Transcendental Meditation is a distinct and unique form of meditation, renowned for its simplicity, naturalness and depth. Originating from the ancient Vedic tradition of India, TM has been scientifically validated and widely recognized for its multitude of potential benefits, ranging from stress reduction and enhanced psychological well-being to improved cognitive function and physiological health.
Unlike many meditation techniques, TM does not involve concentration, contemplation, or control of the mind. Instead, it provides a systematic method for transcending, or going beyond, the surface level of conscious thought, facilitating a unique state of restful alertness.
In this article, let’s explore together what Transcendental Meditation is, its origins, techniques and the amazing health benefits it offers, and the controversy surrounding when many people think that this is a scam organization.
What is Transcendental Meditation?
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a proprietary, specific form of silent, mantra-based meditation technique introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the mid-1950s. This non-religious, non-philosophical practice is trademarked, taught by certified instructors, and standardized across the globe.
It constitutes a significant branch of the global meditation phenomenon, possessing unique attributes, distinguishing it from other mindfulness-based interventions and contemplative practices.
Transcendental Meditation practice involves sitting comfortably with one’s eyes closed for 20 minutes, twice a day, and silently repeating a mantra, which is a specific sound or phrase given by the instructor. The mantra is used as a vehicle to assist the mind in achieving a quieter state, transcending the busyness of thought to experience a deep, peaceful state of awareness. Importantly, TM does not involve concentration, contemplation, or monitoring of thoughts or breath.
Research conducted on Transcendental Meditation suggests various positive effects on health and well-being. Among its reported benefits are reductions in stress and anxiety, improvements in cognitive function and cardiovascular health, and enhanced self-actualization. However, it’s noteworthy that this field of research has faced criticism due to methodological issues, including potential bias and lack of rigorous randomized controlled trials.
The propagation of Transcendental Meditation worldwide has been underpinned by the organization established by Maharishi, which continues its operation after his passing. The standardized teaching methodology, consisting of a seven-step course over a few days, ensures the consistency of instruction.
History of Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental Meditation was introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a spiritual leader from India, in the mid-1950s. Its roots, however, trace back to the ancient Vedic tradition of India, the oldest continuous civilization in the world. The technique, as disseminated by Maharishi, has been presented as a scientifically verifiable, secular practice, thus distinguishing it from its religious and philosophical origins.
After studying physics at Allahabad University, Maharishi became a disciple of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, the Shankaracharya (spiritual leader) of Jyotir Math, a monastery in the Indian Himalayas. Following the passing of Swami Brahmananda in 1953, Maharishi entered a period of reclusion. During this time, he re-emerged with a simplified meditation technique, aiming to make meditation more accessible to the general public. This technique later became known as Transcendental Meditation.
In 1957, Maharishi initiated his first global tour, teaching his meditation technique throughout Southeast Asia and the United States. The organization he founded, the Spiritual Regeneration Movement (later renamed as the Transcendental Meditation Movement), was dedicated to the propagation of his method. Over the subsequent decade, Maharishi worked towards gaining recognition for TM in the scientific and academic community, and he presented it as a technique for improving personal development, stress reduction and well-being.
The popularity of TM soared in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely due to its adoption by several high-profile celebrities, most famously the Beatles. They visited Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India, in 1968, an event which brought unprecedented media attention to TM.
In the following decades, Maharishi expanded the scope of his movement to include a wide range of educational, health, and social programs based on his interpretation of the Vedic tradition. These included the establishment of Maharishi International University (now Maharishi University of Management) in Fairfield, Iowa, USA in 1973, and the introduction of the TM-Sidhi program, which includes Yogic Flying, in 1976.
A significant component of Maharishi’s legacy is his pioneering efforts to have meditation investigated by scientific research. In the early 1970s, he invited scientists to study the physiological effects of TM, resulting in a body of research, although not without controversy, that suggests various health benefits of the practice.
After Maharishi’s passing in 2008, the global Transcendental Meditation organization has continued to operate under the guidance of a leadership structure he established. Today, Transcendental Meditation is practiced by millions worldwide, and it continues to be a subject of scientific research and cultural interest.
