Escape From Transcendental Meditation
by Albert MillerI first read about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in a Coronet magazine article in 1971. It was a review of the guru's latest Western activities and his new book, The Science of Being and Art of Living. He was attracting people with a sort of mystical charm and his message about transcendental meditation sounded intriguing; TM was in vogue and a lot of people were doing it, I read. "Do less and accomplish more," the yogi had said, voicing one of the alleged benefits of the meditation practice.
Apparently with genuine altruism he wanted to help people reach high potential. Contact with "Being" for self-fulfillment was the immediate goal; spiritual regeneration, enlightenment and cosmic consciousness were grand objectives.
Once learned, I read, TM would neutralize stress and quickly improve all aspects of mind and body. Its continued practice, he asserted, would open doors to higher states of consciousness where you would acquire a host of supernormal qualities such as "pure creativity" and "spontaneous right action."
That part was too much to expect from merely meditating, I thought at the time. Normally I would have dismissed statements like those as pure fantasy, banking on my New England heritage of discrimination and downright caution. But for a workaholic like myself, the stress management claims for TM sounded useful, even plausible, and the mere possibility of unfolding one's inner potential made it seem worth the investment of $75. I called the TM center in Los Angeles and was meditating one week later.
The twice daily routine, with eyes closed, slowed me down considerably and gave my body and mind some much needed rest. A marvelous feeling of well-being ensued, which I credited to TM. And the local TM activities provided ready-made social contacts that were generally missing from my life. (In addition to being a workaholic, I also had a tendency to be a loner.)
The VisionFrom then on I read everything I could find on TM, did the meditation regularly and attended weekly meetings, asking questions to understand subtle experiences and manage occasional difficulties with the practice. I became a sort of expert on it after a while, encouraging others and expecting high attainment. I planned to become a teacher of TM, was active at local TM centers, and started preliminary training.
TM residence courses were next, two-to-seven days in length, where we did up to six meditations a day instead of the normal two. Before each meditation we would hyperventilate with a breathing practice called pranayama, and then did a series of body stretching exercises known as yoga asanas. There were quiet discussions about movement-related subjects, and we watched endless videos of Maharishi extolling the benefits of TM from every conceivable angle. Evening meetings on residence courses ended by listening to tapes of Indian pundits softly chanting hymns from the Hindu holy book, Sama-Veda.
Following one three-day residence course, I walked into my house and immediately hallucinated with a clear vision of personal distress: I was in ocean waters swimming against currents that were pulling me seaward, unable to make it back to land. The vision came and went but was always the same. It was in full color and so intrinsically real that I would sink into myself, so to speak, with each reappearance and I had a hard time holding on to present reality. The vision slowly subsided over twenty four hours and finally went away. My TM teacher said: "Something good had happened." I was not reassured.
In 1979, after meditating regularly for eight years and not feeling particularly enlightened by it, I decided to take the advanced meditation course called TM-Sidhis, hoping to get better overall results from the daily practice. At that time, I owned and operated a magazine publishing business in Laguna Beach, California. After learning the TM-Sidhis, I continued my meditation program with the added technique for another six years without noticeable advances, apart from having less concern about everything in general.
The PlungeMost of the people I met through the TM movement in California had moved to Fairfield, Iowa, where they practiced their meditation in one of the big golden domes on the Maharishi International University (MIU) campus, located in Fairfield. There was a dome for women and a dome for men, each with space for a thousand people. Meditating in large groups like that was said to be much more profound, and you didn't have to be an MIU student to participate. That was an incentive for me; most of my friends were there and the cost of living in Iowa was half of what it was in Laguna Beach.
I sold my business and moved to MIU in January, 1986. The change of pace and new horizons were instantly rejuvenating: a circle of close friends with a common cause and living on a college campus at my age were immediate boosts to morale and ego. My friends and I credited TM and TM-Sidhis in the golden dome for this new lease on life. One of the other alleged benefits of doing TM is that you will receive the support of nature in every endeavor: I felt supported; I believed it all.
