Reply to “Where Have All the Flower Children Gone? Part One” published in The Canadian, May 14, 2008.
By David Orme-Johnson, Ph.D.
Bronte Baxter’s article is proof that one can practice the Transcendental Meditation technique (TM) for years, and still remain an independent thinker. The view of Maharishi and his movement that she portrays, however, I find seriously disturbed.
Take, for example, her statement: “The power of recitation of the name of a god in meditation is very real power indeed. It connects a person to trans-physical dimensions, where vital energy is siphoned off, eventually crippling and destroying the personality. As individual identity disintegrates, the meditator continues his practice, because, he’s told, this implosion is a good thing.” Show this to any clinical psychologist or psychiatrist and ask them what they think Bronte’s diagnostic category might be. I wouldn’t say that Bronte is a nut case, but I would say that she is really angry, and is just throwing whatever she can at the TM movement.
Never mind. Let’s contrast this statement in light of the evidence. If anyone is at risk for “crippling and destroying of personality and loss of individual identity”, it would be the kids of the Maharishi School in Fairfield Iowa, a primary and secondary school where TM practice is part of the routine. My grandson goes to that school and he has absolutely blossomed. But here are the facts. The Maharishi school has won more awards in the arts and sciences than any other school in Iowa. The students consistently win competitions in mathematics, such as MathCounts and Math Bee, and have represented the state of Iowa at the National MathCounts Competition. They have won more "Critics Choice" awards in the Theater Arts than any other school in the history of Iowa. The school has also won 41 state championships in Odyssey of the Mind and more Designation ImagiNation competitions than any other school in the state. The school won the Global Finals of Destination Imagination three times and has had more top-ten finishes than any other school in the world. For three years in a row, the Maharishi School students have won first place in the Congressional High School Art Contest. In the field of photography, they regularly sweep the awards in the Iowa Educational Media Association.
Well, the list goes on and on. Check it out. Link There also a book on the Maharishi School. Link
Now let’s turn to some of the research. Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow conjectured that “peak” or transcendental experiences could promote self-actualization and psychological health. Providing systematic transcendent experiences is what TM purports to do. A meta-analysis of all studies (42 treatment outcomes) available on different meditation and relaxation techniques (including Mindfulness Training, Zen, Relaxation Response Techniques, Yoga, Mantra Meditation, Progressive Relaxation, or Other Relaxation techniques) from all laboratories around the world found TM to be three times as effective as other techniques in promoting the qualities of self-actualization. These qualities include increased Inner Directedness, which means directing one’ life according to a strong sense of inner personal self, and Time Competence, which means living in the present rather than obsessing about the future or past. Other dimensions that the TMer increased in include spontaneity, self-regard, synergy, and ability to develop intimate relationships. Link
Here are a few more counterindications to Bronte’s portrayal.
• The research on TM has been conducted at over 200 independent universities and research universities, and published in over 160 peer reviewed journals and books. Link
• Many of the scientists who have conducted research on TM practice do not practice the technique. Link• The National Institutes of Health have awarded $24 million in grants for studying the effects of TM on cardiovascular health. This research has been conducted in collaboration with independent universities, and published in leading medical journals. Link
• There are no controlled studies showing adverse effects of TM and, in fact, there are large scale government-sponsored studies from Sweden and Japan and from objective health insurance data showing that TM is beneficial to mental and physical health. Link
• Researchers at universities affiliate with TM (e.g., Maharishi University of Management) have many procedures in place to insure objectivity of data analysis and reporting, including outside, independent committee members for Ph.D. dissertations, independent oversight committees for major research projects, prediction of results in advance, use of public data sources, publication of “negative” findings by MUM Ph.D.’s, active participation in professional organizations, publication in peer reviewed journals, etc. Link
As for ugly rumors of Maharishi’s sexual indiscretions, it is obvious from Mia Farrow’s book that that is not true. My wife and I and colleagues spent decades living in the same facilities as Maharishi and never saw or heard evidence of any thing resembling such mean spirited accusations as Bronte wrote.
Where does the money go? For creating large groups of meditators to create and sustain world peace. Yes, we haven’t accomplished that yet, but 50 studies say that we are on the right track. There is no other program in the history of civilization that has such objective evidence that it can work, so we keep at it. Link
Deception? I am also a TM teacher, and have taught over 2,000 people. The TM mantras are not the names of any Hindu deities that I have ever heard of. That they are is probably just an internet rumor. But even if they were, there is a good reason for not knowing them, which Maharishi has told us all along. The particular specialty of TM is that transcending is hindered by being aware of meaning, because meaning keeps the mind on the associative, horizontal plane of the mind. Not only is knowing the “meaning” not relevant to the practice, it is actually a deterrent to proper transcending.
The same is true for listening to the Vedic recitations. Maharishi repeatedly emphasized that the meaning was not important. Like the mantras, it is purely the vibrational qualities of the sounds that have beneficial, life-supporting effects. The evidence is that it works. If these sounds do have some exalted meaning in another culture, or it if there is some traditional explanation for how meditation works, fine. The fact is that it really does work, more scientifically verified now than it was in the 60’s.