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Transcendental Meditation

It has for decades been a popular therapy for stress. Few practitioners are aware of its religious aspects highlighted in U.S. courts in the late 1970s. TM initiation involves ritual offerings to Hindu gods in Sanskrit. The mantras used during meditation are age-old traditional invocations of various Hindu gods.

[L. Hughes, op: NRMs of Indian Origin - lecture 3 - 11/3/99]


Transcendental Meditation (TM) was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was born Mahesh Prasad Varma in Central India in 1911 (or 1918 according to some sources). After graduating in Physics from Allahabad University in 1940, he studied for thirteen years at Jyotirmath in the Himalayas with Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (1869 - 1953), usually referred to by his title "Guru Dev". Guru Dev had discovered (or possibly rediscovered) from Hindu Scriptures a simple *japa yoga meditation technique. It is said that just before he died, he commissioned Mahesh Yogi to make this form of meditation widely known. The result is what is now known as Transcendental Meditation or TM. In 1956 Varma took to himself the title maharishi which means "great seer". The Maharishi brought his technique to the United States and other countries in 1959. In the same year he founded the International Meditation Society. During the next few years the practice of TM spread rapidly, helped in no small way by the involvement of a number of celebrities such as the Beatles and actresses Mia Farrow and Jane Fonda.

Over the following decades the Maharishi initiated a number of additional projects. He founded the Maharishi International University (MIU) at Fairfield, Iowa in 1971. MIU offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the Maharishi's philosophy. In 1972 he launched his World Plan which aimed at establishing 3,600 meditation centres throughout the world, each staffed with a thousand TM teachers. He predicted that his plan would lead to a significant improvement in the psychological, social and political condition of the world. In 1976 he created the World Government of the Age of Enlightenment, described as non-political but holding authority in the domain of consciousness. It claims to be able to solve the problems of all governments. More recently the Natural Law party was formed in 1992 to give expression to the Maharishi's political ideas. It has enjoyed very little electoral success. All of the afore-mentioned organisations are administered by the World Plan Executive Council, which though officially unconnected with the Maharishi, is nonetheless dominated by his ideas.

Transcendental Meditation is presented by its promoters as a "simple natural technique which allows mental activity to settle down to a state of increasing inner quietness, producing deep mental and physical rest". It is taught only by an approved TM teacher for a fee which is roughly based on what a would-be meditator earns in a week. The teaching consists of an introductory session, an hour-long personal initiation ceremony and three shorter follow-up consultations. During initiation the candidate is given a mantra which is not to be revealed to anyone. Thereafter the practice of TM involves the silent repetition of the mantra twice daily for at least twenty minutes.


    • Physiological: Systematic studies like the above do indeed support the claim that practising TM quickly leads to a deep state of physical relaxation. However, some of these studies also suggest that other forms of meditation produce the same results. Dr. Herbert Benson has already been mentioned in connection with some of the early research into the benefits of TM, much of which was sponsored by the organization itself. In his best-selling paperback, The Relaxation Response, published in 1975, Benson distanced himself a little from his earlier studies. Benson refers to research results which indicate that the same technique that TM uses allied to any sound or phrase or prayer or mantra, brings about the same physiological results. Among alternate techniques known to produce the Relaxation Response in a similar way to TM, are zen and yoga.
  • Psychological: While supporters of TM are enthusiastic in advancing such claims, some ex-meditators have gone so far as to take the Maharishi International University to court for failing to deliver on promised results for which they had paid thousands of dollars. Instead of "improved memory, reduced stress, perfect health, increased academic ability and expanded awareness" they claimed that they ended up with "misery, beset by anxiety, irritability, rage, guilt and loss of memory .

    Some serious research supports the view that TM can produce adverse psychological effects such as anxiety, physical and mental tension and boredom. Contrary to what one group of researchers expected, these negative results were most marked among TM teachers and others who had been meditating for eighteen months and longer.

  • Spiritual: The Maharishi speaks about various states of consciousness that the individual experiences as he progress in TM. These include "transcendental consciousness", "cosmic consciousness" and "God consciousness". These states are not clearly distinguishable one from another and tend to overlap. Together they involve the mind's transcending or going beyond itself. As he puts it: "The mind loses its individuality and becomes cosmic mind....Here the mind does not exist, it becomes existence." temporary union with the Absolute".
  • Social: According to the TM organization significant social benefits result from the practice of Transcendental Meditation in concentrated groups of a certain size. Consumption of narcotic drugs and crime generally are said to be significantly reduced. In fact, if a certain minimum proportion of a country's population can be persuaded to take up TM, it is supposed to lead to a dramatic reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour. This outcome is promised by the "Maharishi technology of the unified field", a supposedly scientific theory which attempts to apply the language of physics to human consciousness: "...only the square root of one percent of the population of the country (a slightly larger proportion for a country with a small population) practising the Maharishi Technology of the Unified Field in any one place in the country is sufficient to fully awaken national consciousness." As a result "law and order are spontaneously maintained, and administration becomes simple, effective, free from problems, and free from the elements of fear and punishment". This thesis remains unproven


The TM organisation states that the practice "has profound relevance to religion" . However, it has always strenuously denied that it is itself a religion. Rather, it is "a purely practical technique, which can be practised by anyone, whatever his beliefs or lack of beliefs". This opinion however, has not been universally accepted.

