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Abraham MAKING AMENDS is a regular column of TranceNet, written by "Abraham," the pseudonym of a former TM teacher. Illustration by 72dpi graphics.

1/30/97 -- An Open Letter From A TM Initiator:
What You Should Know Before You Learn TM

Analysis If you're thinking about starting the Transcendental Meditation program founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, there are a few things you should know that you're not going to read in a book or hear at a TM lecture. The information that follows will give you a more complete picture so that you can make an informed decision.

Let me tell you about my qualifications to write this letter. I learned TM as a college student and subsequently practiced it twice a day for 22 years. After graduating from college, I studied in Europe for six months to become a TM teacher and was personally qualified by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I taught over 250 people how to meditate, and attended many advanced programs, attaining the status of a TM Governor. I have also been a faculty member at Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa. Because I still have friends and high-level contacts in the TM organization, I choose to remain anonymous.

For the most part, I had positive experiences with TM, which is why I kept up the practice for as long as I did. Nevertheless, in 1993, after years of inner conflict, I decided to stop practicing TM and quietly left the TM movement because I could no longer continue in good conscience. TM is a Hindu religious practice and this fact is concealed from the public in a deliberately deceptive fashion. And while TM can be beneficial, some of the people I taught and encountered experienced unpleasant side effects.

The introductory and preparatory lectures that I gave to the public as a prerequisite for learning TM were designed to sell people on the benefits of the practice and ease any concerns they might have. But, the assurances I gave were superficial, and many of the explanations were misleading. I deliberately withheld information from students because I was instructed to by the Maharishi and the leaders on my TM teacher training course. I even signed a statement to that effect. Yet I believed I was helping people by teaching them to meditate.

TM involves the use of a sound, called a mantra, that is repeated mentally in a particular way. The public is told that mantras are meaningless sounds that bring about deep rest and allow the mind to "transcend" thought. When people ask where mantras come from or how they are chosen, answers are deliberately vague.

The simple truth is that TM mantras are chosen by age. They are names of Hindu deities that have been used by worshippers in India for thousands of years to obtain the blessings of the various gods in the Hindu religion. When Maharishi Mahesh Yogi first began teaching what he called transcendental deep meditation in India in the 1950s, the meanings of the mantras were common knowledge; their purpose and origins were described in his early writings. But later, to increase acceptance of TM in the West, the Maharishi suppressed information about the true nature of the mantras. He began to claim the technique was universal and scientific, not religious.

When I was studying to become a TM teacher, my fellow trainees and I were not told that we were teaching people how to worship Hindu gods. As a naive and trusting twenty-two year old, I believed what Maharishi taught us and assumed the scientific explanations we received were genuine.

When I instructed people in TM, the mantra and the proper technique for using it were taught in the context of a ceremony. I told people that it was a "non-religious ceremony of gratitude," performed "by the teacher, for the teacher." I asked people to bring fruit, flowers and a handkerchief to this ceremony, and assured them that if they liked ceremonies they would like this one, and if they didn't like ceremonies, it would be short.

When students entered the instruction room, they found an altar with a large picture of Maharishi's deceased teacher, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati. Guru Dev, as he was called, was a prominent Hindu religious figure in northern India in the 1940s and 1950s, who held the title Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math. I was taught to refer to him as "His Divinity."

After taking the fruit, flowers and handkerchief from the student and placing them on the altar, I gave one of the flowers back to the initiate. Then, after some information was exchanged, the ceremony began.

I started by dipping a flower in a dish of water, and then began to chant a lengthy series of phrases that took me weeks to learn. The phrases were in Sanskrit, the language of Hindu religious scriptures. While chanting, I performed various motions in front of the picture involving the fruit, flowers and handkerchief, rice, water, a candle and incense. Each was sequentially offered to the picture while I said, in Sanskrit, "Offering ___________ to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down." As a part of the ceremony, I invoked the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, respectively the Creator, Maintainer and Destroyer of the cosmos according to Hindu theology. I also described Guru Dev as someone to whom "the whole galaxy of gods pray for perfection day and night."

At the conclusion of the ceremony, I took the flower from the initiate, offered it, bowed down on my knees before the picture and gestured for my initiate to do the same.

Yet, despite these blatantly Hindu elements, I continued to maintain what I and all TM teachers were taught -- TM is a scientific technique that is not religious and does not interfere with any religion.

If you are a Westerner and have any respect for Judaism or Christianity, then you have no doubt already made up your mind about whether to learn. The ceremony and the technique are fundamentally at odds with the beliefs and practices of these religions. If you're still unsure, show this letter to your priest, minister or rabbi and ask for their opinion. I have yet to meet a religious leader who endorsed TM once they knew the details of the ceremony and the origin of the mantras.

Maybe you are someone to whom religion has never meant much. If so, I'm going to assume that you do care about truthfulness and integrity. Then you might want to think twice about spending a large sum of money for a simple mental technique taught by an organization that persuades people to start by withholding information and misleading them.

There are many other meditation techniques with comparable results that do not involve large sums of money and large doses of deception.

Another aspect that you'll want to consider is the effect of the practice on your physical and emotional well-being. More than likely, you are interested in TM not for its spiritual side, but for the scientific research on its practical benefits. It is true that many individuals have benefitted from the practice while unaware of its true nature. However, and this is important for you to know, some have not. I have seen meditation effects ranging from insomnia and headaches to more serious problems such as dissociation, involuntary jerks and twitches, and hallucinations. I even know of people who have needed to be institutionalized; they had no history or symptoms of mental illness prior to their involvement with TM.

For obvious reasons, TM teachers deny these occurrences, or claim they are extremely rare, or explain them away as "normalization." But they do happen and are decidedly unpleasant. Your doctor and pharmacist are obligated to inform you about the side effects of any medications prescribed to you. The TM organization feels no such obligation. Published research indicating negative effects or no effects from TM are deliberately omitted from the elaborate literature on the scientific benefits of the practice that the TM organization promulgates. And some of the research indicating positive results is flawed as well, according to a number of scientists.

If you don't believe everything I've said, I encourage you to print this letter, bring it to an introductory lecture, and show it to a TM teacher to refute. Watch what happens. He or she will in all likelihood become uncomfortable and start to squirm; these are things you are not supposed to know, and the teaching method depends upon your ignorance. Some of the teachers who are more practiced will try to downplay these religious aspects or will deny some of these points altogether. Observe their non-verbal reactions carefully and judge for yourself.

I assure you -- all of the above is true. Anyone who tells you otherwise is uninformed or in denial. It is also possible that some TM teachers will lie to you knowingly under the justification that it is OK to deceive people to bring them to higher knowledge. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has taught for many years that the "wise do not confound the ignorant," which justifies all sorts of deception.

So perhaps you can understand why, after years of misleading people, I've written this letter to set things right.

I sincerely hope that you've found this information revealing and helpful. There is much more to learn about TM at this Web site.

blackball.GIFClick here for a full translation of the ceremony (called a puja).

blackball.GIFClick here for a discussion of the sources of the puja.

blackball.GIFClick here for a list of mantras and their selection procedure.

blackball.GIFClick here for an excerpt of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's writings describing the origin of the mantras.

blackball.GIFClick here for personal testimonies of negative effects.

blackball.GIFClick here for a list of research indicating negative effects.

blackball.GIFClick here for a copy of the contract that TM teachers sign.

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