Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Challenging the positive, popular perception of Transcendental Meditation: a conference presentation

I put together this conference presentation last year. It was intended for a professional audience, but I think it serves as a good overview of what Transcendental Meditation and the TM organization are today, its history, how it came to be popular in the late 1960's and 1970's, the many questionable and misleading aspects of its marketing and underlying doctrine, and the different forms of criticism of TM.

There's also a detailed handout that went along with this presentation, containing many more details, citations and references.

The original conference presentation description, and my bio, follow.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Judgment entered against David Lynch's foundation and Chicago school board in US Federal Court

One of the three civil cases brought against the David Lynch Foundation and the Board of Education of the City of Chicago has reached its conclusion, with judgments against both the DLF and the Board.

Quoting the court:

(1) Judgment is entered in favor of plaintiff Mariyah Green and against defendant Board of Education of the City of Chicago in the amount of $75,000. This is inclusive of any and all relief available to the plaintiff in this case against the Board including all types of damages; attorney’s fees; costs; interest; and litigation expenses. (2) Judgment is entered in favor of plaintiff Mariyah Green and against defendant David Lynch Foundation in the amount of $75,000. This is inclusive of any and all relief available to the plaintiff in this case against the Foundation including all types of damages; attorney’s fees; costs; interest; and litigation expenses.

While it appears that the attorney for Lynch's foundation and various TM organizations believed that such a lawsuit would likely immediately be dismissed by any court before which it was brought, the initial case against the DLF, the Board and initially, the University of Chicago, which spawned two others including this one, has dragged on since October 2020 and may be settled in the next few weeks. The other spawned case is still in progress.

This outcome should give responsible individuals in any government agency in the United States, or private entities funded by governments, second thoughts before teaming up with Lynch or any other TM promoting organization. The consequences may be rather expensive.

(For a summary of the claims at issue in these cases, see my earlier post at Reddit.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Maharishi's meeting with Hindu supremacist, right-wing political leaders

The close relationship between Maharishi and his successors, and some of India’s Hindu supremacist political leaders, has been hinted at from time to time. Even as far back as 1968,
Paul McCartney and John Lennon were warned that Maharishi was connected with right-wing politicians there.

Destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
Image from video of an October 2016 meeting at the
TM organization's Vlodrop headquarters.
Meaning of "Jai Sri Ram"
An essay written in 2006 by an Amsterdam teacher who did liaison work for the Embassy of India in the Netherlands reveals that two of India’s most controversial right-wing politicians met with Maharishi in the early 1990s. This meeting occurred around the time that both of those political leaders directed the violent and deadly destruction of a prominent Muslim mosque in Ayodhya.

A brief story in the India Post of June 13, 2014, partially attributed to a TM teacher, suggests that there’s long been a relationship between the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, and Maharishi’s organization.

In 1992 Modi is said to have been among a political delegation from India that Maharishi invited to MERU, Holland to meet with him. Modi was allegedly already practicing Transcendental Meditation at that time. After the visit, Maharishi is said to have commented that Modi would some day bring about some very good changes.

Without corroborating evidence from some other direction, it’s difficult to take such a statement seriously. But in fact, there exists an eyewitness report of such a meeting with a political delegation, at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s residence in Vlodrop, Holland, around that time.

Friday, January 07, 2022

The full text of an early version of Maharishi's "Introduction to the Holy Tradition"

I've been following along with the latest developments in the lawsuit against the David Lynch Foundation, and others, in the aftermath of the DLF's latest failed attempt to insinuate the TM program into public high schools. The legality of any entanglement of any government entity in the United States with Transcendental Meditation was successfully challenged by the opinions in Malnak v. Yogi  - which may be forty years old, but that still serves as persuasive authority in US courts - which resulted in an injunction against the TM program in public high schools in New Jersey, which still stands today.

One critical element of the current case - which in some ways mirrors Malnak over forty years later - is the translation of the puja, the ritual performed before instruction in the TM technique, which is spoken and sung in the Sanskrit language. In Malnak the religiosity of the puja in translation was one of two primary factors in the court's opinion finding that TM was of a "religious nature," and that element is also, I think, one of the facts which will determine the outcome of the case in Chicago.

Counsel for the David Lynch Foundation has been working tooth and nail to exclude the puja translation from the case, in the past few days acknowledging that the translation which appears in the district court opinion in Malnak is the same as that performed in Chicago schools, on school property. But the attorneys for the DLF are attempting to insert a "poison pill" that the translation which has been part of the published Malnak decision for over 40 years cannot be used as evidence in the current case.

