Religious Movements Homepage: Transcendental Meditation


Transcendental Meditation

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    I. Group Profile

    1. Name: Transcendental Meditation (TM)

    2. Founder: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was born Mahesh Prasad Varna on October 11, 1911 (or 1918) in Utter Kashi, India1

    3. Year Founded: 19562.

    4. Sacred Text:

      While the official Transcendental Meditation website denyies that any religious work is intrinsic to their learning, it does state that advanced courses of TM utilize the Bhagavad Gita and Rig Veda, Hindu holy scriptures.3

    5. Cult or Sect:

      Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.

    6. Size of group: Transcendental Meditation's homepage reports that some five million people practice TM worldwide.4 Christianity Today reported in early 2001 that six million have taken the TM course worldwide, including 1.5 million in the U.S. 5 William Sims Bainbridge, a leading new religious movements scholar, reports that TM's own records show something in the order of one thousand persons had learned TM meditation techniques by the end of 1966. From that date until 1975, TM experienced rapid growth culmunating with 292,517 persons being initiated in that single year. 6 There followed a period of significant decline in new recruits, but by 1984 more than one million people had taken basic TM courses.7

      Completion of the basic meditation course is not to be equated with membership, or even any enduring committment to practive the TM meditation techniques. Still, the organization has had significant impact in the United States and beyond. By the end of the 20th century there were over 1200 TM instruction centers located in 108 countries, including 135 centers in the United States. 8

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    II. History:

      After completing a degree in physics at Allahabad University, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi studied Vedic science under Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, a leading Hindu scholar, more broadly known as Guru Dev, for thirteen years until Dev's death in 1953. Following his teacher's death, Maharishi spend two years meditating in the Himalayas and then traveled to the south of India.9

      It was here that Maharishi announced his intentions to create a Hindu world mission. He created the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in 1958. In 1959 Maharishi made his first world tour which included a visit to the United States. The International Meditation Society for the Science of Creative Intelligence, the instrument for the introduction of TM, was created in 1961.

      The movement grew slowly at first, but the youth counter-culture movement that flourished beginnning in the mid-1960s provided an expanding audience for his teachings. A second world tour in 1967 brought him to many college campuses in the U.S. including Yale, Harvard, UCLA and Berkeley. His message attracted several high profile entertainers, including the Beatles, Mia Farrow and Jane Fonda, and this served to elevate his own profile.

      In 1972 the Maharishi announced a bold program to introduce the "Science of Creative Intelligence", a modern reinterpretation of the Vedic science of consciousness, to the world. This program called for the creation of a World Plan that had as its goal the establishment of 3,600 World Centers. These Centers, each staffed with one thousand instructors, would provide a ratio of one instructor per thousand inhabitants of planet earth at that time. To achieve this plan, he created the World Plan Executive Council organized into five task-oriented structures.

      That same year he established the Maharishi International University in Santa Barbara California, which later moved to Fairfield Iowa where it remains to this day under the name Maharishi University of Management. The University's goals were and are to provide a traditional college curriculum with an emphasis on each subjects' relation to the natural forces of the universe that are the basis for the TM movement. By 1977 10,000 people had been trained at MIU to teach the TM technique. As a result of favorable media coverage, the movement was able to establish a relationship with public schools in New Jersey where the TM technique was taught until enjoined from doing so by a court ruling in 1977.

      The 1977 court ruling, Malnak v. Yogi, dealt a serious blow to the movement. TM appealed to the New Jersey State Supreme Court claiming they were not teaching religion, but proven scientific techniques. The Supreme Court upheld the initial decision in a 1979 ruling. After several years of steady growth, this same time frame marks the beginning of a decline in the number of new initiates to the meditation program. In spite of vigorous protest against claims that TM is a religion, Bainbridge notes it is not mere coincidence that it is during this period that the organization took new initiatives that focused on "supernormal powers."

      In 1976, as membership began to lag, TM introduced new breakthroughts in human potential. A high form of meditation, called the siddis offered advanced students the opporunity for "Yogic flying," this is levitation or floating in air. They also introduced the teaching that it was possible for a person to become invisible. Also during this time, followers were taught that their meditation efforts could have profound effects on the world, such as reduction in crime and end to war and disease. 10

      Despite the setback of the late 1970s, Yogi's teachings have made a very significant comeback. This can in part, at least, be attributed to the proliferation of holistic medicine in the West. To this end, Yogi has helped bring Ayurveda, a traditional form of medicine, into the forefront, opening health facilities in several major cities. The proclaimed strategy of these centers is to fight health disorders by combatting the root causes of the illnesses rather than the symptoms. Such causes generally include an imbalance in the body's energies caused by impure diet and hectic lifestyles. 11

      More recently Maharishi has introduced The Maharishi Vedic Astrology Program, which he defines as "the science of transformation and technology of prediction". It goes on to say that the use of this program is necessary for those in positions as caretakers or leaders, being that it is a method whereby to predict future trends.

