The diagnosis is in: I have a malignant negativity, a “negative world view”, that prevents me from accepting the unique universal healing properties of Transcendental Meditation™ [TM]. My problem has been recognised by some of the top minds at Maharishi University (TM’s university in Fairfield, Iowa) who have expressed a willingness to take legal action against my writings so as to quarantine this ugly contagion – this hideous negativity that has deformed my critical thinking to the point in which it I can no longer recognise established scientific facts. According to TM™:
“Scientific research has clearly demonstrated that when one per cent of the population of a city or town practices Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation Programme, the crime rate significantly decreases. Similarly, when groups of individuals practicing Maharishi’s TM-Sidhi programme with Yogic Flying equal at least the square root of one per cent of a population, there is a significant reduction of crime and accidents, as well as an increase in stock prices, decreased pollution, decreased unemployment, and decreased hostilities between nations.”
This crime-reducing by-product of TM™ is a phenomena known as “The Maharishi Effect”. During the Summer of 1993, 4,000 faithful, trained in the peaceful art of Transcendental Meditation™, gathered in crime-ridden Washington, D.C. with a mission: to scientifically prove the Maharishi Effect. And, if you ask those minds from the prestigious Maharishi University who were responsible for the study, the experiment was a great success… A success, that is, despite the fact that “during the weeks of the experiment Washington D.C.’s weekly murder count ‘hit the highest level ever recorded.'”
So where was the success? I childishly ask in my negativity-induced ignorance.
Ah… you see, though homicides peaked in this TM™-increased field of peace, crime was in fact reduced 18 percent from what it would have been had the meditators not been present!
No doubt about it. Maharishi University’s own physicist, Dr. John Hagelin worked out all of the variables. The Maharishi Effect is proven… But I have my doubts. When I published an article questioning the validity of TM™ science, a commentator and TM™ practitioner tried to set me straight:
“[…]You get the facts all wrong because you see it through a negative belief system. Lighten up. I’ve been doing TM for years. It’s given me more happiness & energy for success in my work, gotten rid of stress that I see dragging others down & making them sick. Friends whom I’ve gotten to do TM, I’ve watched meditation change their life. It’s ridiculous to try to reason or explain the facts to people enmeshed in an unhealthy, negative mindset. This article’s not even about the research. It’s not about TM. It’s about a world view threatened by the possibility that TM really has the effects claimed for it. It’s about a rigid belief system that needs to convince itself & others that the all-positive, life-changing effects of TM are not possible, because that would mean your beliefs & your defense mechanism would collapse. TM is a totally cool, edifying experience – a fact you cannot change.”
Worse than my failure to appreciate the science of the Maharishi Effect, is the fact that I’ve dismissed out-of-hand, as absurd, TM™’s Yogic Flying – the claim that TM™ meditators may achieve levitation. “Stage One is generally associated with what would best be described as ‘hopping like a frog.’ Stage Two is flying through the air for a short time. Stage Three is complete mastery of the sky.” The very idea proved altogether too much for the defense mechanisms I’d constructed in preservation of my negative world view, and when I learned that TM™, through the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, was attempting to insert itself into public schools, I went on the offensive, publishing the following article on Examiner.com… an article that the General Counsel for Maharishi University would deem “defamatory”:
Transcendental Meditation in schools, the David Lynch program
Expel from your mind the stereotyped image of the robed, bearded yogi. Forget the worn image of the unkempt, hash-headed, lotus-seated hippy listening to sitar music in an incense-filled room behind a beaded curtain. This is not the Transcendental Meditation [TM] we are talking about. This is Science!
“Hundreds of scientific studies have been conducted on the benefits of the Transcendental Meditation program at more than 200 independent universities and research institutions worldwide in the past 35 years,” explains the TM-promoting David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace website. Among the positive side-effects of the TM program, we find: increased focus, decreased hostility, reduced anxiety, even a reduction in cardiovascular disease among practitioners.
Surely, with this in mind, no reasonable person would argue against teaching the TM method in public schools.
And this is exactly what the David Lynch Foundation – founded by the cult film director of Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive – proposes: implementation of a TM teaching program “in public and private schools and in after-school programs across the U.S. and around the world, with thousands of students enjoying its benefits.”
