Saturday, March 27, 2021

New PTSD studies: TM as a "black box" - what's inside?

Recent studies claiming that Transcendental Meditation is effective in treating PTSD, and that it provides other benefits, treat TM as a “black box.” As with many similar past studies, researchers fail to consider that this method of meditation instruction contains several hours of other information, which creates a context of expectation of life improvement, a structure or habit which will improve life, and an authority who provides the assurance that TM will unfailingly produce those changes. These inadequacies in the design of these studies would be obvious, if all aspects of instruction in the TM program that have never been opened for examination by the TM teaching organization were properly studied and controlled for by independent researchers.

Another research study, this time on using TM as a method of treating PTSD, has just been published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. The study, “A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation as Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans,” purports to show that “Veterans with PTSD who practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique showed significant reductions in PTSD symptom severity.” A widely circulated press release issued by Maharishi International University announced this study, headlined with the “Transcendental Meditation effective in reducing PTSD, sleep problems, depression symptoms” claim. It includes the same sort of ubiquitous bar chart that’s been seen in TM promotional efforts since at least the mid-1970’s.

It should be noted that while the data analysis performed in this study showed significant positive changes with respect to PTSD, insomnia, depression and anxiety, there were no significant changes on the measures of anger and quality of life, the last being one of TM’s traditional selling points. More notable is the way in which this study, as with many others performed with the participation of the Maharishi International University (MIU) research faculty, relies on a vague if not inappropriately inaccurate description of Transcendental Meditation, as if it were solely a method practiced inside the mind and contained no other significant aspects, doctrine or belief that might in some way affect behavior which would then produce these results, among some people, for some limited period of time. 

This study was funded by the David Lynch Foundation, and was performed at the Unified Behavior Health Center for Military Veterans and their Families (UBHC) in Bay Shore, New York.  It shares with many other attempts to study TM, a number of shortcomings, including a small number of subjects - 20 meditators, 1 of whom dropped out before the study’s conclusion - and 20 controls. The test program was only 12 weeks long. The practice of TM was compared to the “treatment as usual” experienced by the control group.

As with another recent TM study involving military veterans with PTSD, there are effectively two definitions of Transcendental Meditation placed back-to-back in the description of the intervention that is being studied, that is, descriptions of TM and the “TM program.” Here is the entirety of what appears in the paper:


Transcendental Meditation involves the use of a mantra, or sound, in an effortless manner, without concentration (Travis & Shear, 2010). The practice of TM allows one to experience progressively lesser-excited, quieter levels of the mind, producing a unique state of restful alertness (Nidich, 2018). For the present study, TM was taught in the same format as is standardly offered in the community (Roth, 2018), and no modifications were made to address PTSD symptomatology.

Participants in the TM group engaged in 16 sessions over the course of 12 weeks, which included an introductory and preparatory lecture followed by a brief personal interview (Session 1); four core instruction sessions (i.e., individual instruction in TM followed by three group sessions for verification of correctness of practice and further instruction over 4 consecutive days; Sessions 2-5); and 11 weekly group follow-up sessions of approximately 60 min each (Sessions 6-16). Participants in the TM group were encouraged to practice TM at home for 20 min twice a day. Participants in the TM groups also continued with their usual care.

The first part of this description describes mantra meditation, but gives few details. Press releases describing this study make mention of a previous clinical trial, which is the second paper cited (Nidich, 2018). That previous study shares some similarities to this one, also involving veterans with PTSD, and in that paper describing that investigation there are likewise two definitions of TM, with a bit of elaboration of the first:

TM is a simple, effortless technique, practiced for 20 min twice a day, sitting with eyes closed. TM allows ordinary thinking processes to become more quiescent, resulting in a unique state of restful alertness.

This is of course the popular impression or understanding of what meditation is, that there is not much more to it than closing the eyes and thinking some set of thoughts or directing one’s attention in various directions. But the “TM program,” the alleged benefits of which are being studied here, is much more than just that. Left unmentioned and unexamined is the content of the 16 sessions central to the currently published study, only one of which involves actual instruction in meditation.

