THE DAY I SNEEZED AT MAHARISHI MAHESH YOGI
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
INTELLIGENT PEOPLE ALSO GET DUPED
In the mid-1970s, I decided to become a TM teacher. My gradual immersion into the world of TM parallels that of many others. What started off as a casual interest to relieve stress, morphed into an all encompassing way of life that lasted almost ten years.
I had a master’s degree in Community Organization from the School of Social Welfare at Case-Western Reserve in Cleveland, and another from Berkeley in Public Health Planning. I had started practicing TM at the recommendation of my best friend at the time, a physician in the same graduate program at Berkeley.
After attending the required introductory lectures, I signed up to learn TM the following Saturday. The initial sessions presented how TM worked and described the mantras used to meditate as simple sounds that had no meaning. During the follow-up sessions, I had exposure to Maharishi and his teachings, but I recall only being told that practicing TM would lead to something called “cosmic consciousness.” Supposedly, I would become enlightened for $35, which seemed a pretty good deal.
In addition to stress relief, I was interested in the potential role of TM as an adjunct to traditional medicine. Eventually, my focus took a turn to the spiritual side, and I started exploring Eastern religions and philosophy. At the TM center, I watched videos of Maharishi discussing higher consciousness and presenting TM as the superhighway to enlightenment.
INTO THE GURU’S LAIR
I attended weekend and week-long courses, and I was meditating significantly longer than twenty minutes, twice a day, as was recommended by the TM teachers who led these courses. Slowly but surely, I felt I was part of a movement. I had a guru who promised enlightenment, not only for me but also for the whole world.
When I took TM’s teacher-training course in 1974 (a six-month requirement), I had the option of dividing the program into two segments. My first session in the summer was held at a hotel in Livigno, Italy, in the Alps. From what I recall, the routine entailed eight hours of daily meditation, each session lasting forty to fifty minutes.
Between meditations, we did a set of yogic postures (asanas) and five minutes of breathing exercises (pranayama). Evening videos featured Maharishi discussing how TM worked, higher consciousness, and his vision for a harmonious world that would automatically result if enough people meditated. (According to him, we were the leaders of a coming global transformation.)
FINDING HOLES IN THE HOLINESS OF THE HOLY MAN
Maharishi visited the course three times, each time staying for a few days. His first visit came when we were about two months into the three-month course. We expected he would come towards the end of the course. We were told this was a very rare surprise visit, and even though it was no longer a surprise, the excitement was palpable and the energy electric; this was quite a feat given how spaced out we were from all the meditation we had been doing.
Why all the excitement? The answer for me, why I was excited, is embarrassing even some forty plus years later. The words that best describe my state of mind are enchantment, enraptured, awe, and devotion. I had never been in the same room with someone that I considered “holy,” let alone someone who was introduced everywhere as “his holiness.” I had advanced degrees from outstanding universities, and I turned off my critical thinking and normally analytical personality. I was “wow and bow” and devotion. It was emotionally overwhelming. The embarrassment I now feel is a recognition of how I let myself become so infantilized.
GETTING HIGH IN THE ALPS
There were probably a hundred of us in the course. Every one of us had interrupted our lives; most traveling long distances and paying a lot of money to somehow find our way to this hotel nestled in a small village in the Italian Alps, about a twenty-minute drive St. Moritz. We all had our own reasons for showing up. I came because I believed Maharishi offered a path to enlightenment. I had just come through a very rough divorce and enlightenment meant an end to the suffering I had been experiencing for a long time. I think at least a few others were in the same boat, leaving behind something better left in their personal rear-view mirrors.
ELIMINATE CRIME, BRING PEACE TO THE WORLD, AND OTHER PROMISES
Another aspect of Maharishi’s teachings appealed to that part of me that went into both social work and public health as career choices. My exploration of Eastern spiritual practices and teachings was interesting at first, but ultimately disappointing.
I discovered that enlightenment was an individual path that involved finding a guru and basically detaching from the world. Maharishi, on the other hand, not only talked about higher consciousness but also ending suffering for everyone. Crime would be eliminated, and lasting peace would come to the world. We, his missionaries, would spearhead this world transformation.
From the videos I watched before the course, I experienced Maharishi as clever, quick witted, and charming. He was certainly the most spiritual person I had ever encountered, and I had no doubt whatsoever that he was enlightened. I was counting the hours until he came.
MAHARISHI VISITS. I SNEEZE.
Preparing for his visit, the staff scrubbed everything down and set up the meeting hall with chairs in a semicircle with a wide aisle separating them in the middle. I assumed Maharishi would walk down the middle aisle to the little stage with a seat that was set up for him. I made a plan to get a seat towards the front next to the middle aisle, which I did. The morning of the visit, bouquets of flowers surrounded his designated seat and a wonderful fragrance filled the room. A low table, covered with a white cloth, was placed in front of his seat and a microphone was set up on it.
I knew that when Maharishi entered a room, it was always a spectacle. He would slowly walk through adoring crowds, and those who could get close enough would present him with the most perfect rose they could buy. By the time he arrived at his seat, his arms were filled with roses, one of which he would use as a prop when he spoke.
Our group planned to do the same. Everyone was rose-ready, but then another surprise. Instead of lining up to greet him with our flowers, we were going to be meditating as he walked in. The disappointment of missing the entrance procession would be tempered by Maharishi himself telling us to open our eyes. It seemed like a good trade, but it’s not like we were given a choice. My seat choice was excellent — third row on the right aisle as he entered.
Naturally, when I sensed he was coming in, I peeked. As he was passing my row, he slid off his wooden sandals, and that’s where they stayed until he finished talking some hours later. I knew he would have to pause by my seat on the way out to slip on his sandals. My sense of abject embarrassment writing these words is tempered by the understanding I’ve gained about the danger of surrendering one’s critical thinking to a guru.
Fatefully, sneezing (of all things) got in the way of my fast track to enlightenment. The menu was vegetarian and always included full-fat yogurt, nuts, and whole-grain breads. As nutritious as it seemed, I was unaccustomed to that much dairy and wheat and started sneezing a great deal, and I was consistently congested. So, the breathing exercises never went well, and my meditations no doubt were affected. Thus, while the scenery was spectacular, the full experience eluded me. Nevertheless, I went to work for the movement.
Eventually the spell was lifted, the facade dissolved around Maharishi’s holiness, and I left the movement. Not only did I get out of the cult and start thinking for myself again, but I could finally eat foods that didn’t make me feel sick…
[Excerpt from ‘Transcendental Deception’. Get the book at amazon.com]
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
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