I learned TM in 1968. I spent two years as one of Mahesh's secretaries. Then, I abandoned TM/Mahesh in 1976 (or thereabouts). I learned a lot and came away not as damaged as many I knew and observed. So between then and now, I have given my life-experience some consideration.
Yes, to begin, I am well aware that many claimed and a few demonstrated that TM was a very good thing for them. Also, many demonstrated far from beneficial results - yet, the movement seems to not know about this. Mahesh himself said that for a coin to go in the marked, it had to have two sides. But he persisted in only acknowledging just one side of the coin of TM, to the detriment of many. [That word-play will be clear later.]
Thus, the Pro-TM faction sees only good in TM/Maheshism. The other side, well, not so much. But the idea that TM/Maheshism is a cult has been a fixture of our experience and way of describing our involvement.
I have begun to question that notion. Yes, we attribute "negative" to the idea of cult and since we have many negative experiences and feelings, "cult" obviously follows. But I am not sure that that is good reasoning. On close examination during my tenure with Mahesh and on looking back: many wanted a community, a cult...ure. At first, Mahesh did not approve, but then relented: community, a TM cult...ure was good for the sticktoitiveness of the movement. It actually attracted more than it put off, at least in the early days.
Let us also not neglect to recall that Mahesh declared in no uncertain terms that TM was in no way a religion. Again, in the beginning. That the TMO [TM Organization] now celebrates Hindu festivals, deities and scriptures (how easily we overlook the pūjā - an act of worship) seems to lead to the nondescript idea that Maheshism is an NRM, a new religious movement. There is nothing particularly negative about that; it is what it is. But again it shows how Mahesh let things be as long as they were working in his favour - and, cynically, I see Mahesh giving, to a somewhat limited extent, what people wanted, as long as they gave him what he wanted.
But, why do I not think that the TMO is an outright cult? For starters, no one in the organization makes any effort to keep anyone "in" and no one cares if anyone leaves or even bad-mouths the organization. Mahesh himself never seemed to care about this or dignify it with any sort of response. On the other hand, cults are kind of touchy about being bad-mouthed and sometimes take steps to keep disgruntled followers quiet. Yet, no one on the "inside" seems to bat or have batted an eye-lash over everything knowable and secret about TM having long been available on the Internet! It would appear that the TMO could not care less. Mahesh simply laughed off bad press.
The saying that there is no such thing as bad press, while generally attributed to persons in the entertainment industry, seems also to have been one of Mahesh's mantras! He was so charming that, at least for the believers, it was just a sign of his success - or what they thought was success.
Where does this lead? I think Mahesh made it fairly clear that he didn't like the treatment he got from Guru Dev AND I think he, like so many Indians from the poor side of the divide, lustfully envied rich people. In the India I knew in the mid-70s, there were only the fantastically wealthy and the unbelievably poor with only the smallest inklings of what might have then been the hesitant emergence of a middle-class.
The RICH were envied. Being RICH was "proof" that you were somebody. AND everyone I knew yearned to be somebody.
I think Mahesh wanted to be somebody; he probably felt that he needed recognition because he worked so hard ... did Guru Dev notice? He wanted the proof and, in the terms he seems to have understood, he got it.
That he openly said his organization was for the rich, that the rich knew how to handle money and, by extension, knew how to make his movement long-lived, is no surprise to anyone. That he pandered to the rich, sucked up to the rich and beguiled money from them is also no surprise and that the Pro-TM side has long rationalized this behaviour on his part is not surprising, either. How did we never actually see that Mahesh was the movement. It was always and only all about him, his ideas, his (the world plan and Mahesh are the same thing) plan.
Here's a curious thing to observe, something about which I wrote many years ago and didn't recognize at the time, that I was on to something more than the superficial and obvious: in several monster courses from Mallorca through Fiuggi and ending in La Antilla, Mahesh trained (his term, not mine) several thousand teachers. It seems that anyone with the course fee and some persistence "passed", as it were. As well, there was the subtle undertone on these courses that "more" was coming!
Just when he concocted his so-called "sidhi" programme [misspelling siddhi so that he could copyright it] is unknown; obviously he knew something about the yoga sūtras (yogadarśana) because at least one and possibly two of his so-called "special" techniques are taken directly from the third section of Patañjali's now, very well known text. And these "techniques" were known and discussed on the India courses (according to a friend who attended several India courses).
Cleverly, "innocently" (!) he sold his "sidhi" course to his recently churned out and salivating-for-more new teachers at something like $3,000 US a pop. I have serious doubts that this was some kind of koinkydink!
Mahesh was a remarkably intelligent, quick witted individual. He was clever, persuasive, obviously manipulative and driven by ... desire? ... greed? I think his constant reference to more and more was not just a turn of phrase. He knew exactly what he was doing before Mallorca! I think the test was the larger-than-the-India-courses course in Estes Park. He could endlessly give out the same old as well as new mantras. If he could do so for the 400 or so who attended Estes Park, then he could hold gigantic courses ... because even before Estes Park he had a rather clear cut, if not entirely honest plan: create a fan-base, create a desire - (he had enough charisma to sell levitation, after all) - but, was the near sacred World Plan the objective or were his intentions less "spiritual" - rake in the money.
The more I ponder this really non-spiritual (as in Spiritual Regeneration Movement) action, the more it seems clear that Mahesh was proving to somebody that he was SOMEBODY because he was so rich he could get others to invest their money in his bonkers schemes - to the extent that he ran a full double page advertisement in the New York Times and two other respected papers in which he really tried to blackmail the US government into giving him a billion dollars to test his butt-bouncing, invincibility claptrap.
Nothing came of it, but a whole lot of the Pro-TM contingent chipped in and did a lot of butt-bouncing with massively unremarkable results to show for it. Some sources even contended that crime increased during the time he tried out (at their own expense, not his) his master-plan - but neither that report nor the TMO's glowing report seems to actually hold water.
On Mahesh's part, for which he seems to have sacrificed his health, credibility and respectability as he continued to obsessively preach his nonsense and feed off those sufficiently gullible who hungered for the weird and wonderful as alternative fact, Mahesh, to be crude about it, lined his own pockets! OK, there are no pockets in a dhoti. But, there are Swiss bank accounts and now wonderfully rich relatives in India.
Oh, and CC? One person, maybe, whom Mahesh seems to have confirmed as real? Nearly 60 years and "one maybe" ? ? ? But fantastic wealth by Indian standards and not so shabby by Western standards as well amounts to something called success, even if TM/Maheshism itself remains mostly a feel-good relaxation response and no one levitates and the world is getting more and more dangerous and the TMO/Mahesh gave us substantial excuses and placed lots of blame everywhere but where it would have done the most good.
Lots and lots of so-called "scientific papers" don't really prove anything (talk, as someone said, doesn't cook the rice).
A cult of our own making as we yearned for community and cult...ure, yet we do not have anything else to which to cling as we face the existential horror? An NRM to keep away the darkness? Delusion, magical-thinking and those wonderful alternative facts are not real - tasty ... of course, but when push comes to shove, not real. For this so many paid so much, sacrificed so much not realizing that, in private, behind closed doors, Mahesh laughed at his followers.