Transcendental meditation, or T. M., is defined by its enthusiasts as ‘A technique which allows the mind to settle down to a less excited state – the person experiences quieter and quieter levels of thinking until he or she arrives at a state of complete mental stillness. Once this state has been attained the attention has transcended or gone beyond the everyday levels of thought. T. M. is followed closely by an experience of body relaxation ‘in which the subject does not sleep, is fully conscious’ and, it is even claimed, experiences an ‘inner wakefulness.
Of all the more recent popular cults (the T. M. hierarchy stresses that it is not a religion), transcendental meditation holds pride of place for evangelism – its recruits worldwide number in excess of two million. The background of T. M. is suitably mystical and its founder is the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. When a student at Allahabad University, the Maharishi fell under the spell of a venerable sage, it is claimed, and after two years of solitary cave dwelling went forth like Moses with his 20th-century ‘tablets’ to preach a new and enormously successful gospel.
In many cults there is a tendency towards powerful elitism. In T. M. this process is acknowledged, and a suitable hierarchy has developed. You cannot learn T. M., they say, from a book and so novices have to make an early financial commitment to their teachers, which is incidentally in no way a pittance. Happily the basic instruction or initiation is reasonably brief and can be taught at a course of four lessons over four days, beating hands down the detailed techniques described in this book in terms of time alone! Once initiated into the cult, to obtain permanent benefit 20 minutes’ practice twice a day is mandatory. Basically T. M. relies heavily on a personally prescribed mantra and the relaxation response.
How effective is T. M.? The British Association for the Medical Application of Transcendental Meditation claims it reduces high blood pressure, improves the heart’s function and reduces anxiety. As such it provides roughly the same advantages as does any one of the relaxation techniques outlined in the 10-day programme. It is also claimed to strengthen the immune system. Until comparatively recently such claims would have received scant attention from the world of medicine. Today, however, it has been proved, both experimentally and clinically, that undue stimulation of the stress hormones undoubtedly reduces resistance to infection, and so once again the health-giving side effects of all types of relaxation therapy are underlined. (See Post 13, page 243.)
Dr William A. R. Thompson, whose book Faiths That Heal provided invaluable research material for the preparation of this chapter, has pointed out an interesting effect of T. M. – namely its power as a socializing force in a community. The Maharishi International College in Britain is situated in Tonbridge, Kent. By the time T. M. had achieved a one per cent penetration into the pattern of living of those living within the jurisdiction of the Chief Constable of Kent, the crime rate had fallen by 17 per cent. A similar phenomenon occurred in a community in the USA.