In October 1977 the U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey ruled that the use of taxpayers' money to teach Transcendental Meditation and its theoretical counterpart the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI) in New Jersey public schools was a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, on the grounds that TM is religious by nature. This judgement was upheld in the U.S. Court of Appeal in Philadelphia in February 1978. The case had been initiated by the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, an evangelical group based in Berkeley, California.


Every TM beginner without exception is given a mantra or word to be repeated mentally every time he or she sits down to meditate. The mantra is given in the course of the initiation ceremony. The aspiring meditator is told that this is her or his own personal mantra and that it must on no account be revealed to anyone else - otherwise it will lose its power.

The sense of specialness in which the giving of the TM mantra is shrouded might seem to suggest to the individual meditator that he or she alone has been given that mantra and that the TM organization must have dispensed many thousands, even millions of different mantras to corresponding numbers of meditators. The reality, as told by instructors who have defected from the movement over the years, is rather different. A variety of sources suggest that only sixteen different mantras are given to new meditators. Moreover, the mantra one gets is determined solely by one's age at the time of initiation. The complete list seems to be as follows : Age Mantra Age Mantra
0 - 11Eng 26 - 29Shiring
12 - 13Em 30 - 34Shirim
14 - 15Enga 35 - 39Hiring
16 - 17Ema 40 - 44Hirim
18 - 19Ieng 45 - 49Kiring
20 - 21Iem 50 - 54Kirim
22 - 23Ienga55 - 59Sham
24 - 25Iema 60 + Shama

In reality these sixteen different TM mantras are sixteen anglicised versions of just six Sanskrit mantras.

More significantly, these mantras, far from being sounds without meaning as is sometimes thought, have in fact a long history of use in the context of Hindu worship and meditation. Most, if not all, of them are regarded as bija or "seed" mantras and, according to one contemporary authority on yoga - Swami Vishnu Devananda - should be handled with special care: "Bija Mantras and certain mystic Mantras...should not be repeated by those who are not well acquainted with them and with the Sanskrit language". Vishnu Devananda gives a breakdown on a number of bija Mantras. For example, if one takes the TM mantras Kiring and Kirim together as one mantra (which Vishnu Devananda renders as Kreem): "With this mantra Kalika should be worshipped. Ka is Kali, ra is Brahman, and ee is Mahamaya." Likewise Hiring and Hirim (alternately Hreem): "This is the mantra of Mahamaya or Bhuvaneshvari. Ha means Siva, ra is prakriti, ee means Mahamaya." Shiring and Shirim (alternately Shreem) are used in the worship of the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, while Ieng, Iem, Ienga and Iema (alternately Aim) is the mantra of the goddess Saraswati. Agehananda Bharati, a leading authority on tantric yoga, states that the bija mantras Aim and Hreem are used to invoke the goddess shakti in the course of tantric ritual sex. For Hindus and Buddhists generally mantras are much more than words. Particularly within the tantric yoga tradition a mantra is regarded as "a vehicle of salvation". The peculiar power that mantras have is due to the fact that "they are - or at least, if correctly recited, can become - the 'objects' they represent. Each god, for example, and each degree of sanctity have a bija-mantra, a 'mystical sound', which is their 'seed', their 'support' - that is, their very being." However, it has always been believed in the East that mantras, if they are to be effective, cannot simply be picked up and used haphazardly. An initiation by a qualified guru who imparts the mantra is required.


Every person without exception who wants to learn TM is required to go through an initiation ceremony in Sanskrit with his or her teacher. The would-be meditator is asked to bring along a white handkerchief, some fruit and flowers. These "gifts" are placed on a small table in front of a picture of Brahmananda Saraswati, who in the course of the ritual is addressed with his honorary title "Guru Dev. The text is never translated for the initiates. In the context of the symbolic gifts which the initiate brings to the ceremony, it was concluded by the Courts and by other authorities that "the 'initiation', at which the pupil is present, includes, on the one hand, ritual offering with an invocation to Hindu gods in Sanskrit, on the other, the use of a mantra of the name of a Hindu god, in the actual process of meditation itself".

The notion and practice of diksha or "initiation" is common to Hinduism and Buddhism. A guru or teacher is even defined as "one who gives diksha" to others who are ready to receive it. The competent guru will be able to recognize when a person is ready for a particular rite, and also what kind of meditation etc. is likely to yield the best results for each aspirant.

Offerings of fruit and flowers have for centuries been an integral part of *tantric yoga rituals. The flowers offered by the aspirant are used in that part of the ceremony known as pushpanjali or "flower offering". Other gifts may also be given, which in modern times can include a cheque. However, the heart of every initiation ceremony is the giving of a mantra. During the ritual the guru whispers the aspirant's special mantra into his/her ear, having first warned him to keep it secret and not to write it down.