This past April, the foundation held a large benefit concert in New York – including performances by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Ben Harper, and Moby – which, according to USA Today, raised an estimated $3 million toward funding the TM-in-schools program.
But, despite the attributed benefits and celebrity endorsements, some worry that the teaching of a TM-based program in public schools constitutes another breach across the ever-eroding church-state dividing line. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State reports, “Slowly but steadily, TM seems to be gaining a foothold in public schools across the country. The trend has alarmed some advocates of church-state separation, who point out that the practice is based in Hinduism and that the federal courts removed it from New Jersey public schools on church-state grounds in 1979.”
In regards to funding being offered by the David Lynch Foundation in support of the TM program, “Americans United is urging school officials to turn down the money, reminding educators that TM in the schools can spark litigation. In 1976, Americans United and other groups joined with Roman Catholic and Protestant parents to bring a lawsuit against the use of TM in five New Jersey public schools.” […] “A federal court struck down the TM classes in October of 1977, a decision that was affirmed by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February of 1979…Ruling in Malnak v. Yogi, the federal appeals court declared that TM is grounded in Hinduism. Students, the court pointed out, were assigned the name of a Hindu god to chant, and even went through a type of religious initiation ceremony called a puja.”
Indeed, though the David Lynch Foundation seems keen to express that TM is just a technique, with real estate holdings, schools, and clinics—even a town, Vedic City, in Iowa—“worth more than $3 billion in the late 1990s,” TM is clearly something more. Some go so far as describe TM as “a cult that ultimately seeks to strip individuals of their ability to think and choose freely.”
Therapist John Knapp, specializing in providing help to ex-cult members and people entangled in “cultic relationships” left TM after 23 years of involvement. “I married somebody who was not involved with the group, and part of my group experience was that I was asked to lie about a number of items. And living every day with someone and having to lie to them was extremely difficult… It caused what you could call a cognitive dissonance. It really caused a bifurcation in my mind. It was really difficult to live with. And I’d also gotten very far away from my family, which is not uncommon for people who are in these kinds of [cultic] relationships. As my mother was getting older I wanted to re-establish my ties with her and the family. These kinds of things led me to begin questioning my relationship [with TM].”
Upon deciding that he would leave TM, Knapp reports that he suffered a good deal of harassing behavior from the group. “It was difficult for me, because I had believed so strongly in this group [TM]. My spiritual and emotional life was really bound up completely with this group, so when they turned on me it was very confusing and very difficult for me…”
Worse, Knapp reports negative effects derived from the meditation technique itself, from addictive behavior to increased feelings of dissociation. He claims that many clients of his that come from TM have experienced the same.
TM was founded by a man known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1956 in India, and the revered guru himself had once been accused of using “fear and intimidation” in order to work to prevent a disciple from leaving the Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa. The disillusioned student, Robert Kropinski, and six other people sued Maharishi’s University for $9 million on the grounds of “fraud, neglect, and intentionally inflicting emotional damage”. Kropinski stated that none of the promised TM benefits ever surfaced during his time as a student, and he was awarded $138,000 by a Washington D.C. jury. Maharishi did not appear in court, as he was never available to receive summons.
Admittedly, all of this sounds most unpleasant, but what of the scientific data supporting theindividual benefits of TM?
There are problems with TM’s data. While the David Lynch Foundation endlessly promotes the “unique” benefits of TM, there is a conspicuous shortage of comparative analytical studies that measure TM against other relaxation techniques. Surprisingly, studies measuring the effects of a simple mid-day nap report many of the same “unique” benefits touted by TM.
In fact, a study published in the journal Science in 1976 found in studying “five experienced practitioners of Transcendental Meditation”, that they “spent appreciable parts of meditation sessions” merely napping.
And, according to a June 2007 report, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that evaluated the quality of the meditation research along an array of standard scientific criteria such as the proper use of randomization and control group techniques, “Overall, the methodological quality of both intervention and observational analytic studies on meditation practices is poor.”
According to Dr. Barry Markovsky, professor of Sociology at the University of South Carolina, “Poor evidence, even in large quantities, falls short of establishing scientifically the benefits of TM.”
