The Advantages and Disadvantages of Transcendental Meditation

I’ve been meditating since I was 17 years old. That’s when I was initiated into, or simply taught, the Transcendental Meditation technique popularized by the Maharishi Mehesh Yogi. I am now 50 and have been meditating more than 30 years — although you would never know it from my excitable Irish personality.

It was the early 1970s and TM was everywhere. I was then and remain to this day fascinated by Eastern religion and mysticism although I was then and remain now a devout Catholic. Then, as now, I thought the churches were doing a poor job communicating their own mystical heritage and was impressed by the systematic, step-by-step character of eastern meditation in general and TM in particular.

I went to the introductory meeting and was “sold.” I drove out to a modest house in a suburb and went through the whole initiation ceremony with the bestowal of my secret “mantra.” I must admit, the smell of flowery incense and the chanting (in Sanscrit) to images of the Maharishi’s own teachers made me uneasy… but the teacher, like all TM teachers, was dressed like an accountant and went out of his way to stress that TM was a mental and physical technique that has nothing to do, in essence, with Hinduism.

I’ve always remained grateful to TM for getting me started as a meditator… and was sad when the Maharishi finally died recently. I would still say that the TM technique is as good as any other for a beginning meditator.

For one thing, I like the stress they put on REGULAR daily meditation — twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, for 20 minutes.

The second thing I like, and this is due to TM’s yogic roots, is the stress that TM people put on the physiological nature of meditation — how it is fundamentally “deep rest,” deeper than sleep, that allows your body to release accumulated stress and your mind to literally expand as a result. Perhaps it grew out of the Maharishi’s background in science… but that is an emphasis I’ve never really encountered in my instruction by more esoteric Buddhist meditation teachers, such as the Tibetans.

In many ways, TM is very simple and to the point. The Maharishi deserves a lot of credit for demystifying meditation and making it something very accessible. Sit for 20 minutes. Repeat your mantra. When thoughts intrude, notice then and return to your mantra. If you fall asleep, that’s great. It means you needed a nap!

I was a bit disappointed to find out, years later, that my super-secret mantra — allegedly chosen just for me according to rigorous criteria that made the use of just “any” mantra something horrible — was mechanistically assigned to me according to my age. You can look up lists of TM mantras on the Internet these days and, yes, there was my mantra according to what my age was then.

I still meditate twice a day. More often that not, I still use a mantra — although these days I am just as likely to pray the Jesus Prayer or Maran (Lord) atha (come!) as I am a Sanscrit syllable. And when I fall asleep when meditating, as I sometimes do, I’m delighted. I guess it meant I needed a nap!


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