      TM has spread into politics as well. The Natural Law Party, led by physicist, and MUM faculty member, Dr. John Hagelin, supports TM and calls it's party the "first American political party based on scientific principles and research." TM practices are, in fact, cited in the Natural Law Party's political platform. 12 The NLP also claims to be active in over 80 countries. 13

      During the 2000 presidential campaign Hegelin took his cause to the Reform Party and came close to snatching their nomination for the U.S Presidency. The national media was so focused on conservative Pat Buchanan grabbing the big matching campaign dollars, that maverick Ross Perow had garnered in the 1996 election, that they virtually missed the fact that Hegelin was Buchanan's major competitor for the deeply divided Reform Party.

      After Buchanan captured the Reform Party's nomination, Hegelin returned to his spot on the Natural Law Party ticket were he received over 80 thousand votes in the presidential campaign. Perhaps more significant, the Natural Law Party fielded candidates for public office in all fifty states--more than a thousand total. A Natural Law Party candidate won over 69,000 votes for U.S.Senate in Ohio. Similar showings were evidenced in several other states. 14

      The Natural Law Party's number one priority upon gaining office (according to their web page) will be to establish "7,000 experts practising Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation and TM Sidhi Program, including the technique of Yogic flying." They believe this will create a more "orderly, harmonious, and positive society." Other party promises include a more prosperous economy, better health, family stability, improved education and an "invincible defence" to avert war. 15

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    III. Beliefs Associated with the TM Movement

      On TM's official webpage, the TM technique is described as "a simple, natural, effortless procedure whereby the mind naturally arrives at the source of all thought-- transcending consciousness --the source of all creative processes."16.

      TM claims to be unlike any other form of meditation in that the meditator's mind "transcends" physical boundaries to become one with the "creative force". This communion with the "wellspring of life" as Yogi calls it, 17 leads to more productivity and better health through enlightenment. In fact, the practice of TM has been shown in some studies (listed on the TM homepage) to dramatically reduce crime, promote peace, lower blood pressure and promote greater well being to the meditator. The practice of TM is open to all people of all religious backgrounds. It is described as a "natural" and "effortless" method of meditation bringing the mind to a "higher awareness" or enlightenment, which "involves no religion, belief, philosophy or change in lifestyle"18

      The process by which one learns TM is not complicated. First a potential client attends two free lectures which promote the benefits of the technique. Afterwards one may enroll for private instruction. At this point the client is given a "mantra" during a private ceremony which includes an "invocation" to Hindu deities and the Guru Dev, thanking them for the knowledge and ability to practice TM. Once the client has learned the technique they are allowed to go on their own and are not required to return for more instruction unless they wish to. "Weekend retreats" are available on a fee basis to people seeking to learn additional advanced techniques which supposedly reap even greater and quicker benefit than the basic form taught with the initial investment. The more advanced practitioner is indoctrinated in the Bhagavad Gita and Rig Vedas, traditional Hindu holy scripture from which the TM technique is derived.

      The emphasis on the simplicity of learning the TM meditation technique is demonstrated on their web page that breaks TM down into seven easy steps, including the time required to achieve each step:

        • Introductory lecture: Details the possiblities that open themselves to members due to the practice of TM (1 hr 30 min)
        • Preparatory lecture: Mechanics and origin of TM (1 hr 30 min)
        • Personal Interview: Teacher and student (10 min)
        • Personal Instruction: Teaching of techniques (2 hr)
        • Verification and Validation of Experiences: Verifies the correctness of practice and instruction (2 hr)
        • Verification and Validation of Experiences: Understanding mechanics of TM techniques from personal experiences (2 hr)
        • Verification and Validation of Experiences: Understanding the mechanics of the development of higher states of consciousness (2hr)19

      Maharishi claims that since the theoretical basis of TM is the "Science of Creative Intelligence", it is therefore not a religion. 20 The term Science of Creative Intelligence, or SCI, was coined by Yogi to mean the modern interpretation of the Vedic science of consciousness which he claims to be the "foundation of all knowledge and basis of fulfillment" 21

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    IV. Issues and Controversies:

      The meditation techniques taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi are clearnly grounded in the teachings of Hinduism. This, notwithstanding, the Yogi, the World Plan Council, scholars who work within the tradition, and many other individual members argue tenaciously that TM is not a religion. They argue, rather, that the heart and soul of the meditation techniques developed by Maharishi are grounded in scientific priniciples.