Techniques of Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental Meditation is a specific form of silent, mantra-based meditation technique. It requires practitioners to sit comfortably with their eyes closed for approximately 20 minutes, twice per day. The unique characteristic of Transcendental Meditation lies in its simplicity, ease, and effortlessness, distinguishing it from many other forms of meditation.
A core component of the TM technique is the use of a mantra. This mantra, a specific sound or phrase, is given to each practitioner by a certified TM instructor during the instruction process. But you have to understand that the mantra is not employed as an object of concentration or contemplation, but as a vehicle for the mind to naturally move towards a state of quieter, subtler levels of thought. The repeated mental pronunciation of the mantra is designed to lead the mind to transcend the surface level of consciousness and to settle into a state of deep, silent awareness.
Transcendental Meditation involves a series of techniques and practices, which are imparted in a structured and sequential format. Here are the key components of the TM technique:
- Mantra-based meditation: The fundamental technique in TM is the use of a mantra, a specific sound or phrase, silently repeated in the mind. Each practitioner is given a unique mantra by a certified TM instructor.
- Effortless transcending: The TM practice is designed to facilitate effortless transcending. The mantra serves as a vehicle to enable the mind to naturally settle into a state of quieter, subtler levels of thought.
- Sitting comfortably: Practitioners are encouraged to sit comfortably, with their eyes closed during the meditation session. There are no specific postures required.
- Twice daily practice: TM is typically practiced for 20 minutes, twice a day. The recommended times are in the morning upon waking, and in the afternoon or early evening.
- No concentration or control: TM does not involve any attempt to control the mind, dismiss thoughts, or concentrate on the mantra. When the mind naturally wanders from the mantra, practitioners gently return their attention back to it.
- Verification and validation sessions: These are follow-up sessions that take place after the initial instruction. They provide an opportunity for practitioners to refine their technique and to ensure its correctness.
- Achievement of restful alertness: The overarching aim of TM is to achieve a state of ‘restful alertness’, where the body is deeply relaxed, and the mind is quiet yet awake.
In essence, the Transcendental Meditation technique offers a systematic and standardised approach to meditation that does not require any strenuous mental effort, specific beliefs or lifestyle changes, instead promoting a state of relaxed awareness and mental tranquility. However, LotusBuddhas will explain to you why the techniques of Transcendental Meditation are so controversial in a later section.
Transcendental Meditation mantras
As LotusBuddhas said above, Transcendental Meditation involves the use of specific mantras, which are sounds or phrases used to aid meditation. However, the precise mantras used in TM are considered confidential information, shared privately with each individual by a certified TM instructor. It is this “secret” that many people have been attracted to signed up for the course to experience.
According to TM principles, each mantra is selected based on a range of factors and is meant to be a sound without specific meaning, allowing the practitioner to effortlessly focus and transcend conscious thought. The selection process of the mantra is proprietary to the TM organization and is part of what differentiates TM from other types of mantra-based meditations.
The individual mantras are typically drawn from the Vedic tradition. However, the specific mantras given to practitioners are not disclosed publicly in accordance with the TM tradition and teaching methodology.
The TM organization emphasizes the importance of learning the correct technique, including the appropriate use of the mantra, from a certified TM teacher. This ensures the practice is carried out effectively and maximizes the potential benefits of the technique.
How to practice Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental Meditation is a proprietary technique that should be learned from a certified TM instructor. However, the following gives an overview of the general structure of the TM practice. Simple step-by-step guide shared by Alex, a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation 8 years ago.
- Initial lecture: Prior to practicing TM, an introductory lecture is typically provided by a certified TM instructor to provide a background understanding of the technique, its origins, benefits, and the structure of the learning course.
- Personal interview: Following the lecture, a personal interview is conducted by the TM instructor to get to know the individual and their expectations or goals from the practice.
- Personal instruction: The individual is then taught the TM technique in a personal instruction session. This session involves the imparting of a specific mantra to the individual and the guidance on how to use it. The mantra, a sound or phrase, is silently repeated in the mind during meditation.
- First day of checking: On the first day of checking, the TM instructor verifies the correctness of the practice and provides further instructions on the mechanics of the TM technique.
