cult recovery 101



by David J. Bardin,
Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn
Washington Counsel for American Family Foundation (AFF) and Cult Awareness Network (CAN)

He’s really not so transcendental

A true master of mental manipulation has targeted Washington, D.C. He
calls himself Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. His devotees adore him, simply, as
“Maharishi.” He sells Transcendental Meditation, with a capital “M.”
It differs from many kinds of small “m” meditation. So better examine
it carefully before you buy.
His trademarked product, TM(tm), has reputedly made him a billionaire.
He lives reclusively on a luxury estate in Holland, far from the tax
collectors of his former headquarters, in India, Switzerland and the
U.S.A. But Maharishi’s agents are again in Washington, D.C., hunting
for government funds to propagate TM and donations from unwary individu-

Public funding by the District of Columbia, the federal government or a
state would be unlawful because TM is a religion — not the science it
pretends to be. Donations would be unwise because TM can harm people in
the large doses Maharishi promotes though it carries no warning labels.

TM is a religion

Federal courts ruled years ago that Maharishi’s TM is a religion.
_Malnak_v._Yogi_, 440 F.Supp. 1284 (1977), _affirmed_, 592 F.2d 197 (3rd
Cir. 1979). Government funding to propagate TM is therefore unconstitu-
During the Carter Administration the Department of Health, Education &
Welfare (HEW) and the New Jersey Department of Education funded an “ex-
periment” to teach TM and its “Science of Creative Intelligence”
(TM/SCI) as an elective in five public high schools. Teachers
specially-trained by TM taught students four or five days a week. If it
“worked” the course would be taught state-wide.

Several parents, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, Inc. (a Christian
group based in Berkeley, California) and Americans United for Separation
of Church and State asked the U.S. District Court for New Jersey to
enjoin this experiment. These plaintiffs argued that TM was a religion
and that the teaching of TM in public schools and the government funding
were both an “Establishment of Religion” in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. TM representatives argued that TM is a
secular science, not a religion.

Federal Judge J. Curtis Meanor ruled that TM is a religion. He enjoined
HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano, Jr., N.J. Commissioner Fred G. Burke,
school officials and TM’s umbrella organization itself from using public
funds to propagate TM. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadel-
phia unanimously affirmed. Judge Meanor’s injunction is still in effect

These judges looked to the religious nature of Maharishi’s SCI textbook,
which was being taught, and the religious nature of his _puja_ initia-
tion ceremony which TMers must go through individually to receive their
secret meditation mantra. Without that mantra it is impossible to prac-
tice TM.

At the compulsory _puja_ ceremony, held outside the school building,
each student brought some fruit, flowers and a clean white handkerchief
which were taken and laid on a table in a closed room. The student’s
teacher would bow and make offerings many times to an 8″ by 12″ color
photograph of Guru Dev, said to be Maharishi’s teacher, who had died in
the 1950s. Each student’s teacher also sang a chant in Sanksrit and the
student received “his own personal mantra which is never to be revealed
to any other person.” 592 F.2d at 198.
TM witnesses swore that the chant was a purely secular expression of
gratitude to teachers. However, Judge Meanor read an English transla-
tion _prepared_by_TM_ and found not one word of thanks in it. Rather,
the chant describes a deified Guru Dev as “the Lord” and “Him” (with a
capital aitch), among a slew of divine epithets quoted by Judge Meanor.
For example:
The Unbounded, like the endless canopy of the sky, the omnipresent
in all creation, . . . to Him, to Shri Guru Dev, I bow down.
. . . .
the Eternal, the Pure, the Immovable, . . . to Shri Guru Dev,
I bow down.
Nonetheless, a Catholic priest, Protestant minister and Jewish rabbi,
who practiced TM, testified that TM and the _puja_ chant had no reli-
gious meaning — even after they had read TM’s English translation.
For example, Rabbi Harry Essrig of Los Angeles practiced TM, recommended
it to his congregants, called it “primarily a scientific technique,”
studied Maharishi’s SCI and somehow found no conflict between his own
religion and either the translated text or the accompanying ceremony.
In sharp contrast, Rabbi Seymour Siegel, Professor of Theology at the
Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, swore that in “the cul-
tural setting of the United States and in the tradition of both Hebrew
and Christian theology” such terms are “descriptive exclusively of a
Supreme Being or God.”
Researchers will find that the District Court opinion in _Malnak_v._
_Yogi_ extensively excerpts Maharishi’s “scientific” SCI textbook and
reprints the full text of his _puja_ ceremony chant.

TM is not a science

TM’s “scientific” claims as a branch of physics are spurious. Physicist
Heinz R. Pagels, Ph.D., Executive Director of The New York Academy of
Sciences prepared an affidavit on behalf of ex-TMer Robert Kropinski in
1986 for a court case here in Washington, D.C. Pagels wrote as a “theo-
retical physicist specializing in the area of quantum field theory”:
My summary opinion . . . is that the views expressed in the liter-
ature issued by [TM] that purport to find a connection between the
recent ideas of theoretical physics — unified field theory, the
vacuum state and collective phenomena — and states of conscious-
ness attained by transcendental meditation are false and pro-
foundly misleading. No qualified physicist that I know would
claim to find such a connection without knowingly committing

TM hurts people

Maharishi’s lieutenants speak of promoting 20-minute doses of relax-
ation. How could that really hurt you (even if how-to lessons and “your
own” secret mantra were overpriced at $600)?
They don’t tell you about the advanced (_Sidhi_) courses (priced at over
$2,000) that Maharishi began to sell in the late 1970s. Advanced TMers
meditate for _hours_ at a time. That can stimulate delusions and hallu-

