Monday, September 28, 2020

Maharishi's many euphemisms for "God"

The TM organization has for almost a half-century now denied the religious nature of its methods and doctrine, almost to the point of absurdity. The fact of the matter is that almost all of the TM promotional material - books, websites, the content of introductory lectures - is littered with various synonyms for, what people in much of the world call “God.” More specifically, the underlying system is that of a Vedic, or Hindu, cosmology, and there’s a central concept of supreme divinity or ultimate reality in the TM subculture that they repeat under many alternate names. 

From a TM organization, in India, video. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva
behind Maharishi and his guru, Brahmananda Saraswati.

That supreme being in Hinduism is a triad of deities known as the Trimūrti: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer, and Shiva the destroyer. Direct references to the Trimūrti are not common in TM culture, but they can be found, as in the video image above, and as in this excerpt of an address given by Maharishi in 2007 referencing a phrase that’s contained in the puja that’s the central ritual of TM instruction, in which the Trimūrti are mentioned in Sanskrit. I’ve emphasized the relevant parts here:

We are fortunate to perform Puja to Guru Dev because in Guru Dev we have the reality of Krishna—reality of Total Knowledge is embodiment of Total Knowledge. "Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnur, Guru Devo Maheshvarah, Guruh Sakshat Param Brahma, Tasmai Sri Gurave Namah." Guru Brahma—Guru is the creator. Guru Vishnu—Guru is the maintainer. Guru Devo Maheshvarah—Guru is eternal Shiva, absolute silence. And Guru Sakshat Param Brahma, and Guru is the summation of the three, diversity, and unity. Tasmai Sri Guruve Namah. That is why we bow down to Guru Dev. Bowing down to Guru Dev is in essence, in reality, subjecting ourself to that eternal unified state which is the be-all and end-all of existence.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Update: Chicago lawsuit against TM public schools program expanded into class action

Plaintiffs bringing legal action against the David Lynch Foundation (the DLF), a Chicago Public Schools district, and the University of Chicago, seeking redress as a result of the so-called "Quiet Time" program to introduce TM into public schools, have amended their complaint, making it a class action lawsuit.

Puja table set up for TM instruction.
The framed image is a registered trademark/service mark
held by Maharishi Foundation Liechtenstein in the United States.
Photo by the author.

Previously, from August 2020:

Lawsuit in progress: David Lynch Foundation abandons TM "Quiet Time" program in Chicago

Here's the relevant part of the amendment which was filed yesterday.

A. Class Definition(s)
94. The (b)(2) Injunctive and Declaratory Relief Class consists of:
All persons who are CPS students, CPS teachers, parents or legal guardians of CPS students directly associated with any CPS school facilitating the “Quiet Time” program, or any other program involving the practice of “Transcendental Meditation.”
95. The Three (b)(3) Sub-Classes consist of:
All students who attended a CPS school during a period when the school facilitated the “Quiet Time” program.

All teachers at CPS schools who were required to accommodate, endorse, facilitate, or enable the “Quiet Time” program at a CPS school where they were employed at the time.

All parents and legal guardians of students who attended a CPS school during a period when the school facilitated the “Quiet Time” program.

This is apparently the second class action lawsuit brought against organizations attempting to offer TM in public schools. In 1975 a California school district was the target of a class action for offering TM as an English elective, for credit, and as part of a physical education program. The suit was dismissed as moot after the school district declared that they would never again offer or recommend such courses.

The three defendants have not yet replied to the complaint, except to successfully challenge a demand for an immediate temporary restraining order.

The amended complaint may be viewed and downloaded, here.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Lawsuit in progress: David Lynch Foundation abandons TM "Quiet Time" program in Chicago

A lawsuit has recently been filed against the David Lynch Foundation (the DLF), a Chicago Public Schools district, and the University of Chicago as a result of the Transcendental Meditation organization’s effort to orchestrate what it called a “research study,” to demonstrate what they have claimed are the benefits of TM for high school students. The plaintiffs bringing this action include the student, parent and substitute teacher who testified at a Chicago Board of Education hearing one year ago. They alleged that, to participate in the program, students were required to participate in the TM initiation “puja” ritual, which had already been found to be religious in nature in a previous Federal court case. They also alleged that students were coerced in various ways to participate in the program and that class time was wasted on meditation. All of these activities were running under the “Quiet Time” moniker, the somewhat generic, obfuscating title that the DLF has given to its advocacy of TM in both public and private schools.

Puja table set up for TM instruction.
Fruit, flowers and handkerchief are generally provided by the prospective meditator.
Photo by the author.

