Meditation can be viewed for traditional Hindus as a vehicle to moksa. Additionally it has been taken up in the West for various psychological and physiological health benefits. There are many methods and techniques that promote this state of relaxed awareness, such as yoga and breath control. Meditation aims to achieve a relaxed alertness during a state of rest (Trotter 376). These forms of meditation have traditionally been associated with semi-religious means to obtain moksa (liberation) and Atman (self-realization) in Hindu society. Transcendental Meditation (TM) offers a simple approach to attaining these goals by using mantras (Trotter 377). It has been widely popularized because it requires no lifestyle alternations (Schmidt-Wilk, Alexander and Swanson 430). Transcendental Meditation offers a way to encourage stress management and wellness enhancement through the use of a simple technique (Schmidt-Wilk, Alexander and Swanson 434). This movement caters to changing values of demanding societies internationally and has stood the test of time to provide both spiritual and heath-based benefits to followers.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi founded the Transcendental Meditation Movement in 1957 (Lowe 55). He began teaching his form of mantra meditation following the death of his guru, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (Lowe 55). Mahesh is considered radical because he identified as a spiritual teacher (guru) which violated his jati (caste) where he was designated to be a scribe (Lowe 55). His movement was equally as radical as his challenge to the Hindu status barrier. Maharishi believed that the Vedas contained all the knowledge that scientific investigation could reveal (Lowe 55). This connection between religion and scientific knowledge guided the TM Movement. The movement required him to challenge religious and western science barriers. Eventually, his movement in the form of Vedic Science carried out his visions in an accessible and negotiable way. His vision for world peace resulted in the expansion of the TM Movement throughout India and into Western cultures (Lowe 63). The interacting relation between tradition and science allowed his movement to prosper and adapt to vast cultural values.
The Transcendental Meditation Movement has three distinct phases through history. The first phase relates most closely to the Indian-based religious aspects that can be associated with meditation. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi started teaching and promoting his interpretations about the Vedas in 1957 (Lowe 55). Along with other Hindus, Maharishi viewed the Vedas as the source of all knowledge and, if interpreted properly, they could lead individuals to attaining moksa (liberation), which is one of the Four Goals that Hindus pursue (Lowe55). The early years of the TM movement are influenced by Vedic Science. The Vedas outlined the key components of Maharishi’s goals for the future, including, behavior, physical well-being, societal harmony and world peace through spiritual development (Lowe 58). Maharishi presented the importance of having a cognitive understanding of the Vedas in order to gain mystical insight into reality, leading to enlightenment and the revelation of Absolute Truth (Lowe 59). This religious perspective was not widely rendered outside of India. Maharishi recognized that most Western communities were less interested in moksa than other components of meditation, such as, relaxation (Lowe 59). The late 1960’s concluded the missionary phase of Maharishi’s TM Movement.
The second phase to the Transcendental Meditation Movement began in the 1970’s (Lowe 54). The movement focused on science based psychological and physiological aspects of mediation. TM practisers were typically counter-culture youth supporting a sociocultural phenomenon (Woodrum 93). In this phase, supporters began providing experimental scientific evidence. The scientific benefits of TM popularized the movement. In the mid-1970’s celebrity endorsement from the Beatles, The Beach Boys, and others promoted the movement’s growth in the West (Woodrum 94). Maharishi established a course called the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI) which provided videotaped lectures for those looking for a deeper involvement in TM (Lowe 60). SCI was institutionalized in high schools in the United States of America; students were able to practice TM which focused on “creative intelligence” a secularized version of the Hindu concept of Brahman (Absolute Reality) (Lowe 60). The movement also included the founding of Maharishi International University. TM growth in the mid-1970’s also included TM Initiators that looked specifically at the physiological benefits of TM (Lowe 61). Maharishi emphasized the connection between modern Western science and the claims from the Upanishads in the second phase of the Transcendental Meditation Movement (Lowe 61). The connection to religion caused controversy regarding where TM could be studied (i.e., not in public schools) and was criticized by scientists because the studies done by the Transcendental Meditation Movement could not be replicated (Lowe 64). The “Maharishi Effect”, describes part of the TM-Sidhi program that was critiqued because this program claimed to the practicality of “yogic flying” which contradicts western science (Lowe 64). The relations between the TM organization, its counter-culture youth followers and scientific disproving caused a strain to the movement, causing a re-evaluation of the goals and audience it was aimed at.
The third phase of the Transcendental Meditation Movement emphasized the superiority of Vedic science (Lowe 64). Maharishi introduced a range of traditional Indian practices during this time and accentuated spiritual and scientific aspects of meditation. The practices engaged spiritual awareness that resulted in measurable change in the physical world (Lowe 65). The science of Vedic texts attributes the human body with the cosmos as revealing knowledge (Lowe 67). This period of the movement compromised the previous two phases to create a religious Vedic-science technique aimed at the individual level to gain spiritual and physiological well-being (Rehorick 355). Knowledge generation is based on the concept that scientific and objective means serve to legitimize the observer (Rehorick 345). This concept aids institutions to validate the portrayed importance of TM.
