Transcendental Meditation is a modern movement consisting of a particular style of meditation invented and practiced by Maharishi Yogi in the 1950s. Initially only practiced by a small group of Maharishi’s followers, after the Beatles took their well-known trip to India, over a hundred thousand people learned to practice Transcendental Meditation (Forem 15). In fact, Transcendental Meditation has gained many celebrity endorsements including Clint Eastwood, the Beach Boys and Merv Griffin (Lowe 60). Transcendental Meditation has origins in Tantric traditions, and is practiced by silently repeating a mantra given to a student by a registered teacher of TM based on the student’s age (Lowe 56). Transcendental Meditation is intentionally done with little effort (Balaji, Varne, and Ali). If the practitioner’s attention wanders off, it is allowed to roam until it naturally returns to repeating the mantra (Balaji, Varne, and Ali). Transcendental Meditation also has roots in Vedic traditions, with Maharishi Yogi embracing “the absolutist and ultra-orthodox interpretations of the Vedas” (Lowe 55). The purpose of TM is to enjoy the benefits of a state of relaxed alertness (Yunesian et al. 2). There are also many medical and health benefits of TM. It has been shown to be an efficient method for improving cardiovascular conditions and treating mental health issues such as anxiety, by way of improving an individual’s overall sense of clarity, happiness and life satisfaction. The Western world has many concepts of meditation, notably prayer, but also including Mindfulness meditation, Zen meditation and yoga (Films Media Group). Maharishi Yogi said that “TM has nothing to do with religion, and people of all religions practice TM” (Films Media Group). There is a course fee to learn to practice TM, which costs around $1000 (Films Media Group). Proponents of the movement argue that it is a health investment and it is hard to get anything for free nowadays; critics argue that there are many cheaper resources available, such as books and CDs (Films Media Group). To help share their ideas with the public, the TM Organization [TMO] still conducts studies on meditation, and presents both new and old findings from their research (Lowe 60).
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was born in Jabalpur, India in 1918, and he lived to the age of 91 (Films Media Group). He obtained a degree in Physics from Allahabad University, before starting his career with Transcendental Meditation (Lowe 56). According to Forem (2012), an individual who studied with Maharishi, he was “a happy man, serene, and at peace with himself” (Forem 13). Forem also refers to him as “brilliant, wise and compassionate,” and explains that the word rishi means ‘sage or seer,’ and that the word maha means great, a title only reserved for great sages who not only ‘see’, but are the embodiment of true knowledge and compassion (Forem 18-19). He started teaching his technique in 1957, defying the deeply ingrained rules in Hindu society. Because he was not born of the Brahmin varna or caste, he was therefore considered to be an illegitimate guru (Lowe 55). Although he borrowed methods of talking and writing like a guru, he never claimed to be a guru himself, even though that was how Westerners largely saw him (Lowe 56). In fact, he was a supporter of Hindu “hereditary caste-assigned occupations” (Lowe 57). Although Maharishi’s teachings were a departure from traditional, orthodox Hinduism, he drew much inspiration from the ultra-orthodox teachings of the Vedas (Lowe 55).
According to Lowe, Maharishi believed that Vedic teachings provided complete and total knowledge of everything in the universe (Lowe 54-55). He interpreted the Vedas as undoubtedly correct, and the “eternal source of all true knowledge about the universe” (Lowe 55). The movement also acknowledges that if one is able to interpret the Vedas, one can obtain all the knowledge that modern scientific investigation holds (Lowe 55). One important example of Transcendental Meditation’s Vedic origins is the concept of the mantra. Maharishi was clearly influenced by the mentioning of aum or om, the cosmological principle that the world is made of vibrations, and that the word is the source of said vibrations, found in the Rg Veda (Lowe 57). He applied the technique of repeating the mantra, and used words drawn from lists built in Indian Tantric traditions to form what is now known as Transcendental Meditation (Lowe 56). Maharishi invoked certain laws of nature synonymous with ancient Vedic deities or devas found in the Rg Veda when inventing TM (Lowe 57).
Another example of TM being built on Vedic foundations is Maharishi’s assertion that Vedic principles are more “complete and accurate” than modern science because “unlike scientific claims, they can not be falsified” (Lowe 57). Maharishi thought knowledge found in the Vedas was more trustworthy than modern science because it provided direct contact with devas rather than relying on empirical evidence (Lowe 58). He also claimed that Vedic texts are “scientific documents containing all knowledge” (Lowe 59). As TM spread around the world, Maharishi’s followers began to demand more empirical evidence of the effects of practicing Transcendental Meditation, and in response to such queries, studies were conducted by the TMO; these were the first studies to prove that any form of meditation has an effect (Lowe 59-60). It is worth noting that “evidence of the negative side effects of TM was not reported,” however, practitioners of TM were reporting improved sleep, stress reduction and better overall health (Lowe 60, 63).
