Transcendental Meditation in Our Schools?

meditation in school
Photo Credit: Menlo Photo Bank

Transcendental Meditation (TM) first made headlines in the 1960’s when the Indian Guru Maharishi Mahesh taught the Beatles the technique. Now half a century later, it’s back in the news and still sporting some celebrity appeal. This time the headliners are 60’s pop star Donovan and filmmaker David Lynch. The two are touring Europe promoting the use of TM in schools and planning to open TM universities across Europe. While the idea of school children using a meditation technique to reduce stress and improve learning sounds wonderful, the TM technique is probably not the best approach to achieve these goals.

One of the biggest criticisms of Transcendental Meditation is the $2500 fee to learn the technique, for what culminates in roughly 6-8 hours of training time with a qualified teacher. While this fee may be less for the schools, it is still an exorbitant fee to pay annually per student. When compared to similar and other types of yoga and meditation programs, the TM training is outrageously expensive. And with our public schools already being underfunded, this is not the most skillful means to bring a meditation and/or stress reduction program into our schools.

Researching further into the TM technique and TM’s umbrella organization, the Maharishi Vedic Education Development Corporation, reveals even deeper problems and concerns. Overall there is a pattern of deception and secrecy that pervades this multi-billion dollar corporation, as reported from former students and teachers of TM, as well as from scientific journals. Andrew Skolnick in the Journal of the American Medical Association writes: “An investigation of the movement’s marketing practices reveals what appears to be a widespread pattern of misinformation, deception, and manipulation of lay and scientific news media.”

Of most concern with young children using TM mediation is the possible harmful side effects of this type of meditation. “The public views meditation as benign, which is often the case. However, when taught and practiced in a rigid, formulistic way within a totalistic group led by a grandiose leader, meditation can become a dangerous habit that could create severe psychological problems.” writes Steven Alan Hassan. Many ex-TM students and teachers have come out confirming the dangers of this technique. “A disturbing denial or avoidance syndrome, and even outright lies and deception, are used to cover-up or sanitize the dangerous reality on campus of very serious nervous breakdowns, episodes of dangerous and bizarre behavior, suicidal and homicidal ideation, threats and attempts, psychotic episodes, crime, depression and manic behavior that often accompanied roundings (intensive group meditations with brainwashing techniques)” writes ex-TMer Attorney Anthony D. DeNaro

The possibility that this meditation technique could cause harm or create “dangerous and bizarre behavior” make this an unwise choice to bring into our schools. There are other yoga based programs that have been used in schools that produce similar results as TM, but with none of the high costs, secrecy and dangerous side effects.

Comments 10

  1. I paid $1,200 ten years ago because I thought I had missed out on something special 30 years before. What a joke. Paying for their special ‘technique’ is ridiculous.

  2. Thanks for this article. Are you open to the possibility of reconsidering your personal judgments about TM? I’ve seen negative comments about TM from “yogabasics” elsewhere on the Internet, and I appreciate your concerns.

    As someone who’s been practicing Transcendental Meditation for a long time and benefiting immensely, I respect your opinions but would like to clarify some points in your article, if that will be allowed.

    TM doesn’t cost $2500 — that amount is well over $1000 too high. Tens of thousands of people have actually learned TM for free recently, given scholarships by the organization. Due to the non-profit set up, anyone can learn TM who wants to. For many years the tuition has been very accessible and varies according to income levels.

    TM is absolutely not a multi-billion-dollar “corporation.” I wish. It’s non-profit in the truest sense and operates at break even. This is all public record on US government websites. Where did you get your information? Never mind, I’m pretty sure where: the fringes of the Internet. Just because something is online doesn’t mean it’s true.

    You say TM tuition is too expensive and way more than other meditation classes. When someone learns TM, they get more of the teacher’s time and guidance, more personal follow-up, than any meditation or yoga program I know of. In fact, you get a lifetime of free follow-up and personal meetings with the teacher. What meditation program or yoga studio offers that?

    You claim that one can learn the same form of meditation elsewhere for free. To make this claim with any certainty, you’d need to be an expert in TM–and also expert in the comparative research on the effects of different practices. I’m sure you wouldn’t claim to be an expert on TM. If you were, you’d know that TM is actually very different from other forms of mantra meditation. I have been teaching TM for decades and have taught thousands of people, many of whom had been practicing other techniques. No one has ever told me that TM was the same as their previous practice or anything close. No other mantra meditation uses the mantra in the same way the TM mantra is used, and the mantras used in TM are specialized Vedic sounds that when imparted correctly are especially effective for transcending.

