I contacted a Transcendental Meditation office about learning the practice and expected to be on hold for some time listening to sitar music, but they answered right away. In short order, I learned it would cost almost $1,000 for one of their amateur yogis to provide me a word I was to repeat many times while breathing deeply with my eyes closed. My magic mantra monies were spent on my trip to the fortune teller in Tbilisi, so that ended my plans for a first-hand TM account. Hence, most of this will be from an outsider’s perspective.
The technique was started by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He denied this, stating that his yogic predecessors were chanting holy mantras at the moment of Earth’s creation. He merely continued the line, along with developing the enterprising notion of charging $960 a word.
His fame peaked in the 1960s, even holding court with The Beatles. When a frustrated John Lennon left in mid-session, Mahesh asked where he was going, to which the Walrus Egg Man replied, “You’re the holy man, you tell me.”
Mahesh is dead, doing cosmic yogi stuff now, and I am not a music icon with means and access, so the TM experience related here will be more pedestrian.
Neophytes are told they have a unique mantra, arrived at through a guru’s thought process. Unlike many religions, TM is upfront about the costs, at least in the beginning. The pricier items, such as invisibility and spiritually-attuned mansions, come later. Meditators are told never to reveal their mantra, lest it lose its power. Blogger Joe Kellett, who left the movement, claims the real reason is because many persons are given the same mantra, despite the insistence that each one is unique.
TM practicioners once claimed that adherents had the ability to float by assuming the lotus, repeating their mantra, and bouncing about. In the interest of investigative journalism, I gave this a shot. I remained ground-bound, but in fairness to TM, I am too stiff to assume a full lotus and not agile enough to bounce very well, plus I was never given a proper secret mantra. At any rate, TM yogis now downplay this power, since its fraudulent nature was revealed in video exposés. Now, the ability is touted as merely being the potential for flight, once enough superhero powers are attained.
Most meditative techniques focus on the individual, but TM claims collective benefits. Specifically, if the square root of one percent of the population practices TM, it will create a powerful effect on everyone. If any nation reaches the square root of one percent mark, the country becomes invincible. For a proper control, we need for two neighboring countries to reach this threshold, then go to war. Once all nations have reached this number, Earth transforms into heaven.
TM adherents once claimed this was best demonstrated in the Shangri-La of Fairfield, Iowa. This is home to the Maharishi University of Management, and devotees said 13 percent of the city’s residents practiced TM, with resulting good vibes oozing onto all the locals. They reported the town was virtually without crime, illness, and unemployment, with bountiful harvests of milk, honey, and winning lottery tickets. James Randi and cohorts bounced these claims against government and police numbers and found them wildly conflicting with reality.
At first, TM can sound reasonable, even to the skeptic. For instance, it highlights the reduction of stress that comes with the practice. Indeed, the most comprehensive metadata of meditation studies does suggest limited benefits, although similar results can be attained through soothing music and other relaxation techniques. However, the positives in these studies center on meditation, and despite the Transcendental prefix, TM offers nothing beyond that.
That’s what I say, anyway. TM advocates insist otherwise, asserting that the recited mantra will reveal a higher consciousness, leading to a more advanced state of evolution, which continues until the chanter becomes a deity.
The Natural Law Party ran a candidate for president in 1992, touting TM techniques as a panacea to the nation’s ills. The 10,000 or so votes the party received fell well below the square root of one percent threshold, so the nation’s sub-paradise status continued unabated.
Kellett reports that in the initial sessions, mantra recitation is followed by instructions on how to induce a trance, and this is followed with indoctrination. Kellett said persons start out with plans to relax, but end up in the quite uncomfortable position of being asked to pay thousands of dollars for classes aimed at developing supernatural abilities.
The idea is that those staying (or floating) around long enough will achieve what TM proponent David Lynch calls “pure consciousness, bliss, creativity, peace, and intelligence.” Lynch, who claims rudimentary levitating abilities, hopes to assemble groups of 8,000 meditators to bring about world peace and harmony. By these standards, Twin Peaks seems downright plausible.
Lynch can afford the training, though others may not. The basic technique ends up running $1,500, while levitation instruction sets TMers back $3,000, and that’s without a warranty. Mantra adjustments are $1,000, on top of the $960 you paid for the flawless mantra in the first place. There are also gems, cosmetics, yogi medicine, and a protective cleansing that shields your home from negative energy.
At the last of the three initial indoctrination meetings, we learn that all personal suffering will disappear if the Transcendental Meditator practices for 20 minutes a day. Curiously, this attainment of full enlightenment, harmony, and bliss is followed by further purchasing of TM products and training.