Aryeh Siegel is a former teacher of Transcendental Meditation who left the cult and is revealing its hidden Hindu truths. He is the author of ‘Transcendental Deception’. Discover more at www.tmdeception.com
DAMAGED BY TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION
TM proponents say that very few people have had any negative experiences practicing TM, and that those who did most likely had preexisting conditions that precipitated the problems they associated with TM. It wasn’t difficult for me to find dozens of people who claim they were severely damaged by their TM practice. Some of them sued TM and the TM organization chose to pay large settlements rather than face them in court. In my book Transcendental Deception I recount some of their stories in a chapter on TM casualties.
I thought I came out of TM unscathed. I hadn’t thought about TM for decades from when I left in the late 1970s until its re-emergence in 2015 as the David Lynch foundation put millions of dollars into expanding the reach of TM. In the process of writing my book, I discovered that I too was damaged. At some point I spoke with Don Krieger, one of the pioneers who created an online forum that exposed many of TM’s highly guarded secrets. I wanted permission to include a story in the book that was personal to him. We spoke for a while and at one point he asked, “How did TM damage you?” I denied that it did and he didn’t believe me. A few minutes after hanging up, I realized he was right. For the first time I began to confront the reality that despite two master’s degrees and most of a Ph.D. from some top universities, I had not only turned off my critical thinking ability, but I had also allowed myself to become infantilized.
After reading extensively about cultic groups, attending workshops for cult survivors, and having discussions with cult experts like Steven Hassan and Patrick Ryan, I realized how insidious and damaging the experience had been. I became very concerned that TM’s deceptions would continue to ensnare people looking to deal with stress into something that could prove very detrimental to some of them as it had to so many others and me over the years.
THE SHADOW SIDE OF TM
Although sharing how I got caught up in TM is profoundly embarrassing, I realized there is no book currently out there that discusses TM’s shadow side. So I decided to write the book. It covers an exposé of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the organization he created. It provides information that school administrators, principals, and parents should have available to make an informed decision about TM in schools. I strongly believe it doesn’t belong there. It gives celebrities information that may help them rethink if they want to continue promoting TM. And I invite journalists to apply critical thinking to the information presented by the TM organization and no longer accept that information at face value.
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE PUJA (TM’S INTRODUCTORY HINDU CEREMONY).
So you decide to learn meditation. You’ve been hearing about meditation for years. Some friends and family members are now doing it. Sounds good. What could be simpler? You’ve read that meditation can reduce stress, improve concentration and productivity, and maybe even cure insomnia or high blood pressure.
You are not interested in joining any religion, but you hear that meditation is not a religious practice and is based in scientific research. A co-worker raves about Transcendental Meditation. She’s been doing TM for years and it has made a positive difference in her life. She talks about how so many celebrities do TM–from Oprah to Jerry Seinfeld. And it’s so simple. You go through a short ceremony, get a special secret mantra, and then start quietly reciting your mantra for twenty minutes, twice a day.
She assures you this is not a religion and the method has been scientifically validated. So you check it out and are surprised that it costs nearly a thousand dollars to receive this mantra, but you decide, let’s do it.
On the day of your instruction, you have been asked to bring two pieces of whole fruit, six fresh flowers, and a white handkerchief. You silence your phone, step through the front door, and quietly take off your shoes. As your instructor greets you, she places the items you’ve brought in a basket and tells you to make yourself comfortable on the sofa in the waiting area while she prepares the space where you will be learning Transcendental Meditation.
A few minutes later, she comes out and leads you back to a quiet, dimly lit room. It’s small and cozy, furnished like the den of someone’s house. The scent of incense fills your nose, and you can feel the soft plush carpet under your socks.
There are two chairs in the center of the room, one for you and one for the teacher, and a small table with a framed picture of an old Indian man in orange robes. He looks like a guru, sitting in a lotus position that you are familiar with from your yoga class. You take another peek at the table. It looks like a small altar. You think to yourself, “What’s going on here? This looks a lot more religious than it does scientific.”
But you keep quiet. She starts by reminding you that she’s chosen a personal mantra for you based on information you shared on your intake form. Because it is personal to you, you are not to share it with anybody: not your spouse, your parents, or even your children. If you forget your mantra, which is normal in the beginning, you can always set up a time to come see her at the center and she will remind you. She informs you that she will start meditating with you, and once you’re in it, she will leave the room. She will come back a few minutes before the end of your twenty-minute session, so you don’t need to worry about keeping track of time. You nod in agreement.
The fruit, flowers, and handkerchief you brought are laid out on the altar in front of the photo. Your instructor tells you that she is going to perform a ceremony thanking the teachers who have preserved this knowledge over the centuries, and that all you have to do is observe.
You listen as she sings several verses from memory in a language you don’t understand. When she finishes, she motions for you to join her in bowing down towards the picture. It. feels awkward, but bow anyway, because you don’t want to be rude or mess something up (or maybe you just want the full experience).
As she slowly gets up, she whispers, almost imperceptibly, two syllables. Her voice gets louder as she gestures for you sit beside her and join her in repeating the sound. After about twenty seconds, her voice starts to get softer and softer. Eventually you notice, and you lower your own voice too, repeating the sound over and over until you are barely whispering. At this point she says, “When you’re ready, simply keep repeating the sound gently in your head.” So, you do.
At some point, you hear her leave the room. You realize you are practicing your first session of Transcendental Meditation.
Aryeh Siegel is the author of TRANSCENDENTAL DECEPTION: Behind the TM curtain — bogus science, hidden agendas, and David Lynch’s campaign to push a million public school kids into Transcendental Meditation while falsely claiming it is not a religion. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and family. Discover more at www.tmdeception.com