Following the death of his mentor Guru Dev, Marahrishi Mahesh Yogi founded a movement dedicated to taking his teachings to the Western world. He began by going on a series of lecture tours in the early 1960s, spreading his teachings to anyone who was willing to learn. His fame spread as well reaching a peak when the Beatles learnt transcendental meditation, also known as TM1.
The Transcendental Meditation Technique
The first part of the ancient Vedic teachings that was introduced to the West was a simple relaxation technique. It consists of silently thinking a sound, known as a mantra (based on a Sanskrit word) - usually a single syllable with one sound extended. The mantra needs to be thought, not forced. If the mind strays you need to gently bring it back to the mantra. After some time, the mind will be emptied of all thoughts and mantras, and a state of peace will overcome the body. This state is known as transcending. Adult meditators are supposed to practice TM for 20 minutes, twice a day; children can learn the technique at the age of ten and begin with ten minutes twice a day, increasing by a minute each year until the age of 20.
There is a great amount of scientific literature published in favour of TM, while there is comparatively little published evidence against it. There is also a large Marahrishi University that publishes this evidence on a regular basis. The opinion of the medical establishment is that meditation may have a positive effect on health as a relaxation technique, and perhaps an increase in attention span for children at school. There are studies to back up the other claims but these are not accepted by the mainstream scientific establishment.
Learning Transcendental Meditation Today
Anyone can learn TM today by attending a course at a local TM Centre. First, there is an introductory lecture where the principles of TM are explained, then those who choose to proceed are invited to a course that takes place over three evenings. In the first evening course, participants are told that TM is a simple relaxation technique, a non-religious practice that does not require belief and, if practised for the right amount of time, can lead to endless benefits to your health and well being. It removes stress and can elevate you to a higher state a consciousness, helping to achieve enlightenment. People who practice these techniques are guided through nature to make better decisions. According to the centres, these claims are validated by scientific evidence.
On the night of the initiation, the participants are asked to bring along a handkerchief, a piece of fresh fruit, and a flower. The teacher will then place these on a table covered with a white cloth decked with pictures of Guru Dev and small dishes of rice. A puja2 is said and the teacher gives the new meditators a mantra and they meditate together. Before this session, a fee is charged. This varies from time to time, but in the UK at least, it is always consistent throughout the country. At the time of writing, it costs around £500.
The next day the group meets up again, for a 'checking' session. This consists of a repetition of the instruction in not forcing the mantra, of the nature of transcending, and finally a group meditation. For many practising meditators, 'checking' is performed on a regular basis, and is an important part of the practice.
The Sidhi Programme and Yogi Flying
Many dedicated meditators choose to learn an advanced technique known as the TM Sidhi programme. This consists of some extra mantras known as sutras, a reading from the Rig Veda, Baghavad Gita, or one of the Mandelas, either from a translation or from the original Sanskrit. Finally a 'Sidhi' is performed. These are special mantras that - it is claimed - gives participants the ability to fly, have the strength of an elephant, make one invisible, or walk through walls. The one most commonly used is the flying mantra. It is said that there are stages of flying: hopping, hovering and full flight. To date, no one is known to have progressed beyond hopping. Flying is performed in the Lotus position, or cross-legged for the less flexible meditators.
Critics have claimed the reason that the flying mantra is taught is that it is possible to fake the first stages of flying, it is not possible to fake the first stages of making oneself invisible. Interestingly, a disgruntled former member once sued the TM movement for damages as he claims the hopping that occurred was not the same as the flying that had been promised in return for the substantial course fee3.
The Sidhis (as they are known by meditators) are taught on a number of residential courses each lasting for two weeks. This can cost several thousand pounds to learn. However some people choose to work within the community for up to two years to pay for the course.
Many meditators choose to take their practice to a further stage and move to a community of practitioners. For families with children and single people who wish to retain some form of contact with the outside world they may choose to live in a community of meditators. In the UK, there is a community in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, known officially as Maharishi European Sidhaland, while Fairfield Iowa, is home to a larger community in the USA. The centre of both communities is The Dome, the place where the adults of the community gather to practice the Sidhis or meditate twice a day. It is also the centre of many of the social activities.
Some people choose to take things further and spend long lengths of time in celibacy and meditation, known as Purushu for men and Mother Divine for women. Unlike becoming a monk or a nun this is a temporary commitment, after a while many people decide that it is not longer for them.
Other Aspects of Vedic Knowledge
The following are further examples of the teaching that the Maharishi introduced to his followers in the West:
This is the art of designing houses in a way that affects the occupants. It is believed that an entrance that faces East will lead to the owner enjoying enlightenment, affluence and fulfilment. Entrances in the other directions will have other effects.