Some disclosure of the instruction process is included in the 2018 paper, but little detail is mentioned about the actual content of these sessions.

The core instruction for learning the TM technique was taught over 5 days in a group format with individual personal instruction (session 2). Session 1 consisted of, first, an introductory lecture, involving an overview of previous scientific research on the TM programme and a preview of possible benefits; second, a preparatory lecture, consisting of discussion of the mechanics and origin of TM; and third, a brief personal interview with the instructor. Session 2 was one-to-one instruction in the practice of TM. Sessions 3, 4, and 5 involved continuing TM instruction and verifying the correctness of practice. Sessions 2–5 were delivered on consecutive days, as is standard practice.

Perhaps a bit more illuminating is the following paragraph, describing the followup sessions (this particular study was longer at 3 months) and making reference to “content and delivery” and “quality control.”

After the core instruction, there were seven maintenance sessions (in a group format) over the rest of the 3-month period. These sessions included verification of correct practice of the TM technique and a discussion of experiences. These follow-up sessions were similar to those of other clinical trials with TM. [citations] Participants were encouraged to continue to practice two 20-min TM sessions at home each day. CG-K (PhD educator) [Carolyn Gaylord-King, a TM teacher, MIU board and research faculty member and co-author of this paper] supervised the delivery of the TM programme, monitoring the content and delivery of the sessions for quality control.  CG-K spoke with TM instructors weekly during the first several months and approximately twice a month over the duration of the trial, predominantly by phone.

The disclosure that there is a great deal of other content in the “programme” that requires monitoring for “quality control” by a TM teacher raises a basic question. What is the specific objective of this study? In scientific research terms, what is the treatment, or the independent variable whose effects are to be measured?

The unmentionable assumption in all research on TM, never explicitly stated to my knowledge, is always that it is solely the act of meditating that is the treatment and fundamental cause of the effects that are observed and measured. The content of everything else that is part of the “TM programme” is never mentioned. Those other components are also never disclosed in the resulting published research, other than the vague mentions as in the above examples, and evidently, those parts are never disclosed (and likely portions are not permitted to be disclosed) by meditating researchers or the TM teachers to the non-meditating researchers. They are apparently taken as a given that those elements cannot and will not be available for inspection, analysis, and for that matter, independent measurement of their effects, and none of those details appear in any of the published literature or scientific studies of TM. This is why I refer here to TM as a “black box.”

It is my view that all the rest of the content vaguely referred to in the second part of this description of TM in both of these studies (and likely in many others) constitutes a small pile of confounding variables - influences of cause and effect that are never identified and accounted for - that in any other research of this nature would be recognized as an obvious indicator of very poor research design. These extensive interactions between TM teachers and research subjects over the course of many sessions, and their contents, are never documented in any detail. 

The obvious alternative explanation for many phenomena, including changes in behavior, perceived well-being, and even EEG changes, connected with TM practice is that some element of the interaction between TM teachers and other authorities, and the subjects, is the cause of the purported changes or benefits. The instruction process for what’s supposed to be only a simple method of closed-eye meditation may serve as a delivery method for other forms of influence or doctrine which has a significant effect on many, but not all, people, to the point of being called “life-changing” by some who have experienced it.

The content of the TM program, other than the mantra and specifics on how to use it, can be divided into three categories: expectation setting, structure, and authority. Since Bob Roth’s book, Strength in Stillness, is cited in this paper as a description of the TM program, I’ll primarily refer to quotes from that book to illustrate the actual content that is reinforced in the course of TM instruction and follow up. Also included here are links to documentation of the never formally disclosed to outsiders, inner workings of TM instruction, including the puja,  the “checking notes,” and the teachers’ notes for the three final instruction sessions, all of which are not made public by the organization but have been made available online by former TM teachers for more than twenty years.