- Subsequent checking sessions: Over the next few days, additional meetings are scheduled to ensure that the TM practice is being correctly followed. These sessions offer a chance to ask questions, discuss experiences, receive more detailed knowledge about the TM technique, and further consolidate the correct practice.
- Regular practice: Once trained, practitioners are encouraged to meditate for 20 minutes, twice a day. During these sessions, individuals sit comfortably with their eyes closed and silently repeat the given mantra.
- Ongoing support and refresher courses: After the initial instruction and checking sessions, practitioners have access to regular follow-up and support from the TM organization. This may include refresher courses, advanced lectures, and personal checking sessions to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of their practice.
As LotusBuddhas shared above, TM is designed to be a simple, natural, effortless process. There is no concentration, control of the mind or active contemplation involved. Instead, the silent repetition of the mantra allows the mind to naturally settle down to a state of deep inner silence.
Benefits of Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental Meditation has been the subject of numerous scientific studies that suggest a range of benefits related to psychological health, physiological health, cognitive performance, and quality of life. While these studies provide a promising outlook on the potential benefits of TM, it’s essential to note that the quality of research varies, and more rigorous studies are necessary to substantiate some of these claims.
- Psychological health: Multiple studies suggest that regular practice of TM can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and enhance overall psychological well-being. A meta-analysis of 146 independent studies found that TM was more effective at reducing anxiety than other techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and other types of meditation.
- Physiological health: TM is reported to have various positive effects on physical health. It has been linked to reduced blood pressure, lower risk of heart disease, and improved cardiovascular health. It’s also suggested to reduce cortisol levels, a hormone that increases with stress and can lead to various health issues.
- Cognitive performance: Several studies suggest that TM can enhance cognitive functioning. This includes improved attention, memory, and executive function. Furthermore, some research indicates that TM can help counteract age-related cognitive decline and improve brain function in older adults.
- Quality of life: Regular TM practice is also associated with increased self-actualization, indicating a heightened sense of purpose and realization of personal potential. This can manifest in improved interpersonal relationships, increased job satisfaction and overall enhanced quality of life.
- Treatment of mental disorders: Some studies suggest that TM can be a beneficial adjunctive treatment for certain mental disorders. For instance, a 2018 meta-analysis found TM to have positive effects on individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Despite these reported benefits, we have to approach the body of research on TM with a critical eye. According to research by LotusBuddhas, many people believe that studies on the effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation are biased. Journalists and researchers have received money to “talk well” about the benefits of Transcendental Meditation, and lack of strict randomized controlled trials.
Famous Transcendental Meditation centers around the world
Transcendental Meditation has gained worldwide popularity, with numerous centers and institutions established across the globe. Here are some of the most notable Transcendental Meditation centers and organizations:
- Maharishi International University (MIU), Fairfield, Iowa, USA: Formerly known as Maharishi University of Management, this institution was established in 1971 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It offers undergraduate and graduate programs with a focus on “Consciousness-Based” education, incorporating TM into the academic curriculum.
- Maharishi European Research University (MERU), Vlodrop, The Netherlands: This institution serves as an international hub for research and teaching on Transcendental Meditation. It offers various educational and training programs and serves as a site for conferences and courses on TM and related Vedic knowledge.
- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Vedic Vishwavidyalaya, Madhya Pradesh, India: Established in 1995, this university disseminates knowledge of the Vedic sciences in conjunction with TM. It offers a variety of courses ranging from traditional Vedic studies to more contemporary disciplines.
- Maharishi Foundation, Multiple Locations: The Maharishi Foundation is the official worldwide licensing body for teaching Transcendental Meditation. It has branches in many countries, including the USA, UK, Australia, and South Africa, among others. Each national branch offers TM courses led by certified TM teachers.
- Transcendental Meditation Center, Tokyo, Japan: This center offers courses in TM in both Japanese and English and has been instrumental in promoting TM in Japan.
- David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, New York, USA: Founded by renowned filmmaker David Lynch, an avid practitioner of TM, the foundation aims to fund the teaching of TM to at-risk populations including students in high-stress schools, veterans with PTSD, and victims of domestic violence. The foundation has become a significant promoter of TM, particularly in the United States.
