Wikileaks Threat from TMO
Transcendental Meditation in schools, the David Lynch program
November 1, 4:36 PM Boston Underground Examiner Douglas Mesner
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:
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.” (http://www.au.org/media/church-and-state/archives/2009/06/levitating-over-the.html)
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 the individual 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 in Washington, 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 - without reducing their curriculum to supernatural philosophies that cross the church-state line.
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,