Monday, January 07, 2013

Book Review: "CULT" by William Howell

One of the things the TM movement promises is that the practice of TM leads to "enlightenment."  During his lifetime, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi confirmed that a very few people had reached enlightenment through his technique.

One of those people was Robin Carlsen, a TM teacher who, on a TM course in Switzerland in the 1970s, had an overwhelming experience of the divinity, beauty and unity of the creation.  At a subsequent course meeting, he described his experience to Mahesh (MMY).  Mahesh pronounced that Carlsen was "somewhere in the layers of wholeness."  Most course participants attending interpreted Mahesh's words to mean that that Carlsen had reached enlightenment.  (Mahesh never contradicted their belief.)

About a decade later, Carlsen, in the midst of lawsuits and countersuits against the TM organization, agreed to put the lawsuits to rest if Mahesh would unequivocally answer four questions.  The first question was, "Is Robin Carlsen enlightened?"  Mahesh answered "No."

We'll never know what Mahesh meant the first time.  However, after Mahesh's first comment, in Switzerland, Carlsen was generally believed by TMers to be "enlightened."  Carlsen then went on to slowly establish his own courses, techniques, ashram.  Over time, as he became more self-centered, manipulative and sadistic, his organization became spiritually and emotionally destructive and ground down the self-confidence and mental health of his followers.

William Howell, the author of "CULT," has changed most names in this memoir, but not the facts.  The name "Robin Carlsen" is never mentioned.  Instead, the former TM teacher at the center of this story is called "Justin Snow."  But this reviewer (that's me, Laurie) and  others believe that the book is about Robin Carlson.

The book "CULT" by William Howell tells the true story of how Howell, (then a TM teacher) had accompanied "Justin Snow" on his stroll in the Swiss Alps on the day that "Snow" had his divine experience.  Howell goes on to tell of how he followed Snow, lived at his community, followed his teachings, attended his courses, and suffered through years of increasing degradation and emotional stress until he left.  His other friends gradually left too.  They then helped each other, through mutual support, to exit, deprogram and rebuild their lives.  This book is that story of Howell's closing days with TM, his entry into Carlson's destructive cult, and his leaving and healing afterwards.  

I found this book fascinating because I have always wondered what a person would be like when they had reached the goal of "enlightenment" that we TMers were all ardently devoting ourselves to under Maharishi's guidance.  I also found this book helpful in that it detailed the exit and recovery of Howell and his friends.

You can read the book for free online here:

In the copyright section of the book, William Howell writes:  "This book is copyrighted solely to prevent its being misused.  People sincere about spiritual development, peace and growth of human awareness throughout the world have the author's permission to reproduce material from this book - with citing."

You can also read more about Robin Carlsen on TM-Free blog.  (Note tags/labels related to this post.)

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