- Global Country of World Peace, MERU, The Netherlands: The organization was established by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to create a new era of peace and harmony in the world through the application of his technologies of consciousness. It oversees the global TM movement and its associated programs.
The controversies surrounding Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental Meditation, or as the cool kids call it, “TM”. Just imagine, you sitting cross-legged on a floral-print cushion in your hipster-styled attic, eyes closed, humming some magical “mantra” as though you’ve tapped into the secret code of the universe. Perfect picture of serenity, isn’t it? Well, that’s until we dive into the tumultuous waters of controversy that surround this seemingly tranquil practice.
The Pay-to-Play mantra mystery: The first whiff of controversy stirs from the fact that TM is not the free-spirit, open-source meditation the universe intended it to be. To learn it, you need to cough up a tidy sum. It’s a bit like buying a password to the VIP club of inner peace. What do you get for your investment? A personalized mantra. Allegedly, each one is unique to you, like a meditation fingerprint. Yet skeptics suggest that the selection is not quite as individualized as promised, which, if true, would make it an expensive way to learn a two-syllable sound.
Scientifically speaking…: TM proponents love to bandy about the scientific research that supports their claims of stress reduction, improved concentration, and even reduced crime rates. (Oh yes, crime rates. Apparently, a mass of people meditating could very well stop villains in their tracks.) However, critics point out that much of this research has been conducted by entities with links to the TM organization, so we may have a fox-guarding-the-henhouse scenario on our hands.
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s legacy: The founder of the TM movement, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, has been seen as a controversial figure. Critics point to his luxurious lifestyle, complete with a fleet of Rolls Royces and a penchant for gold. It’s a bit like Yoda deciding to trade in the Dagobah swamp for a penthouse in Coruscant. However, let’s not forget the influence the Maharishi had on popular culture, bringing meditation into the mainstream limelight with fans such as The Beatles.
Cultish undertones: There’s something about secretive practices, exclusivity, and a charismatic leader that tends to raise eyebrows. While many TM practitioners argue that it’s simply a technique, not a religion or a cult, skeptics argue that there’s a fine line. After all, wouldn’t you question if your Yoga class suddenly required a lifetime loyalty pledge?
The Sidhi program: Finally, let’s not forget the Sidhi program, an advanced TM technique promising skills such as “yogic flying”. Now, as much as we’d all love to defy gravity, one can’t help but raise an eyebrow when the ‘flight’ resembles more of a series of ambitious hops. Critics have found this particularly hard to swallow. Some skeptics wonder if Hogwarts has had a copyright infringement case on its hands.
According to Master Thich Tri Hue, an expert advisor of LotusBuddhas, he points out that the practice of repeating a phrase or mantra in Transcendental Meditation is essentially “binding the mind to an object”, similar to traditional forms of meditation. There’s nothing different! Furthermore, if there is no element of mindfulness, that practice is not considered meditation. Because mindfulness is an indispensable foundation of meditation. It is possible that Transcendental Meditation organizations have “swapped the concept” to create a method that looks different from the traditional form of meditation.
Practicing this “mind-binding” will help practitioners to focus, calming the mind like a still, waveless lake, if the method is correctly practiced. Much like in Pure Land Buddhism, practitioners “bind their mind” to the name of Amitabha Buddha. In Tantric Buddhism, the “mind is bound” to mantras. In Theravada Buddhism, the mind is tied to any of the 40 subjects mentioned in the Pali canon…
In summary, this is a form of Samatha meditation, but Transcendental Meditation organizations have made it seem mysterious, only comprehensible to those who register for their courses. By offering “baits” such as “little effort and great results”, or “esoteric mantras” and “secret practices”… Transcendental Meditation succeeded in achieving stimulate the curiosity of many people in the West and make a lot of money from them.
You can also refer to:
- What is mindfulness: https://lotusbuddhas.com/what-is-mindfulness.html
- What is Buddhist meditation: https://lotusbuddhas.com/what-is-meditation-in-buddhism.html