The Impact of the TM Movement
by Ruthe Rendely
In the mid-70s, Transcendental Meditation® had its 15 minutes of fame and now is one of many meditation movements. Now that the TM movement has been in America forty years, what has its impact been on our society?
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder, carefully molded its direction. In the 60s, he wanted to bridge the generation gap. He tried to make TM available to mainstream America. At that time, most of his ten thousand American teachers were in their early twenties, still had long hair, and had just recently quit taking drugs. He knew that if he were going to influence the over-thirty generation, these teachers would have to look straight, not just enlightened.
On one audiotape, I heard Maharishi instructing his newly certified teachers, who were training in Europe, to throw their blue jeans into the Atlantic Ocean on their way home. The teachers all howled with laughter, but that statement set the policy. After that, the male teachers were expected to shave facial hair and wear their locks short, and the female teachers were expected to wear dresses with nylon stockings.
This strategy had the desired effect. By appearing more conservative, the TM movement held the support of the youth while also persuading their parents to meditate. In my own family, I was actually the last member to learn TM, after my younger sister became a teacher and taught both my parents.
Even beside the fact that the TM movement was extremely successful in making meditation a household word, many other popular New Age, and even mainstream, ideas and individuals had their beginnings with TM.
Since Maharishi held a Bachelor of Science degree, and was comfortable with scientific jargon, he approached the West with familiar and respected concepts. In the 70s, Maharishi held audiences with Hans Selye, leading expert on the concept of stress. Popularizing Selye's research, Maharishi made the point that meditation was the answer to the problem of stress. Soon, teams of TM teachers approached large corporations with research data indicating that employee job performance improved with stress reduction. By the 80s, corporations were paying generously to have stress management experts on staff.
In self-improvement circles alone, individuals who were greatly influenced by the TM movement include John Gray, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay and Elaine Aron. Gray (Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus) was a top lieutenant of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's in the seventies. I remember sitting in a small room at Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, listening to John extol the benefits of the "flying sutra," the levitation technique, that was taught to serious practitioners of TM. He went on and on about the internal experience of bliss when one took one's first little hops. I can see that the subtlety of John's understanding of male/female relations is based upon years of introspection during his time spent in the movement.
In the mid-80s, Deepak Chopra was an unknown endocrinologist in Boston before Maharishi tapped him to head the Ayurvedic division of the TM movement. At the Cambridge, Massachusetts TM center, near Harvard, I remember when Deepak relayed to the small group of teachers and meditators how Maharishi had mesmerized him in their very first meeting in Washington, D.C. On the flight back to Boston, Deepak couldn't believe that he had already decided to put aside his lucrative medical practice to become an unpaid peripatetic advocate for Maharishi's brand of ayurveda.
Social scientists found reversals in the crime rates in U.S. cities where 1% of the population had learned the TM technique.
Because Transcendental Meditation attracted so many adherents close to two million Americans any theory, book, or trend touted inside the movement soon made waves on the outside as well. When Deepak Chopra published his first book through a vanity press, many meditators went out and bought it, thus alerting major publishers to its salability. In this way ayurveda, "the knowledge of life," became a major healing modality.
Louise Hay, who spent one year studying at Maharishi International University in Fairfield, went on to develop a leading affirmations system. Marianne Williamson, the foremost spokesperson for A Course in Miracles, was a TM meditator in the early days. Recently Elaine Aron, who was a psychology department faculty member at Maharishi International University in the 70s, has written a best-selling book entitled The Highly Sensitive Person. Even without reading the book, it is clear that her years of meditating would have resulted in heightened sensitivity.
Before it was fashionable to have synchronized worldwide meditations of the sort that occurred in the 11:11 Harmonic Convergence in 1987, Maharishi was organizing synchronized worldwide meditations to achieve world peace. In 1976, he announced that there was a field effect that could be activated when meditators meditated simultaneously in large numbers, preferably at one location, but even simultaneously around the globe. He began experimenting with this effect by first targeting specific states in each country, and then by illustrating the effect in worldwide crisis situations.
Social scientists found reversals in the crime rates in U.S. cities where 1% of the population had learned the TM technique. When experiment after experiment proved the effect, and the scientists approached leading professional journals with the results, it took many years before any of their research was accepted for publication. This was not because of any flaws in research design, or statistical outcome, but because the results were just too unbelievable.
I participated, as an advanced meditator, in several of these early experiments. I was always astounded by the results, because a target objective would be announced in advance and then achieved during the meditation course.
One of these courses is especially memorable for me. It was in the summer of 1982, during the first Reagan administration, when many people were still quite worried about his right-wing tendencies and overall ability to govern the country. It was a vacation-time course, with a target of two thousand meditators in two locations: Fairfield, and Washington, D.C. (The number two thousand was significant in that it was the square root of one percent of the U.S. population.)
The attendees were all sidhi (capable of doing the advanced levitation technique that purportedly was a real stress-smasher). The national economy had been in the doldrums for years, and the stock market was reflecting that by being in a long bearish period.
An unusual feature of this particular course was that it was the first in which the evening television news was a mandatory component. Maharishi wanted us to see what effect we were having on external events. The enrollees for most of the first part of the course numbered under two thousand, and nothing much happened of note, but the numbers were building daily and finally reached two thousand on Thursday, August 19. That evening's news featured an announcement that the stock market had suddenly taken off, and nobody knew why. I couldn't believe what I was seeing on the monitor. For the rest of the 80s, the stock market never turned back, and Reagan became a Teflon president.
Another powerful demonstration of this effect had taken place earlier, in the fall of 1978, when there were five major trouble spots in the world, any one of which could have set off a worldwide conflagration. Maharishi decided to take the initiative by sending what he affectionately called "teams of firefighters" to these five regions at the expense of the TM movement. These five areas included Iran, which was in the throes of its revolution, the Middle East, which is always on the brink, pre-independence Southern Rhodesia, the Thai-Cambodian border, and El Salvador. At the time, each had daily violent incidents.
To the most dangerous areas he sent teams of two hundred male TM teachers to stay in hotels centrally located in the capitol cities. In Iran, a team of one hundred teachers was stationed in Teheran, with another hundred in Isfahan. A teacher from my TM center in Iowa City went to Isfahan.
The teachers left in the early fall and returned to America by Christmas. In each of the five trouble spots, when the teams began their advanced Sidhi program, the violence ceased. Most commentators on the Iranian situation were truly amazed when the transition from the Shah to Khomeini proved to be almost bloodless.
Although in those days I thought real recognition of the benefits of TM were just a few months away, wide acceptance proved to be very elusive. The media never officially recognized any of these achievements in anything but a tongue-in-cheek way. Maharishi had hoped that by "cloning" himself (in the sense of certifying so many teachers) he could one day have at least one percent of the world's population meditating.
Even without reaching that goal, the influence of TM on our society has been subtle, but powerful. Maharishi once told his teachers that he knew that he wouldn't receive credit for our world peace initiatives, but that he didn't care as long as there was world peace.
Ruthe Rendely is a spiritual teacher, psychic counselor, and energy healer who will be giving two Angel Healing Workshops in Seattle, March 14th and March 21st. For more details call her at (800) 736-3351.