Read the original story here at the TM-Free Blog, from August 2019:
Chicago Tribune reports on allegations made by high school students, that they were coerced to practice TM  

The plaintiffs, who also include an advocacy group and an association of local churches, asserted that they were deprived of their rights by the DLF, the public school system and the University of Chicago, by violating the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The suit seeks redress in the form of an immediate restraining order against these three institutions, and various injunctions against the teaching of TM in Chicago public schools. The broadest of these requests is for “a declaratory judgment that facilitating, establishing, implementing, or reimplementing the “Quiet Time” program, or any other program involving the practice of “Transcendental Meditation,” within or through any CPS school violates the United States Constitution.” Finally, the suit seeks to obtain “compensatory damages for the mental anguish and emotional distress suffered in connection with the constitutional deprivations suffered at the hands of the named Defendants.”

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Leslie's story: "The Truth Pissed Me Off"

This is another unsolicited, contributed story from a former TM meditator, Leslie (not her real name). She points out the habits that TM critics are quite familiar with: pervasive narcissism, isolation, avoidance, and dependence on others to live a life that's supposedly "without stress." Ultimately, for some, living with a long-time meditator, who's living a lifestyle centered on TM and adopting the movement's pervasive belief system - a lifestyle and belief that TM's proponents consistently maintain, does not exist - may be hazardous to your health.

Stock photo, not the contributor. (Shutterstock)
I learned TM in 1999 after meeting my husband-to-be, who was a long-time meditator and "Siddha." Soon we got married--and I moved from the U.S. to Europe where he lived. We would meditate together every day during the entire length of our marriage--15 years. 

We never joined any of the advanced programs due to the fact that we never had the funds to do so (or I should say, I never joined because he had already taken those advanced programs long before we met). But we started to get very interested in the developments in Fairfield, Iowa and the "Global Country of World Peace." We would have moved to Iowa if we had the funds. In a way, we had been in the "fringe" of the movement, just meditating on our own. My ex-husband did not practice the Siddhi program very often, and when he did, I never saw him do the yogic flying or even hops, only twitches in the body. He never told me any details about this program due to his "secrecy" vows. Through him, I learned about the many fantastic benefits of moving up on the Consciousness ladder, and he often described how "superior" he was in his physical perceptions, his creative power and his ability to read people--attributing those to the TM and Siddhi program, leading me to aspire to one day be able to take the advanced courses and move toward "Cosmic Consciousness."

During the entirety of our marriage, the theme of "living without stress"--one of the promises of TM--was prominent. It was his life goal and he made sure he did his part--he quit his job as soon as I moved in with him, letting me do all the hard work to bring home the bacon. Since then he never held any meaningful jobs for more than a short period of time. After 15 years of this, I was anything but "free from stress." However, "thanks to" the daily meditation, I felt I could go on with this lifestyle because it was helping me de-stress and forget about life's struggles. After all, we lived a life rather isolated from the rest of the world and felt "free" in our own world. But I developed a serious physical illness because of frustrations of not being able to develop a meaningful career for myself due to the need to support his creative career. I also had bouts of depressive episodes, burnout and suicidal ideation. Sometimes I would have outbursts of anger due to this internal frustration, but was gaslighted and my feelings dismissed.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Allen Ginsberg on Maharishi: "he sounds inexperienced or ignorant and unfamiliarly authoritarian"

There's this widespread misconception about the basic nature of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, that shows up in a lot of news reporting and reminiscing about him, even in his New York Times obituary, where they say, "he was often dismissed as a hippie mystic."

What doesn't seem to have been mentioned very often is that the yogi detested "hippies." His politics, as much as he ever expressed them, were quite illiberal and entirely supportive of the "establishment," and he maintained ties with right-wing, Hindu nationalist politicians in India. Here in the US, many of his followers were of that class that are today often called the "one percent" - celebrities, businessmen, and billionaires like Oprah Winfrey ($2.7 billion) and Ray Dalio ($18.7 billion). (That's why I often call TM "the favorite meditation technique of the om percent.") Maharishi's fabled ashram in Rishikesh was paid for in 1963 with a $100,000 donation (almost a million in today's dollars) from tobacco heiress Doris Duke ($1.3 billion at her 1993 death).

Girish Varma with India defense minister, and former
president of the BJP, Rajnath Singh, August 2019
The not-so-obvious political leanings of the founder of TM are still relevant today, when it turns out that his nephew and apparent heir to the TM movement in India, Girish Varma (aka Brahmachari Girish Ji) spends a lot of time hanging out with politicians of the ruling party in India, the Hindu supremacist/nationalist, right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Rather than obscuring or avoiding mention of those connections, as they used to, today all you need to do is follow Varma's Facebook to see the photographic evidence. In this photo he's meeting with the defense minister, congratulating him on his party's recent election victory.

With all that in mind, here's philosopher and poet Allen Ginsberg's description of his brief meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in January of 1968. This was published in the London underground newspaper, The International Times, and this article was reprinted in other underground and alternative newspapers in the following months.

The Maharishi and Me
by Allen Ginsberg

International Times, #26, Feb 16 - 29, 1968
Fifth Estate, #54, May 16 - 31, 1968

Allen Ginsburg in 1979.
Dutch National Archives -
 Wikimedia Commons
I saw Maharishi speak here January 21st and then went up to the Plaza Hotel that evening (I’d phoned for tickets to his organization and on return telephone call they invited me up, saying Maharishi wanted to see me)… so surrounded by his disciples I sat at his feet on the floor and listened while he spoke.

At a previous press conference I’d not been at I heard he’s said all sorts of outlandish things like poverty was laziness and I saw in “IT” (International Times, an English underground paper) his equatory communism—weakism. So after I was introduced I sat at his feet and literally started yelling at him… spoke for half an hour almost, challenging, arguing… all in good humor though his business managers and devotees gasped with horror occasionally. But I never got impolite and he stayed calm and rather sweet so no harm.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

It's time for... Transcendental Meditation Commenter Bingo!

This bingo card is culled from, and inspired by, comments on the TM-Free Blog Facebook page in recent months, and also from my experience online over the past 25 years. Particularly that free square in the middle!

This card is mostly based on the comments from meditators defending TM, but two squares are from the Christian, "TM will steal your eternal soul and cause demonic possession" sort of viewpoint, to which we don't subscribe nor support.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The dubious research claims of Transcendental Meditation, part 5: The bottom of the barrel of published TM research articles

Read this series from the beginning.

Read the previous installment of this series (Part 4).

David W. Orme-Johnson. From "Inaugurating the
Dawn of the Age of Enlightenment," 1975
We here at the TM-Free Blog have received a comment from David W. Orme-Johnson. He’s a former Maharishi University of Management psychology department chairman and a frequent defender and promoter of TM research studies. I’ve mentioned him and his website a number of times in previous parts of this series, “The dubious research claims of Transcendental Meditation.” He submitted his comment in response to the second part posted here at the TM-Free Blog on September 22, 2019, subtitled ‘"Peer review" doesn't always mean "quality" or "accuracy.”’ In 2015, he claimed to have no formal affiliation with the TM movement on his website, but a published comment that same year indicated that he was then associated with the “Research Desk, Maharishi Foundation USA.”

As a matter of editorial policy, the contributors to the TM-Free Blog don’t particularly care to reprint the TM movement’s marketing materials. There are thousands of TM movement operated or affiliated websites worldwide that serve that purpose. There is also, of course,  Orme-Johnson’s own website, “Truth About TM,” that contains plenty of defenses of TM research and a few rebuttals of critics from his point of view, that’s evidently very similar to that of the TM organization. Parts of his submitted comment are of a promotional nature, therefore I won’t be running his comment in the comments, or as a post, verbatim.

The "evidence-based" claim, as it appears on the website at the time of this writing.
I may write up a full response to Orme-Johnson’s comment at some later date. Since this is a series about the usual claims made by the TM movement, particularly with respect to research findings and how they are represented, particularly with respect to being published in “peer-reviewed” journals, I will respond here to two elements of his comment. The first part of his comment further illustrates the problems with TM research that contradict the TM movement’s claims that, among other things, Transcendental Meditation should be considered “evidence-based” because of this body of research studies. He wrote:

The second paper the blog uses to criticize TM research is a preliminary study by the late Sarina Grosswald and co-authors on ADHD. In children with ADHD, the study showed statistically significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and improvements in ADHD symptoms and executive function. The authors were obviously not naïve about experimental design, as the blog portrays them, because they said in the title that this was “An exploratory study”. 

This passage in Orme-Johnson’s comment leaves me chuckling to myself. The idea that calling their work “an exploratory study” excuses blatant problems and errors in their methods is, in my view, ridiculous. If the experimenters really wanted to draw serious attention to their work, which makes a rather novel if not controversial claim, why wouldn’t they take particular care to ensure that what they were doing wasn’t obviously problematic? Relying on self-reporting and self-controls, ensuring that the schools’ most prominent authority figure was an enthusiastic TM meditator, and coaching the student subjects to expect positive results - and recording that coaching on video! - are not excusable because the study was “exploratory.” If anything, these faults show that the claimed results were most likely the result of the kind of wishful thinking and confirmation bias common among TM meditators, and aren’t really worth considering for further study. But a paper like this, published in a third- or fourth-rate journal, provides the kind of story that’s commonly circulated among TM insiders, that reinforces, for them, that what they’re doing, spending time and money on, is a valid and worthwhile cause. It also provides fodder for press releases that are sent to reporters who aren’t in a position to approach these matters with the skepticism, resources or time to do anything other than to publish these claims verbatim without the most basic examination of how these conclusions were reached.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The dubious research claims of Transcendental Meditation, part 4: When "peer review" becomes "meditator review"

Read this series from the beginning.

Read the previous installment of this series (Part 3).

Cover of the final volume of the
Journal of Social Behavior and Personality.
Does this look like a legitimate, independent scientific journal to you?
As I’ve discussed in earlier parts of this series, the organizations that offer Transcendental Meditation (TM), including the David Lynch Foundation (DLF), have long claimed scientific legitimacy and validity for all the claims they regularly make for TM on the basis of scientific research. They imply that the fact that this research has “appeared in many leading, peer-reviewed journals” is as good as a formal stamp of approval, for the accuracy and legitimacy of everything they say in support of TM.

But what do they really mean when they use the phrase, “peer-review?” Earlier, I quoted David Orme-Johnson, the retired psychology department chairman at the TM movement’s university, Maharishi University of Management (MUM), who is currently a promoter of TM by way of his “Truth About TM” website:

Moreover, one purpose of the peer-reviewed process is to screen out studies that may have been biased by the orientation of the investigators. The numerous published studies on the Transcendental Meditation program have met the high standards of peer-review.

In the course of sorting through many of the research papers often cited on lists of TM research that appear on the website and elsewhere, I came upon an important detail, in a paper written by David Orme-Johnson and two other Maharishi University of Management staffers. This is in the context of a critique of two National Research Council (NRC) reviews of the research on meditation published in 1991 and 1994. Their critique is largely centered on their opinion that the NRC’s reviews did not include certain studies that would have supported their position that TM produces beneficial physical and mental effects that do not occur with other forms of meditation, and that TM provides greater relaxation, greater improvements in human performance, and other benefits compared to other methods, that went unreported in the NRC review.

Near the end of their critique is this statement, which I think is a rather extraordinary demonstration of a basic ignorance or outright avoidance of the scientific method, that I also think contradicts his earlier comments on the bias of investigators, with emphasis added by me:

How can we insure objectivity in future reviews of technologies from non-Western cultures or from radically new scientific paradigms that may be outside the knowledge and experience of the reviewers? We suggest that half of the membership of review committees for new or controversial research be comprised of researchers from different universities or research institutions who are practitioners of the technology in question, who have published research in the field, and who are well conversant with the theoretical frame that informs the research.

So there you have it in their own words. They are suggesting that half of the people who review research on Transcendental Meditation should be meditators themselves; that is what they mean by “practitioners of the technology,” because another name for Transcendental Meditation is the “Maharishi Technology of the Unified Field.” I suppose the phrase means very little if, as is true of most people, including scientists, you aren’t familiar with the background on Transcendental Meditation to recognize that reference. The “Unified Field” pseudonym for TM was frequently used during the early 1990’s in various TM related publications, and it’s defined that way on page 26 of the first, 1987 edition of Bob Roth’s book on TM. (It doesn’t appear in later editions of that book, but it’s mentioned in numerous other publications around that time.)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Ashley's story: My experience of my husband's journey into Transcendental Meditation

Stock photo of a generic young couple, not the contributors.
Here's the second of the personal stories contributed by Tony and Ashley (not their real names), a couple who were challenged by Tony's involvement with the Transcendental Meditation program. This is Ashley's recounting of her experience, in which she explains how she watched her husband both gain some benefits from TM practice, while his behavior and beliefs changed in ways she found uncomfortable and disturbing. She describes in detail how an individual's priorities can radically change over time through TM involvement, beginning with simple twice-a-day TM, to the point of threatening their marriage. All of this occurred despite the frequently repeated claims by TM teachers that TM doesn't involve a change in beliefs or lifestyle. Fortunately, as Tony recalled in the first part, he disengaged from the TM program and they're now working to bring their relationship back to normal.

