Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Transcendental Meditation Teaching Agreement

Here, for the first time online (as far as I know), is an agreement that prospective meditators were required to sign before receiving instruction in how to practice Transcendental Meditation.

This particular document likely dates from the mid-1990's, though there is no date or number on the form to confirm that. I think it likely that this, or some very similar agreement, is still being used as one of the forms that teachers of TM expect to have signed by the student before proceeding.

As I mentioned in my previous post here on this subject ("What did you sign when you started TM?", November 14, 2018), teachers of Transcendental Meditation have been instructed to not allow these forms to leave with the meditator who signed them, nor would you have an opportunity to take some time, at home, overnight, with your attorney if you want to, to review the agreement and fully understand what it says before going through with TM instruction. This unwillingness to disclose the contents of these agreements to those who have signed them has historically extended all the way through the teacher training course, as was documented in this letter from a TM teacher/attorney in 1995.

I am not an attorney and anything I write below does not constitute legal advice.

My discussion and comments on this agreement follow below the image, click through on it to see it full size. Here's a pdf version.

Starting from the top. Before the mid-1990's, the formal nonprofit organization that offered TM in the United States was the "World Plan Executive Council" (WPEC).  That entity was dissolved and now the "Maharishi Foundation" serves that purpose.

Clause 1: You must affirm that you're learning TM "for the sole benefit of my own personal development." Presumably if you are a journalist or investigator going through the process to learn firsthand what all the fuss is about, you are in violation of this agreement if you signed it and went through with instruction, or initiation, as they used to call it.

Clause 2: "However, no specific benefits of the practice of the TM program are promised to me and no express or implied warranties (including warranty of merchantability) are made." In other words: "Everything you might have heard, you might have read even on our own website, what we told you, or what you think we told you might be wrong. You might find out that there is absolutely nothing to TM and no benefit to paying for whatever is going to happen next. We're off the hook."

Clause 3: "I agree not to disclose the confidential aspects of the Course..." I find this one particularly hilarious, because there is absolutely nothing about the process of teaching TM (the "Course") that isn't available by spending about fifteen seconds searching on Google, or clicking through on some of the links you'll find on the right side of this blog. I was personally responsible for putting the first bits of these so-called "confidential aspects" up on the Internet (so far back, it wasn't even a web site, it was an FTP site!) in the early 1990's. Thus far I haven't heard one official word of protest from anyone formally connected with the WPEC, Maharishi Foundation, or anyone else... that's because the entire process has been in the public domain for many decades if not centuries, back in India. People there would probably laugh at you if you claimed to have any proprietary claim to these things, because so much of it is just part of the everyday spiritual culture there, and you'd already know about it if you lived there and cared about such things.

There's no question that they know this already. From an interview conducted in 1996 with the same TM teacher/attorney, who sent the letter I referenced above:

(Interviewer): Were you aware that the "Steps of Initiation" and so forth are on the Internet and have been for six months or more? 
(WPEC Attorney): [long pause] Uh, that may be.

Clause 4:  "...the organizations teaching the TM program do not give advice on medical or psychological treatments." I've encountered some evidence to the contrary recently, but it's unlikely that an individual just doing "2x20" TM and having no further significant contact with the organization is going to run into this. On the other hand, if you want to spend lots of money for "yagya" (astrological) consultations, you might see otherwise.

The tendency for long-term meditators to avoid medical treatment in favor of "ayurveda" and other quackery offered by various TM connected organizations is well known among those who are familiar with that subculture. One aspect of that avoidance has been documented, by the staggeringly low rate of measles vaccination among students at the "Maharishi School of the Age of  Enlightenment," a grade school for the children of meditators at the movement's United States home base in Fairfield, Iowa.

From my point of view, one of the long-term goals, from the organization's side, is the subtle influence of personal choices such that the movement's products are favored over those from other sources. There is much to suggest that this attempt to establish a personal preference for "Maharishi" branded products, including with respect to healthcare, sometimes to the neglect of one's own health, is prevalent in and around the cultural bubble in which Transcendental Meditation is central.

Clause 5: This is the liability waiver, which is of the blanket, "it doesn't matter if we were grossly negligent, you won't be suing us," sort. What's particularly interesting is the justification that's given for it: "In order to ensure that the activities of these organizations and the individuals who work on their behalf are not hindered by the burdens involved in defending legal proceedings..."

Throughout the whole process of learning TM, there's a not-so-subtle expression of the fact that TM teachers and the organization act from the position of a belief in what's most accurately described as religious, or Vedic, supremacy. They've expressed the belief that they're doing work that is divinely inspired, that it's of Vedic origin, that it comes from a religious tradition and its scriptures. Teachers refer to "ancient meditation texts" - actually meaning the Vedic scriptures themselves - and perform a ritual, the puja, before every TM instruction session, that demonstrate devotion to long gone individuals who believed themselves to be the custodians of a pure form of Vedic, religious, wisdom.

Every religious culture has its theocrats, who believe that their version of "God's law" - actually a construction of the imagination of a few people - has precedence over civil law and should apply to everyone. This is an example of that hierarchy: that they shouldn't have to be bothered with earthly lawsuits even in the event that what they're doing may be, on occasion, grossly negligent.

As a practical matter, whether or not this liability waiver can be made to stick in court is debatable, and to my knowledge it's never been used or challenged. Requirements for such waivers vary from state to state, and the state in which this agreement is expected to apply is never specified. Some states require an enumeration of the kinds of bad outcomes - injury, death, etc. - that might result from the activity covered by the waiver. Even though there are case studies and many anecdotal reports of negative consequences of even initial TM instruction - dissociation and anxiety being the most common negative effects - they are not mentioned here. That's because, of course, TM is sold as being uniformly beneficial for every single individual, regardless of the facts, and that's because TM teachers and the organization believe they're offering a product that is beyond earthly origin, pure, "life-affirming," and has no negative effect. Reality suggests otherwise, as it often does for people who incorrectly believe that their relationship with divine powers offers them some kind of immunity from obvious earthly consequences.

Clause 6: This merely says that the organization has the right to defend its teachers. The reference to "proceeding" seems to anticipate that the liability waiver might not apply in every case.

It's always a good idea, when you're paying a lot of money and are asked to sign something, to at least read what you're about to sign before you sign it. With all the marketing, and cultural expectation that reinforces the impression that TM is an ultimate cure for everything and that something as simple as meditation can't ever result in bad results, perhaps it's easy to avoid the fine print and just sign your rights away for all time. The fact that, as far as I know, you won't be allowed to take this, or the current version of, this agreement home and perhaps have an attorney at least glance at it before you learn TM, seems to suggest that the organization would like to avoid full disclosure of its practices and methods, right down to the legal documents prospective meditators are asked to sign.

They've always considered aspects of what they sell to be "private," even while those portions have long been freely available. That evident obsession with secrecy and privacy (some of which I personally witnessed back in the day) even extends to the most basic paperwork that's placed before every new meditator for their signature. It's about time that changed, isn't it?

Postscript: I noticed that if you Google for the entire phrase, "not hindered by the expense and other burdens involved in defending legal proceedings," the only matches that come up are from a much more lengthy and formal agreement on the website of a local center of another organization of Indian origin that offers meditation instruction. This organization also makes claims of uniqueness for their methods. I have no way of knowing if this language was copied from one organization to another, or if it's common to use this kind of phrase in liability waivers elsewhere in the world, but it's interesting that this exact phrase appears in widely separated but somewhat similar places.

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