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Lisa's Story

Editor's note:We reprint Lisa's story just as she wrote it, not one word has been edited. But we point out that most scholars who work in this field disagree with her assessment that victims are damaged individuals and so willingly join cults. Professor Margaret Singer and others write that the population entering cults is roughly equivalent to the general population -- excepting higher intelligence, creativity, and altruism. Cults don't have any use for damaged slackers.

Dear John:

Last Spring, I said I would send you my personal story to put up on the website. It's taken me a long time to get the perspective I needed to write it out. I guess I had to research TM enough to convince myself that my former boyfriend was beyond redemption before I could gain perspective and let go. It took me a long time to realize that the failure of the relationship wasn't my fault.

Anyway, attached is the story. Please post it if you think it will do anyone any good. I'd be interested in hearing from people with similar stories, if you run across any.

Thanks for It has been an important part of healing from this experience. Know that you are providing a real service to people.

Best wishes,


I met Michael shortly after I moved to Bainbridge Island. We lived down the road from each other and frequently met while walking our dogs around the neighborhood. We were attracted to each other right away, and he would often stop and talk to me for an hour or so while we sat on my front porch. I don't remember what we talked about, but I do remember thinking, based on what I then perceived his level of understanding of life to be, that he had an incredible gift for self-delusion. If only I had listened to my instincts then. I would have avoided a tremendous amount of hurt, anger, disappointment and betrayal.

Michael seemed to stop by every day after a time, but the relationship wasn't really moving forward. I attributed this to a kind of shyness on his part, rather than what I later learned was an inability to take the initiative (after all, when you are a follower, you are accustomed to being told what to do and manipulated into action, rather than act from your own inner feelings). So, I asked him to dinner, and it seems after that he was a part of my daily life.

As new lovers do, we shared information about our childhoods, our schooling, our lives. We had a lot in common -- both vegetarians, both animal lovers, both enjoyed the outdoors. He mentioned at some point that he meditated and that he even taught meditation, which I thought was wonderful, but he never explained that it was TM and what TM was all about. I thought it was a harmless practice at first. It's amazing the things you don't see when you don't wish to see them. However, all through the relationship, I had the sense of something not being right, not being what it appeared, although I couldn't put my finger on it. He would eat certain foods and not others, but didn't know why -- it was just what he was taught. He wanted me to put the head of my bed on the east wall of the bedroom, but couldn't tell me why. I asked him why he had to meditate twice a day, but he could only answer that it was because that it was what he was taught. When I asked him the benefit of meditation to him, he told me it was to relieve stress. I asked what kind of stress he was under, but he couldn't answer. He never questioned anything he was "taught," which I thought was bizarre.

As time moved on, the relationship and the fundamental problems in the relationship became more intensified for me. Michael was often insensitive, emotionally flat or superficial, socially inappropriate. Of course, when I tried to discuss the problems with him, he always insisted that I had "misunderstood" (later I learned that this is one of the many rationalizations used by TM devotees), shifting the blame on me. It bothered me that Michael never seemed able to focus on an activity for very long before he had to home to take care of "business." I eventually learned that his disappearing for hours at a time, in the morning and in the early evening, meant that he needed to meditate. Often, we didn't have dinner until 10 p.m. because the events of the day prevented him from meditating at a reasonable hour, and meditation took precedence over everything else. He meditated much longer than the standard 20 minutes, too. I asked him once if he could not meditate for a day and see what happened, but he wouldn't even try, telling me I just didn't understand the consequences. Once, when he returned from teaching a three-day residence course, he slept the entire next day, and he was spaced out for several days following.

Gradually, he would introduce certain ideas to me (like the Ayur Vedic diet book and the TM booklet). He would often say what I teased him were "cryptic t-shirt wisdoms" (such as "Well begun is half done") that seemed so shallow and stupid I couldn't believe he wasn't kidding. Imagine how frustrated he must have been with me -- here he was, quoting Maharishi and feeling so pompous and self-important, and there I was, making fun of what he was saying because I thought he was trying to be funny! After I read the TM booklet, I started to ask him a lot of questions about the organization. I was concerned for him, but he never answered any question directly or completely. He insisted it was not a religion, that the mantras were meaningless sounds, and that I would just have to experience TM to understand how deep and meaningful it (and he, by association) was. I could not understand how such an intelligent man could believe so much in such utter rubbish.

Since Michael explained that he himself couldn't teach me (saying something like it was improper to teach friends and lovers), I went to the introductory lecture in Seattle one night. I was the only potential "inductee" there. I watched an old tape of the Maharishi, I listened to the teacher explain the different levels of consciousness and draw some ridiculous figures on a board. Although the teacher was very nice, he had this glazed-over look and feel about him that many religious fanatics have -- I think the term is "rapture." He also spoke many of the same phrases I had heard from Michael ("the mind turns to whatever is most charming"), and it threw me. In all, the experience really put me off, but since I was still trying to sort out my relationship with Michael, I went ahead with the course.

I remember back in college going through an initiation ceremony at the sorority I had pledged. I giggled all the way through that preposterous event, and it was all I could do to get through this one without doing the same. The ceremony was religious in nature, completely ritualistic; however, I was supposed to believe that TM is not a religion. I felt angry at being so deceived, and at the end of the ceremony, I discussed my feelings with the teacher. The teacher assured me that the ceremony meant "nothing" in a religious sense. But I decided later that night, that I would not go back for "checking" and whatever came after that.

