What is Transcendental Meditation?
Introduced in India in the mid-1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Transcendental Meditation technique is a form of mantra meditation, derived from the Hindu teaching of Advaita Vedanta. The Transcendental Meditation movement today is large and worldwide, consisting of millions of people. As such it is one of the most widely practiced meditative techniques.
The global Transcendental Meditation organisation includes educational programmes, health products and other related services. However, it had a humble beginning in 1955 when Maharishi began publically teaching a traditional mediation technique he has learned from his master, Brahmananda Saraswati. The movement gained momentum as the Maharishi undertook several world tours through the mid-fifties and sixties during which he initiated thousands. He developed the teacher training programme in order to accelerate the rate at which the technique could be brought to people and created a specialist organisation through which lessons could be presented. As the technique became more popular in the sixties and seventies, it was endorsed by celebrities and supported through scientific research and was also incorporated into a number of schools, universities and corporations across India, Europe, Latin America and the U.S.
Techniques and theoretical concepts:
Originally Maharishi teachings were expressed in terms of religion and spiritualism, however this focus shifted to a more scientific presentation later on, coinciding with its rising popularity. Regardless, and even with the addition of advanced meditative techniques and organisational changes, the simple technique has remained relatively unchanged.
The method can be used to bring benefits to the mind and body as a tool for relaxation, stress reduction and self-development. The technique is designed with the intention to detach the self from anxiety in order to promote harmony and self-realisation by meditation and repetition of a mantra resulting in a state of deep rest. It also aims to develop the total brain, that is to say, to increase creativity and intelligence and to improving decision-making and problem-solving abilities. In addition, it has also been reported to bring about numerous physiological changes which improve respiratory volume and heart rate, help to regulate corsitol and other hormones associated with stress, and regulate serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters associated with mood.
As one of the most widely practiced meditative techniques, it also one of the most widely researched, with no less than 340 peer-reviewed studies having been published on the topic. Early studies examined the physiological parameters of the meditation technique. Whereas subsequent research has focused on its clinical application, cognitive effects, impact on mental well-being, as well as its benefits for cardiovascular disease. Research funded by the National Institutes of Health shows that the Transcendental Meditation technique is an effective mind-body practice for reducing stress and stress-related disorders, including hypertension, high cholesterol, stroke and atherosclerosis. While a study published by the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found a reduction in the rate of admission to hospitals for those practicing Transcendental Meditation in nearly all disease categories, including for physical and mental illness and substance abuse. In addition EEG measures also demonstrate an increased orderliness and integration of brain functioning. Moreover, all of these benefits are reported to increase over time.
At its most simple it involves the use of a sound or mantra for 15-20 minutes twice a day whilst sitting with eyes closed. The techniques are, however, taught in full by means of a standardised course by certified teachers. Importantly, the Transcendental Meditation technique is taught through a non-profit educational organisation. The goal of which is “to develop the full potential of the individual, minimise the negative impact of stress, and bring unrestricted and fulfilling progress to all areas of society”.
What does the literature say?
Maharishi’s teaching asserts that there are seven levels of consciousness: waking; dreaming; deep sleep; transcendental consciousness; cosmic consciousness; God consciousness; and, unity consciousness. In the 1963 book, The Science of Being and Art of Living, he asserted that with practice, and over time, the conscious mind is enabled familiarity with the deeper levels of the mind, such that the subconscious mind is brought into the capacity of the conscious mind, resulting in an expanded awareness in daily activity. His lessons also teach that those who practice the technique can experience the ‘source of thought’, that is to say, they can transcend all mental activity reaching a ‘pure awareness’ or ‘the ultimate reality of life’. In this way Maharishi states that it is possible to experience transcendental consciousness through Transcendental Meditation, and, with diligent meditation, potentially enabling an awareness of cosmic consciousness as indicated by an "ever present wakefulness" even during sleep.
The Transcendental Meditation movement has also been described as a cult, a “sect” and a “plastic export Hinduism” in literature and in the mainstream press. Sceptics have also undermined the credibility of the Science of Creative Intelligence, its associated theory, calling it pseudoscience. While it has been commended for its high media visibility and effective global proliferation, it has also criticised for the use of celebrities and scientific endorsement for marketing purposes.
Transcendental Meditation has been described as both a new religious movement rooted in Hinduism, as well as a non-religious practice of self-development. Supporters emphasise that with Transcendental Meditation there is no philosophy or dogma, just a meditation technique. They argue that It should therefore be conceptualised not as a religion, but as a belief system which aims to have a positive effects on the mind, the body and relationships. They draw attention to the way in which participation in programmes does not require specific spiritual belief. Indeed, today it practiced by people of a diversity of religions, in addition to those who identify as atheists and agnostics.