    The accusations by Slolnick have never been supported by any facts in the real world. The facts are: the NIH has awarded over $26M over the past 20 years for scientists to research TM, and they continue to grant research funds every few months. This would not happen if Skolnick’s charges were true. There are absolutely no scientific journals that support these charges, as the article suggests. The Skolnick attack was against a study on ayurveda, not on any TM research.

    Over 350 scientific studies on TM have been published in peer-reviewed research journals, involving over 20,000 meditating subjects in a diversity of settings: high school and students, athletes, business executives, mental health patients, factory workers, and many other groups. These include about 50 randomized clinical trials and longitudinal studies. Not one of these studies has ever found negative side effects. All of this is addressed and documented at http://www.truthabouttm.org .

    You seem adamant in your opinions about TM, and that’s OK, but I do hope you’ll give me this chance to present your readers another side of the story.

    Best wishes,
    Tom Ball
    http://www.MeditationAsheville.org

  3. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for your comments, but since you are employed as a TM teacher your comments come with a heavy bias. Your denial that there are no problems with the TM technique and organization are proof of this bias, as no technique or organization is perfect.

    And after reading your comments I find myself wondering if you even read what I wrote or that your bias is so strong that you interpreted everything I wrote as an attack against your employer.

    To set the record straight I did not say that “one can learn the same form of meditation elsewhere for free” and I did not write that the TM technique was not effective. And to be clear a non-profit is still considered a corporation, and if the corporation is not producing profits it still can have a multi-billion-dollar operating budget.

    I stand by my main opinion here that teaching TM to children in schools is a very bad idea due to its ” high costs, secrecy and dangerous side effects.”

  4. Hi Tim

    I read your posts and wanted to contribute my experiences with meditation here.

    I have learned and practiced several forms of meditation, pretty much continuously since I was 16 (39 years ago). These have included Nichiren Shosho buddhism (daimoku – nam ryoho renge kyo), sitting zazen with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (watching the out breathe), vipassana and TM. I have also spent time in India and the US studying ayurveda and yoga asanas. I do not at all presume that this validates my opinion in any way over anyone else’s, but it is part of my experience and path, limited of course by the particulars of my physiology.

    And though each step on my path was important to get me to where I am now, I can honestly say that TM has been far and away the most powerful technique for spiritual growth that I have practiced, and has been the one most worth the significant amount of time that I have given it (which is far more valuable than the initiation fee that I paid to learn many years ago).

    Further, my three children continue to practice TM twice a day, having learned as younger children, and now all through college and enjoying their adult lives.

    So as far as TM being “dangerous”, even in the least, I just do not have that at all anywhere in my experience. Nor am I familiar with anything remotely like that in other families I know that have also practiced TM (or any other meditation, for that matter)

    But you sound fairly strong in your opinions, so I will simply share my experience and leave it at that.

    Peace

  5. Hi Frankb,

    I’m happy to hear you have had a positive experience with TM. Other people have had bad experiences with TM, and this is a fact and not an “opinion.” The fact that you do not acknowledge that some people have bad experiences with TM is the “denial or avoidance syndrome” that Steven Alan Hassan writes about.

    I have not stated that TM (or any other type of meditation) is not a powerful spiritual tool. In fact, it is this power that can be dangerous to some people. And the reason why I think TM is especially dangerous to teach young children is that what is being taught is secretive, and from what I understand this process contains a lot of psychological priming.

  6. Thanks for the followup comment Tim

    I had never heard of Hassan and so just read about him on wikipedia and elsewhere. Apparently he was at one point a member of the Unification church, and he was kidnapped and involuntarily “re-programmed”.

    Afterwards, he started working with others who kidnapped and re-programmed other people who were involved in various groups, and was sued. He has a website where he lists many hundreds of groups as being cults (including the soap selling company Amway and Dahn Yogabasics).

    He currently makes his living off of re-programming them. Not exactly the most reliable or unbiased source for an opinion, in my opinion.

    In any case, TM is not a church or a cult or even a group that you “join” – it is a simple mental technique that you just learn and practice for 20 mins twice a day, and go about your life with much less stress and greater clarity.

    And though I personally know of no “bad” experiences with TM, with over 3 million people worldwide having learned TM over the last 50 years, no doubt there are people who have problems that they attribute to their practice. But this is true of ANY group of people of that size (including the US armed forces and every single “mainstream” religious group.) I can guarantee you that if your yogabasics organization grew to even 1% of that size, there would be people who attributed problems they have to what you teach.

    In fact, it seems even now, that what you teach can be considered cultic by many people:

    http://yogabasi.wwwls24.a2hosted.com/YB-NEW/learn/chakras/

    http://yogabasi.wwwls24.a2hosted.com/YB-NEW/connect/can-christians-practice-yoga.html

    So I think that everything should be taken in context, as well as considering the source, especially if you just read something you find on the internet, where you can find pretty much every possible contrary opinion.