I discussed my experience with Michael and told him that I thought it showed a tremendous lack of integrity to manipulate people into believing they were going to learn a "technique" when instead they were to be participants in some religious ritual. I told him I felt he had betrayed my faith in him (shaky as it was), and I asked him why he had lied to me and the level of his involvement in TM. I asked him about the connection between the Natural Law Party and TM, since he was the state chairman for the Party and ran for Congress every two years. I asked a lot of questions, and all I got was defensiveness, rationalizations, and the argument that I was not "ready" to receive and understand such "powerful" information. I told him I was scared for him because he had based his entire adult life on a "house of cards," a system of values and beliefs that were, at best, substandard and beneath the dignity of human life, and, at worst, a form of self-imposed slavery. We argued, and everything that had bothered me in the relationship and in his behavior came to the surface. He stormed out and hasn't spoken to me since. It broke my heart, but I've learned a lot in the time since then.

Thanks to and other resources, I've come to understand that TM is not a "technique" but a cult. Cults are attractive to a certain type of damaged personality -- narcissistic, sociopathic, dependent people who have willingly abdicated their free will, accountability and responsibility in exchange for a pseudo-identity that they believe makes them Somebody. They lack real character and values, and have a noticeable lack of conscience. People like Michael are incapable of reflective thought, real insight, compassion and empathy not because of TM but because they are damaged personalities to begin with. TM (and other organizations like it) simply preys on and supports the damage, and, in Michael's case, it becomes permanent. I guess it is attractive to be given the answers in life instead of finding them for yourself, but at what cost? To live a shallow, meaningless existence is a dishonor and a shame. I wonder how many TM devotees have successful relationships with spouses/partners who are not also involved with TM. I wonder why anyone to whom TM is so overriding in their lives would choose an "outsider." I wonder how many other people like me had similar experiences.

I don't know whether Michael chose me because I represented a challenge as a "convert" or because of a deeper and unknown need in that I represented the freedom and aliveness for which his soul cried out. I do know that because of his involvement and devotion to TM and his worship of Maharishi, he will never be free. He will never experience real love and the joys of a real relationship. He will never know truth. In short, he will never be fully awake or alive. It makes me incredibly sad, not just because I loved him, but because it is a waste of precious life.

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Creation has two sides: intelligence, which is the cause of everything, and the manifestations of intelligence, which are the physical and psychological features of the everyday world. Because Transcendental Meditation directly approaches intelligence, rather than the manifestations of intelligence, it solves problems by introducing harmony and well-being at the most basic level, and not by dealing with problems themselves. That's why it is so effective.

Consider this example: The gardener supplies water to the root of a tree. That water, that nourishment, then reaches all parts of the tree - leaves, branches, flowers, fruit - through the sap. We can think of the sap as analogous to intelligence and the green leaves or yellow flowers as analogous to the manifestations of the intelligence. The leaves and flowers are the intelligence of the sap, after it has been transformed. So intelligence - like the leaves and flowers of a tree - appears as the many different forms of manifest life. Those manifestations include every aspect of existence, from the material and physiological, through the psychological, intellectual, and spiritual. All of those features of life come from transformations of intelligence. In meditation, we directly meet this essential intelligence. Therefore, we have the possibility of nourishing all of its other levels, and thus all levels of manifestation, in a way that is harmoniously related to the whole universe.

How is Transcendental Meditation different from the various other forms of meditation?

Maharishi: The basic difference is that Transcendental Meditation, in addition to its simplicity, concerns itself only with the mind. Other systems often involve some additional aspects with which the mind is associated, such as breathing or physical exercises. They can be a little complicated because they deal with so many things. But with Transcendental Meditation there is no possibility of any interference. So we say this is the all-simple program, enabling the conscious mind to fathom the whole range of its existence.

Transcendental Meditation ranges from active mind - or performing mind - to quiet mind - or resting mind. In this resting mind, one has purity and simplicity, uninvolved with anything other than the mind, uninvolved with any other practice. In Transcendental Meditation, because we deal only with the mind, we nourish all expressions of intelligence.

The mind meditates, gains Transcendental Consciousness and brings about transformation in different fields of manifestation. All fields of life, which are the expression of intelligence, are nourished or transformed and made better through experiencing Transcendental Consciousness.

The mind, of course, is always concerned with other aspects, such as the physiology of the body, the environment, and the whole universe for that matter. But since Transcendental Meditation deals only with the performance of the mind, from its active states to its settled state, it remains unconcerned with those other aspects, though it deals with them all, because intelligence deals with them all. -- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, unknown interview, copyright presumablyheld by Maharishi Vedic University, The Maharishi Foundation, or another group within the TM family.

Cults come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Categories of cults that are recruiting successfully today include:

Eastern meditation: characterized by belief in God-consciousness, becoming one with God. The leader usually distorts and Eastern-based philosophy or religion. Members sometimes learn to disregard worldly possessions and may take on an ascetic lifestyle. Techniques used: meditation, repeated mantras, altered states of consciousness, trance states.

Religious: marked by belief in salvation, afterlife, sometimes combined with an apocalyptic view. The leader reinterprets the Scriptures and often claims to be a prophet if not the messiah. Often the group is strict, sometimes using physical punishments such as paddling and birching, especially on children. Members are encouraged to spend a great deal of time proselytizing. (Note: included here are Bible-based neo-Christian and other religious cults, many considered syncretic since they combine beliefs and practices). Techniques used: speaking in tongues, chanting, praying, isolation, lengthy study sessions, many hours spent evangelizing, "struggle" (or criticism) and confession sessions.

Political, racist, terrorist: fueled by belief in changing society, revolution, overthrowing the "enemy" or getting rid of evil forces. The leader professes to be all-knowing and all-powerful. Often the group is armed and meets in secret with coded language, handshakes, and other ritualized practices. Members consider themselves an elite cadre ready to go to battle. Techniques used: paramilitary training, reporting on one another, guilt, fear, struggle sessions, instilled paranoia, long hours of indoctrination. -- Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, Lalich and Tobias, Hunter House, 1993.