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Transcendental Deception

TM, a relaxation technique with Hindi roots, stages a comeback.

First of two parts.

Although the popularity of the transcendental meditation (TM) movement peaked in the U.S. 40 years ago, the relaxation technique with Hindu roots is making a comeback, based in part on dubious research and celebrity endorsements.

Various proponents are renewing a push for public funding, claiming TM can eradicate students’ attention deficit disorder and war veterans to help overcome post-traumatic stress disorder. TM also is being peddled as a scientific technique to counter insomnia, depression, and addiction.

Filmmaker David Lynch, Oscar-nominated director for The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive, launched the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and Peace, which provides scholarships for middle school and high school students who want to learn TM.

“Beyond teaching kids to relax, the TM organization and the David Lynch Foundation want the public to believe TM is a cure for post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, hyperactivity, drug abuse, and even homelessness,” Aryeh Siegel writes in his new book Transcendental Deception. “Taxpayer-funded programs offer tremendous income potential for the TM organization.”

Siegel says the National Institutes of Health awarded $23 million in grants to Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairfield, Iowa, between 1992 and 2010. However, Siegel contends that TM studies rarely included a randomized active control group and instead often included biased researchers — himself included — who worked for TM organizations. Government offices, businesses, and prisons in several nations pay for workers and inmates to learn the technique.

TM leaders claim if enough meditators gather in a certain locale, crime, sickness, and accidents all decrease, and the economy improves in the area. Indeed, if enough people follow Maharishi’s technique, advocates say, heaven on earth or utopia will be the result. In an effort to bolster its popularity, the TM movement cites dozens of celebrities who meditate daily, including Jennifer Anniston, Jeff Bridges, Sheryl Crow, Ellen DeGeneres, Cameron Diaz, Tom Hanks, Hugh Jackman, Lindsay Lohan, Jennifer Lopez, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry, Robin Roberts, Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Scorsese, Amy Schumer, and Oprah Winfrey.

Many meditators are unaware they are engaged in religious activity because TM leaders call the practice a science, focused on helping people develop total potential brain function. All problems in the world, including drug abuse, school violence, marital strife, and government corruption, can be traced to a failure to use total brain potential, TM leaders assert.

However, TM does have origins in Hinduism, the religion of 1.1 billion people worldwide. Hindus are polytheistic, recognizing a myriad number of gods. Hindus believe in reincarnation, in people's choices influencing their destiny, and in the sacredness of all forms of life.

“It’s marketed as a scientific technique to lower stress, and that people of any religion can join,” says Charles E. Self, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary professor of church history at Evangel University. “But as you study it a little more, you find it’s really Hinduism remarketed for the West.”

Siegel, who lives in Los Angeles, says he wrote Transcendental Deception in large part to counter the efforts of the David Lynch Foundation to expand the teaching TM in public schools.

“The TM organization is penetrating the public-school system under the guise of science,” Siegel, 73, writes in Transcendental Deception. “What is really happening is that non-accredited, non-vetted adults are taking children out of class to participate in a Hindu prayer service, and then encouraging them to recite the names of Hindu gods twice a day, every day.”

The initiation ceremony, called a puja, is chanted in Sanskrit and involves bowing to and placing 18 altar offerings (such as flowers and fruit) before a portrait of Guru Dev, the mentor of TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Inductees receive a supposedly secret, private mantra — in reality the name of a Hindu deity — to recite.

Self, 59, practiced TM as a young teenager in San Jose, California, before he became a Christian. After he studied some of Maharishi’s writings, he realized the pictures, flowers, and incense at the local TM center represented a form of idolatry. He stopped meditating and renounced TM. Three months later, in 1974, Self accepted Christ as Savior in an Assemblies of God church. Peers had been praying for and evangelizing him.

Legally, TM long has been deemed religious rather than scientific. In a case involving use of TM in New Jersey public schools in 1977, U.S. District Judge H. Curtis Meanor ruled that TM teachings “are religious in nature” under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. At about the same time, several evangelical denominations — including the Assemblies of God — published position papers or passed resolutions declaring TM to be incompatible with Christianity.

The AG warns that TM is subtly marketed “as a recreational and relaxation activity that promotes better physical and mental health. The origin and religious background of the teaching is conveniently hidden from unsuspecting participants.”

Next: Former meditators tell how TM conflicts with Christianity.

IMAGE - Aryeh Siegel, a former TM teacher who knew Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, now is speaking out against the technique.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.