Next time you hear about some arch-defender of the a-constitutional “wall” of separation between church and state whose knickers are in a twist because a school allows ten seconds of silence during which students may pray, remember this story:
NBC News reported that for four years, four San Francisco middle schools have been using the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education’s Quiet Time program which teaches Transcendental Meditation (TM) to 11-14-year-olds. Students spend 15 minutes twice a day meditating, with at least one school even extending the school day to accommodate TM.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, disciple of Guru Dev (aka Swami Brahmananda Saraswati), repackaged Hinduism in a form more acceptable to Western minds and brought it to American hippies in the 1960s and 1970s. Disciples of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi publicly and deceitfully claim that TM is solely a scientific method of relieving stress, conveniently omitting any mention of the religious dimensions of the program and practice.
Decades ago when I became a TMer and my husband a TM teacher, mantras—the word repeated soundlessly during meditation—were assigned during an “initiation” ceremony called a puja. Initiates were asked to bring a piece of fruit, a new handkerchief, and flowers to the ceremony which was conducted in a darkened, incense-infused room in front of a de facto altar. The TM teacher would them begin the ceremony which was conducted in Sanskrit, which meant the initiate had no idea what was being spoken. After becoming a TM teacher, my husband learned the Sanskrit words spoken during the ceremony:
To LORD NARAYANA, to lotus-born BRAHMA the Creator to…GOVINDA, ruler among the yogis…to SHANKARACHARYA the redeemer, hailed as KRISHNA and BADARAYANA, to the commentator of the BRAHMA SUTRAS I bow down. To the glory of the LORD I bow down again and again, at whose door the whole galaxy of gods pray for perfection day and night…GURU [Dev] in the glory of BRAHMA, GURU in the glory of the great LORD SHIVA, GURU in the glory of the personified transcendental fullness of BRAHMAN, to Him, to SHRI GURU DEV adorned with glory, I bow down…with Brahman ever dwelling in the lotus of my heart…to That [Brahman], in the form of Guru Dev, I bow down.
At various points during the ceremony, the teacher would pause and ask the initiate for one of the gifts they were asked to bring which the teacher would then place on the altar. At the end of the ceremony, initiates were given their mantras, which, as it turns out, are the names of Hindu gods.
Initiates were ordered not to tell their secret mantras to anyone. Eveventually I learned that mantras were assigned according to the initiate’s age. Mine was “aing” which is a mantra intended to honor the Hindu goddess of Saraswati.
Administrators in the four California middle schools, which are located in violence-prone communities, claim that all sorts of positive effects have resulted since students began meditating, obviously suggesting that TM is the cause of such effects. These claims raise important questions:
- Is TM the cause of these positive effects, or is it simply being quiet for 15 minutes twice a day that accounts for the reduction in student misbehavior?
- Would resting or napping for 15 minutes twice a day have the same effects?
- If it is legal and appropriate for public schools to promote and teach Hindu meditative/prayer practices, is it legal and appropriate for schools to promote and teach Muslim prayer practices, Kabbalistic meditative practices, and Christian prayer practices?
- If the possibility of a reduction of problematic behaviors justifies the formal implementation of Hindu religious practice in public schools, will public schools permit the implementation of other religious practices in order to determine their efficacy in positively affecting school climate?
For years, the TM organization has been plagued by criticism for deception like its failure to acknowledge its religious nature or promises of superpowers (siddhis) like Yogic flying. Over 35 years ago, Maharishi told his disciples that by attending longer residential courses during which attendees would meditate for extended periods of time and receive additional magic words (i.e., sutras), they would start levitating and shortly thereafter flying. Of course, the TM organization profited from these longer courses.
Well, here we are decades later and to my knowledge, no TMer is flying. You can find amusing videos online of TMers still “hopping.” Well, you can find videos of hale and hearty men “hopping” whilst huffing and puffing. I’ve yet to see a video of an elderly woman “hopping.”
There are also criticisms of the studies the TM organization touts regarding its efficacy as well as more serious concerns about potential risks to mental health. For more information about TM from a former meditator, click HERE.
In the interest of parental rights, I hope the administrators in these California middle schools will reveal to every parent the criticisms of Transcendental Meditation leveled by many.
In the interest of intellectual consistency, I hope those virulent opponents of 10 seconds of silence in public schools during which students may pray (but are not taught prayer practices) will direct their virulence to schools that teach repackaged Hinduism to students.
And in the interest of fiscal transparency and accountability, I hope some public watch dogs will find out how much local, state, and/or federal money is lining the pockets of the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.