Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Big Lie, Part 1

Lying has been going on since humans first used language. However, only in modern times, aided by mass media, can someone tell a really big lie. What’s a big lie? It’s a lie that is so blatant, so outrageous, and so widespread that eventually, after the public keeps hearing it, they actually believe it to be true.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program, first used the big lie when he came to the West in 1959 and began teaching TM to Westerners. The lie he began to tell was that the mantras used in the technique were “meaningless sounds.” This is still the position of the TM organization. Many TM practitioners continue to believe this. However, the truth is quite different.

The mantras are either names of Vedic/Hindu deities or sounds that are closely associated with these deities. The evidence regarding the true nature of the mantras can be found in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s own writings. In 1955, prior to coming to the West, three of his lectures were included in a book published in India called Beacon Light of the Himalayas. In one of these lectures he states the following regarding the mantras:

“…we find that any sound can serve our purpose of training the mind to become sharp. But we do not select any sound like 'mike', flower, table, pen, wall etc. because such ordinary sounds can do nothing more than merely sharpening the mind; whereas there are some special sounds which have the additional efficacy of producing vibrations whose effects are found to be congenial to our way of life. This is the scientific reason why we do not select any word at random. For our practice we select only the suitable mantras of personal Gods. Such mantras fetch to us the grace of personal Gods and make us happier in every walk of life.”

Those with a scientific inclination who are supporters of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his teachings would argue that the origins of the technique are irrelevant. The technique clearly has positive, scientifically documented effects on the mind and body, and the technique works irrespective of one’s belief – the sounds themselves have a specific effect on the body’s neurophysiological functioning. Even if they do have meaning in India, a person practicing TM in the United States or elsewhere doesn’t have to know the meaning to get positive results from the practice. India just happens to be the place where the effects of these sounds were discovered.

This argument, however, falls flat when one considers that TM instruction requires being present at what is described by TM teachers as a “ceremony of gratitude” or puja, which is performed in Sanskrit “by the teacher, for the teacher.” If the mantras are supposed to have an effect that is universal and is not related to their Vedic/Hindu origins, then the sounds should have the same effect on neurophysiological functioning without the puja ceremony. However, the TM organization will not teach TM without the puja and will not allow research on TM to be conducted without a puja in order to test this hypothesis.

The puja specifically mentions several Vedic/Hindu deities and includes an elaborate sequence of offerings to a picture of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s deceased teacher, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati. One cannot learn TM without being present at the puja and one must bring fruit, flowers, and a piece of cloth to be used as offerings in the puja. Also, TM teachers gesture for initiates to bow down in front of the picture at the end of the puja. So the puja is more than a ceremony of gratitude and it is not just for the teacher.

Why is the TM organization so insistent on performing this decidedly non-scientific ceremony in an ancient language if TM is so scientific? Without the puja, the mantras actually are just meaningless sounds. From a Vedic/Hindu perspective, TM doesn’t work without the puja since its performance is necessary to “activate” the mantras. As a result of the puja, the mantras become enlivened and connect the TM practitioner to Vedic/Hindu deities in non-physical realms.

One can only conclude from this that TM is exactly what Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said it was back in 1955 – a method of invoking the blessings of Vedic/Hindu deities for the TM initiate.

Since the vast majority of Westerners do not believe in the existence of Vedic/Hindu deities inhabiting non-physical realms, it is easy for the TM organization to maintain the fiction that the mantras are scientific and not religious, and it is easy for people who meditate to dismiss the whole thing as a quaint ritual. But, if one considers Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s status as a Hindu monk who comes from a religious tradition that venerates these deities and seeks to obtain their blessings, then it is absolutely clear that he has been lying about the true nature of the technique for almost 50 years.

One can ascribe several motivations to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for deciding to lie about the true nature of the mantras. If one ascribes noble motives, then it was because he recognized that he could not bring about a spiritual regeneration of the West by revealing the truth about the practice, since many, if not most Westerners would not be interested in meditating if they knew it was a form of Vedic/Hindu worship. A more cynical perspective would suggest that millions of dollars in revenues would have been lost if he had revealed the truth.

Regardless of motivation, one is compelled to ask a pivotal question. How many of the six million people that the TM organization claims have learned the technique would have still chosen to receive instruction if there had been full disclosure?

What if those about to learn the technique had been told that they would be learning an ancient method for invoking the blessings of Vedic/Hindu deities? What if they had been given a translation of the puja to which they were about to bring offerings? Despite the scientifically-verified benefits of TM, it is likely that a considerable percentage would have been uncomfortable enough with these Vedic/Hindu elements that they would have decided not to learn. The number who would have received instruction would have been considerably less than six million.

It is entirely reasonable to conclude that the success of the TM organization – its celebrity and professional endorsements, its international scope, its university, its scientific acceptability, its real estate holdings, its many business enterprises – could not have happened without Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s big lie.

What is especially fascinating about this particular lie is its longevity. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s big lie has prevailed for almost 50 years because it is an especially ingenious and insidious lie. It has lasted as long as it has because it relies upon the biases and limitations of the Western intellect. Westerners know little about Eastern spirituality and view reality primarily through the lens of science. It was easy for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to make the case that the technique was “scientific” because, as mentioned earlier, there aren’t very many Westerners who believe in the existence of Vedic/Hindu deities, but there are a lot who believe in science.

In recent years the TM organization has been attempting to reintroduce TM into educational settings under the guise of “Consciousness-Based” education. Students are being sold on the scientific benefits of TM with no knowledge of its origins. Unsuspecting parents are granting permission for their children to receive instruction because their local educators, who are also ignorant of the origins of the practice, are endorsing TM.

The TM organization has always been eager to promote the scientific literature on TM, but it has not been forthcoming about the origins of the technique. Truth in marketing demands that when people express an interest in TM, they should not only receive information about the scientific research, but they should also receive information about the puja and the origins of the mantras. Then, and only then, can they make an informed decision about whether they want to learn. Teaching TM without providing the full story is much like selling investments without providing information about risk, or manufacturing food products without listing the ingredients.

The fact that the TM organization is promoting TM for education, while deliberately choosing not to educate those they instruct about what they are actually teaching them, would appear to be the biggest lie of all.

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