Monday, September 28, 2020

Maharishi's many euphemisms for "God"

The TM organization has for almost a half-century now denied the religious nature of its methods and doctrine, almost to the point of absurdity. The fact of the matter is that almost all of the TM promotional material - books, websites, the content of introductory lectures - is littered with various synonyms for, what people in much of the world call “God.” More specifically, the underlying system is that of a Vedic, or Hindu, cosmology, and there’s a central concept of supreme divinity or ultimate reality in the TM subculture that they repeat under many alternate names. 

From a TM organization, in India, video. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva
behind Maharishi and his guru, Brahmananda Saraswati.

That supreme being in Hinduism is a triad of deities known as the Trimūrti: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer, and Shiva the destroyer. Direct references to the Trimūrti are not common in TM culture, but they can be found, as in the video image above, and as in this excerpt of an address given by Maharishi in 2007 referencing a phrase that’s contained in the puja that’s the central ritual of TM instruction, in which the Trimūrti are mentioned in Sanskrit. I’ve emphasized the relevant parts here:

We are fortunate to perform Puja to Guru Dev because in Guru Dev we have the reality of Krishna—reality of Total Knowledge is embodiment of Total Knowledge. "Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnur, Guru Devo Maheshvarah, Guruh Sakshat Param Brahma, Tasmai Sri Gurave Namah." Guru Brahma—Guru is the creator. Guru Vishnu—Guru is the maintainer. Guru Devo Maheshvarah—Guru is eternal Shiva, absolute silence. And Guru Sakshat Param Brahma, and Guru is the summation of the three, diversity, and unity. Tasmai Sri Guruve Namah. That is why we bow down to Guru Dev. Bowing down to Guru Dev is in essence, in reality, subjecting ourself to that eternal unified state which is the be-all and end-all of existence.

Efforts to recast Vedic or Hindu philosophy or doctrine as somehow basically secular or scientific in nature, to gain acceptance and status for it in Western culture, have been attempted for more than a century. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, through obfuscation, avoidance and word-substitution, and capitalizing on the unfamiliarity of Vedic culture in the West, took this process to absurd lengths in the process of popularizing Transcendental Meditation, sanitizing his teachings by removing all religious language that might be recognized by most people unfamiliar with the underlying cosmology of Hinduism and doing a wholesale word-substitution on any term that might reinforce the religious underpinnings of the TM program.  This sanitized, ostensibly theoretical framework, understanding or agreement with which is not required by new meditators (though it is partially explained in the multi-day process by which TM is learned), is inherent to the purpose and world transformative aims of the TM organization and its teachers. Today, any suggestion that TM is a central part of a religious culture is often met with a defiant attempted rebuttal, particularly among long-term meditators who have had little exposure to the cultural context of Hinduism from other sources outside the TM movement.

One of the TM movement’s initial, formal attempts to repackage Hindu/Vedic cosmology as a “science” is the so-called “Science of Creative Intelligence” (SCI). At MIU it is an initial, required course, along with instruction in TM. This is how it’s defined on the Maharishi International University (MIU) website:

SCI is the systematic study, experience, and development of the full range of life – both individual and cosmic. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Maharishi International University, presents in this course the universal principles that are responsible for the creation, maintenance, and evolution of the individual, society, and the cosmos. Maharishi uses analogies and effective repetition in these comprehensive lectures to enable students to understand and integrate the principles of consciousness and intelligence underlying all creation.

This course, which consists of 33 videotaped lectures by Maharishi, has been offered to meditators by the TM organization since the early 1970’s. It serves to reframe TM, and the underlying doctrine of TM as scientific and irreligious, when there is nothing scientific about them, and it may be likened to the belief in “scientific creationism” among some Christians. Efforts to test claims made for TM, beyond some apparent benefit for some people through simple relaxation, based on this doctrine - beliefs like the “Maharishi Effect,” that large numbers of people practicing TM would affect the environment (even the weather!) and the behavior of people and society around them - have always fallen flat. This kind of research has always been performed at the direction of longtime true-believer meditators and MIU faculty and such claims don’t reflect any more general scientific consensus among researchers not connected in some way with the TM organization.