Worst of all, TM makes a series of staggering claims that can be charitably described as “unlikely”. Old advertisements for TM claim that practitioners of TM will develop “supernormal powers” including “supernormal sight and hearing”, invisibility, and levitation! The organization even circulated photos with pictures of lotus-seated students apparently hovering above the ground, but first-hand observations of the “levitations” left many unconvinced. The levitators never managed to levitate for very long; they never really “hovered”. In fact, they sprung up rather abruptly and dropped immediately to the ground again. Really, it was quite apparent that these transcendent hopefuls were merely hopping about from a seated position.
Nor has TM provided any legitimized demonstrations of any of its supernormal powers.
When asked about “advanced techniques” such as “yogic flight” during a press conference promoting his benefit concert, David Lynch replied with some rambling vagaries about a “field of unity”, “bliss”, and the “collective consciousness”.
The David Lynch Foundation has a stated of goal of teaching TM to one million children, which is reminiscent of another supernatural claim of TM: the Maharishi Effect, which states that a certain critical mass of TM meditators can affect change upon the material world.
While John Hagelin of the David Lynch Foundation claims that the Maharishi Effect is a scientifically proven phenomenon, there is no reliable evidence to support this. (Hagelin, it should be noted, is partially to blame for the simple-minded buffoonery of the best-selling book The Secret, which promotes a simpler version of the Maharishi Effect: The idea that one can obtain what one wants through mere wishful thinking.) Hagelin claims that in 1993 crime was reduced inWashington, DC during a two month period due to the collective effort of 4000 TM practitioners.
As Skeptico reports: “There were many problems with this experiment. One was that the murder rate rose during the period in question. Another was that Hagelin’s report stated violent crime had been reduced by 18% (in the film [What The Bleep Do We Know] he says 25%), but reduced compared with what? How did he know what the crime rate would have been without the TM? It was discovered later that all the members of the “independent scientific review board” that scrutinized the project were followers of the Maharishi. The study was pseudoscience: no double blinding, the reviewers were not independent, and the experiment has never been independently replicated. Hagelin deservedly won an Ig Nobel Prize in 1994 for this outstanding piece of work.”
James Randi, famed stage magician, author, founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation, and debunker of supernatural claims, explains that TM has “always maintained this… [the idea] that if a certain critical number of people take up TM, they will protect everybody, and the world will be perfectly safe from then on.”
Randi came to be aware of TM through his friend and fellow magician, Doug Henning. “I knew [Henning] very well as a kid, and later as a mature magician. We were always in touch…” Randi describes a deeply cultic relationship between Henning and Transcendental Meditation that would destroy Henning’s career and eventually take his life. Henning’s career as a television magician was compromised as he strove to hire only TM initiates to work on the set. According to Randi, this was not only problematic for the fact that it was difficult to find people within TM who were talented in television production, but “every so often they went in to meditation and work just stopped…” Eventually, TV executives grew weary of Henning’s professional antics.
Henning became even more deeply involved with TM following his diagnosis of liver cancer, eventually removing himself from contact with non-TM practitioners. “He gave up all medical care… the Maharishi had told him that he could recover from his liver cancer simply from meditating… he meditated himself to death.” Henning died in February of 2000.
“I’m so angry at the TM movement,” says Randi, “for having taken an innocent person.”
John Knapp feels that the drive to bring TM into more schools is destined to failure as any critical scrutiny of the organization will prove its undoing. According to him, “It’s just too damn strange…”
Relaxation – whether by crude napping, or practiced meditation – holds certain benefits that are not the monopoly of the TM brand. It is this author’s hope that schools will continue to seek techniques to aid the reduction of stress and conflict – while increasing health and focus – withoutreducing their curriculum to supernatural philosophies that cross the church-state line.
Not long after posting the article above, I received an email from an Examiner editor informing me that she had received an email from William Goldstein of Maharishi University.