My experience of my husband's journey into Transcendental Meditation: 
A few years ago my husband Tony announced that he would like to learn Transcendental Meditation. He'd been looking into various mindfulness apps and still hadn't found what he was looking for. At this time he suffered from crippling social anxiety to the point where it was difficult for us to even have a normal social life, so I agreed that this was worth a try. The cost seemed pretty exorbitant and part of me was skeptical, but if this form of meditation worked the way it said, it would it all be worth it. 
There were a few odd things about the course: Despite being "non-religious" it started with a ritual involving prayer, fruit and a handkerchief but this was no big deal really and he did love what he learned. Despite my doubts, my husband threw himself into this new regime of meditating morning and night for 20 minutes, and indeed it did seem to be working. We could now go to a dinner party or drinks with his colleagues without him becoming agitated and withdrawn on the way there. In this one small way TM had changed both of our lives for the better and it had all been worth it. The daily meditation continued like clockwork. 
My husband started going along to weekly meetings at his local TM center which was only 10 minutes walk from our house. He'd found an exciting new interest and wanted to meet others who practiced TM. He went along to an advanced course which would set us back about an extra US$ 600. I didn't mind the cost but I was quite surprised when he seemed to be back from the course within an hour or so each day. Surely a weekend course costing that much money would be all weekend? 
He continued his meditation through the following months and there were more advanced courses and a few weekend retreats. These were very regimented programs of relaxation which sounded awful from an outsider's point of view but he loved them, so I was keen to be supportive. 
I can't pinpoint at exactly what point in the process my husband began changing his belief system, but I remember some very uncomfortable discussions where he was telling me things that just sounded plain crazy as non-negotiable facts. Some of these facts were: 

  • That if he did enough advanced courses he could learn "yogic flying," a basic form of beginner levitation that would eventually lead to him being able to fly.
  • That a certain number of people doing yogic flying together could stop wars and car accidents in other parts of a country where yogic flying was happening.
  • That some kind of a forcefield of goodness was created by meditators, especially those practicing yogic flying.
  • That everyone in the world must do TM in order to live fully to their potential.
  • That TM was the answer to climate change. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Tony's story of his journey through, and out of, the TM program

We’ve received here at the TM-Free Blog, a dual submission of personal stories, from Tony, a meditator, and his wife Ashley. Their names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Here's Tony's story, which starts with his search for a meditation practice, and ends, while deciding not to proceed with the TM-Sidhis, also known as the "Yogic Flying" course, with the realization that he'd "been handing over my mind to the TM organization in exchange for 'Enlightenment.'" He also talks frankly about the balance between the benefits of TM that he experienced, and what those benefits might have eventually cost him if he'd continued down the path of deeper involvement with the TM program.

Photo illustration of a TM lecture, with video.
(Shutterstock/BBC World Service)
I’ve always been interested in the non-physical world, lightly dabbled in various meditations and read various spiritual books over the years. However, in 2016, I decided to make a go of practicing meditation. I wished to find an inner sense of stability in life and not get as stressed internally about upcoming events or past failures. 
The most popular way that didn’t involve a teacher was using the Headspace app to develop a mindfulness meditation practice. I practiced this daily for a few months and indeed found benefits of more control of my reactivity in stressful or pressured situations, such as at work. This was great but I felt like the meditation was a lot of hard work for the mind, struggling to bring it back to focus on something all the time, and I had the feeling there must be a more effortless technique out there. I stumbled upon Transcendental Meditation (TM). I was disappointed in not being able to find much about the technique online - it always said one needs to learn it from a teacher. However, as my luck would have it, I found a TM teacher close by so I signed up for an intro talk. I was a bit confused about why the teacher wouldn’t tell me much about the technique itself, they just went on and on about the benefits. However, I was intrigued and had to find out if it was indeed that beneficial. 
So, a few months later I learned TM from this certified teacher. In my very first meditation (at the instruction session) I experienced a profound settling of my mind - moments of beautiful silence. This seemed encouraging. As it seemed very expensive given the length of the course (about US$ 1000 for 1 hr/day over 4 consecutive days), I was very dedicated to doing the prescribed 20 minutes morning and 20 minutes in the evening every day without fail. Within my first week, my social anxiety dropped to virtually zero. I realized this one day when about to go to a social gathering and the very uncomfortable feeling of wanting to get out of my own skin and run and hide from the world was simply gone. Over the next few months, the enjoyability of my meditations always varied - mostly on the enjoyable side. Once back from our 2 month summer vacation, I made sure to attend the free Thursday evening TM center group meditations with the hope of maximising my progress. 
During these Thursday group sessions, after the 20-minute group meditation, the teacher would show videos of Maharishi (the founder of TM) talking on various subjects. I found listening to Maharishi’s answers rather long-winded, and he didn’t always make total sense to me. Meditation seemed to be enhancing my life by slowly but surely giving me a sense of inner calm. Thus I had developed quite an enthusiasm for promoting it and would find myself recommending it to other people and talking about it whenever the chance arose in conversation.