Transcendental Meditation is based on the principle of repeating bija or “seed” mantras, which are designated to the meditator by the TM instructor (Lowe 56). These mantras are originally found in Vedic knowledge and are specialized for the individual (Rosenthal 279). The technique requires the meditator to sit comfortably with closed eyes, repeating the mantra for 20 minutes, twice per day (Trotter 377). The mantra is supposed to be experienced freely without any particular concentration; other thoughts that enter the mind may be evaluated and discarded without being followed by any associations (Trotter 377). When attention is focused the experience and object coexist (Rosenthal 288). The mantra is used to bring self-awareness as other thoughts become primary. While the mantra takes a secondary role, the meditator finds them self (Rosenthal 288).The technique does not involve physical activity or cognitive control (Wallace 1752). The goal of TM is to experience pure consciousness or restful alertness (Schmidt-Wilk, Alexander and Swanson 431). Advance practices of TM have been referred to as “TM-Sidhi”, “flying-Sidhi”, or more generally, the “Maharishi Effect” which entails being filled with energy that the individual levitates off the ground (Rehorick 343).
Transcendental meditation has been recognized for its psychological and physiological effects. It has been reported that TM practisers have experienced improved sleep, stress reduction and better health (Lowe 63). Additionally, reports suggest that TM has a therapeutic value in relieving mental and physical tension, as well as, decreasing blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen consumption (Wallace 1754). Overall, the development of one’s consciousness through TM has shown to enhance concept learning, creativity, intelligence, moral reasoning, decreased neuroticism and increase brain efficiency (Schmidt-Wilk, Alexander and Swanson 431). These outcomes have been utilized in collective social settings, such as workplaces, to enhance dynamic qualities of employees and improve well-being and productivity (Schmidt-Wilk, Alexander and Swanson 437).
The TM movement has current international configurations. The movement maintains an arrangement of training programs, research, and schools through institutional TM organizations to cater to various groups. The Foundation for the Science of Creative Intelligence adapts programs to target business and professional audiences (Woodrum 95). The Maharishi International University, in addition to the Maharishi European Research University, trains TM representatives, develops curricular and publicity materials, and generates scientific research of TM (Woodrum 95). Additionally, The World Plan Executive Council aims to develop the full potential of the individual resulting in improved relationships and productivity). This outlook coincides with Maharishi’s world peace motive by incorporating TM practice into corporate organization through the influence of others (Lowe 54). Maharishi’s goal is pursued, utilizing a means that shift between the “spiritual” or religious aspects of the original ideology and scientific validity of the benefits (Rehorick 350). The interactive shift between these typically conflicting ideologies allowed Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation Movement to cater to, and encompass a broad range of people.
Maharishi’s lasting impression of world peace through Transcendental Meditation has been withheld internationally. The Transcendental Meditation Movement is a flexible and adaptable practice that is suitable for everyone. The TM Movement involves aspects of both traditional Vedic religion as well as Western science validity. Over time, these aspects of TM worked together in favor of Maharishi’s goal to develop world peace through individual reflection and wellness and the effects it has on others.
Lowe, Scott (2011) “Transcendental Meditation, Vedic Science and Science.” Nova religio:The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 14:54-76. Accessed January 31, 2017. doi: 10.1525/nr.2011.14.4.54.
Rehorick, David A. (1981) “Subjective Origins, Objective Reality: Knowledge Legitimation and the TM Movement.” Human Studies 4:339-57. Accessed January 31, 2017.
Rosenthal, Norman E. (2012) Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation. New York: Penguin.
Schmidt-Wilk, Jane, Alexander, Charles N., and Gerald C. Swanson (1996) “Developing Consciousness in Organizations: The Transcendental Meditation Program in Business.” Journal of Buisness and Psychology 10:429-44. Accessed February 15, 2017.
Trotter, Robert J. (1973) “Transcendental Meditation.” Science News 104:376-78. Accessed January31, 2017.
Wallace, Robert K. (1970) “Physiological Effects of Transcendental Meditation.” Science, New Series 167:1751-1754. Accessed January 31, 2017.
Woodrum, Eric (1982) “Religious Organizational Change: An Analysis Based on the TM Movement.” Review of Religious Research 24:89-103. Accessed January 31, 2017.
Related Topics for Further Investigations
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
World Plan Executive Council
Science of Creative Intelligence
Maharishi International University
The Maharishi International University
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
Article written by: Tienna Chang (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.