern. The article tells about the treasure found in the catacombs of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum, India, and the actions and attitudes that followed this discovery.
Although Transcendental Meditation and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi are never mentioned, I found tremendous food for thought in the article. I realized that though Indians speak English and were influenced by the British, their world view may be so different from Westerners' that their words, logic, ethics, may all mean something very different from a Westerner's concepts. As I read, I experienced culture shock as I tried to translate the Indian values into Western terms. And I realized that some of the incidents described in the article might be instructive for Westerners trying to understand the conundrum that is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
All quotes are taken from the article.
1. What do you make of Mahesh's idea of giving Tony Nader his weight in gold?
"...[I]n centuries past, maharajas had performed a ceremony in which they weighed local princes approaching adulthood, then donated to the temple an equivalent weight in gold...." (p. 49)
2. What about Mahesh's teachings about God: Guru Dev, humans, names of gods and visual representations of gods are God?
An Indian lawyer explains that the statue of Vishnu "is like an incarnation of God, so it is as if God himself is coming out of the temple" when the idol is taken outdoors...."Like many observant Hindus, [he] believes that a temple's deity...resides within its walls...." (p. 49)
"...Photographs of [an Indian historian's ancestors hanging on the walls of his home] were adorned with flowers. Like many Hindus, [he] reveres his ancestors almost as deities...." (p. 50)
"As a Hindu, I see my father and mother as gods. We won't raise our voice against them." (p. 56)
3. What about all the money the TM organization takes in? What about its apparent lack of ethics and social conscience around money? What about Mahesh's apparent comfort in meshing wealth with spirituality?
"...Worshippers make offerings of flowers, incense, silver and gold. Whatever wealth accumulates belongs to the deity. [One lawyer's]...driving purpose in life [was] to serve Vishnu and, in so doing, protect the deity's hoard...." (p. 49)
"Wouldn't it be a good thing," asked the Western author, "if the deity's wealth were used to help people?" An Indian replied that because of government corruption, the money wouldn't end up in the right hands. (p. 57)
Communist activists in the town didn't press for the release of the money to the people because they'd risk alienating their Hindu constituents. The author asked, "What do you think Marx and Lenin would have done?" They replied, "When they are reincarnated, we must ask them." (p. 57)
"...When India became independent, the maharajahs...continued to preside over the temple, both as spiritual leaders and as custodians of the deity's wealth. For centuries, the royal family's management of the temple received little scrutiny...." (p. 49)
"...In India the wealth...in...Hindu temples is viewed largely in spiritual, not monetary, terms...."
Says an American scholar of Hinduism, "People make deals with deities, and if they receive what they want they pay up." (p. 50)
4. What about Mahesh's lax attitude towards science?
An Indian historian believes the treasure vault "...was connected to the temple's sanctum sanctorum by a 'spiritual charge' which emitted special vibrations that could be felt only 'if you are exceptionally lucky.' This energy should not be disturbed....[T]he picture of the cobra outside [the] Vault gave a clear warning." (pp. 54-55)
The author "asked what would happen if the energy was disturbed. The [historian] told me a story she's heard about an Indian temple that contained a...levitating idol...and it continued to hover until workers began renovating the temple; suddenly the idol came crashing down....Several
gurus had...warned her that opening [the vault] would bring 'danger and damage' to the city." (p. 55)
5. What about Mahesh's lax attitude toward logic, proof and truth?
The Western author notes that it may always remain a mystery whether the vault had ever been robbed. The temple executive, he said, "initially assured me that nobody had entered it for more than a century, but then admitted that there were no records....How could he be certain that nothing had been stolen? 'I am sorry, I cannot answer that question,' he said. 'It is believed that nothing has been stolen.' " (p. 54)
6. What about Mahesh's attitude towards astrology, fate, belief, rituals, puja, divine intervention?
"As the citizens debated what to do about [the vault], the royal family and officials from the temple invited a group of astrologers to hold a four-day ceremony...in order to ascertain the will of the deity....One of the astrologers...said that the key to making the ceremony work was finding a child who could serve as the 'instrument' through which the deity conveyed his wishes...." When the child was found (through coincidences termed "a matter of destiny"), they seated the boy in front of "a lamp, a mirror, a piece of cloth, some grains of rice, betel leaves, a betel nut, an ancient gold coin, and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. A 'sacred powder' was sprinkled on the ground....The boy was presented with 108 conch shells....As the boy arranged the shells, everyone chanted prayers. 'We prayed to God to show the kid the right message....It's all science. (Emphasis added by TMFree editor.) It's like the doctor who diagnoses a disease from various symptoms.' " (p. 55)
After the ceremony was completed, the astrologer "said, 'It is advised that the wealth found in the chambers is not moved out....These are not just valuables but also divine, and displacing this will invite the wrath of the Lord.' He warned that opening the doors...would 'bode ill for the people and for the land....[T]he deity had already made its displeasure known. The biggest proof...is that [a proponent of opening the vault] has died.' " (p. 55) (Emphasis added by TM-Free editor.)