      On the one hand, the proponents of TM have made scientific claims that are highly vulnerable to disconformation. On the other hand, other claims that are made under the imprimatur of science simply are not amenable to disconformation by scientific methods. Both sets of claims have found their way into professional scientific journals, including some journals that are highly respectable. As of this writing, the official web site of TM presents an annotated bibliography of 508 studies they claim support the scientific foundation of TM.22

      The claim to be scientific and not religious produce controversy at three levels: (1) the courts, (2) scholarly assessment, and (3) claims of fraud by disgruntled former members and their symphatizers in the anit-cult movement.

      Conflict in the Courts: Malnak vs. Yogi

      While the Supreme Court of the United States has never defined religion and, in fact, has rendered decisions about religion that are based on fundamentally incompatible conceptions of religion, lower courts have concluded that TM is a religion.

      The key case came in 1977 when a law suit was filed by parents of students at a New Jersey high school, clergy, and a non profit organization for separation of church and state, among others, to enjoin the teaching of the TM technique in the public school system because it constituted a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States that prohibits the government from establishing a religion.

      The basic argument of the plaintiffs was that students enrolled in TM courses, beging taught in the public schools, constituted indoctrination in Hindu religious concepts and forced them to take part in a Hindu prayer ceremony as a part of their initiation into the class. Based on the Establishment Clause, it is inappropriate for a publically funded institution to endorse a religion or use prayer as part of the curricula. The TM course was being taught in such a way as to make parents concerned that their children were being taught TM concepts that were based on the "truth."

      The allegation that instruction in TM constituted the teaching of religion was strongly denied by the defense for Transcendental Medition. The court, however, found in favor of the plaintiffs based on the opinion that TM was indeed a religion. In this case, the court relied primarily on the contents of the textbook used in the course which stated, among other things, that the Science for Creative Intelligence, which TM meditators "tap into" using the TM technique, is "the universal basis of life" and the "source, course and goal of all existence" 23.

      Other claims in the text include that "the creative intelligence that structures the blueprint of life in our genes also regulates the movements of the far distant galaxies and inspires a musician to give expresion to the fullness of life". Also relied upon as evidence in this case was an English translation of a ceremonial chant accompanying the initiation of every student to the course, a ceremony at which attendance was required. The chant includes an invocation to Guru Dev as well as several Hindu deities, to whom the chanter bows and offers up obeisance.

      As the qualities attributed to the creative intelligence are those normally attributed to the deity of most religions, and as the claims were likewise not based on concrete and proveable fact but rather required a certain "leap of faith" to believe, it was the opinion of the court that the concept of creative intelligence was based on religious precept. However, it was not only that TM's concepts were religious in nature or that TM treachers were simply teaching the Hindu basis of Tm as a "history" of the technique. Rather, the course textbook and instructors presented the basic precepts of TM and the Science of Creative Intelligence as indisputible fact. The court handed down the decision that TM is religious in character and, thus, the teaching of TM in public schools based on this finding was to be enjoined as unconstitutional.24

      The defendants appealed this ruling, but in 1979 the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling. To date, no other court decision has superceded this judgment. TM has argued that this was a bad decision, but The World Plan Executive Council has apparently rejected a strategy of pursuing a legal defense wherein they would seek the overturn of this ruling in a higher court.

      Scholarly Assessment: A Sociological Perspective

      A good number of scholars have reviewed the scientific claims of published papers arguing for a scientific basis to TM and concluded that these works are seriously faulted. Supporters of TM reject these assessments even as they reject the legitimacy of the New Jersey court's decision. Our focus here is not to attempt to adjudicate conflictly claims but, rather, to focus on the sociological dimension of the debate. We offer here an extended quote from Bainbridge that summerizes his own research and interpretation of the issue: of sociological interest for three reasons. First, TM was a highly simplified form of Hinduism, adapted for Westerners who did not posses the cultural background to accept the full panoply of Hindu beliefs, symbols, and practics, thus illustrating how a missionary movement may seek to distill the essence of a religious tradition to make it more acceptable to nonbelievers. Second, to accomplish this, TM presented itself as a science rather than a religion, and the battle over how it was to be defined provides insights about the boundries of religion. Third, in pursuit of worldly benefits by supposedly scientific means, TM offered specific compensators [rewards] that were open to disconfirmation, and when the movement's growth stalled the members turned more resoulutely to the supernatural general compensators of religion.25