So, to drive home what each and every Transcendental Meditation teacher knows by heart - and what they were taught during their training - this is the full text of the "Introduction to the Holy Tradition," which has existed in several versions. These are scans of a physical copy in my possession, which I obtained from a book and document seller in France. Its text is nearly identical (with an omission which I attribute to an editing error) to two other versions, one of which appears as an appendix in a book written by a former TM teacher (R. D. Scott in "Transcendental Misconceptions," published in 1978), and the other in the Amlan Dey thesis, submitted in 2017, which I refer to in part 2 of my previous series on the purpose and significance of the puja.

I can't accurately date this document, since there is nothing identifying where, when and by whom it was published, but given the style in which it was printed, and the quality of the paper, I think it likely that it dates to the late 1960's and was printed in the print shop at Maharishi's "Academy of Meditation" Rishikesh ashram. I believe it's possible that this booklet was distributed to participants in the same TM teacher training course that was visited by the Beatles, Mia and Prudence Farrow, and other prominent people in early 1968. Any information that might help identify this booklet's origin would be appreciated.

The portion of this booklet which matches the Sanskrit-to-English translation in the Malnak opinion starts in the eleventh image below, the "Invocation of the Holy Tradition."

This document is also available as a PDF file.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Breaking: US Department of Justice allegedly funded Transcendental Meditation "Quiet Time" program in Chicago

A filing today in the ongoing Federal court case against the Chicago Board of Education, the David Lynch Foundation, and the University of Chicago disclosed that, during the course of discovery, the Board of Education informed the plaintiffs that the Department of Justice, and not any of the other named defendants, financed the so-called "Quiet Time" program as part of a supposed research project involving Chicago public schools.

Northern District of Illinois courtroom.
(Library of Congress photo)

This means that, according to this filing by the plaintiffs, the teaching of TM was directly financed by the US government, a clear violation of the separation of church and state.

The "religious nature" of TM was established in the late 1970's in Malnak v. Yogi, which was upheld on appeal in the Third Circuit. Technically this decision is binding only in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, but such opinions are often cited as being persuasive in other Federal courts; Malnak has been cited over sixty times in other cases involving church/state matters.

Apparently this disclosure will likely result in the US Department of Justice being added to the list of defendants in this case.

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Two former Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment students charged with first degree murder

(Updated December 11, 2023 - both defendants have been sentenced to life in prison with minimums of 25 and 35 years.)

A school yearbook from 2013 contains photos of the two 16 year olds charged as adults with first degree murder, whose families are known to be part of the meditator community in Fairfield, Iowa. 

The Des Moines Register reports:

A southeast Iowa town is reeling after two high school students were charged with first-degree murder in the death of their Spanish teacher.

Police confirmed Thursday that human remains discovered Wednesday in Fairfield's Chautauqua Park were those of Nohema Graber, who had been reported missing earlier in the day, according to a news release from the city of Fairfield posted on Facebook.

Graber, 66, had taught Spanish at Fairfield High School since 2012. Police allege two students at the high school — Willard Noble Chaiden Miller, 16, and Jeremy Everett Goodale, 16 — are responsible for her death.

Both have been charged with first-degree homicide and first-degree conspiracy to commit homicide and will be charged as adults "based on the circumstances and their ages," according to the news release.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

New PTSD studies: TM as a "black box" - what's inside?

Recent studies claiming that Transcendental Meditation is effective in treating PTSD, and that it provides other benefits, treat TM as a “black box.” As with many similar past studies, researchers fail to consider that this method of meditation instruction contains several hours of other information, which creates a context of expectation of life improvement, a structure or habit which will improve life, and an authority who provides the assurance that TM will unfailingly produce those changes. These inadequacies in the design of these studies would be obvious, if all aspects of instruction in the TM program that have never been opened for examination by the TM teaching organization were properly studied and controlled for by independent researchers.

Another research study, this time on using TM as a method of treating PTSD, has just been published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. The study, “A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation as Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans,” purports to show that “Veterans with PTSD who practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique showed significant reductions in PTSD symptom severity.” A widely circulated press release issued by Maharishi International University announced this study, headlined with the “Transcendental Meditation effective in reducing PTSD, sleep problems, depression symptoms” claim. It includes the same sort of ubiquitous bar chart that’s been seen in TM promotional efforts since at least the mid-1970’s.

It should be noted that while the data analysis performed in this study showed significant positive changes with respect to PTSD, insomnia, depression and anxiety, there were no significant changes on the measures of anger and quality of life, the last being one of TM’s traditional selling points. More notable is the way in which this study, as with many others performed with the participation of the Maharishi International University (MIU) research faculty, relies on a vague if not inappropriately inaccurate description of Transcendental Meditation, as if it were solely a method practiced inside the mind and contained no other significant aspects, doctrine or belief that might in some way affect behavior which would then produce these results, among some people, for some limited period of time. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Demystifying the Puja, part 3: Misleading everyone for decades about this ritual’s true nature and purpose

The Transcendental Meditation instruction ritual, the puja, should be viewed in the context of a half-century long attempt to deliberately mislead the public, institutional and governmental authorities, and prospective meditators about the nature and purpose of the TM program. This misrepresentation is evident in the organization’s own descriptions of the nature of the puja, and the obvious conflict between its insistence that this ritual is somehow “secular” when its function in Indian spiritual culture, which is TM’s origin, is unambiguously a religious one.
The Transcendental Meditation puja table. The
framed image is a registered trademark/service
mark held by Maharishi Foundation Liechtenstein 
in the United States. Photo by the author.

Read this series from the beginning - Introduction.


Part 1 of this series: Establishing authority and dominance over the meditator

Part 2 of this series: A religious transaction with the divine

Throughout more than 50 years of the teaching of TM in the United States, the TM organization has never provided a coherent and reasonable explanation for the presence of this ritual in each and every instance of TM instruction. The organization, and the allied David Lynch Foundation (DLF), have refused to set aside the puja when teaching TM in public schools. If the ritual were, as they claim, simply some method of honoring some past tradition, teachers could perform it at home, without the presence of the meditator they’re instructing, and without the meditator providing tangible offerings of fruit, flowers and handkerchief. But that option has never been accepted by the DLF or the organization, for reasons that have not yet been divulged.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Demystifying the Puja, part 2: A religious transaction with the divine

The Transcendental Meditation organization has consistently misrepresented the meaning and nature of the puja, TM's instruction ritual, for half a century. Recently, a new document has surfaced explaining, in detail, the puja's meaning in the context of the spiritual traditions of India. This ceremony is a religious transaction in which the prospective meditator is a co-participant, making offerings to the divine. These offerings are represented by the items set out on the puja table, for each of which, it’s alleged, the meditator will receive a blessing in the form of the advertised benefits of TM. These offerings include the fruit, flowers and handkerchief brought by the meditator.

Read this series from the beginning - Introduction.

Some of the TM puja offerings.
Photo by the author

Previously, part 1 of this series: Establishing authority and dominance over the meditator

The inclusion of this ritual, and the organization’s unwillingness to ever remove the ritual in certain settings where it has been problematic such as public schools, completely invalidate their claims that TM practice, including its teaching, is entirely secular and scientific in nature. The TM organization and its teachers have evidently always falsely insisted, to the point of absurdity, that the ritual is not religious because there is no explicit object or deity of worship. But that is not the only measure by which a practice may be considered religious. 

The puja ritual, according to the interpretation taught in TM movement schools in India, involves an exchange of value with a divine entity as a required means of gaining benefit from the method the meditator is about to learn. There is nothing secular nor scientific about this performance, and that is true even if the participant has no knowledge or understanding of what is taking place. The specious claim that the prospective meditator need only witness the performance of the ritual, or that it is only to “honor” an alleged tradition and its history of teachers, is negated by both the requirement that the meditator bring certain items to be used in the ritual, and the meaning of the ritual to the organization and its insiders, as is clear in this new document: that it is performed for the new meditator’s eventual benefit.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Demystifying the Puja, part 1: Establishing authority and dominance over the meditator

The Transcendental Meditation instruction ritual, the puja, is much more than just some “simple thank-you ceremony.” Its most important purpose is that it provides a certain unusual experience to the new meditator, of reverence and devotion, that they will remember. It’s intended to create an expectation for, and to reinforce the supposedly life-changing benefits of, the meditation itself. It is an expression of power, legitimacy and dominance of an inherently supremacist religious tradition over the new meditator, and also serves as a reminder of that dominance and authority to the TM teacher. 