Expectation setting: this is the function of most promotional advertising activities of the TM organization, to develop the expectation that instruction in and practice of TM will in every case be beneficial if not life-changing. Creating expectations of what TM would do for the reader is the main purpose of Roth’s book, starting with its subtitle: “The Power of Transcendental Meditation.”  You don’t even have to fully open the book, just read the inside flaps:

While there is no one single cure, the Transcendental Meditation technique is a simple practice that dramatically changes how we respond to stress and life’s challenges. With scientifically proven benefits — reduced stress and anxiety, and improved focus, sleep, resilience, creativity, and memory, to name a few — this five-thousand-year-old technique has a clear and direct impact on our very modern problems.

Interesting that Roth here, or whoever wrote this cover blurb, hedges the claim, since the assumption that TM is the cure for everything has been repeated by the organization for decades, including in one of the first pages of The TM Book (1975 and 1991) which certainly frames TM as a cure for everything and anything:

The Transcendental Meditation program changes the quality of life from poverty, emptiness, and suffering to abundance, fulfillment, and happiness.

While this particular snippet of text from the preface to some editions of Maharishi’s primary text, The Science of Being and Art of Living, may never be seen by most meditators, it exemplifies the sort of evangelistic attitude that the TMO and its teachers have always taken to their promotion of TM, rooted in setting a starry-eyed, over-the-top expectation of a vast transformation of both individuals and humanity. It was written by Charlie Lutes, who was then, in the mid-1960’s, the president of the TM teaching organization. Perhaps because of its sensationalistic lack of realism, editors deleted it from paperback editions of this book (sometimes retitled “Transcendental Meditation")  that were commonly available in the 1970’s.

This is a book of revival for the age. If the golden era is ever to dawn on human society, if peace and harmony are to reign on earth, The Science of Being and Art of Living will provide a free way for it to come. A new humanity will be bom, fuller in conception and richer in experience and accomplishments in all fields. Joy of life will belong to every man, love will dominate human society, truth and virtue will reign in the world, peace on earth will be permanent and all will live in fulfilment, in fullness of life in God-consciousness.

Expectation setting comprises most of the content of the books written by TM teachers and other supporters to sell TM. There is nothing in them on how to start doing it by yourself, to the disappointment of many readers - the whole point is to generate interest and direct interested people to the organization and its teachers.  There is precious little in them on what is actually contained in the private parts of instruction and so-called  “checking” of meditation, but there is considerable use of terminology, including frequent use of the word “unbounded,” that suggests that some mysterious mechanism is uniquely the source of TM’s benefits and the only way to take advantage of that mechanism is to go through with instruction in TM.

Many other examples of language that creates expectations on the part of prospective meditators can be found by browsing Roth’s book. While forms signed by prospective meditators during the TM teaching process have been known to contain the disclaimer, “no specific benefits of the practice of the TM program are promised to me,” this absolute assurance that “your high blood pressure [will] decrease” is contained in Roth’s book, at page 94. (There is no medical disclaimer between the covers of this book.) As is common throughout, references to “research” are largely confined to those studies in which the investigators are predominantly lifelong meditators and MIU research faculty. (Emphasis added.)

I want to emphasize that TM is not like blood pressure medication, where your level goes down after you take a pill and then climbs back up over time until you take another one. That’s obviously helpful, and very necessary, for people with hypertension, but it doesn’t address the underlying issue of how people’s bodies react to stress. It’s masking or merely managing the problem. In contrast, the research shows that the benefits of TM are cumulative. Not only will your high blood pressure decrease, but a lot of other good, healthy effects will follow. You will be more resilient, more efficient, and feel healthier and more energized over time. It’s not positive thinking; it’s not too good to be true. It’s simply what happens when you are not tied up in huge knots of stress.

Maharishi with bubble diagram.
BBC, 1964
Expectation setting during the first two sessions of introductory and preparatory lectures also includes a metaphorical suggestion of what the practice of TM subjectively feels like for some people, which may prime the prospective meditator to have a particular kind of experience once they are given a mantra. This is part of the function of the bubble diagram, in which thoughts are described as bubbles rising from the “source of thought” at the bottom of an ocean. Likewise, the subjective experience of TM is described as the reverse, of diving into that ocean to contact that “source of thought,” “transcendental consciousness,” “unbounded creativity” or any of the synonyms which are used as descriptions of a divine source of all intelligence.

The generation of more expectations for the purported results of TM practice occurs in the introductory and preparatory lectures, and also through the rest of the instruction sessions. The alleged benefits of TM, both in those lectures and in other published materials, are supported throughout through references to a body of scientific research, much of which was produced by long-time TM meditators who first learned TM in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. This research, after fifty years, is generally associated with MIU’s research faculty to various degrees, and doesn’t reflect a more general scientific consensus that would support the organization’s claims for TM’s benefits.

Structure: the obvious element of structure is the need to develop a habit of twice daily meditation practice. From the teacher’s notes for the first night’s followup: “Establish two regular periods of meditation -- maximum benefit from TM comes from regularity of two periods per day.” While TM promoters insist that no change in lifestyle is necessary to practice TM, a significant piece of an individual’s day - 40 minutes to an hour - must be dedicated to the practice of TM, and that instruction comes in the context that the expectation of benefits won’t be fulfilled without that level of practice. This is a not-insignificant commitment of time for most people. From Roth’s book, page 106:

Life intrudes, and, realistically, you’re probably going to miss a session. But for your own sake, make that the exception, not the rule. Make it a priority. Of course, I think you should try to do it twice a day, because that is how you will get the most benefit.

Another element of structure is the TM program itself. Meditators aren’t necessarily on their own with respect to their meditation practice; one of the selling points of TM is that anyone who’s started TM may have their meditation “checked” by any TM teacher, and by a few others who were trained solely as meditation “checkers.” Other opportunities exist for meditators to go deeper into the program - advanced lectures, techniques, residence courses. This is in contrast to other interventions or meditation methods that don’t necessarily provide for this level of structured follow up. Again, from the Roth book, page 107:

There will be events in your life that you might need a little support to get through. As TM teachers, we are here for you. And even if you are on a sustained roll, it's nice to have check-in sessions to refresh your practice, to make sure you are on the right track. I just meditated with someone I’d taught in 1972!

Authority: From the introductory mentions of “ancient meditation texts”  and “the oldest continuous meditation tradition in the world,” there is an underlying absolutist authoritarianism to the TM program that is never acknowledged when researchers attempt to study Transcendental Meditation. Numerous times throughout Roth’s book, the TM program is described as having originated from some very special traditional chain of authority, with descriptions such as these which begin on page 1:

The technique comes from the oldest continuous meditation tradition in the world...For well over five thousand years, the TM technique was passed down from teacher to student, one to one: never in groups, never from a book. It has roots in the ancient noble warrior classes, where acting out of fear or anger brought disaster and defeat... Over those thousands of years, the TM technique has been honed to twenty minutes, twice a day…  (Pages 1 and 2)

It has never been demonstrated that TM as presently taught is identical to traditional practices in India, particularly with respect to mantra selection; in particular, that part of the practice (only disclosed to TM teachers) appears to have been solely sourced to Maharishi himself, possibly as a means of easily keeping track of which mantra a meditator received, in the event of a Jeff Goldblum-esque “I forgot my mantra” situation.

Likewise, the relationship between present-day TM as promoted and taught, and the content of the “ancient meditation texts'' - the Vedas, religious texts of India and that region of the world - is not as clear as Roth states. The content of these Vedic and Hindu traditional texts are connected with TM and its underlying doctrine, the Science of Creative Intelligence, or SCI,  by way of unorthodox interpretations associated with Maharishi and his sect, that are not necessarily commonly known in India. These interpretations include the assertion of a direct one-for-one relationship between the Vedic model of consciousness and quantum physics, which began to be articulated by TM movement physicists in the late 1970’s.

It’s therefore reasonable to assume that some exaggeration of these claims occurs, to set up Maharishi and the TM teaching organization as an unquestionable, unique and absolute authority in the field of meditation despite the lack of firm evidence to support such assertions. 