Gandharva Veda Music
Described byTM Scotland's website as 'the rhythms and melodies of nature expressed in music', Gandharva Veda Music is either played on a flute, sitar or tabla, or sung. Certain scales and melodies are played at certain times of day; when the music is purchased, there is often an indication of when it should be played. Some music is reputed to bring on certain weather conditions, such as rain. There is a rumour that when rain-making music first went on sale in the Skelmersdale community it rained non-stop for three days4.
Many meditators use this health care system which is based on ancient vedic knowledge of the balance between the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Imbalances are rectified by using a combination of diet, herbal remedies and massage. The majority of TM practitioners will use products made by Maharishi Ayra Veda International and consult a practitioner who is also part of the movement.
However, many people who are not TM practitioners use Ayurveda health care and not all Ayurvedic practitioners are associated with the movement. When most meditators fall seriously ill, they choose to consult a conventional doctor in addition to an Ayurvedic practitioner.
In 1991, the GMC in London removed the license to practice of two doctors who prescribed Maharishi Ayurvedic products to a patient with AIDS. They also happened to be the public faces of the Maharishi Ayurvedic movement in the UK. The objection of the GMC was not to Ayurvedic treatment per se, but to a number of other factors. These included that there was not adequate scientific trials to support the prescription of this particular substance, the doctors did not know the contents of the products prescribed, and also the publication of a document on Ayurveda and AIDS, which amongst other things advised patients to stop using modern medicine and contained misleading claims about success rates.
Maharishi Jyotish and Yagyas
Jyotish is a form of astrology; it claims in can predict the future in a vague manner using the position of the stars at the time of birth. Although claiming to be completely accurate, the Jyotis are reluctant to give out exact information on such matters as dates of death, until after it has occurred. It also gives a sound which should be included in the child's name for a positive effect5.
Jyotish is based on the belief that the human body is made up of vibrating particles and that vedic literature has taught us the interpreted meaning of these. If negative energy is predicted then there are two possible remedies: wearing a pure form of gem near the skin or the performance of a Yagya6. A monetary charge is made for both these services.
For more information about Jyotish visit here.
The Natural Law Party
Two weeks before the 1992 General Election in the UK, Maharishi asked his followers to form a political party that could field candidates in as many seats as possible. The policies of the Natural Law Party were to implement Maharishi's recommendations for daily life in as many places as possible. Amid assurances that they would soon be in Parliament many people stood for parliament, providing their own deposits in the process. At the first election there was some media interest. Whilst the other parties announced minor changes to taxation at their press conferences, Geoffrey Clements, the party leader, was pictured in lotus position, bouncing up and down on a piece of foam in front of the Golden Dome.
The voters however were not convinced, in the 193 seats that were fought they won on average 0.4% of the vote. In 1997, they did marginally worse with 0.3%. In 2001 they did not fight the election, blaming inadequate media coverage, a system that required deposits, and voter cynicism.
Criticism of Transcendental Meditation
There are a number of organisations, mainly American, such as tracenet that are critical of the movement and make a number of allegations against TM.
Transcendental Meditation is Not Non-religious
Many opponents claim that far from being a practice that does not require belief, TM is a religion/cult/form of Hinduism that pretends to be scientific to spread its neo-Hindu message around the West. They point to the fact that part of the TM Sidhi programme is spent reading from the Hindu Holy books, that the puja said at initiation literally translates as praise for Hindu gods, and that dietary advice in Ayruveda is against the eating of meat.
However there are many meditators, Sidhas and teachers of TM who are actively involved in other religions and do not find that there is a conflict.
TM Has Dangerous Side Effects
Many people who practice TM, find themselves slightly dazed afterwards. While in a dazed state people may find themselves expressing anger at an event from the past; the anger may have been previously repressed.
Teachers of TM state that this is in response to releasing of repressed stresses and is particularly common when if a person has just started meditating and has a lot of stress to release, and if they continued to meditate they would find that the effects decreased. Indeed when mediators meet for a retreat of intensive mediation, known as a rounding course, then they are advised not to make life-changing decisions as they may be more dazed than usual. Opponents state that as meditation is the cause of the problem then continuing to meditate will only make the problem worse and put the participant in a state when they are more likely to be brainwashed into parting with more money for the Sidhi programme.
The charge for learning TM is a common criticism, even taking into consideration the reductions that are on offer for certain people. The movement claims the reason for the charge is that people will value something they have paid for more than something that is free. There are from time to time schemes to teach TM to people from disadvantaged backgrounds or make it available on the NHS7.
Keeping An Open Mind
It should be remembered that not every meditator will choose to get involved this deeply. Some will choose to use conventional medicine, some to buy a house with a south entrance, some such as William Hague8 will retain their former political allegiances. Many meditators feel that meditation may be a positive thing without believing in some of the more dubious claims.