TM insists it can teach you to levitate and fly. (“Yogic flying” les-
sons may cost $3,000.) TMers don’t really fly. They hop, from a cross-
legged yoga position. They develop awesomely powerful thigh muscles.
They may develop aches. After hop, hop, hopping across a room, TMers
coming out of their altered mental state may believe that they flew even
though it never happened. Major TV programs have shown how “flying”
TMers really hop. You can borrow a video tape to see for yourself.
The Washington City Paper reported (July 13, 1990, p. 14) that former TM
teacher and yogic flyer Diane Hendel:
. . . “saw little creatures with wings” during intensive medita-
tion periods. . . . They were like my pets. They’d tell me
things.” Hendel was encouraged to believe that these winged beas-
ties were “devas” — Hindu spirits of nature. “I began not to be
able to tell who was a person and who was a deva,” she said. Hen-
del sought counseling, eventually quit meditating, and left the

Intensive meditation can make TMers seem lifeless or flat, their per-
sonalities crushed and buried, devoid of emotion. In some cases, the
meditator may go into involuntary meditation — which could be devastat-
ing if driving a car or at many kinds of jobs. Stanford psychologist
Leon S. Otis (who believed many people could benefit from the 20-minute
relaxation) concluded that his data raise serious doubts about the innocuous nature of TM.

In fact, they suggest that TM may be hazardous to the mental
health of a sizable proportion of the people who take up TM.
“Adverse Effects of Transcendental Meditation,” _Update:__A_Quarterly_
_Journal_of_New_Religious_Movements_, 9, 37-50 (1985).
Maharishi has even taught devotees that a TMer is healthfully “unstre-
ssing” when symptoms of distress accompany his meditation. Ex-TMers
have sued TM, alleging severe harms. TM has generally settled out of
court, including cases in Washington, D.C.

TM’s failure to communicate “warning labels”

Dr. Otis urged TM to “publicly recognize that problems may be engendered
by meditation and so instruct potential initiates as well as to provide
guidelines to both the general public and the psychotherapeutic profes-
sion for their amelioration.” An ethical guru would prepare for harmful
side effects, and would immediately instruct sufferers to ease off on
their meditation. Instead of “warning labels” about harmful side
effects, however, Maharishi taught his aides to welcome adverse symptoms
as evidence of “unstressing” — and to encourage even more intensive

Debunking the “Maharishi effects”

It is intensive, prolonged meditating that TM promotes and for which it
claims all kinds of marvelous “Maharishi effects” when it is performed
by masses of meditators. It is hard to keep up with TM’s claims for
mass meditation. TM’s “intellectual” center at Fairfield, Iowa, called
“Maharishi International University” (MIU) churns them out.
* TMers claimed they influenced the weather at MIU while concrete was
poured for buildings (the “Domes”) in which hundreds could meditate.
A dispassionate study showed that the concrete contractor checked the
National Weather Forecast each time before deciding to make a deliv-
ery the next day and that the meditators sought warm weather only
later in the day, after the forecast on which the contractor relied
was already made. Trumpy, “An Investigation of the Reported Effect
of Transcendental Meditation on the Weather,” _The_Skeptical_Inquir-
er_, VIII, 143 (Winter 1983/84).
* TMers claimed that if 1% of a city’s population meditate regularly
the crime rate would go down. In Fairfield, Iowa, 13% of the popula-
tion meditates, yet crime has not gone down. Randi, _Flim-Flam_,
cited in _Rational_Enquirer_, newsletter of the BC Skeptics (Van-
couver April 1989).
* TMers claimed that meditators massed in Jerusalem in 1983 brought
about social benefits including “a solution to conflicts in the
region that were impossible of solution until now.” Mordecai Kaff-
man, Director of the Research Department of the Kibbutz Child and
Family Clinic, dismissed TM methods as unscientific and TM “claims of
positive results in the Israeli context” as unconvincing; he branded
TM’s theory of “unified field” as incredible. “The Use of Transcen-
dental Meditation to Promote Social Progress in Israel,” _Cultic_Stu-
dies_Journal_, 3:1 (1986).

TM is a tyrannical sell-out of the New Age

Pulitzer prize winner Michael D’Antonio recently surveyed the status and
varieties of the “New Age” movement in America. He discusses TM in
chapter 6 of _Heaven_on_Earth_-_Dispatches_from_America’s_Spiritual_
_Frontier_ (Crown, 1992). As a friend of the New Age, who wanted to
find something positive in TM, D’Antonio concludes:
I would have welcomed the discovery of a middle way, a path to
spirituality that was consistent with reason. But TM, as it is
practiced at MIU, isn’t a middle ground.
For the first time in my travels through New Age America, I
worried that I was observing a cult rather than a culture. . . .
MIU and the Maharishi would take control of everything — right
down to matters of food, shelter, and child-rearing — for the
most devout.

TMers, D’Antonio sadly concludes,
. . . have accepted rigid, authoritarian control in exchange for
security. Far from being a place where individuals grow and inno-
vate, the Fairfield TM community is regimented and constricted. .
. . All conflict, doubt, perhaps even all genuine emotion, is
stifled and covered over with a pleasant veneer.


The Department of Education recently published the student-loan
default rates for all universities and other participating insti-
tutions in the country. MIU was listed as a 5-year private insti-
tution with 175 student loan borrowers in 1992, of whom 12.9% were
in default (the highest default rate of any 4 or 5 year college or
university in Iowa). As a taxpayer, you are already subsidizing
MIU. Think twice before giving TM any more.

Copyright (c) 1994 David J. Bardin.

Permission to copy with attribution is hereby granted.