Saturday, January 06, 2007

Let's Talk about Reform

For years I've received many communications that are variations on a basic theme, "What do you have against meditation?"

The answer in most cases is, "Absolutely nothing." I don't take issue with the practices or beliefs, but the actions of the TM sponsoring groups.

Meditation is one of nature's miracles. For most people it is an extraordinary experience that adds much to life. Many forms of meditation have been documented to offer specific benefits, such as lowered blood pressure and increased relaxation when practiced regularly. And TM seems to be as good or better than any of the forms of meditation that I know of.

So what could be the harm in teaching meditation?

Absolutely none, if that were as far as it went.

Many people seem to have gotten the idea that I and other critics have some awful agenda to destroy the TM and similar movements and to eradicate meditation, prayer, and "New Religions" from the planet. This simply isn't the case.

We would, however, like to see some simple reforms. Reforms that we believe most group members themselves would find it hard to argue against:

  • full disclosure of movement finances, particularly international finances,
  • an elective or accountable structure of representation (as in most churches),
  • free flow of information and full disclosure of "secrets," especially those that might affect potential members' choices regarding freedom of belief (religion),
  • removal of decisions about who may attend weekend retreats (and other forms of "spiritual evolution") from anonymous "thought police" who depend largely on loyalty tests,
  • creation of a member-driven task force to set reasonable fees for retreats and other courses,
  • full disclosure of the movement's political and legislative involvement,
  • perhaps most especially, full disclosure of negative side effects and real efforts to address and heal them. (For those interested, I intend to make the TM checker notes available again soon. In them you'll find that TM checkers are secretly trained from the beginning to anticipate serious problems and negative side effects.)

I imagine that readers familiar with the TM movement may have many reforms to add to this -- and that readers from other groups may have differing, yet similar lists.

It's not my purpose to debate satisfied members of TM or other groups. I have no reason to doubt that many, many have experiences and beliefs that are very fulfilling. Who can ask for more?

It is our hope, however, that by raising concerns that many of us on all sides have in common, we can move the discussion of TM -- and similar groups -- past futile name-calling and on to meaningful discussion of where we might go from here.

The jury is still out on whether TM and similar groups will become yet more radical -- or whether they will enter the mainstream. Honest attempts at measured reform may hold the balance.

Current and former members together, the future of our groups is in our hands.

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