      These issues make TM a fascinating movement for sociologists to investigate. Unfortunately, TMs steadfast insistance that they are not a religion makes it very difficult for scholars to gain access to study the group.26

      Anti-Cult Movement: The Perspective of Former Members

      Every religious movement, like every institution, has to deal with former members who rejected what they once embraced and later left with varying degrees of ill feeling. The reasons that people leave movements are as many as the reasons that initially attract them to a group. Transcendental Meditation is not alone among religious movements that promise a scientific pathway to "bliss," "truth," "total freedom," etc.

      What all groups that claim to employ scientific methods to achieve transcendental goals have in common is vulnerability to disgruntled members who claim that the promises made to them were fraudulent. The sociological question is not whether, in fact, any particular group was fraudulent in their claims, or may have otherwise mistreated members. Rather, if an unhappy person comes to perceive that a group to which he or she formally professed alliegence is fundamentally fraudulent, then other negative perceptions are likely to follow. In the case of religious movements, there is no small number of persons who have taken up the cause of doing battle with their former group. The anti-cult movement is elsewhere discussed a length on the Religious Movement's Homepage. Here we simply want to note that former TM members, who now reject the teachings of Yogi, are well represented in the anti-cult pages of the Internet. We list just a few of the anti-TM sites in the links section of this report that follows immediately below.

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    V. Links to Transcendental Meditation Web Sites

      The Transcendental Meditation Program
      Official home page of Transcendental Meditation. This page has links to news articles and press coverage of the health benefits of TM as well as some limited information on Maharishi Yogi and his other programs.

      Learn Transcendental Meditation in Seven Steps
      Describes very briefly the seven steps required to learn TM

      Maharishi University of Management Home Page
      Programs offered, links to different programs within the university, details on the university, biography on Maharishi, links to research projects

      College of Maharashi Vedic Medicine
      Outline of Vedic Medicine's holistic approach to health care and programs for Maharishi's University, where programs are offered, including information on student life, faculty,FAQ's and links to other MUM pages.

      Introduction to the Sidhi Program
      An informational page about the Maharishi's Sidhi Program, through which one learns Yogic flying and other advanced forms of Tm designed to bring greater benefit to the meditator and entire world.

      Maharishi Corporate Development Program
      The Maharishi's proposal for bringing TM into the workplace. Includes reports from executives, scientific research studies, and case studies all proving the benefit of the use of TM in corporate America.

      The Raj - America's Premier Maharishi Ayur - Veda Health Center
      Abundant information concerning ayuervedic medicine and the health centers established by Maharishi Yogi.

      Maharishi University of Management Home Page
      Extensive information about Maharishi University of Management: curriculum, educational objectives, admissions policies, student life, a biography of the founder, and more.

      Transcendental Meditation Medical Centers
      Center locations included as well as a description of the Vedic approach to health with links to books by Yogi and some information on the Maharishi himself.

      Transcendental Meditation Program Website
      Lists goals of TM Program and SCI, why TM is a valuable program, details the processes

      Vedic Medicine
      Topics discussed include the structure of Vedic medicine and the relationship between modern science and vedic science

      Natural Law Party
      Home page of the Natural Law Party, the political party endorsed by the Maharishi. This page outlines the party's policies and platforms, has biographies of all of its candidates , shows current and past press releases and more.

      Maharishi Transcendental Meditation: The Website of Bliss and Enlightenment
      Includes information about TM founder and his program, including its formation

      Seven Steps to TM Seven Steps to learning TM technique

      Annotated Bibliography of Scientific Research on TM
      TM claims over 500 research studies, include more that two hundred conducted by independent organizations support their claim to be a scientific technique. This site provides an annotated bibliography of research. To our knowledge, they have not yet placed these articles on line so that they might be more broadly available for scholars to assess.

      Anti-TM Web Pages
      One of the most extensive anit-cult pages with a major focus on TM.

      Dark Side of TM
      An anti-cult page with expansive testimony of the dangers of this and other "cults." A one stop shop for those who love to hate. This extension will take you directly to TM materials:

      This is the web home of usenet newsgroup alt.meditation.transcendental hosted on the Internet by

      Skeptics Dictionary on TM
      The Skeptics Dictionary lampoons many religious movements along with lots of other ideas and groups. This is there offering on TM

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    VI. Bibliography

      Bainbridge, William Sims. 1997.
      Sociology of Religious Movements. New York: Routledge, pp. 187-191.