I joined a staff group at the Maharishi Capital of the Age of Enlightenment (MCAE) on the MIU campus. There are "Capitals" (MCAEs) in major cities throughout the world to administer local TM-movement functions, viz., promoting, lecturing, and teaching the TM and TM-Sidhi programs, holding regular meditator meetings, residence courses, large-group World Peace Assemblies (WPAs), recruiting and training new teachers and other agenda. The WPAs tend to reduce crime rates and bring about world peace when people do the TM-Sidhis in large groups, according to the Maharishi whose word was never challenged.
Capital staff people were given room and board, free access to the domes, time for extra meditation, a monthly stipend and other benefits including ayurvedic services. It was a good practical arrangement, I thought: close to the dome for improving my program and a focus of complementary activity for balance.
As time went on, I began to notice the tendency of staff people I worked with and others on the MIU campus to accept without question every new movement dogma, dictum, fee-for-services teaching and Age of Enlightenment product. World-view knowledge appeared to be missing. With notable exceptions, people were generally laid back and impressionable; some were simply mesmerized it seemed. Conversations were usually limited to movement subjects, what the Maharishi had said about one thing or another, or how to earn money. Time allotted for work assignments was always short and staff productivity typically low; there was no real work ethic. I didn't understand all of this at first; I thought it was inconsistent with Maharishi's "ideal society" of which MIU was to be a microcosm. But I tended to ignore it, went about my business, and kept my own counsel.
By then, I had become director of MCAE operations running two Capital departments on the MIU campus. As director of operations I observed meditators daily, several in my departments, who would get "hung up" during the day half way between what appeared to be the inward focus of meditation while attempting to do their job effectively, especially long-time meditators. I, too, was somewhat affected in this manner, but my work ethic and position of authority required a strong outward focus that counterbalanced this tendency most of the time.
'Snapping'Although enthusiastic at first with old and new friends at MIU, and with the buzz of dome dynamics, by 1989 I had become disillusioned with the entire program. It had been eighteen years since beginning the practice of transcendental meditation, nine years with the advanced siddhis technique, and there were no meaningful changes in my life, even from regular group meditation in the golden dome.
I continued to think and perform more or less as I always had in spite of being in a mild state of trance from continuous meditation routines, daily knowledge meetings and tapes, and incessant conversations full of movement clichés, slogans and euphemisms. Any merits that a person had and every positive event that occurred were always credited to group meditation; negative behavior and events were explained as being caused by one's "unstressing" or dome non-attendance.
I began to see through all this. Apart from being more rested and experiencing the benefits of relaxation, and feeling somewhat trance-euphoric, the big changes promised by TM teachers didn't happen. What was happening to me and to people under my very nose was the tendency to be unproductive, "spaced out" in the head, emotionally flat and forgetful. I noticed involuntary twitching from time to time. Delusions of grandeur were rampant.
Reported in the article: "TM in Conflict" in the San Francisco Examiner, Sept. 10, 1989: "A local Jefferson County attorney in Fairfield, Iowa said he had to commit approximately twenty MIU students to mental institutions," and that "a study completed [by Leon S. Otis] at Stanford Research Institute involving 574 subjects concluded that forty percent of those who had practiced TM for eighteen months or longer complained of being chronically 'anxious, confused, frustrated, depressed, and/or withdrawn.'"The TM people I had known for years were obviously no more enlightened from their meditation routines than I was and the whole range of human frailties remained among them, with some mighty bizarre mutations appearing here and there. In addition to customary health problems, there was affectation, complacency, lack of objectivity, mood-making, bad manners, and undefined fears, especially among the long-term votaries.
I also noticed that local and national crime rates had increased dramatically during the past three years, contrary to Maharishi's prediction that group practice of TM-Sidhis would "take care of the crime." This clearly repudiated all the enlightenment and world-saving formulae of the Maharishi, I thought, the yogi from the Valley of the Saints. In the parlance of cult-exit counseling, I had just "snapped."
I decided eighteen years of TM charades were enough, gave notice, stopped doing my meditation program and moved into Fairfield to do some writing. Two years later I moved to Iowa City where I became involved in the church again and with the University of Iowa. I met Iowans and began to establish real world roots in The Hawkeye State.
Copyright ©1995 Albert Miller. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of the author.