Transcendental Meditation: Superior Technique or Shameless Cult?

Ultimately, all meditation techniques have the same basic objective – to quiet the chatter of the everyday, waking mind and allow us to enter calmer, deeper states of consciousness. While it is normal for us to become emotionally attached to a particular method we have learned, we should not dismiss other methods that may work just as well, or better, for other people. Indeed, we should actually be wary of techniques that proclaim themselves to be superior, for this is one of the hallmarks of a cult.

Why I am Suspicious of ‘Organized Meditation’

Meditation is arguably the most personal, individualized activity in which one can engage. It is, above all else, a process of personal discovery. Your journey should be uniquely yours. With this in mind, I certainly do not mind receiving tips or advice from an experienced meditator who can help me reach my goals. But I become profoundly uncomfortable when an individual or organization purports to offer the one, single way to “know the truth” or the only “path to enlightenment.” I become even more suspicious when attaining this special knowledge will cost me a lot of money!

I am particularly disturbed by a famous group that claims the allegiance of several celebrities, but I’m not talking about Scientology. Transcendental Meditation became a global operation valued at over $3 billion under the leadership of the Indian-born  Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who died in 2008. ‘TM’, as it is commonly known, used to count among its devotees such truth-seekers as The Beatles, and now enjoys the public support of, inter alia, Jerry Seinfeld and David Lynch. This is a group that presents itself as a tax-exempt educational organization, but which is in fact a front for the promulgation of a particular strand of Hinduism, and has been held to be a religion by U.S. courts and foreign governments. In recent years, it has attempted to gain greater respect in the Western world by clothing its doctrines in more scientific garb, touting a uniquely beneficial brainwave pattern as the result of its techniques. Learning those techniques, by the way, will cost you $1,500 (which is actually $1,000 less than it used to be). TM runs a university in Iowa, the Maharishi University of Management, and requires all students to disavow other meditation practices in favor of its own method. Its wealthy advocates are using their influence to spread the word in some prominent media channels, including a recent feature in The Huffington Post, which read like naked propaganda, complete with sycophantic comments in tow.

What bothers me the most about this organization, apart from the horror stories of mental, emotional, and physical abuse that have been revealed by former members, is the organization’s crowing about superior brain wave patterns. This is a topic of great interest to me, so I am naturally curious about developments in this field. Specifically, the claim is that their technique results in demonstrably greater Alpha-wave coherence across the prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain. And this state of consciousness is presented as the solution to all personal problems, ranging from poor health through enhanced performance to the attainment of world peace. With so much on the line, the price of admission is actually a bargain, right?

The Small Matter of Credibility

At one time, TM claimed that if one percent of the population practiced its technique, the city in which they lived would experience less violent crime and greater economic prosperity. (This “Maharishi Effect” was easily debunked by looking at the reality on the ground around their Midwestern campus.) They believe the weather tends to be nice at their college graduations because of their collective influence. And, not all that long ago, they thought they could fly (levitate), producing bogus photographs to “document” this achievement by adherents who had reached the “highest levels.”

Now they say their state of consciousness is superior to everyone else’s – surely the ultimate form of snobbery, an ego-driven emotion from which most meditators actually seek to distance themselves. This claim is just as preposterous as the others that came before. The truth is that there are many ways to achieve the relaxed wakefulness of the Alpha state, and most of them cost less than $50 or are completely free. (I learned how to attain an Alpha state by reading a paperback book I bought as a tourist in New York City at the tender age of 18.) These methods do not involve chanting the names of Hindu gods as a mantra, and do not lead you to believe that your mantra – for which you paid dearly – is unique to you when it has in fact been given to countless others who happen to be your age and gender.

Don’t Allow Yourself to be Duped!

Meditation, when undertaken in the right spirit, can open the door to beautiful and powerful inner realms and potentials. It upsets me tremendously to see a force for good being misused on a quasi-industrial scale, damaging people’s lives and pocketbooks. This is not necessary, and you should have no part of it.

To learn more about the human brain and states of consciousness, and how you can control them safely and cheaply in the privacy of your own home, visit my Brainwaves Guide. No hidden agenda, no claims to superiority, no “initiation” ceremonies, and no rip-off prices. Just information that you can choose to use or ignore without judgment.

One Response to “Transcendental Meditation: Superior Technique or Shameless Cult?”

  1. Aleksander Pawel Says:

    Cool. Your blog looks great, and I’m glad I’ve found something here worth adding to my favorites.

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