Made the bus in seconds flat
About one year ago I wrote a post about starting meditating with a technique I learned at that time, Maharishi’s mantra meditation. It was an excruciatingly hard, but also exciting time. I remember taking a bus to the centre where I received my mantra during the Puja (TM’s initiation ceremony, borrowed from Hindu religion), carrying fruits and flowers and an almost white napkin in a tote bag.
The napkin had little blue ships printed on it, as I wasn’t able to find a completely white one. I remember my TM teacher nervously cutting it to a little square, and telling me “why didn’t you call me, why didn’t you ask me”. By the way she was acting, I thought the gods wouldn’t accept me. Then I remembered I am an atheist, and that TM is supposed to be a secular meditation, so I thought, well, my napkin will be fine (I still have it and the flowers in some book somewhere).
Following this ceremony, the actual course was three days long and focused on learning the technique. Actually, there is not very much to learn: if you are familiar with mantra meditation, it’s just another one. You have to be consistent and meditate every day, twice. You have to focus on your “unique” mantra (unique according to what they tell you, but I discovered later that mine is basically the same of every other woman around my age) for about 20 minutes; let your thoughts flow around, and if you lose your mantra you gently catch it back. You can either experience a deep state of relaxation, or be very aware of your surroundings, or be distracted by your thoughts, or you can – supposedly – experience a state of transcendence.
A certified TM teacher tells you basically this and a little more, that you can easily find on-line. Other than this, you fill in forms and you can ask him or her whatever comes to your mind (should I use a timer, can I open my eyes, can I scratch my back, can I adjust my position), mostly very silly things you can figure out for yourself (yes, you can scratch your back if it itches).
Your teacher will also show you “scientific” evidence of why TM works: some of this scientific evidence is questionable and / or biased, some is sound and it’s the same evidence presented for every form of meditation. It can work for you and help you live a better life. Meditation is good for anxiety, depression, general stress; it helps you stay focused, have better memory and generally feel much more motivated about things (although some of these things, I believe, may be an effect of consistency rather than meditation itself. If you have ever been depressed you may be familiar with how helpful is having regular, simple tasks).
But right is only half of what’s wrong
BUT – and this is where I began to part ways with TM – meditation is not a panacea. It does not work for everyone. Since it has to be literally sold, TM’s teachers tell you that it easily heals every state of anxiety and stress and that it works for everyone: it doesn’t. If there is one thing I have learned from the very cultures TM supposedly draws from, is that each individual is their own universe in terms of healing, and they can respond differently than others to the same stimuli. There is no “Barnum” medicine. Meditation is in many cases unhelpful, and in some others it actually works as an amplifier of things you have hidden underneath which is maybe dangerous to let surface without guidance.
In a year of attendance of group meditations, I have heard and seen some people which were not benefiting at all from their meditation routine. In answer to their complaints they basically were always told the same thing — “oh, it’s just stress reduction“. I remember this one guy who described an episode that occurred to him just after the meditation that sounded like a very crippling panic attack, or even a stroke; our teacher gently told him it was just stress suppression. Of course some of us hinted it was not, and that he could have, maybe, called a physician, but this guy went on and called his TM teacher instead of a certified medical person.
And here I come to a very painful realisation: people are gullible. Troubled people are even more gullible. I am a troubled person and I turned to meditation to help me overcome a difficult period. Most of the people I shared time with, during this year (some of which I consider now friends), are very troubled human beings who are trying to live a less painful life; some are desperate people who literally throw money at everything that promises them salvation, peace, tranquillity. This is extremely dangerous.
Maybe the Transcendental Meditation Organisation is not a cult, in the strict sense of isolating its members or coercing them in donating money. Nevertheless, their greed for money began to appear very early in my experience.
The best things in life are free
First of all, you pay for the teaching of the technique. To be honest I did not pay that much: my fee (which is, in my country, the lowest, for unemployed, students or retired workers) was about 470 euros una tantum; with that fee I paid the basic course and the possibility to join group meetings in every centre of the world for the rest of my life. If you look at it this way, it’s not that much. But we should also consider that that was a special fee (that I had to lie to get, since I am none of the above mentioned), that normal fees are twice or three times what I paid (which is a lot, nowadays) and that it used to be even more (about 3000 euros) before Maharishi’s death.
I had to ask myself why a spiritual teaching should be paid for –and a great amount of money, too– instead of being offered for free. Since TM Organisation’s main interest is spreading the technique of meditation to obtain world peace (through a very questionable theory they call the maharishi effect), it seems logical that it should be spread for free, or in exchange of a small donation or voluntary help.
I also had to ask myself what are they actually doing with my money, since in my country (Italy, a nation so dorky it doesn’t even have his own raja, or king) and in my city specifically it does not exist a proper centre, as of today, and the place that I called “centre” before it’s actually a room in a shared apartment my teacher pays for.
With this thought in mind, I started going to the periodical gatherings she organised out of her pocket telling myself “well, at least I helped her build these moments for us” — except she receives less than half of the money I paid for my subscription; 60% of it goes to the Organisation. Ok, so I paid to let the organisation, apparently, thrive in other countries. Is that the end of it? No it’s not.
A month after my initiation, I received a newsletter prospecting me the possibility of an intensive weekend gathering for the special cost of 200 euros (since I am a new meditator, I don’t have to pay the additional fee for my first weekend!). Blimey, I am curious, I’d like to go, but I just gave you 500 euros, I don’t have this kind of money right now. Well, maybe next time, there is one every year, right?
So, after a further month, I started having knowledge of things nobody told me in the introductory lesson, else I would have run away with all the strength in my body — and I guess that’s exactly the reason no one tells you about this on your first meeting.