The brass tray used in the Transcendental
Meditation puja. 
Photo by the author.

puja, in my opinion, serves two purposes that are not clearly disclosed to new meditators beforehand. The first purpose, in my view, is that it’s intended to establish a certain kind of imbalanced power dynamic between the TM hierarchy and the new meditator, who I will call the “initiate” as that, and calling the instruction process “initiation,” were the historical terms used by TM teachers during the height of TM’s popularity in the 1970’s. I believe that “initiation” is actually a more accurate term for the process of TM instruction, as aspects of the closed-door, supposedly private process in which a “secret” mantra is imparted to the meditator, are analogous to the kind of induction ritual common among fraternities or secret societies.

The puja is performed after the prospective meditator arrives to be instructed in this form of meditation, but just before they are given an allegedly personally selected mantra, that’s simplistically chosen by the teacher on simple criteria of gender and age.  It’s at this point in the 6 day long TM instruction process that a subtle bait-and-switch becomes evident. TM is sold as if it were any other skill that involved an instructor: the initiate simply pays to learn something they would otherwise not know. But there are other elements inherent to TM instruction, geared toward making the “initiate” - not simply a student - into a devotee of an allegedly centuries-old “tradition” that was exemplified by a deceased, divine “Guru Dev,” whose image is a central element of the puja setting. The ritual and the rhetoric surrounding it places the initiate as something other than a customer or trainee. The initiate’s position is that of submitting to some higher authority, which is cast as being the present representative of some ancient tradition.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Introduction: Demystifying the Puja, a 3 part series

The Transcendental Meditation instruction ritual, the puja, establishes for new meditators the dominance and authority of TM’s founding tradition and organization, and satisfies a traditional religious belief that the benefits of TM will only come by way of a tangible offering made to the primary, supreme divine beings of Hinduism. In an effort to maintain an illusory image of TM in which it’s a scientific, evidence-based practice having no religious foundation, TM teachers always misrepresent the purpose and nature of this aspect of TM. They deny this ritual’s religious origin and nature, it is in fact central to the teaching and practice of TM, and it is much more than what they call it, “a simple thank-you ceremony.”

Camphor flame, part of the puja.
Photo by the author.

Instruction in the practice of Transcendental Meditation always involves the performance of a ritual, an expression of devotion that’s clearly of a religious nature. This puja is rooted in Hindu or Vedic spiritual practice, of the religious culture of India which is the source of everything associated with TM and its founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The presence of this puja as well as other religious aspects of TM, a religiosity that’s consistently denied by TM teachers and the organization, once resulted in an injunction prohibiting TM instruction in public schools in one region of the United States. A case currently active in Chicago seeks a similar outcome in the aftermath of a program that attempted to offer TM in public schools there.

Given the controversial nature of this ritual, TM teachers and promoters of Transcendental Meditation have always avoided describing it in any detail when discussing the process of teaching TM. They insist that TM is “not a religion” while the culture that surrounds TM and its teaching are saturated with a sanitized, irreligious at first glance, Hindu, or Vedic, doctrine. In a futile attempt to squelch free and public discussion of these aspects of TM instruction, TM teachers tell meditators not to discuss any aspects of personal instruction, including this ritual, with friends and family, while many of these details have been available online for almost three decades. A nondisclosure agreement has also been a part of TM instruction for many years.

Monday, February 15, 2021

You can't spell TM without SCI

A formal reckoning with attempts by the David Lynch Foundation (DLF) to place Transcendental Meditation programs in public schools, defying the fact that a Federal court injunction prohibited TM instruction within them on Constitutional grounds, is long overdue. The flaws in the Malnak v. Yogi opinions, leaving unaddressed the possibility that TM could be completely separated from a formal course in the so-called “Science of Creative Intelligence,” have been deliberately misunderstood and exploited by the DLF and the TM organization for years. The suggestion that TM promotion and instruction in public schools would be permissible if the words “Science of Creative Intelligence” were never mentioned is simply ridiculous; TM is the practical element of SCI and doctrinal tenets of SCI of a religious nature are present throughout TM promotion, preparation and instruction. 

Northern District of Illinois courtroom.
(Library of Congress photo)
Since the puja, the ceremony which is always performed before individual TM instruction, occurred on Chicago school premises (as the DLF has insisted that it must), in some fundamental way the DLF was organizing its own prayer services on school property; whether they were understood to be religious by students is irrelevant. The organization mandated a puja performance to satisfy its own priorities, based in its own SCI doctrine, with respect to TM instruction. 

The religiosity of what the David Lynch Foundation and its allies have attempted to do, rooted in the doctrine of SCI, is obvious, and the District Court’s phrasing in its Malnak opinion over forty years ago is still very appropriate here:  “the proposition needs no further demonstration.”

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.