In our first post on the Great Meditation Debate we briefly introduced yogic and Zen meditation styles and mentioned TM and Kabbalistic meditation as well. We’ll get to Kabbalistic meditation shortly but want to continue with one of the most popular meditative techniques, TM.
In America, where passions run high when discussing religion (both pro and con passions), there is still debate about whether or not Zen, yoga, TM (Transcendental Meditation), and other types of meditation are religious. The vast majority of American practitioners and teachers of these meditation techniques say not.
However when we spoke with with a formerly Hindu acquaintance, Josthna from Kerala, India, she fervently disagreed. She told us that both yoga meditation and TM are unequivocally religious practices. This was news to us — we didn’t realize TM had any formal religious roots — but according to a Wikipedia entry, indeed it does and has even been called a religion–and a cult–by the courts.
Josthna says yoga and TM aren’t marketed as religious, but spiritual, by what we’ll call the “Yoga industry” and the “TM industry.” She says that’s because the word “religion” makes Westerners nervous and that the original gurus saw the tide turning against religion in the 1960s so “repackaged” these practices!
She also told us that traditional monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are incompatible with Hindu or Buddhist-based practices as Hinduism is polytheistic and Buddhism is atheistic/theistic/polytheistic/animist (depending primarily on the locale in which it is practiced). She points out that the founder of TM, the Maharishi himself said that his brand of meditation was created by “gods” (it’s worth taking a second look at this Wikipedia article–bearing in mind that Wikis can be inaccurate). She goes on to say that TM has always been controversial and plagued by accusations of corruption, brainwashing, and cultism, even as far back as the 1950s. (She has a point– the Beatles, except for George, fired Maharishi because they felt he was way too into money and fame).
There are those who offer proof that yes indeed, TM is religious—and that it has drawbacks few are aware of. This web site is a compendium of “against TM sites” that a former TM practitioner connected us to. Others argue that whether or not TM is a religious practice is irrelevant—they believe it doesn’t help people and actually can hurt them (here an LMSW has a lot to say about what is wrong with TM).
Yet others argue that TM does help people—and some say it is practically a panacea. The David Lynch Foundation (created by the famous filmmaker), even provides TM scholarships to children (and the disadvantaged), in order to help them cope with a stressful world. Lynch believes TM is the answer to many problems plaguing people today. He’s not alone.
Important authorities including the National Institute of Health and the American Psychological Association, which did a ten year study of 34 TM practitioners, have cited several benefits. (But as we dug deeper we found that there are questions about who funded the study). The only thing you can say about the debate with any certainty is that no one appears to be lukewarm about TM!
It appears that Zen, yoga, TM, and other popular meditative techniques do have religious cores, though many say that the actual religious aspects of them are, after a few decades in the West, extremely diluted. But what about Kabbalastic meditation?
An honest answer–coming soon.