Words like advanced techniques, sidhi programs, yogic flying, etc. began to be uttered during the gatherings, both by my teacher and some sidhis that appeared sometimes. TM borrows its philosophy from Hindu religion; since I approached meditation as a secular technique, it all looked pretty weird to me. Adult men in golden crowns and tunics. Kings and rajas. Flying people.
Transcendental Meditation doesn’t stop at the 20-minutes-twice-a-day program: you can evolve and get a deeper, more focused meditation, perhaps some hint of transcendence, learning new techniques and new methods. And guess what’s the only requisite asked to a meditator to join such activities? You guessed right, it’s money.
Sidhi program is an advanced program which enriches your meditation with additional words, or sutras, that you have already seen if you took a peek at the document I linked before. The whole program (which consists of 3 consecutive intense weekends of meditation, then 15 consecutive additional days in which you are finally gifted with the flying yogi sutra, which basically makes people look stupid while jumping on mattresses) costed a mere 3000 euros at the time I was asked to join; at that particular time, I have been meditating for a few months, didn’t have that kind of money and I honestly thought I was at the beginning of some long path. I wasn’t ready for any advancement of any kind.
Nothing’s gonna change my world
So you can imagine my surprise when my teacher asked me, or many other unexperienced meditators, to join the program. Again, of course there is no open coercion, but I was present when some sidhi said, during a gathering, that if you don’t have the money to pay for the course you will eventually find it, because it will change your life for the better and everything good will happen. It’s MAGIC!
Again: people are gullible. Desperate people do stupid things. Also, peer pressure plays an important role: if, in a group of fifteen people, two or three join the program, then many of the others will join them, not to be left behind. I also got to notice how sidhis had their own meetings, their own social channels, and were considered as slightly superior beings by our teachers, by other meditators and by themselves.
And then of course there’s the secrets: this pay to win advancement gives the sidhis the right to know things they absolutely have to keep secret, even from regular meditators. (Except they don’t, but then they beg you not to expose them.)
So I decided to stay behind, and a lot of doubts started crawling my mind: I joined TM not only because I was interested in the benefits of meditation, but also because I am, after a life of blunt scepticism, finally on a path of spiritual research. While I was looking for deeper meanings, I found myself into one of the most materialistic and greediest version of spirituality I could find on earth. Where does it end?
Apparently, it goes even further the more you get involved. Maharishi also brought to us westerners ayurvedic medicine (at end of the seventies), which is Indian folk medicine with roots going back about two thousand years. I won’t even get myself into a scientific examination of ayurveda — since I don’t even believe it’s completely bogus; suffice it to say that there is, of course, a specific maharishi ayurvedic association, which provides specific products and health centers.
And there’s an ayurvedic architecture (Sthapatya Veda) which describes exact procedures of how you should build your house, then – I learned recently – there’s also an ayurvedic organic agriculture; basically everything regarding how you live your life on this planet can be determined by the TM Movement. There is also some disturbing theory about invincible nations – because TM is obviously deeply involved in politics. The deeper you go, the worst it gets.
Because of my disappointment I started investigating TM and came across hundreds of articles (some of which I will list below), basically confirming every aspect of what I witnessed. One of the best pieces of evidence I found is a 2010 documentary called David Wants To Fly. David (Sieveking) is a german director who, in an attempt to get closer to his idol David Lynch, follows his footsteps into the TM organization, its hierarchy, bogus science, pseudo-religious dogmas and cult-like behaviours. His investigation intertwines with his personal life, resulting in a very honest documentary about human nature.
Of course I got see a microscopic piece of what David Sieveking witnessed, but I am glad I found someone I could relate to. In fact what I found – and still find – very disturbing is that, mostly, my fellow meditators seem to lack the ability to think critically. Whether it is because of the meditation “high”, or because of low self-esteem, difficult lives, desperate times, I do not know. But seeing others drink the kool-aid is, in a way, more painful then being scammed.
Don’t you think the joker laughs at you?
If you made it this far, you probably want to ask me why did I join TM Organisation, and if I would do it again.
The answer to the second question is no. If I could turn back in time, on that bus, a year ago, I would take my fruit and flowers and pain and flawed napkin elsewhere. No doubt in my mind about it.
I joined the Organisation because I really felt, at that time, that I needed it. And in a way I did: I still meditate regularly, although I am tentatively looking for another mantra, secret and mine, for real. I know a little more about human nature than I did before. I got to meet people — and for an introverted person with crippling social anxiety this is something particularly exciting. But all the bright sides cannot scratch the surface of my immense disappointment, and anger, towards TM Movement.
If you are interested in learning mantra meditation, there is a LOT of free resources on the internet. You do not absolutely need to give your money to learn something which can be reached with little effort, by yourself. If you are, instead, on a spiritual journey, then I won’t tell you where to turn, because I don’t know. But do yourself a favor and stay away from the TM Movement.
I notice now that I never talked about Maharishi. I have an incredible amount of contempt for the whole organisation, but – quite irrationally – I feel for the giggling Mahesh some human pity. After all, he was a man born in the wrong caste in a society which did not really allow individual choice. In a sense, all this pile of bullshit is a monument to his self realization and some sort of payback, and that is why he laughed a lot. At us. But anyway, I’ll leave to John Lennon’s eerie voice to tell us the truth about the little guy.
Jai Guru Dev.
Critical thinking: some links about TM
tmfree.blogspot.it – Skeptical Views of Transcendental Meditation and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
reddit.com – a very interesting AMA (Ask Me Anything) from a guy born and raised in Fairfield, Iowa
www.suggestibility.org – Falling down the TM Rabbit Hole
David Wants To Fly – buy the 2010 David Sieveking’s documentary on Amazon