This term, “creative intelligence,” is one of many euphemisms for what most would call a mostly impersonal, potentially directly experienceable, “God” regularly used by the TM organization. It’s considered by them to be the source of everything, including human thoughts, and is said to be directly experienced through the practice of Transcendental Meditation, and, they say, is the source of the benefits gained through regular practice. The twisting of language to popularize concepts equivalent to that of “God” or of divine influence or control, in secular language, is found throughout TM doctrine, beginning with the very first contact that a prospective meditator may have in an introductory lecture, using many different terms that all tend to mean the same thing.

In the process of doing research for another forthcoming article, I kept running into more and more euphemisms for the Trimūrti, or “God” if you prefer, in the books and websites created by the TM organization, and in other materials like videos of introductory lectures. So here is a by no means complete list of these sorts of terms, some of which have multiple meanings that include the same sort of connotation or reference to some all-pervading cosmic intelligence or its influence, summarized by a slogan sometimes found in TM literature: “The Individual is Cosmic.” The terms also combine, so that some of the words and phrases like “consciousness” and “field” show up multiple times in this list.

From an introductory lecture (Bob Roth on Facebook, September 2018), as well as most introductory material on TM:

  • unbounded field of creativity

(the word “unbounded” always connotes some cosmic, divine connection beyond an individual’s own consciousness)

  • state of restful alertness

  • unbounded awareness

  • source of thought

  • field of silence

  • field of consciousness

From “The TM Book” (1991 edition):

  • a field of pure energy deep within the mind

  • source of intelligence

  • source of pure creativity and intelligence at the basis of the thinking process

  • unified field

  • deepest level of objective nature

  • deepest level of human nature

  • fountainhead of natural law

  • the state of least excitation of consciousness

  • the unified field of all the laws of nature

  • a field of all possibilities

  • ground state of all the laws of nature

  • source of the infinite organizing power of nature

  • field of infinite correlation

Bob Roth’s books Strength in Stillness and Transcendental Meditation:

  • “the intelligence that runs the universe” (attributed to Ellen DeGeneres)

  • your own innermost, unbounded self

  • "self-referral" state/level of awareness

  • unified field of natural law

  • inner reservoir of energy and intelligence

  • the deepest level of the mind

  • field of maximum energy and intelligence

  • an unbounded reservoir of pure energy

  • the field of pure consciousness

  • the unlimited potential of nature at its source

  • a field of infinite dynamism

  • transcendental consciousness

  • the total potential of nature's creativity and intelligence

Science of Being and Art of Living (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi), 1976 hardback edition:

  • transcendental field of eternal Being

  • pure state of Being

  • ultimate basis of creation

  • the absolute energy

  • “the unmanifested aspect of existence which lies beyond the subtlest aspect of an energy particle”

  • the state of pure existence

  • the ultimate reality of creation

  • “Existence, life or Being is the unmanifested reality of all that exists, lives or is. Being is the ultimate reality of all that was, is or will be. It is eternal and unbounded, the basis of all the phenomenal existence of cosmic life. It is the source of all time, space and causation. It is the be-all and end-all of existence, the all-pervading eternal field of the almighty creative intelligence. I am That eternal Being, thou art That and all this is in its essential nature That eternal Being.”

  • “Experience shows that Being is bliss-consciousness, the source of all thinking, of all existing creation. It lies beyond relative existence, where the experiencer or mind is left awake in full awareness of itself without the experience of any object. The conscious mind reaches the state of pure consciousness, which is the source of all thinking. The almighty creative intelligence of the Absolute is the source of all intelligence. Being is the source of all power. It is the source of all nature and of the natural laws which maintain the different forms and phenomena in creation.”

  • “The basis of thought-energy we call the state of Being. Thus, Being and the Absolute are synonymous.”

From an explanation of the puja, the TM instruction ritual, taught in India:

  • Absolute being

  • Supreme Knowledge

  • Divine Unity

  • pure consciousness (because “the Absolute is said to be pure”)

  • eternal Being

  • immortal Being

  • the Transcendent

  • fullness of life

  • purity of life

  • light of eternity

  • Transcendental Bliss

  • Absolute Consciousness

  • field of creation

  • celestial field of life

  • Guru Dev (as a personification of divinity)

  • supreme field of life

From other TM organization sources:

  • pure knowledge

  • totality of knowledge

  • total bliss consciousness

  • Constitution of the universe

These pseudonyms for a blatantly religious concept are unavoidable when approaching Transcendental Meditation. While presented in the context of a faux universalism - that posits that what’s described by these words is the actual basis of reality, and that all of it falls into the realm of science and physics that underlies human existence - what is actually described here is very specific, in every detail, to the Vedas and to what is generally called Hinduism. Framing these terms and the underlying belief system (which the organization always denies the existence of) as not only the basis of reality but as the true basis of all other religions, is the clear exercise of religious supremacism, placing Vedic scripture and the spiritual culture rooted there as the basis of all other religions.

Since this underlying doctrine behind TM is unavoidable and is constantly present, even in introductory lectures and books written by representatives of the organization, I think it’s important to consider how these morsels of doctrine, always offered simultaneously with the instruction in meditation, may also be considered the source of TM’s alleged benefits for some people. There is no stand-alone “meditation” in the TM program, meditation is only taught in the context of at least some part of this whole system of belief that propels the organization and movement, whether explicitly defined with a title, as in the “Science of Creative Intelligence,” or more subtly delivered without giving it a formal name.

Promotion of an awareness if not a belief in some “higher power,” or as I’ve quoted a prominent meditator’s description, “the intelligence that runs the universe” can be a profound motivator to change human behavior, in the same way that religious conversion is often attributed as something that “changed my life” or “saved my life” by those who’ve experienced it. It places human life in some likely to be imaginary, larger or even cosmic context, through the use of language.

One good example of this phenomenon is Alcoholics Anonymous, in which some vague belief in a “higher power,” often one that the participant already believes in, is central to that program and is part of a system in which people change their behavior. But in TM there is nothing vague about that “higher power” and the specific qualities attributed to it; Maharishi may have flipped some of the directional metaphors from what many in the West are used to hearing (higher becomes downward, upward becomes inward), but the ultimate purpose is still much of the same. 

While meditators may develop their own explanations of what happens to them in TM, from the perspective of the organization, its world-transformative intent, and what it teaches as part of the TM program, this “higher power” is specifically the cosmology and aspects of supreme divinity defined in a specific religious tradition. It is for this reason that the teaching of TM in public schools has historically been prohibited in the United States, despite the organization’s attempts to the contrary.

While much of the district court’s opinion in the original case against TM in public schools, Malnak v. Yogi, centered on a high school textbook teaching the “Science of Creative Intelligence” to students already initiated in the practice of Transcendental Meditation, it’s impossible to separate SCI from TM. The concepts and terminology central to the doctrine of SCI are present throughout the promotion and teaching of TM, and it permeates most if not all the promotional material created by the TM organization, most obviously in “The TM Book” of the 1970’s which was, in its structure, a miniature SCI course. Specifically, as soon as the word “unbounded” is uttered by a TM teacher, the threshold has been crossed into a realm of religious belief.  Indeed, the word “unbounded” is quoted or mentioned over thirty times in the district court’s opinion, which is very specific in its equating of TM’s unavoidable “field of consciousness” or “creative intelligence” concepts and that of “God,” as in this excerpt:

The [SCI} textbook clearly teaches and assumes that there exists and has existed eternally an unmanifested or uncreated field of life which is unbounded or infinite. This field of life is present everywhere, both within and without everything in the universe; it permeates everything and every being and is the ultimate reality of everything in the universe. This field of life is active in the form of "creative intelligence," is the source of all power in the universe, has "unlimited power," and encompasses all knowledge. This field of life is pure and perfect and contains all qualities of the universe in their pure, perfect, and infinite form. This field of life is alternately termed perfection of existence, bliss, and intelligence. This field of being contains love, justice, and truth in their pure and infinite forms. Contact with this field of being bestows upon individuals the ability to choose between right and wrong spontaneously, without regard to moral codes and laws.  Manifestly, the textbook describes some sort of ultimate reality which in its various forms is given the name "god" in common usage.

The Court also pointed to one of the obvious conflicts between TM’s “creative intelligence” and the religious faith or the lack of it held by others, in the context of Jerry Jarvis’ profession of unspecified religious views. Jarvis was then president of the TM teaching organization at the time, World Plan Executive Council.

Defendants call attention to defendant Jarvis' religious views as demonstrative of the lack of religiosity in SCI/TM, ... and these views illustrate one of the problems with the teachings of the SCI/TM course. While defendant Jarvis is able to accept as a matter of religious faith that God created creative intelligence, he was unable to explain in terms of reason how something that has existed "always," was created by God who also has existed always. The same metaphysical conundrum no doubt would confront some high school students of SCI/TM. In addition, those students who doubt or deny the existence of God or any other unmanifest field of life will be subjected to inculcation of a belief in an unmanifest field of life which is pure, perfect, and unbounded.

This unavoidable connection between Transcendental Meditation and language which frequently references some vague something larger than oneself, brings into question the actual mechanism that may be the true cause of some of the individual or social consequences that are attributed to TM by its proponents. Unlike many other forms of meditation, which are strictly some sort of mental exercise, TM comes bound to a certain peculiar language and description of the mind and human consciousness, and through the use of words like “unbounded,” some “field” that extends well beyond the physical, individual mind. As with other life-changing experiences, such as those with Alcoholics Anonymous and its vague references to “higher power,” or full-on religious conversion to faiths with explicit references to deities, the placement of the individual in a much larger, or even “cosmic” context, particularly one that claims to be tied to an “ancient tradition” and delivered by way of a mysterious ritual, can serve as a pretext to change behavior.

The scientific research conducted on Transcendental Meditation, since it is usually directed or strongly influenced by individuals who’ve lived inside the TM cultural context for decades, always focuses on the mental practice, and never makes any mention of everything delivered with instruction in that mental practice. TM is never offered with a “try this, it might work for you” sort of caveat. It is always sold as a panacea that always works, provided it is practiced properly - and that emphasis on proper practice is used as a method of deepening the relationship between the meditator and the organization, with devices such as meditation “checking” and advanced lectures and programs. 

There is no means by which the underlying doctrine of an ubiquitous “creative intelligence” can be separated from TM and somehow controlled for in a scientific study, to rule out the likely possibility that a shift in individual outlook stimulated by way of TM teaching outside of the meditation itself, is at least partially responsible for any beneficial changes in behavior or health. Nor is there any means by which the constant expectation-setting through the repetition of TM’s alleged benefits in every facet of life - all of which, in a research context, constitutes coaching of research subjects - can be isolated from TM practice.  

TM is never taught strictly as just a mental, meditation practice, but always along with at least five to seven hours of other information which presents the organization’s view of what TM is, the organization’s peculiar, SCI-based belief system of how human consciousness works, and how, in that secular-sounding refinement of Vedic doctrine, the practice of meditation is a means of self-realization. The placement of the individual into some universal, cosmic, “unbounded” whole - with mention of the baseless assertion that individual meditation, practiced by a sufficient number of people, would bring about positive effects on others and society up to and including “world peace” - is always part of the process of initiation into Transcendental Meditation.

From the organization’s perspective, all of this doctrinal material is extremely important; the need for it to always be repeated accurately when teaching TM is reinforced with the phrase that’s drummed into TM teachers, “purity of the teaching.” It is so important to them that a TM mobile app is in the process of development and testing, so that all of that “teaching,” other than the puja and the delivery of a mantra, will in the future be delivered by way of a digital recording, without the need for an individual teacher who might leave out or miscommunicate some portion of it.

The broad, “TM is not a religion” assertion by the TM organization and its teachers is one of the basic misrepresentations that’s an essential, core aspect of Transcendental Meditation. It might as well be in its DNA, and it’s not something that can be eliminated through reason or science, because it’s part of an unchangeable, “pure,” teaching based in religious scripture. It’s a deception that dates back before  Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s first departure from India. It’s one of the primary reasons why the TM organization and its teachers aren’t trustworthy, why TM should be avoided, and why it should never be considered a legitimate practice endorsed by government, science or medicine.

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