On Transcendental Meditation I: Nature Support
The Transcendental Meditation (TM) Movement was founded in 1957 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Its members practice a meditation technique that originated in ancient India, which they believe improves the health of body and mind, and the quality of one’s relationships and professional life. They also believe that when communities practice TM, it has benefits for society, including lower crime rates.
I have not picked this topic at random. I have personal experiences with TM and the movement and I have no doubt that I would be seen as an apostate by its leaders. I will not be telling my story, at least not in the foreseeable future. This will be an ongoing series in which I will critique TM and the main claims on which it is founded.
First, I want to be clear on whom I’m criticising. Most Transcendental Meditators practice their technique twice a day and then get on with their lives like the rest of us. They find that it relaxes them, makes them feel good mentally and physically, and believe that they are better equipped to face life each day as a result of the personal experience their meditation gives them. Some of them attribute this to supernatural causes while others believe its effects are purely natural. Either way, I have no grief with these people. They are free to believe what they like and practise meditation if they so desire. But it is my considered contention that they have been deceived, and it is those who have committed this deception that I intend to scrutinize. The target of my criticism is the Maharishi himself, and those who have climbed to the higher echelons of the TM Movement.
In this opening article of the series, I will address the concept of Nature Support. This is a key tenet of the TM Movement’s power, as it is the foundation upon which many of its boasted benefits are built. The practice of TM, we are told, aligns us with Natural Law, thus making our lives run more smoothly. I have taken Chapter 6: Life Supported by Natural Law from Robert Roth’s book TM to examine this claim.
One day everything is a strain. You feel worried and tense and out of-step with the day. You just miss an important phone call, hit all the red lights when you’re rushing for an appointment, and can’t find a parking place anywhere.
Another day you feel quite good. Everything seems to go right and click into place. You find the perfect parking place, reach the right person on the phone, and come up with a workable solution to a problem at the office. The day seems to go effortlessly and you wonder why every day can’t go at least as smoothly.
It can — through “support of natural law.”
This claim cannot actually be supported. What TM really does, is make you think things are going better, by causing you to view them differently. The first part of this quote is quite right. We have days where everything seems to go wrong, and days when everything seems to go right. Most days are somewhere in between. The belief that Nature Support through TM is aiding your life is not supported by any statistical data. TM adherents don’t drive around amazingly reaching every traffic light as it turns green. They have good days, bad days and, mostly, average days like the rest of us.
The belief that they are being aided by Nature Support is built on a form of selective thinking called Confirmation Bias. All this means is that every time something goes right for a TM adherent, they notice it, attribute it to Nature Support and remember it as evidence, and yet another example of the wonderful power of TM. Whenever something goes wrong, they do one of two things (bear in mind that the decision is not taken consciously). Option one, is to simply forget it, without ever really thinking about it and wandering why Nature Support failed them. Sometimes though, something really bad happens which can’t just be swept under the carpet and forgotten. This is where Option two comes in. I wrote in my article Everything Happens for a Reason that no matter how bad an event or situation is, people will always perceive some possible way in which it could have been worse. For example, as tragic as the 9/11 Terrorist attacks were, more people would certainly have died had Flight 93 actually reached its intended target, whatever that may have been. Option two, is to find something, anything, that can be regarded as somehow positive in whatever disaster has happened, no matter how small or insignificant it may be in context with the misfortune that has befallen them, and attribute that small mercy to Nature Support.
For example, after a house flood caused by a burst pipe, they may see Nature Support as the reason that nothing of great value was destroyed, or that they had just taken out a new insurance policy the day before. Because we don’t tend to look for evidence that doesn’t support our beliefs, they won’t ask why, with all their meditation and Nature Support, they had a burst pipe and a flood in the first place.
There are many similarities between prayer and Nature Support. When people pray for a loved one to be healed and they go on to make a full recovery, they praise God for answering them. If their loved one just deteriorates and dies, they do not criticise God for not answering their prayers. They try to excuse him with weak rationalisations, like moving in mysterious ways and acting with wisdom for the greater good or a higher purpose. The same can be said for Nature Support. Whenever something good happens, all the credit goes to Nature Support, but when something goes wrong, it gets none of the blame. The only difference is that while prayer is an appeal to a supernatural being, TM is an appeal to a supernatural force.
Although Roth refers to ‘Natural’ Law, what he presents is anything but natural. His case is made through a complete distortion of what a law, in the scientific sense, actually means.
Throw a tennis ball up in the air and it falls to the earth: gravity, a law of nature.
Heat water to 212°F and it boils: a law of nature.
Water a plant, give it proper food and sunlight and it grows: laws of nature.
There are, for example, countless laws of nature that govern the functioning of your body. If you align yourself with those laws — eat the right foods, exercise properly, get enough rest, etc. — your body maintains its health.
Violate those laws and you fall sick and suffer.
Roth lists and refers to actual scientific laws, and then tries to associate this idea with healthy living. The comparison does not work. Scientific laws are ‘universal and invariable facts of the physical world’. What this means is that, by definition, they can’t be violated – otherwise they wouldn’t be laws! This is why the laws of gravity and thermodynamics can’t be violated. They are not there for us to ‘align’ with. If you violate a law, you disprove that law and therefore show that it never actually was a law at all.
It is quite right to say that if you eat healthy food and exercise regularly you will be healthy, and if you eat junk food and don’t exercise you will not be healthy, but this has nothing to do with the maintenance or violation of any laws. All scientific laws are being followed to the letter.
Like a strong current in a river, natural law propels life in an evolutionary direction. It is the invincible force in nature from the level of the unified field that continually creates, maintains, and evolves life.
This quote is an example of something that features heavily in nearly all TM literature – meaningless pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo. It is a perfect candidate for my question how do you know that?. The mention of evolution is there simply to add to the mood of scientific importance. There is no such thing as an ‘evolutionary direction’. Natural selection is the force that drives evolution, which is very different from Natural Law. There is no need to posit anything as vague and supernatural as Natural Law when explaining the origin, maintenance or evolution of life.
The sad thing about a persistent belief in Nature Support, as with a belief in God, is that it involves the payment of credit to a source that is not only undeserving, but that probably does not exist.
It may well be the case that after practicing TM a person feels more relaxed and invigorated than they may otherwise have done, simply through natural processes. It is perfectly plausible and acceptable, and in fact evidentially supported, that closing your eyes for twenty minutes and sitting quietly would achieve this, without the need for mantras, inductive Hindu ceremonies and an exorbitant fee. But for TM adherents to credit this practice for everything good that happens to them is nothing short of a miscarriage of justice. Every time a TM adherent lands the big business deal, gets the girl or wins the race, they do it with varying degrees of the same components used by the rest of us: hard work and randomly distributed good fortune. They should keep the credit for themselves.
Other Posts in this Series: