Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Lies of TM 1: The Effortless Lie

Most people generally think of a part of interior methods of self-improvement as a search for, or way to come to a realization of, who we truly are. As Robert Burns opined"

"If only we could see ourselves as others see us."
Alas, few of us have this insight. Meditation is often seen as a way to see ourselves honestly, with the objective lens of truth. A way to uncover our true nature.
But what happens when the meditation teacher or guru lies to us and lies to us about our meditation and then we accept these lies as part of the way we think?

One possible answer: if we accept what we are told without critical examination and simply believe what we were told, we're doomed to repeat the lies we were given as if they were true.

I've found a number of such lies in my own examination of the Transcendental Meditation program and the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. So I'd like to share them with you and explain why they are important and give some lineal, experiential and textual reasons for why uncovering such deceptions is vitally important.

This can be especially helpful if you never even realized you were lied to in the first place.

The first of these "lies" or deceptions about Transcendental Meditation (TM) that I'd like to talk about is the idea of effortlessness. It is often claimed that TM is "effortless" and that this somehow makes it superior to other forms of meditation that are not effortless and often (according to TM Org dogma) involve "straining".

First of all, it's important to understand what effort and effortlessness mean within the context of traditional meditation. At the end of any path, the goal of meditation, meditating on some thing (a mantra, the breath, etc.) is accomplished and after that point one just merely has the intention to go into meditative absorption (or samādhi) and one can effortlessly enter that state: 1) when one desires to do so and 2) for as long as one wishes to. Before this point is attained one will need "props" or "supports" (Skt.: ālambana), as the sage Patanjali calls them, to dualistically interact with in order to fabricate briefer, earlier levels of meditative attention.

Until one reaches the point of being able to enter samādhi at will and for whatever duration, one has not reached the point of meditation being effortless. In fact, if one is still relying on some technique or method (like TM) one is not at the level of true effortlessness. Actually the Sanskrit word Patanjali uses for meditation technique, prayatna, means "with effort"!

So the claim that Transcendental Meditation is somehow superior to other forms of meditation because it is effortless is a lie. And a prominent one at that. The TM Org has consistently used this lie to imply that it's form of meditation is superior to all other forms of meditation out there. The honest truth is, TM is dualistic form of meditation, not a nondual form of meditation and therefore it must rely on some sort of prop, all of which require some modicum of effort.

Mastering meditation means mastering the fine art of balancing ones attention. If meditation, esp. in the early stages becomes too lax, one simply falls asleep, a common defect in TM. The Buddha described this as like tuning a lute: you don't want the strings too tight or they'll break, nor do you want them too loose. You want them "just right". When a culture of faux-effortlessness becomes your dogma, there's always the danger (and I've seen this in many TMers) one will try to cultivate 'effortlessness' and fall into being too lax.

Both Hindu and Buddhist meditation masters warn on the dangers of loosing the correct balance and simply becoming lazy. If one is trained to fear balancing one's attention (or the fear becomes institutionalized), there's even more of a danger of falling into laxity. Yogis (real yogis that is) describe this laxity as distinct from lethargy. Laxity is actually considered an obscuration to realization of the goals of meditation. And actually subtle laxity is considered the worst kind of slackness. One knows one is falling into subtle laxity when you have uncultivated pauses in the breath, a known (and believe it or not actually heralded) effect during Transcendental Meditation. What yogic wisdom tells us is this type of obscuration guarantees we will be unable to truly obtain a formless (and thus truly effortless) absorption.


  1. I always wondered about the obsession hard-core TM people had with "effortlessness". It seems to me they don't really understand much ABOUT meditation! Even the teachers don't seem to know much about it; they only seem to parrot what they were told.

    It always made me wonder.

    Anyhoo Great Explanation of why this is!!!

  2. An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

    Karim - Positive thinking

  3. Hello,
    Thank you for a wonderful post.
    I do have a question.
    I see that TMO is really making a big push now to get TM into schools. What can we do to stop them and help school systems and local governments aware of what the TMO agendas are?
    Thank you.