Monday, October 13, 2008

Book Review. The Maharishi: The Biography of the Man Who Brought Transcendental Meditation to the World by Paul Mason

(Oops! I accidentally deleted this post today. So here it is again. Originally posted 10/11/2008.)

Over the years, many commentors and contributors to TM-Free Blog have recommended books that they have found relevant. I have recently read a few of those books, and thought you all might enjoy some book reviews.

The Maharishi: The Biography of the Man Who Brought Transcendental Meditation to the World, a 300-page book written by Paul Mason and published by Element Books Ltd. in 1994, provides an overview of Maharishi's life from the mid-1950's to about 1993. When I read this book, I was reminded of the saying, "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the chances are good that it is a duck." Maharishi comes across as a simple, straightforward, not-too-deeply thinking salesperson intent on selling his product.

The book is rather moderate in tone, with a slightly jaundiced undertone, neither adoring or damning of Maharishi. The author matter-of-factly quotes Maharishi's many contradictory statements, leaving the readers to draw their own conclusions.

Of the many points Paul Mason covered, I found three to be of particular interest. The first
was Maharishi's "utter...isolat[ion] from comtemporary faiths and teachings," (p. 83.) Maharishi taught that all other gurus and teachers were misguided, and that he alone had the truth. Mason quotes Maharishi's writings from an uncompleted commentary to the Bhagavad Gita as follows, "Thus we find that all fields of religion and philosophy have been misunderstood for many centuries past."

Second, Mason shows that Maharishi's original intent was to spread a spiritual knowledge. In fact, his first organization was called the Spiritual Regeneration Movement. Quotes from Maharishi's early days give insight into his original teachings. For instance, "Between human species and these [gods are the]...finest levels of creation, the celestial level of life, gods. Huge numbers of...angels and gods," (p.162). By the early 1970's, however, Maharishi was saying, "In this scientific age we use scientific language," and spiritually-loaded language disappeared (for instance "God" was replaced with the term "Creative Intelligence") and his organizations were incorporated as educational non-profits. (Some time after the book was published, Maharishi did return to his religious roots and speak about more "spiritual" matters.)

An example of Maharishi's early comfort with revealing the spiritual basis of his teachings is in his pamphlet Beacon Light of the Himilayas, published about 1955. He wrote, "We do not select any sound like mike, flower, table...etc. For our practice we select only the suitable mantras of personal Gods. Such mantras fetch us the grace of personal Gods...."

Which leads to my third point, which is the ease with which Maharishi dissembled about the mantras, leaving me to wonder what else he lied about. In his early days, Maharishi stated, "Through long practice of usages of these mantras for different types of people, certain universal formulae have been obtained and using those formulae of judgment the selection of a proper mantra is brought about...." "[Mantras] are passed on from the master to the disciple in every generation and this is the teaching that concerns very fine levels of the whole creation...." "The tradition of masters is the most authentic place to take these suitable thoughts from. Authenticity from the tradition is the only measure which will give us some confidence about the absolute suitability of the mantra...." "One percent unsuitable effect [from the wrong mantra] will become million times greater...." After pages of this, Mason dryly drops the fact that the mantras are chosen by age.

Actually, Maharishi was not consistent in what mantras he gave to TM teachers. On one Teacher Training Course, he gave out one set of mantras to be chosen by age, on another course a different set of mantras to be chosen by age, on a third course a set to be chosen by age and sex, and so on.

Mason also includes anecdotes that leave the reader wondering what stories lie behind them. For instance someone mentions in passing that "Maharishi converses with the Heirarchy." What is "the Heirarchy"? A stranger in an airport in Europe accosts Maharishi with, "You're a fraud!" What did he mean? Jerry Jarvis, the onetime president of Maharishi's Students' International Meditation Society says, "Using the sutras [in the TM-Sidhis technique] is a strain on the nervous sytem and some people flip out." What had he seen?

This is not a comprehensive biography. At least two things are missing: the private life of Maharishi, and his impact on the life of others. Regarding his private life, for instance, there is no mention of his attempt to lead the Ouspensky organization in Europe, his sexual relations with women on his staff, his heart attack and subsequent (non-ayurvedic) treatment by western medicine, or his contempt for those who put him on a pedastal. Regarding his impact on the lives of others, there is no mention of the hundreds, myself included, who uprooted themselves and moved to Fairfield, Iowa at his bequest, or the hundreds of people who gave years of their lives, thousands of dollars and sometimes their mental and physical health to Mahrishi's dream.

On the plus side, this is a quickly-moving, easy-to-read book for people looking for an introduction to the life, mind, and public face of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi from aproximately 1954 to 1993.

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