She helpfully made my situation clear:
“Please be aware that because you are an independent contractor and your articles are selected, written, posted or controlled solely by you, you alone would be liable should either of the organizations listed below decide to bring a lawsuit for defamation or otherwise. Accordingly, we strongly encourage you to consider modifying the article[…]”
William Goldstein’s accusatory email followed:
Dear Examiner Editor in Chief
I write this letter as General Counsel for Maharishi University of Management and the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness Based Education and World Peace concerning the article in your online publication: http://www.examiner.com/x-20682-Boston-Underground-Examiner_y2009m10d5-Transcendental-Meditation-in-schools-the-David-Lynch-program
I will not comment on the inappropriate statements on the scientific research conducted on the TM program contained in Mr. Mesner’s article. Dr. Orme Johnson’s comments you have received reply more expertly than I could on that subject and I incorporate them [Orme Johnson posted his remarks in the public comments field following the article on Examiner.com]. But there are other false, defamatory and/or misleading statements which need to be identified as such and retracted. The failure to do so continues to damage the reputation of my client organizations which teach and promote these programs, and the individuals involved in those activities.
One court case, over thirty years ago, found a curriculum in the Science of Creative Intelligence which included the TM program to have religious overtones violative of the First Amendment. That “Malnak” case has been mischaracterized and its scope overstated by Mr. Mesner. No court at any time has ever ruled that teaching the TM program alone is impermissible, nor that the student is “assigned the name of a Hindu God to chant”.
What is even more relevant is the fact that, largely in light of the extensive research that has been done over the last thirty years on the Transcendental Meditation programs benefits in removing stress, several thousand at risk students in public schools across the United States have decided voluntarily to learn the TM program. Through sponsorships from the David Lynch Foundation, they have learned the technique in voluntary Quiet Time programs without any legal interference. The Supreme Court’s 1985 decision in Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 US 38 and its progeny have now made it clear that secular or non-secular meditation is permissible under the First Amendment in such circumstances.
Mr. Mesner then goes on to paste the horrific label of a “cult” on the TM program. Al Gore, Jerry Seinfeld and Paul McCartney would find it remarkable to be told they are members of a cult, but that does not mitigate the serious damages that such thoughtless labeling can have on the organizations which teach these programs to the public. And while Jerry may laugh at such a characterization, Al Gore may not have as well developed a sense of humor.
John Knapp, who claims to be a licensed counselor, is quoted by Mr. Mesner as saying he was lied to and harassed by the TM organization. But this is not factually supported. However, what is a fact is that Mr. Knapp has developed a niche in the field of counseling for victims of cults which he actively promotes on his websites. He has created a straw man, and now he is selling expensive medicine to him. Mr. Knapp’s professional ethical conflict of interest seems much more worthy of note than his unsupported claims of lies and harassment.
Further, Messrs.. Knapp and Mesner attempt to attribute the symptoms of mental illness to the practice of the TM program without scientific basis. This may be of great support to his cult counseling practice, but is not supported by the several hundred studies. No one claims that every person who practices the TM technique will be promptly freed of any mental distress. People who practice the TM program may indeed coincidentally suffer from such problems. What the research shows conclusively, however, is that they get noticeably and materially better through this practice — they do not get worse. If Mr. Knapp really and honestly feels otherwise, why has he not undertaken a controlled scientific study which has been published in a peer reviewed journal? In fact, all such studies of the TM program have shown that it only produces beneficial effects. Mr. Knapp’s self serving, conflict ridden unscientific anecdotes are not the evidence recognized as credible by science or his profession and claiming such is unethical and irresponsible. It is also damaging to those who teach and practice those programs and he should be held accountable for such damage. In any event, it should not be published and promoted by this publication or you are participating in this damaging process.
Mr. Mesner’s misrepresentations continue by his claim that Kropinski received a $138,000 jury verdict for claimed injuries from the TM program. What he omits to mention is that it was reversed on appeal. Kropinski v. WPEC, 853 F.2d 948 ( 1988) .
These falsehoods, defamations and omissions compel me to ask you to remove this article from your newspaper to put an end to the continuing damage its publication causes to my client.
Thank you very much for your anticipated co-operation.
Maharishi University of Management and
David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness Based Education and World Peace
Telephone 641 472 1183
Fax 641 472 1141
Maharishi University of Management
Telephone 641 472 1183
Fax 641 472 1141
And so, my article was pulled, and I was being given the opportunity to amend and correct all defamations. I re-read my work carefully….
No, no defamations there. As Examiner claimed no legal responsibility regarding the article, I decided to take the liberty of re-posting it in full, exactly as it was but with this preface:
This previously posted article has been updated with appended material following a letter received from the General Counsel for Maharishi University of Management and the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness Based Education and World Peace, William Goldstein, under the subject heading “Retraction of Defamatory Article”. Upon reviewing Goldstein’s criticisms, the author has decided that there are no grounds for labeling this article “defamatory”. An open reply to Goldstein’s letter follows the article below:
As promised, the updated post of the article was appended with my reply to the claim of “defamation” as follows:
On October 13 editors at Examiner received an email from William Goldstein, General Counsel for Maharishi University of Management and the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness Based Education and World Peace. The email’s subject heading was “Retraction of Defamatory Article”, and it ended with strong words claiming that the “falsehoods, defamations and omissions [in the article above] compel me [Goldstein] to ask you to remove this article from your newspaper to put an end to the continuing damage its publication causes to my client.”
And what were these “falsehoods, defamations and omissions”? Goldstein opens: “I will not comment on the inappropriate statements on the scientific research conducted on the TM program contained in Mr. Mesner’s article. Dr. Orme Johnson’s comments you have received reply more expertly than I could on that subject and I incorporate them.”
I had read Dr. Orme Johnson’s criticisms and found them less than compelling, some of them nonsensical. For instance, this comment – “To Knapp’s statement that TM is “too strange” for America, one has to ask, strange for whom, the narrow minded and ethnocentric? I think our nation has gotten past a lot of that.” – left me to merely wonder what in the world ethnocentricism might have to do with any of this if TM is not to be viewed as an Eastern practice rooted in Eastern beliefs and traditions?
Dr. Orme Johnson made comments suggesting that James Randi was incorrect regarding Henning’s situation: “Maharishi’s advice was always to seek medical attention when one gets sick, not “just meditate” as Randi alleges. Studies of medical care utilization that I conducted on Blue Cross statistics found that 2,000 TM subjects over a five-year period had on average 50% less hospitalization and doctors visits than the norm or matched controls, with reductions in all categories of disease.”
This comment would be laughable if the ramifications were less grave. When the criticism is that TM discouraged a sick man from seeking medical attention, the statistic of 50% less hospitalization amongst TM practitioners hardly makes that claim seem less credible. But, just the same, if Randi’s comments are “falsehoods, defamations, or omissions”, that is problem that must be taken up with James Randi. He is accurately quoted in the article above.
Likewise, the claim that TM is a “cult” is attributed, and Goldstein must take any disagreement with that label up with those who use it to describe his… “client”. In my favorite part of his email, Goldstein writes: Mr. Mesner then goes on to paste the horrific label of a “cult” on the TM program. Al Gore, Jerry Seinfeld and Paul McCartney would find it remarkable to be told they are members of a cult, but that does not mitigate the serious damages that such thoughtless labeling can have on the organizations which teach these programs to the public. And while Jerry may laugh at such a characterization, Al Gore may not have as well developed a sense of humor.
This shameless name-dropping is pointless, as it can be worked both ways. “Jerry may laugh”, and Al Gore may be a humorless bore. Or Jerry may in fact cringe in disgust if presented with the idea that TM practitioners may learn to levitate, or that the Maharishi Effect is a proven phenomena. Al Gore may laugh at such nonsense. We really don’t know, do we? Were Jerry Seinfeld, Al Gore, or Paul McCartney asked to give an opinion of my article? Is it just too remarkable to imagine that such celebrities might be involved in a “cult” or cult-based practices? Do Tom Cruise and John Travolta find it remarkable that many accuse Scientology of being a cult? For that matter, isn’t Scientology’s Dianetics “auditing” practice nothing more than a therapeutic technique? As such, perhaps it too should be welcomed into school rooms.
Goldstein goes on to question the credibility of John Knapp: “Mr. Knapp has developed a niche in the field of counseling for victims of cults which he actively promotes on his websites. He has created a straw man, and now he is selling expensive medicine to him. ”
While I’m not exactly sure what is meant by this, it seems to imply that counseling ex-TM practitioners has proven lucrative for Knapp which would also imply a consistent client base of TM disaffected. But, again, if Goldstein takes issue with what is said by Knapp, he must take it up with him. Knapp is accurately quoted in the article above.
The one helpful item mentioned in Goldstein’s email was the fact that the Kropinski finding was over-turned on appeal – though this would better have been mentioned in the comments, not in a full letter claiming “defamation”.
Most other comments regarding this article, by Dr. Orme Johnson and others, take exception to the criticisms regarding the Maharishi Effect. I have no intention of being ambiguous about this: the Maharishi Effect is not a proven phenomena. I seriously doubt it can even be considered a valid hypothesis. It’s failed hippy mysticism, and it has no place whatever in public schools.
I said it.
Go ahead and sue me.
Speaking only for myself,
Anticipating summons, though believing the claim of “defamation” to be entirely unfounded, I contacted organisations and institutions I felt might be of assistance should TM™ in fact attempt to sue me.
So it was that sometime in early December, somebody with copies of the Goldstein-Examiner emails posted them on Wikileaks so as to demonstrate TM™’s descent into Scientology-like litigiousness. The public posting of Goldstein’s letter further agitated the TM™ apologists. The comments on the Wiki page questioned the purpose of posting such an item. One Commenter asked, Is Wikileaks serving a noble purpose here?:
“WikiLeaks needs to carefully discern documents such as this to determine if the material actually poses a threat to “A just and corrupt free world.” If the document is benign and the legal notice by the TM people was justified because the Examiner article actually is defamatory, then WikiLeaks is just letting themselves be used for destructive purposes by self-serving people with ill intentions.
After reading the letter, and being aware beforehand of the positive nature of TM, it appears to me that WikiLeaks, in this case, is itself acting in opposition to a fair and corrupt-free world. Just because someone claims to have a “secret document” revealing unfounded threats doesn’t mean that promoting that person’s accusations is noble and progressive.
But I think you’re actually doing TM a favor by publishing the letter and showing people the rational, fact-based response of the TM organization to Mesner’s attacks, whose article in the Examiner (for anyone who actually does research or knows the facts) was replete with false accusations and defamations.
I urge WikiLeaks to consider this: If TM is actually a good thing, and the organization is actually justified in their request that Mesner adjust his article, then are you really serving a just cause to allow yourself to be instrument of further defamation?
By reading through your files on TM, one gets the impression that your organization is not neutral, fair-minded or inclined to value scientific research and objectivity, but is predisposed to accept negativity and rancorous attacks against TM just for the sake of providing more so-called “leaked material,” regardless or whether or not the “leaker’s” context and explanations are justified.
Odd though it was that the publication of Goldstein’s letter should provoke a defensive reaction from those who claim to feel his criticisms of my article were justified, it was a different comment entirely that infuriated me and demanded my correction:
[…] I think this is a complete non-issue. There was a basis for the claim (erroneous defamatory information being posted in the article). That was then corrected and the article was reposted with the correction and no further complaint. Totally legit (as would also be the case if it happened to wikileaks or anyone else – removing false statements)
This statement was posted anonymously. Of course, I had not “corrected” the article before I had reposted it. The claim that I had done so, supposedly conceding to having posted erroneous and defamatory information made me feel… defamed as a researcher and freelance writer.
I replied under the subject heading of “Maharishi Spin”:
Amid what appears to be an attempt by TM to re-spin this story, I want to make it abundantly clear that I did not, in any way revise the article on Examiner.com – except to add a brief introduction mentioning Goldstein’s letter, and an addendum replying to that letter – before reposting the article on that site. The claim that the article was “corrected” before being re-posted is a flat lie, and I would challenge anybody saying otherwise not to do so anonymously, and cite what exact corrections are imagined to have been made. In reality, what seems to have happened is, Goldstein attempted to intimidate both me and the editors at Examiner.com with the threat of legal action on the base-less claim of defamation in hopes that we would fold and remove the article. That did not work, the article remains as is, and Goldstein’s failure to sue me since is perhaps a tacit confession that there is, in fact, no case for defamation to be made.—Douglas Mesner 20:41, 15 December 2009 (GMT)
And that’s where we stand… for now….