Graphic from the "research" section of the
current website
Other associations are also regularly made during the course of promoting TM which serve to bolster assumptions of its legitimacy, by reference to other authorities with a sometimes tenuous connection to TM’s claims. A frequent example is the naming of various institutions where meditating TM advocates or scientific investigators were educated, that were sources of funding for TM, or were locations where TM research was carried out. Eight research universities are named just in Roth’s book: MIT, UCLA,  Harvard, Georgetown, Cornell, George Washington, George Mason, and New York universities, and the University of Chicago. The National Institutes of Health and the Defense Department of the United States are also mentioned in Roth’s book as having some relationship with TM. In all of these cases, which in TM promotional literature may include graphic logos or insignia, the impression is left that these institutions, widely considered to be authoritative in science and medicine, have in some way endorsed TM, when that has not actually occurred. 

The problem with this claim of scientific authority is that when it is carefully examined, most of the studies cited were produced with the participation of individuals like Bob Roth, who have been meditating most of their lives, and who are oftentimes themselves TM teachers and who have been associated with MIU for years if not decades. There is no general scientific consensus supporting the specific claims made for TM practice as a unique method. These claims, put forward by a tiny number of individuals, may be likened to those made by climate change denialists, where a scientific consensus is denied, or inversely, the impression of the existence of a scientific consensus is constructed when there is none, by a small cadre of otherwise credentialed people.

Which brings us to the third reason for the explosion of interest in meditation: science, science, and more science. There is so much evidence validating the benefits of meditation that even the most skeptical among us has to (perhaps begrudgingly) acknowledge that something significant, something important, is going on when we meditate. (Page 10)

Another clear assertion of authority occurs during the actual instruction in TM, which is always preceded by a ritual, or puja. The usual explanation of this brief ceremony given by TM teachers, which Roth repeats in his book, both emphasizes an alleged “tradition of great meditation teachers,” and deemphasizes if not misrepresents the religious nature of the ritual. The puja was held to be inherently religious and no different from a prayer in a 1977 US Federal court opinion, upheld on appeal, and thus its required performance disqualified the teaching of TM as part of a public school program. A lawsuit is currently in progress in Federal court in Chicago over similar issues surrounding a more recent program of this nature. Again, the authoritarian attitude is that these practices, evidently religious to most while their religiosity is denied, are nothing other than what they say they are, never mind your doubts, what other knowledgeable people may say, or what they may look like to you. 

Also during this initial meeting, your teacher will talk about the tradition of great meditation teachers who have safeguarded the knowledge of transcendence for millennia, and about the traditional way a TM teacher acknowledges this lineage of teachers today. Prior to the instruction, your teacher will perform a simple thank-you ceremony—an ancient way of expressing gratitude to the teacher. It’s a lovely cultural tradition, and not religious in any way. It also reminds your teacher to maintain the integrity and accuracy of the steps of instruction to ensure maximum benefit for those who learn in the future. You won't, of course, be asked to participate in it. (Page 52)

Roth uses the “simple” word to dismiss the importance of this integral part of TM instruction, when the fact is that a puja in Indian culture is a devotional ritual performed to a deity. When teaching TM, it’s a way of recognizing, through performance, action and setting, the authority of a whole series of teachers who were considered by many to be the living personification of divinity, or God. It is an expression of power, legitimacy and dominance of an inherently supremacist religious tradition over the new meditator, and also serves as a reminder of that dominance and authority to the TM teacher. It places the new meditator in the role of a potential devotee of a world-changing movement, and not simply a consumer of a commercial product.

This affirmation of the organization’s and the teacher’s authority sets the stage for what occurs in the sessions that follow individual instruction. Meditators are encouraged to meditate regularly, as instructed, and their meditation is “checked” through a question and answer, flowchart-like procedure which in a group setting involves each meditator filling out a form for evaluation by the teacher, followed by discussion of experiences which may occur during meditation. As can be seen in the description of the individual procedure, distressing or unpleasant sensations, feelings, anxiety or thoughts are always characterized as being temporary and as positive effects of meditation, that it is working correctly and that “something good is happening.” There is no exit point in which the teacher may ever recommend that the meditator discontinue the practice entirely due to unexpected distressing or unhealthy effects. This first followup session primarily creates a vague framework of “correct” and “incorrect” practice of meditation setting up a scenario in which meditators may be put in the position of accepting blame for “incorrect” practice resulting in a lack of benefit or even detrimental experiences for the meditator.

In the second session after individual instruction, a completely pseudo-scientific model of “stress” is presented, as if it were some substance which accumulated in the body and that it will be “dissolved” through some not necessarily unique state of “restful alertness” obtained through TM practice. There is, of course, no scientific consensus to suggest that this state of “restful alertness” is unique to TM, or that “stress” and its dissolving can be observed and measured directly. The summary of this session from Roth’s book explains this session’s purpose for the meditator by mentioning  both of these aspects: “Understand the mechanics of how the unique state of restful alertness gained during TM practice allows the body to dissolve deeply rooted stress” (page 106).

The final TM instruction follow up session is where the content completely veers off into pseudo-science and assertions that are of a supernatural if not religious nature. This is where the activities that lead up to this point - expectation setting, structure, and authority - come together in the delivery of parts of what serves as the core doctrine of TM, which they call the “Science of Creative Intelligence.” This “science” is in fact not scientific at all, but a system of belief that may be likened to, and is a restatement of a particular interpretation of, religious dogma, in which it is believed that regular contact with the “source of thought” through TM, that “source” being the cosmic, supreme divinity described in Vedic scriptures, is the true origin of eventual individual and global transformation as well as all of existence. In this context in which the groundwork sets the stage for a progressive revelation of the framework of belief underlying Transcendental Meditation, these tenets are all described as being related to the experiences of meditation that the new meditators have just experienced. These specific beliefs acquire a new level of credibility for those who have meditated for the first few times, through that connection to perceived meditation experience.

Here I quote again from Bob Roth’s book, where he lays out for the reader part of the contents of this session, starting at page 103:

As this growth continues naturally over time, you will develop the expanded mental faculties that Maharishi and the ancient meditation texts call “cosmic consciousness” and that Dr. Norman Rosenthal calls the “super mind” in his best-selling book by that title. As Dr. Rosenthal puts it: “The super mind is a mental state that consists of the development of expanded states of consciousness that occur in tandem with reduced stress, better physical health, and the emergence of life-enhancing personal qualities.”

The reference to “ancient meditation texts” refers to the Vedas and other religious scriptures native to India and that region of the world.  The assertion that there is an actual sustained and verifiable state of “cosmic consciousness” is not supported by scientific evidence from independent sources; support for its existence comes from testimonies of the subjective experience of some meditators, the research performed by lifelong meditators and/or MIU researchers, and from Maharishi’s particular interpretation of Vedic scriptures. 

Rosenthal himself is also a meditator. The title of his book, Super Mind, is intended as a synonym for the elusive, unsupported by scientific consensus outside of MIU's campus, state of "cosmic consciousness" central to the TM belief system. The brief account of his work provided here by Roth, relies entirely on the self-reports of TM meditators, which may not be all that reliable a method of determining TM’s effectiveness. 

[Rosenthal] surveyed more than six hundred TM practitioners, a large majority of whom reported that, since starting to meditate, “they felt as though they had become more mindful, recovered more quickly from unpleasant events, were more fully present and engaged, and were generally happier,” Dr. Rosenthal told me. “They also reported that they felt more in the zone, which was associated with greater ease at getting things done, and improved creativity and productivity. Unsurprisingly, these traits were associated with improved performance at work.”

No objective evaluation of these “more than six hundred TM practitioners” has been provided to support their self-assessment. The “Consciousness Integration Questionnaire” Rosenthal used (provided as an appendix to Super Mind and co-authored with two members of the MIU faculty) is clearly designed, item by item, to match up, in language and objective, with exactly what is taught during the TM induction process. Anyone who has been through TM instruction knows what the “correct” answers are, independent of their own experience; and those answers were provided to them in a context of expectation of life improvement, a structure or habit which will improve life, and an authority who provides the assurance that TM will unfailingly provide those changes. The correspondences of TM instruction methods to these questions are, of course, not evident to the casual reader who has no idea what TM marketing looks like, or what its teachers say to new meditators. Here are some obvious examples:

  • Since starting to meditate, is it easier to get things done?

