Friday, March 25, 2011

MUM Q&A session on "David Wants to Fly" on YouTube

Earlier this month, a question-and-answer session with TM movement and David Lynch Foundation spokesperson Bob Roth was held on the campus of Maharishi University of Management. Video of that session has now been posted to YouTube.

The main subject of the session was David Sieveking's film, "David Wants to Fly," which has been making the rounds of various film festivals here in the U.S. and has been released to theaters in Europe. Some in the audience had seen the film, but it's unclear to what degree the film is available for viewing in Fairfield.

In any case, this question-and-answer session provides an interesting window into how critics of the Transcendental Meditation program are viewed from the view of one person whose full-time job is the promotion of Transcendental Meditation, primarily to the press and prominent individuals.

I might write up a more lengthy commentary on Bob Roth's statements at some later time, but in the meantime here are a few observations.

Roth said, "His [David Lynch's} comment on the film was that David [Sieveking] has made the film that he and his producers, which was the German government's national television, wanted to make." A person in the audience then laughs. This is not true, as an experienced filmmaker like Lynch should already know. As is obvious from the credits which can be seen at IMDB, it was produced by a German independent film production company. Co-producers listed on the credits include a number of other independent production companies in Austria, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, a Franco-German TV channel, and the public broadcasting stations of Bavaria and Austria. Financial assistance to the arts, including film, from European government agencies is standard practice for European film productions and does not suggest that those governments had any say in the content of the film. This would be similar to claiming that because a program appeared on a PBS station here that it must be government propaganda, which is the impression that Roth appears to be trying to make here. The TM movement has long held a special grudge against the German government, for among other things, a 1986 court ruling stating that the TM organization should be considered a "cult."

Roth said, "He [Lynch] never intended, he wanted everyone to know, he never intended ever to sue this person [Sieveking], to prevent the showing of this film, ever. He [Lynch] believes in artistic freedom and creative freedom... An overture or a letter was sent on his [Lynch's] behalf to try and stop this film from being shown without consulting David [Lynch]." Given Lynch's paean to "artistic freedom," if this were true, the sending of a letter like this on his behalf should have been grounds for severing all ties between the DLF and the TM movement. Critics have noted that MUM law professor William Goldstein has served as in-house legal counsel to both MUM and the David Lynch Foundation along with other TM movement corporate entities such as the Maharishi Foundation all the way back to 1992; given that relationship I think it's inconceivable that such a letter would have been sent without Lynch's knowledge.

There's a bizarrely fascinating sequence where Roth talks about how "big" TM-EX was in the mid-1980's, how the TM-Free Blog is one of a few TM-EX "splinter organizations," and how there's "3 or 4 people who write these." Roth then goes on to list a number of the standard "accusations" about the TM movement that have circulated, at many websites and not necessarily here at this blog, for years:
  • "that the movement has anywhere between 3 billion and 9 billion dollars"
  • "all of the research on Transcendental Meditation, because it's done by meditating scientists, is bogus"
  • "research shows that Transcendental Meditation has an adverse affect, that for some people it's good but for a lot of people it causes a lot of problems, and this isn't just anecdotal, this is research"
Roth then goes on to liken criticism of Transcendental Meditation to the assertion that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya - something that's repeated often, widely believed, but is not true.

Understandably it is difficult to briefly summarize what prominent critics of Transcendental Meditation are writing, or have written over the past few decades. However, if you search on "billion dollars" against this blog on Google, you'll see that that specific accusation about the movement's current net worth does not appear here except in a comment that wasn't made by a blog contributor.

As for the research that's touted to promote TM and who does it, there is no question that many (and clearly not all) of the studies cited today by the promoters of TM are done by people associated with the TM movement, and much of it is of embarrasingly low quality. One such recent and prominent example widely offered by Roth and other TM promoters to the press is featured in the article, "How to Design a Positive Study: Meditation for Childhood ADHD." The magnitude of the claims made for TM, that it is something revolutionary, uniformly effective for all people over the long-term, and that it should be adopted immediately by governments and institutions, is simply not supported by the very few studies of any quality that are offered by the movement after having had four decades to both create their own preliminary studies, and to have had other researchers who aren't meditators replicate those studies on their own, eventually publishing high-quality research on the technique and many other claims the movement makes for its multitude of products, independent of movement organizations.

It's interesting how Roth reframes the question of adverse affects from Transcendental Meditation from the movement's view of "we have the research and you don't" as if that is the only thing that matters. TM critics do not have the support of a global organization that could organize and fund studies seeking more than validation of the a priori conclusions of a Vedic sect. But the movement has always relied on word-of-mouth to promote itself, and there is another side to that word-of-mouth, which finds its way online both at this blog and elsewhere. I've long said that the most obvious "adverse effect" is a lighter wallet and a practice that's discarded after a few months, and it's certainly not hard to find people who used to meditate, who were initiated during the early-mid 1970's. There are many reasons why the "Merv wave" of TM initiations ended after a few short years, and negative impressions of TM stemming from a rapid loss of efficacy and interest for most people after a few months may have been the simplest explanation for the decline in TM's popularity.

Later in the question and answer session, Roth is confronted about what "appears to be a theme of censorship from the movement in the film." The questioner points out the part in the film where Roth looks at the camera and asks that it be turned off. In response to the question, Roth asks, "Me?" and then answers as if he's talking about something else involving "special guests" that has nothing to do with what happens in the film, or as if the fact that David had interviewed him for over a hundred hours is somehow relevant to his behavior.

I've put up a brief excerpt of "David Wants to Fly" on YouTube where Bob Roth appeared, to make it clear to all exactly what the questioner was trying to address - and how Roth is either completely unfamiliar with his own brief role in the film, or is feigning ignorance to avoid answering a vital question.

This player will automatically show the introduction and 14 parts of the Q&A session.

(explanatory disclaimer: my name appears in the YouTube player but that's just because I created a playlist to present all the segments in sequence here, the videos themselves are served up through the MUM Student Activities account at YouTube.)

Update, April 1: There was an article about this session with Bob Roth in the Conscious Times, the student newspaper at MUM.


John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Thanks for putting this together, Mike.

Anyone who has the DVD can plainly see who is behind, that is, supporting David Sieveking's film. Even if one does not read German, it is fairly obvious that this is not some manipulation of material by any government to discredit the TMO. The TMO managed that (as always) all by themselves and David filmed it.

Typically, Mahesh (sounding remarkably like G'daffy) made excuse after excuse, blaming his consistent failure on the CIA, on negativity, on lazy meditators. G'daffy blamed drugs and al-Qaida! The lack of enlightenment shows up in not taking responsibility for one's actions.

I suspect David's film will be watched, enjoyed and studied long after the dwindling numbers of TMO supports have become insufficient to support the sleazy cash-grabs and immoral use of the suffering of others to enrich themselves.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

As the publisher of the TM-EX newsletter, I am proud to be slandered by Bob Roth!

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Hi, Diane

I am so happy to have this opportunity to thank you for TM-EX. Parting ways from Mahesh/TM was very difficult because I had had relatively pleasant experience of both up until the 'sidhi' scam. Mahesh had always treated me very nicely, made sure I had good living accommodations and even an allowance!

Even though it was increasingly obvious that he simply was not what he was pretending to be, there was some kind of association between us that gripped like crazy glue.

TM-EX really helped, I guess I could say that you were the acetone in my recovery, although I think there are far more important things to say about TM-EX.

Thankfully, TM-EX is still available on Mike's web site ( )/

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