    By the way, there is zero “psychological priming” either teaching children or adults TM.

    Peace

  7. Hi Frankb,

    Steven Hassan is an expert on cults, and while this is an unconventional way to make a living, sadly it seems his services are needed as he has helped a lot of people break away from destructive cults and cult-like organizations.

    Yes, on his website he has a large directory of potential cults, but I guess you missed what is written at the top of each of those pages: “The fact that these groups appear on this list does not necessarily mean they are a destructive mind control cult. They appear because we have received inquiries and have established a file on the group.”

    I’m sure you and other TM’ers are not happy to find Transcendental Meditation on his list of potential cults, and perhaps this is your motivation to discredit him. Or perhaps anyone who critiques TM has practitioners try to tarnish a person’s reputation? Both you and Tom have implied that what I have written here is opinionated, judgmental and negative and now you are calling the information on my website cultic. It also seems strange that you posted a comment here 1 day after fellow TM’er Tom did on this article that was published in 2007… is there a coordinated effort with the TM organization to go after unfavorable press?

    I am happy you have found something that works for you, but I am concerned for you as you are showing signs of denial or avoidance syndrome and character assassination techniques towards informed critiques of TM.

  8. HI again Tim

    Hassan seems to me to be just a guy with a past (like everyone) and a current commercially driven bias to see groups that need his services. Personally, I wouldn’t give his opinion any more credibility than many others, such as noted psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal:

    http://www.amazon.com/Transcendence-Healing-Transformation-Through-Meditation/dp/1585428736

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_E._Rosenthal

    But that’s just me, obviously you do.

    And fundamentally, I really don’t care what you think about TM. I have happily practiced it for many years, and was simply sharing my experience with your website. I had recently been using the Google alerts service to follow news on several topics I have interest in, and I added “transcendental meditation” to my search terms. An email link to your response popped up and I read the thread and decided to post my experience, which was contrary to your decidedly negative perspective.

    But this is your website, and you are certainly entitled to your opinions. I have nothing to do with the TM organization. I thought it might be interesting to you that the negative opinions that you use to justify your negative comments could just as easily be used against many groups and businesses and practices, your own included. But instead of considering my points and the potential irony, you instead take offense at that and presume some coordinated plot, as well as continue to suggest that I am under the sway of some psychologically aberrant “avoidance syndrome”.

    We obviously just disagree, so I think I will leave this as my last comment, and wish you all well.

    Peace

  9. Hi Frankb,

    Um, no I’m not giving Hassan “more credibility than many others.” I’m just calling you out on your attempt to discredit him.

    Your statement that “I really don’t care what you think about TM,” shows your true colors and intent on posting here. I was hoping that we could actually discuss the issues around teaching TM to children, but I’m giving up after your repetitive attempts to discredit, distract and to whitewash any criticism of TM.

    Unfortunately you have only confirmed and reinforced my opinion of TM. By making me go back and do more research on Transcendental Meditation, I’ve only seen more problems and concerns with this organization.

    I’m certainly fine to agree to disagree on this subject, and I wish you well on your path.

  10. Important point to one and all, “in 1977 courses in Transcendental Meditation and the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI) were legally prohibited from New Jersey (USA) public high schools on religious grounds by virtue of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment”: https://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/592/592.F2d.197.78-1882.78-1568.html (quote extracted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendental_Meditation_technique).

    More resources for researching the multinational business.
    1) http://minet.org offers a static collection of historical TM documents. A translation of the TM inititation ceremony or Puja or Hindu ceremony is included: http://minet.org/Documents/Puja-translation.
    2) Moreover, the so-called unique mantra given to each inductee in this ceremony is not quite so unique it seems according to former long-term meditation at http://minet.org/www.trancenet.net/secrets/mantras.shtml .
    3) http://tmfree.blogspot.com/ offers a compilation of opinions, research, and testimonals of former long-term members.
    4) Other opinions regarding TM research and the effectiveness include these
    a. http://minet.org/research.html,
    b. http://www.unstress4less.org/,
    c. http://suggestibility.org/, and
    d. http://trancenet.org/ .
    5) This video shows in real time what the global non-profit transcendental-meditation organization offers: https://vimeo.com/4201441.
    6) My personal favorite TM documentary is David Wants To Fly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0payvR–nM (full 96 minute version). A must watch for anyone interested in learning more about TM and the organization.

    My question is this. If our children can’t pray in schools, how can TM be an acceptable practice in any public US institution?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *