Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Mahesh Prasad Varma was born in 1917 or 1918 to the family of an Indian civil servant and became an accounts clerk after getting degrees in science and mathematics at Allahabad University. In 1941 he began working for Swami Brahmanand Saraswati, the head of one of India's monastic orders who died in June 1953. Mahesh then left the monastery and moved to a temple near the town of Utar Kashi in the Himalayas. He began his public career in October 1955 at Cochin, South India, preaching the divinity of his master and initiating householders in his technique of meditation. He gathered followers, created an organisation, left India on 27th April, 1958, toured Asia and arrived in San Francisco on 29th January, 1959.
"By the grace of my master, I have found a simple technique, a simple formula, to transform the inner man to the great height of the spiritual level, and to bring it to every man everywhere, I have come out." -Maharishi 1960
His technique of Transcendental Meditation© was a simple mantra meditation based upon a Sanskrit word of one of the many Hindu names of God. Each recipient received a mantra determined by their age and sex at time of intiation. His uniqueness stemmed from his public claim that only twenty minutes of meditation a day were required to expereince bliss and the incredibly optimistic manner in which the effects of the meditation were described. For ten years he travelled through USA and Europe gradually increasing the numbers of those initiated and developing an organisation, the Spiritual Regeneration Movement, which was greatly facilitated by the interest of some wealthy followers. Despite his public optimism he did notice:
"A hundred people are initiated, and after a month only about 25-30 are found meditating, and after 6 months there will be only five, then no-one." - Maharishi 1964
He first gained public notoriety in 1967 after the Beatles became followers and went to his ashram in India. Further publicity following their very public disenchantment with him probably negated any initial media positivity. George Harrison's comments on a television interview program: "We've only been doing it a matter of six weeks maybe, but there is definite proof that it's something that really works" probably encapsulates the experience of most people who try a system of meditation. After an initial enthusiasm the effects do not prove adequate to keep the person meditating (even twenty minutes a day).
As followers studied to deepen their experience and learn to become meditation teachers (by meditating for longer periods and studying the ideas of Maharishi's philosphical and religious system) the results of the meditation were no longer always pleasant. Maharishi explained their distress and negative feelings resulted from 'unstressing' and 'purification of their nervous systems' and that these episodes proved the meditation was working. This circular logic is not unique to the Maharishi and invariably accompanies the growth of cults, 'if you feel good it's working and if you feel bad it's working, whatever you do, don't stop practising!'.
In the 1970's there was a radical overhaul of the organisation titles and the language used to describe the meditation. It became the 'Science of Creative Intelligence' and the religious terms were replaced with a pseudo-scientific language and the publishing of many "scientific" studies "proving" the efficacy of TM began. The basic scientifically proven truth about TM seems to be that most people who practise it receive a similar small increase in relaxation as practitioners of any other meditation compared to people who don't praxtice meditation. Despite this public change of focus and pressure on followers to dress in a middle class manner, the core of followers still revered if not worshipped Maharishi.
In the late 1970's Maharishi did something that showed, if nothing else, his confidence in his own techniques and knowledge or his chtuzpah. The TM organisation publicly declared that practitioners of TM could attain superhuman powers. Though these were ordinarily disparaged as unwanted side effects of meditation in the Indian tradition and are commonly accepted in certain sections of popular culture, their public display would revolutionise the scientific, technological world-view that our society is based on. Alas, it was not to be.
Here was the opportunity for TM to publicly show in an incontrovertable fashion the validity of it's claims. Media disdain for the Maharishi meant that these claims were publicised in a disparaging humorous fashion but finally on Wednesday, July 19, 1986 the Maharishi proclaimed a public demonstration of the TM-Sidhi © techniques at the Capital Convention Centre in Wahington DC. Unfortunately for the world and Maharishi's public image, yogic flying turned out to be the ridiculous spectacle of meditators hopping like frogs and absolutely not defying gravity. The photos of meditators apparently floating done with the use of high speed cameras (and probably trampolines) indicates a contempt for truth completely unbecoming in an organisation supposedly devoted to Natural Law, Pure Knowledge and Cosmic Consciousness.
Maharishi has been a recluse for the last twenty years, living in highly guarded luxury homes in Europe gradually "revealing" the full extent of his teachings which are an individual, idiosyncratic espousal of ancient Hinduism renamed and repackaged as "science" based on a claim that the hoped for unified field of quantum physics theory is identical with the prakriti of Hinduism. He claims that this field is accessible and responsive to TM meditators and that this field and these meditative effects control the visible universe. He has completed a full circle, starting off as a Hindu, purporting to introduce a scientific system of relaxation and meditation and thenreintroducing the whole system of classic Indian religious culture including puja (worship), yagyas (religious rituals), jhyotish (astrology), ayurdevedic medicine (Indian health standards have not exactly been aspired to by other cultures throughout recorded history), etc all trademarked under the title 'Maharishi Vedic Science and Technology'.
Over the past forty years Maharishi claims to have established a worldwide organization with more than 1,200 centers in 108 countries with over 4 million people practicing Maharishi Transcendental Meditation, 40,000 teachers of TM and more than 100,000 people who have learned Maharishi's TM-Sidhi Program and are daily practicing 'Yogic Flying,' and the advanced program of Transcendental Meditation. As standard TM practice was supposed to transcend all life problems the advanced practices appear to be somewhat unnecessary. Maharishi has been claiming that if a city or country would pay the annual cost then 7,000 advanced meditators could go there and their combined regular meditation would stop crime and create a heaven on earth. Going by his figures there are already enough TM meditators to have already done the job. If there is a unified field then "wave coherence" obviously is not spatially dependant and there would be no need for meditators to congregate in the same geographical area. There are already a substantial number of meditators gathered in Fairfield, Iowa at the 'Maharishi International University' which was established in 1974. Police records there show a steadily increasing crime rate over the past twenty years. Despite the claims that TM practice reverses ageing in its adepts, there are no recent public photos of Maharishi available even though he is the most videotaped personality in history according to the TM organisation. He is now 80 years old and could be a wonderful advertisement for his meditation if this age reversal claim was true.
The Maharishi has not appeared publicly for about 25 years and few scandalous allegations about him have appeared in public. One of his disaffected disciples, Linda Pearce claimed they had a sexual relationship but there does not appear to have been much overt scandal connected with him. However his public claims over the past 40 years have been megalomanical, sometimes ludicrous and often dishonest or at least deluded. The number of claims of mental damage done by those practising the "advanced" forms of TM seems proportionately higher than most other organisations teaching forms of meditation and the Maharishi has certainly been guilty of being less than open with the public. There would appear to be little need for anyone interested in meditation to become involved with TM especially as the overall cost of all their courses, advanced techniques, refresher courses, teacher training courses, etc can be very extensive. The author of 'Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars' and Deeprak Chopra both had very successful and extensive TM careers before they sailed into popular culture under their own banners. TM may well be the largest organisation dedicated to the teaching of meditation in the West and has a core group of 20,000 dedicated followers and a multi billion dollar capital base. They are also the organisation who has had the largest number of people receive initiation and then either see no need to become involved or leave the organisation, so there seems little need to fear the coercive powers of their initiation teachers or the inherent mind control power of their techniques.
D'Anotonio, Anthony, Heaven on Earth, 1992
Mason, David, ????, 1992
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