  • Since starting to meditate, have you noticed changes in your productivity or creativity?

  • Since starting to meditate, have you made healthier choices in your daily life, e.g., discontinued bad habits or initiated good habits?

  • Since starting to meditate, have you felt a greater connection with your community, the world, or even the universe?

  • Since starting to meditate, do you feel you have been luckier or that things have gone your way more than before without you having to put any extra effort into them?

This last point is of particular importance to those who may sense something about TM is designed to appeal to superstitious irrationality, and it’s important enough for Bob Roth to draw particular attention to it:

Those who responded to Dr. Rosenthal’s questionnaire also reported feeling “luckier,” as though they were receiving more support from those around them.

The impetus for this question is not just a matter of whether the meditator is being “luckier,” it’s whether the meditator is experiencing the “support of nature” that is a given in the core religious doctrine inherent to the TM program.  Rosenthal devotes a whole chapter to “support of nature” in his book, throwing out for the reader, without much explanation, that he was “particularly interested by the number of people who commented on how much easier it was to find good parking spots since starting to meditate.”

Graphics from Norman Rosenthal's website
In a graphic on Rosenthal’s website supporting his book, a reference is made to “forces passing through you” that come from outside oneself. This is a core assumption in the TM belief system, that just through regularly meditating and experiencing “transcendental consciousness,” contacting the cosmic, divine source of everything, the support of “natural law” bends all of existence to favor the meditator.

You have more "good luck." The universe actually seems to cooperate! It has been suggested that this effect comes about as the Super Mind grows because you are more effectively able to harness the forces passing through you, both from within and outside yourself.

The degree to which this alleged luck-enhancing feature of TM is disclosed during TM instruction as currently offered is unclear from the TM teacher’s notes available online, which date to an early 1970’s teacher training course which predate the TM teacher “recertification” which occurred around 2005. Roth places this anecdote in the context of the final session of instruction, so this concept may be included in it. But references to “support of nature” or “support of Natural Law,” Natural Law being a synonym for “the will of God,” that brings about fulfillment of goals and desires, are frequent among meditators and TM teachers; it’s a commonly used phrase in TM culture. For example, this sentence currently appears on the website of the Maharishi School in Fairfield:

Our daily practice of Transcendental Meditation builds depth in our thinking and provides the support of Natural Law to fulfill our goals, desires, and Core Values.

Advertisement in the
Great Falls Tribune,
November 4, 1977

During the TM movement’s advertising and promotional efforts starting in May 1977, which included eventually shown to be false claims that sustained levitation, invisibility and other so-called “supernormal” abilities were available to mere mortals through advanced TM courses and that they would be demonstrated in the immediate future, one other alleged result was also on that dubious list: “fulfillment of all desires and aspirations.” One would generally believe that any legitimate scientific researcher, who might be considering involvement with TM and its proponents as subjects of research, would actively avoid an organization that might as well be selling rabbit’s feet and horseshoes, and whose devotees
are still repeating thinly-veiled assertions that were once part of a massive hoax perpetrated across North America over 40 years ago. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case, given the current willingness of some credentialed apparent non-meditators to join forces with MIU research faculty who were around for, if not participating in, those events and whose obvious belief in such pseudo-scientific notions, if not toxic fantasies, is a matter of public record.

In summary, the instruction phase of the TM program sets up an institutional and lifestyle structure by way of a contrived authority to meet expectations set through advertising, promotion and subsequent post-initiation reinforcement. These aspects of instruction are never examined nor controlled for in most if not all published research on the alleged benefits attributed to TM, which is assumed to be solely a mantra meditation practice. Key elements of this induction process are pseudo-scientific in nature, and they set up supportive and symbiotic relationships between descriptions of internal meditation experiences of uncertain validity, and the organization’s belief system about the mind, thoughts, and TM’s method of action, a doctrine which is sourced to religious scriptures for which no generally accepted scientific evidence exists.  The constantly repeated insistence that there is “no lifestyle change” and “no belief, no philosophy, not a religion” involved with participation in the TM program, masks all of the messaging to the contrary which occurs during TM instruction.

This conclusion raises an important question: does the TM organization actively limit inquiry by independent investigators into these aspects of the TM program that remain unexamined? One indication that that may likely be true comes from an interview that I recorded with Stephen Druker, who was then a TM organization attorney heading one of its named front group “institutes” in 1979. This was in the context of research into the claims the organization was making, of levitation and other unusual feats by meditators on advanced courses which were being publicized around that time. I have highlighted the relevant portion of Druker’s statement.

When we have actually perfected the flying sidhi, and the invisibility sidhi, they'll be demonstrated. But even now for serious scientists who wish to study these phenomena and their growth, because they are now in their growing stages, our university, our scientists, work with them, they submit proposals. We want to make sure that they're going to protect the integrity of our subjects, because one's in a very delicate state when one is practicing these. And also that they've designed the experiment so that they won't disturb the meditative state and test something other than what they're supposed to test. But once the experiment is designed properly, we're all for as we've been for every other phase of the TM program, extensive scientific research. So right now there are a few universities in which scientists are studying flying, to see what kinds of energy changes are going on, and are there changes in the gravitational relationship between the body and the earth during the practice. And we expect some very significant results will be found right now.

Of course, no such research ever materialized in the forty years since Druker said this in my presence, and demonstrations a few years later of these “sidhis” were ridiculous sideshows of men (always, men, at Maharishi’s insistence) bouncing in the lotus position on foam rubber, insisting that something profound was happening.

But most problematic is his statement that outside scientists would not be allowed to “test something other than what they're supposed to test.” This betrays a seldom articulated agenda of the TM organization, that runs in clear opposition to the usual role of science as a method of open-ended discovery and investigation. For Druker, a high-level official in the TM organization at the time, clearly some things connected with his organization may be opened to examination, and others may not, based on some undisclosed fear of “disturb[ing] the meditative state.”

The conclusion that I draw from Druker’s unusual and unexplained insistence that some aspects of TM are off-limits for testing and are things that others are not “supposed to test,” is that the same is true well beyond their claims of levitation and invisibility. They extend to the organization’s flagship product, Transcendental Meditation. The method by which meditators are taught to meditate is likewise off-limits and contains an entire system of instructional content that others are not “supposed to test” or even draw out in a meaningful way for public inspection. 

It is for this reason, among others, that I believe the great majority of research performed on the TM program, involving individuals who are lifelong meditators and MIU faculty, is by definition suspect. Nothing may be investigated, with the cooperation of TM teachers and their organization, that would sow doubt about what I would describe as the four points of the TM organization’s statement of faith. The definition of TM often starts with these four assertions, actually denials, all four of which are contrary to facts that can be established through examination of the TM teaching process and the actual content of what TM teachers are trained to say and do. Research that fully analyzed the methods by which TM is promoted and taught would include a complete examination of that process, parts of which have never been formally disclosed by the TM organization.

These four points of TM’s statement of faith, each of of which are relying on very narrow conceptualizations or definitions of the aspect being denied, appear in Roth’s book, at page 27:

Here is what TM is not: 

  • It’s not a religion. Nearly eight million people of all religions, as well as people who have no religion, have learned TM over the past sixty years.

  • It’s not a philosophy. TM is a technique you learn and then practice on your own; nothing else.

  • It’s not a change in lifestyle. Once you learn to meditate, you don’t have to change your diet and suddenly start eating tofu (unless you like it!).

  • And finally, there is nothing to believe in. You can be 100 percent skeptical, and it doesn’t matter. The technique works equally well whether you believe in it or not.

It’s possible that some of these undisclosed features of TM instruction could be studied with implications for understanding how the human mind can be influenced in various unusual ways. Any discovery along those lines is impossible if those portions of the TM program’s introductory phase are kept under wraps and are never opened to inspection or research. In the meantime, Transcendental Meditation should always be considered a “black box” when evaluating the research offered by its proponents as evidence of its effectiveness. It is likely that all of the characteristics of TM that are constantly denied by its proponents, other than the thinking of a mantra, may be the cause of some, if not most, of the effects experienced by TM research subjects that are described in the resulting published studies.

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