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Sex and Taboos in TM

I'll repeat and expand on my experience with the pressure for celibacy in the TM movement.

  • I was told when I began living in a TM center in 1975 by the "center chairman" that sex (intercourse, displays of physical affection, kissing, etc) was not allowed in the center, whether in public or in private, and would create bad karma for me and affect the initiations of others adversely. Note that this assertion was repeated to me at five centers at which I taught.

  • As an active volunteer for and later teacher of TM, I was repeatedly admonished, by other TM teachers and movement higher ups, to avoid sex and the thought of sex. The authority quoted for this taboo was usually Maharishi or Charlie Lutes. I have heard Charlie speak in person on this, asserting that there was a sliding scale for sexual bad karma: married sex for procreation was good karma, married sex for pleasure was least harmful, consensual sex between non-married adults was damaging, and masturbation was the worst karma. I do not remember him speaking about nonconsensual sex or other sex acts. I have also heard MMY speak on the topic, altho in less detail, as I write below. I was also told by SRM teachers that "vedic law" forbade certain sexual practices -- for instance, something to the effect that oral sex, even consensual, could cause blindness in this life or the next reincarnation.

  • On TM teacher training, 1978, Leysin, Switzerland, we saw a series of tapes by MMY in which he upheld "bramhachari" (a formal vow of celibacy for males) as the fastest path to enlightenment. His words on that course, repeated frequently over the next several years were that male "governors" (TM teachers who practice the sidhis) should remain celibate before marriage -- and that they should avoid marriage before enlightenment if at all possible. He specifically indicated that this was the fastest path to enlightenment and the achievement of the TM sidhis (levitation, etc) -- and that some higher states of consciousness were not attainable unless one had practiced life-long celibacy -- namely Brahman Consciousness and Krishna Consciousness. He also held that Unity Consciousness was difficult if not impossible to attain in Kali Yuga without strict celibacy. (He did indicate that the rise to God Consciousness could be faster for a married couple than a single male.) He indicated that the fastest path for a woman was to marry and have children. All of us on TM teacher training noted the inconsistency: "If we (male TM governors) all remain single, who will the woman governors marry?"

  • Sex was/is discouraged by course leaders on all residence courses in the TM movement that I'm aware of. It is said to be dangerous to one's evolution when one is engaging in lengthened and/or multiple meditations. Even married couples were encouraged to have separate rooms and no intimate contact during courses.

  • As TM teachers we were told to avoid "tamasic" (impure) foods, particularly garlic and onions, because they led to excitement of the senses and sexual desire -- which would hinder our "evolution of consciousness."

  • I was on staff at MIU Press, Livingston Manor, NY, during 1976-1978 (also known as the Academy of SCI, Academy of the Age of Enlightenment, and Capital of the Age of Enlightenment for North America/Northeast). Over the course of this time, I saw a distinct change in the tenor and content of TM movement higher-ups on behavior in general, and sex in particular.

When I first became a volunteer in June 76, sex, outside books & magazines, travel to the "outside" world, even drugs were largely overlooked -- altho the grapevine had it that they were not to be indulged in.

Beginning in 1977, the pronouncements by Movement leaders became more stringent. One volunteer subscribed to Playboy. At first he was told -- in front of a large group -- to cease receiving it at Livingston Manor. Later his copies were seized from his peronal mail and destroyed. Finally he was forced to leave staff.

At MIU Press, we began to be subjected to private and group meetings in late 1977 where we were exhorted to cease "non-sattivic/tamasic" (impure) activity -- especially intercourse or contact with women -- because it was said to cause mechanical breakdown of the printing equipment and affect the "purity" of the printed materials we produced (we were indirectly accused of causing the calamitous fall in TM initiations in the late 70s). We were urged to take vows of celibacy ("bramhachari") or at least to remain celibate while working for the Press. We were also told that this had been standard practice at MERU Press for years. (MERU Press was the European counterpart of MIU Press.)

At least one of the directors of the Academy at this time was rumored to have affairs with female staff. I personally experienced him leaving one of his alleged women friend's rooms in the middle of the night (as MIU Press staff we were frequently expected to work 24 hours or longer at a stretch). In Fall 1977 he was replaced, reportedly personally by Maharishi, by 3 new, single, male directors. At this time, we began having frequent visits from and audits by European "governors" who reportedly had worked personally with MMY for many years and were "bramhacharis." They claimed to have the charter from MMY to restructure MIU Press and the Academy because of our lack of purity and obvious failures to inspire initiations in North America. (We were also reported to be losing a great deal of money.)

In late 1977, the physical plant began to experience frequent breakdowns -- water pipes burst, typesetting equipment broke down, presses began to fail. The then directors of the "Academy for the Age of Enlightenment" (where MIU Press was located) gathered the entire staff together and said that Maharishi had telephoned them blaming the breakdowns on the "impure" behavior of volunteers at the Academy and that as a result a number of changes were to take place -- at MMY's personal command: all couples and women were to be relocated to another facility, all "work/study credit" was to be cancelled amounting to some thousands of dollars per volunteer (the reason most of us went on staff was to exchange labor for TM courses), travel off the Academy grounds would now require approval by the Capital directors, and thousands of non-TM books, magazine, and periodicals were to be removed from the Academy because of their "impure" influence. (We were also told that it was our duty to maintain our consciousness in a pure state because we were responsible for maintaining purity for the entire US Northeast -- an extension of the well-known 1% formulation.)

Only single men were invited to remain at the Press -- and we were specifically urged to take up strict celibacy (no sexual activity or thought, most especially not masturbation). The relocation of women, children, and couples affected 30 or 40 individuals. Nearly 100 volunteers lost their "work/study" credit. Several openly gay staff members were dismissed. Those single males who remained at MIU Press were told that they would receive instruction in the "sidhis" in exchange for a lifetime vow to remain as volunteers at MIU Press.

I left MIU Press in mid 78, but remained in contact with some staff members there for approximately a year. To my knowledge, the gender segregation and anti-sex mores and admonitions continued during that time -- reportedly with Maharishi's direct knowledge and encouragement.

John M. Knapp

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