A final example of the influence of the Vedas on Transcendental Meditation is the use of sidhis, a trademarked misspelling of the Sanskrit word siddhi, which refers to Patanjali’s description of powers obtained through meditation in the Yoga Sutras (Lowe 63). In 1976, Maharishi introduced the TM Sidhi Program, meant to teach advanced techniques of levitation, mind-reading and invisibility, among others (Lowe 63). The practice is highly controversial and often mocked for being “just people jumping around” (Films Media Group). Despite “warnings in classical texts”, it was decided that anyone who had been practicing TM for more than six months may spend several thousands of dollars to learn the abilities (Lowe 64). This is perhaps a major argument for critics of the movement. A final example of TM being influenced by information found in the Vedas is its inclusion of yajnas or sacrifices. Lowe illustrates that “Vedic astrology, architecture, medicine, music, fire sacrifices and gem stone theory are purported as science by the TMO” (Lowe 65). In TM, yajna is referred to as yagyas, and is meant to bring material blessings and ward away malevolent cosmological influences in an individual (Lowe 68). Members of the TMO still pay Brahmin priests to perform yagyas for them (Lowe 68).
When an individual practices TM over an extended period of time, they can expect to see many medical benefits. In Transcendental Meditation, Hocus Pocus or Healthy Practice, Films Media Group discusses the results of 146 different medical studies done on TM. They found that TM was twice as effective at reducing anxiety than other prescribed methods (Films Media Group). More specifically, Balaji, Varne and Ali (2012) found that the gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex, right thalamus and left temporal gyrus inside brains of individuals that practiced TM for a long period of time was significantly larger than individuals who did not meditate at all (Balaji, Varne and Ali). Another study, The Effects of Transcendental Meditation on Mental Health, confirms that in areas of mental health and anxiety, TM is an effective method to treat such disorders, and TM practisers see this effect independently of age, sex and marital status (Yunesian et al. 1,3). In that study they also found that meditation is an effective treatment for the four areas of mental health they assessed: anxiety, somastication, depression and social dysfunction (Yunesian et al. 2). Transcendental Meditation is also an effective treatment method for individuals with cardiovascular diseases. Dr. Ross Walker from Films Media Group states “TM’s effects on blood pressure are impressive, and Studies have shown there’s a significant reduction of blood pressure comparable to a blood pressure pill” (Films Media Group). They also mention that TM should not be used as a replacement for heart medications, but can have extraordinary benefits when used in conjunction to typical Western medicine (Films Media Group). Another study, Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, confirms Dr. Ross Walker’s views. The study found a 48% risk reduction in the overall sample of subjects performing TM, and a 66% risk reduction in subjects who regularly practiced TM (Schneider et al. 755). The study concludes that TM may be a clinically useful behavioural intervention in preventing cardiovascular disease (Schneider et al. 756). Since the World Health Organization (2016) states that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world, these findings show that TM can have enormous medical benefits for the general population (WHO, 2016).
Transcendental Meditation is an organization filled with history, drawing inspiration for much of its concepts from Vedic tradition and the personality and influence of Maharishi Yogi. Transcendental Meditation is also very controversial, but boasts numerous claims about impacting and improving the well-being of an individual who practices. Some of said claims are backed by western science and medicine while others are rooted in religious traditions, despite TM being a non-religious movement. For example, it is shown to improve mental well-being, improve cardiovascular health, sleep patterns and the general well-being of an individual.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Balaji, P., Smitha Varne and Syed Ali (2012) “Physiological effects of yogic practices and transcendental meditation in health and disease” North American Journal of Medical Sciences 4.10:442. Accessed February 5, 2017. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=HRCA&sw=w&u=leth89164&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA309101558&sid=summon&asid=b985adeeba2d30466b2596a5e90bf03c.
Films Media Group, Films for the Humanities & Sciences (Firm), and ABC International 2012. Transcendental meditation: Hocus-pocus or healthy practice?. New York, N.Y: Films Media Group.
Forem, Jack (2012) Transcendental Meditation: The Essential Teachings of Maharishi Yogi. Carlsbad, California: Hay House, Inc.
Lowe, Scott (2011) “Transcendental Meditation, Vedic Science and Science.” University of California Press (May) 54-76. Accessed February 1, 2017.
Schnieder, Robert H., Clarence E Grim, Maxwell V Rainforth, Theodore Kotchen., Nidich, Sanford L Nidich, Carolyn Gaylord-King, John W Salerno, Jane Morely Kotchen and Charles N Alexander (2012) “Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: Randomized, Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation and Health Education in Blacks” Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 5:750-58. Accessed February 5, 2017. doi:10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.112.967406.
World Health Organization (2016) “Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs) Fact Sheet” (September). Accessed March 27, 2017. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs317/en/
Yunesian, Masud., Afshin Aslani, Javad Homayoun Vash and Abbas Bagheri Yazdi (2008) “Effects of transcendental meditation on mental health: a before-after study” Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health. 4.25:25. Accessed February 5, 2017. doi:10.1186/1745-0179-4-25.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
The Rg Veda
Noteworthy Websites Related to Topic
Article Written by: Grayden Cowan (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.