Transcendental Meditation

Origins of Transcendental Meditation

What: Transcendental meditation is a mantra-based meditation technique derived from the Hindu Vedas

Creator: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918 - 2008)

When: 1955 in India; 1965 worldwide

Where: India

Transcendental meditation, also called the TM technique, was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi from the practice taught him by his guru, Brahmananda Saraswati. The Maharishi developed the technique into one he taught publicly, designing a program for training teachers so that his system could be more quickly brought out to the public. 

It quickly developed into a movement. He made the rounds of the United States, Europe, South America, and India for tours and training session held at universities, corporations, schools, and even some prisons. Celebrities began to endorse it, and the Maharishi even produced a TV channel for the now popular technique. By 1977, there were around 900,000 practitioners worldwide. There are currently more than 5 million, some estimates even placing the number as high as 7 million.

What Is It?

As mentioned above, transcendental meditation is a meditation technique that makes use of a mantra that’s repeated over and over. Practitioners are told to meditate twice a day, eyes closed, for 15 to 20 minutes, with a goal of “transcending” the craziness of everyday life — to reach a state of relaxed awareness. 

The system is related to yoga and may yield many of the health benefits of yoga, including reducing hypertension. Fans claim it relaxes blood vessels, lowering blood pressure, and decreases the production of stress-producing hormones, including cortisol. That said, the American Heart Association considers the research substantiating its health benefits to be inconclusive and issued a statement to that effect in 2013.

The mantra aspect originates from the Vedas, which are the oldest existing Hindu scriptures. Each practitioner is given a short mantra by his or her teacher to repeat during meditation. Some say it is a secret mantra, others that the teacher chooses it based on your age, gender, and the information they were taught during their training. 

TM has developed an “advanced” form of meditation called TM-sidhi, or “yogic flying,” as well as an alternative health system they call Maharishi Ayurveda. According to a researcher in this system, Hari Sharma, "Vedic thought discusses a unified field of pure, nonmaterial intelligence and consciousness whose modes of vibration manifest as the material universe." Thus, in Maharishi Ayurveda, disease and sickness occur as a result of losing one’s connection with this unified field of intelligence. 

Note: They’ve been censured for shifty advertising practices in medical journals. And while I’m not familiar with the particulars of each case, it would behoove anyone who’s interested in buying any of their products or services to research with all due diligence before making up their own minds and proceeding (or not). Caveat concluded.

(This is not a commentary on traditional forms of ayurveda, which take a rather individualised approach to health.)

Religious/Hindu or Secular?

Although people of many faiths or no faith practice this mantra-based meditation, whether to classify it as a religious / Hindu-derived practice or as a secular relaxation exercise remains a subject of debate. After examining the evidence, however, in 1977 a U.S. district court determined that transcendental meditation as it was being taught in New Jersey classrooms, was sufficiently religious in nature to constitute the establishment of religion prohibited in the U.S.’s First Amendment to the Constitution.

And while the syllables repeated have no real meaning to non-Sanskrit speakers (which is most of us, I think), they knit together in a medley of worship to Hindu deities. I suppose this would seem fine if you’re Hindu, but kind of inappropriate if you’re not. It’s certainly no less religious, in any case, particularly for those involved in classes that include the reading of Hindu scriptures following meditation (not all do).

Having said that, although some think it bears the marks of a religious movement, alternative belief system, or cult, transcendental meditation requires no formal profession of a particular set of beliefs. 

The organisation currently has a net worth of about $3.5 billion USD.

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