      Bainbridge, William Sims, and Daniel H. Jackson. 1981.
      "The Rise and Decline of Transcendental Meditation," in The Social Impact of New Religious Movements, Bryan Wilson, ed. New York: Rose of Sharon Press. pp. 135-158.

      Denniston, Denise. 1986.
      The Transcendental Meditation TM Book. Fairfield, Iowa : Fairfield Press.

      Kennedy, John W. 2001.
      "Field of TM Dreams," Christianity Today. (Jan 8). pp. 74-79.

      Lippy, Charles, and Peter Williams, eds, 1988.
      Lippy/Williams Encyclopedia of the America Religious Experience: Studies of Traditions and Movements . 3 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Vol. II, pp. 693-695.

      Malnak Vs. Yogi, 1977;1979.
      Lexis/Nexis on the web.

      Melton, J. Gordon, 1986.
      Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America. New York: Garland Publishing Inc, pp.187-192.

      Melton, J.Gordon, 1996.
      Encyclopedia of American Religions, 5th Edition Detroit:Gale, pp. 881-882.

      Stark, Rodney and Williams Sims Bainbridge. 1985.
      "The Rise and Decline of Transcendental Mediation." In The Future of Religion. Berkeley: University of California Press.

      Robert Roth. 1994.
      TM:Transcendental Meditation. Fairfield, Iowa : Fairfield Press. Revised Edition.
      Full Text available on line.

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      The content of this page has been recently revised with the result that reference notes need to be renumbered. This is scheduled to be completed shortly and will be reloaded as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience. 01/11/01

    1. Melton, J. Gordon, 1986. Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America. p. 187
    2. Melton, J. Gordon, 1986. Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America. p. 187
    3. Bainbridge, William S., 1997. The Sociology of Religious Movements.
    4. The Transcendental Meditation Program. Information is on front page.
    5. Kennedy, John W. 2001. "Field of TM Dreams," Christianity Today. January 8. p. 74.
    6. Bainbridge, 1997, The Sociology of Religious Movements. p.189. p. 188.
    7. Melton, 1996, p.882.
    8. Kennedy, John W. 2001. "Field of TM Dreams," Christianity Today. January 8. p. 74.
    9. Unfortunately, there is a virtual dearth of information regarding Yogi prior to the 1950's. The TM books and TM related websites begin their history of the life of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at 1957, with his introduction of TM and the World Wide Spiritual Regeneration Movement. They typically mention little or nothing of the Maharishi's personal biography or personally, focusing instead on his TM related developments, including his organizing of Vedic literature(1981), formulation of a "master plan" to create "heaven on earth" (1988) and establishment of Maharishi Vedic Universities(1994).
    10. Bainbridge, William S., 1997. The Sociology of Religious Movements. p. 191.
    11. To explore this more fully, see the Maharishi Vedic Medicine web page.
    12. Natural Law Party homepage Date accessed: 01/11/01.
    13. Natural Law Party homepage Claim made on front page. Date accessed: 01/11/01.
    14. Natural Law Party homepage Web site is in frames. Accessed from Press Releases on front page. Date accessed: 01/11/01.
    15. Natural Law Party homepage Web site is in frames. Accessed from Principle Policies on front page and then click on Introduction. Date accessed: 01/11/01.
    16. Transcendental Meditation Homepage
    17. Natural Law Party homepage
    18. Roth, TM:Transcendental Meditation Chapter 9.
    19. 7 Steps to the Learn the TM Technique
    20. Melton, 1996, p.881.
    21. Maharishi's Science of Creative Intelligence page
    22. Annotated Bibliography
    23. Malnak vs. Yogi Accessed from Lexis/Nexus.
    24. Malnak vs. Yogi. Accessed from Lexis/Nexus.
    25. Bainbridge, William Sims. 1997. The Sociology of Religious Movements. p. 187-188.
    26. Several TM members have written to the webmaster of the Religious Movements Homepage and expressed strong disapproval of the sociological perspective as well as the content of an earlier version of this page. When asked for assistance in checking the accuracy of the contents of the page, Mr. Hadden was advised to take the page down. Any treatment of TM as a religion, they argued, was tantamount to bigotry.

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    This page is the joint product of Amy Karasz and Meaghan Midgett. Ms. Midgett initially created
    the page in the Spring Term, 1997. Ms Karasz revised the page during the Fall Term, 2000
    For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
    University of Virginia
    Last modified: 01/12/01