Many westerners in search for truth and meaning for their lives turn to Indian and other Eastern-style Religions and religious tools to achieve their goals.
AN EXPERIENCE OF
By Matthew Evans
It has been said that our real requirements are few while our imaginary ones are vast. The inability to distinguish between the two is probably a major reason why people take up Transcendental Meditation.
In April, 1981, I attended an introductory lecture on Transcendental Meditation ("TM"). From this lecture I was left with the impression that TM should rank with the greatest cure-alls of all time: people suffering from stress become less anxious; drug addicts lose their addiction; creativity increases; smokers and alcoholics often drop the habit; health improves, and everyone needs less sleep. In fact, little seems beyond the Transcendental Mediator.
I was assured that TM was non-religious, and I took the course. After paying $l5O I was taken to a room containing two chairs and an altar, for the initiation ceremony. I had been told to bring a white handkerchief, a piece of fruit and some flowers, which were now to be used in the ceremony conducted in Sanskrit. All this obviously had deep symbolism, but it was not made clear at the time what it all meant.
During the initiation I was told to repeat the Sanskrit word "shirim" - first aloud, then silently. This word is called a mantra, and was chosen specially for me from thousands of mantras to suit my personality and occupation. And that's all Transcendental Meditation is: monotonous silent repetition of a mantra at about one-second intervals for 2O minutes twice a day. Follow-up sessions merely checked that I had remembered my mantra, and informed me of the "advanced" TM course which was going at the bargain rate of $2,700.
Things seemed to go all right after I began TM. I thought I felt better; I was more confident and I remember thinking as I was driving home from the initiation that I could have crashed head-on with another car and wouldn't have worried. I continued my twice-daily meditation sessions for eight months before I realised things weren't all going as well as expected. I was becoming irritable while meditating and found my anxiety increasing as I waited for each 2O-minute session to finish.
Some days I became smug and self-confident as strong feelings of calm and over-confidence gripped me. I felt I could tell lies and feel no guilt. Occasionally I blacked out while meditating and woke up hours later not knowing what had happened. Often I'd wake up with my heart racing. I began having nightmares and would sometimes call out in my sleep.
In the following months I cut my meditation to only one session a day. Not wanting to miss out on the benefits that had been promised, I was reluctant to stop altogether. At the same time I was concerned enough to do some solid inquiring about other people's experiences with TM.
A friend told me of someone who had just given up TM after l0 years because it had done nothing for him but waste 20 hours a month. In a religious bookshop I found a book by Christian author John Allan called TM: A Cosmic Confidence Trick, in which a former TM instructor tells of her concern about the exceptionally high suicide rate among TM teachers. She recalled the director of TM in the U.S. admitting this problem to trainees and failing to offer any satisfactory explanation. His consolation was simply that "in future incarnations, Maharishi will appear to them ... and give them their extra mantra" (Maharishi was the founder of TM in 1958).
Inherent in this statement is an obvious conflict with Christianity. If suicide victims are reincarnated then the author of the letter to the Hebrews is mistaken when he says we "only die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
I found reports of meditators who had seen floating green eyes. Teachers returning from training sessions reported the presence of. "angel" type beings which sometimes turned nasty; others reported seeing "creatures of light". After reading a number of these experiences I stopped doing TM.
Among the early enthusiasts for TM was John Parks, former manager of the Beach Boys. He was personally initiated by Maharishi. More recently Parks confessed to author John Weldon that initially Maharishi had not put a time limit on meditation sessions. Because of this, said Parks, "quite a few ended up in mental hospitals. Some are still there."
Even with today's time limit it seems many initiates besides myself have developed problems they didn't have before. Psychiatrist Arthur Janov, author of The Primal Scream, tells of a Vedanta monk who practised TM for 12 years and then suffered a complete nervous breakdown. Whatever one believes to be the cause of all these experiences, the symptoms hardly describe a normal healthy state of mind and body, yet instructors are told to dismiss such occurrences as "unstressing".
The advanced TM purports to teach a type of levitation. In truth, former TM'ers say it produces a "jerk" to one's whole system, leading to the meditator's "jumping" off his foundation for a second or two.
Is TM religious? In 1976 the New Jersey District Court ruled TM's religious nature to be beyond doubt. Why? For one thing the obligatory initiation ceremony consists of invocations and offerings in Sanskrit to various Hindu gods. Every initiate to TM is therefore misleadingly forced to participate in a rite of worship to Hindu deities. Every mantra, in fact, is the name of a Hindu god! (There are only 16 mantras - not 'thousands" as Maharishi claimed which are assigned to new recruits solely on the basis of their age.)
"But whereas in earlier ages the forms of superstition most in evidence, and most unequivocally condemned, were those which paid worship to a wrong object - to idols, for example, instead of the one true God - in our day we have mainly to deplore abuses of the religious sentiment which are wrong in their manner of expression, and which are irrational rather than impious or profane."
- Herbert Thurston, S.J., "Superstition"
Maharishi himself has proclaimed that TM is "a path to God." But Maharishi's god is not the God of Christianity. Christ taught us to pray to "our Father" in heaven as an all-powerful "Person"; Maharishi's god is an "it" - an impersonal quality which, in his own words, "cannot do anything or know anything". Yet this powerless do-nothing god is elsewhere said by Maharishi to be the cause of the world's existence.
As Christians we know we become cut off from God by sin; according to the inventor of TM if we feel out of touch with God it is because we don't meditate. Christ assured us HE is the only way to salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:I2); Maharishi tells us "TM is the only way to salvation" (Commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, p.2281. The joy of Christianity is that God's plan for salvation shows us life has purpose and meaning. The horrific suffering Christ endured on the Cross to atone for mankind's sins is debased by Maharishi's statement: "I don't think Christ ever suffered" (Meditations, p.123).
To the potential Transcendental Meditator the scientific aspects of relaxational relief are emphasised. After signing up you find yourself subtly being told how to reach Hindu spiritual goals. But even the "benefits" of TM have been widely challenged. One researcher, Dr Jonathan Smith, in a now famous experiment found that TM had no more success in alleviating anxiety than two simple methods he invented himself - one of which involved doing all the things TM tells you NOT to do while meditating.REFERENCES
From "ANNALS AUSTRALASIA" May 1986
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