Shocking headlines out of Fairfield last week centered on an incident in which Usama Alshaibi, an Arab-American filmmaker, alleges he was repeatedly kicked and beaten and called racial slurs by a group of men at a house party in his neighborhood
IF THE CLAIMS of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi prove true, those who follow him soon will be blessed with eternal youth, “perfect health,” and the “strength of an elephant.” They will be able to “walk through walls,” make themselves “invisible,” and “fly through the air” without the benefit of machines.
In addition, there will be no more war or crime. Automobile accidents will be a thing of the past, and even the weather will have to obey their collective consciousness.
Such are the widely promoted claims of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement and Maharishi Ayur-Veda, some of which were presented by authors Deepak Chopra, MD, Hari M. Sharma, MD, FRCPC, and Brihaspati Dev Triguna, in their “Letter From New Delhi” (“Maharishi Ayur-Veda: Modern Insights Into Ancient Medicine,” JAMA.1991;265:2633-2637).
According to a number of experts on religious cults, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Hindu swami from India, began his rise to fame and great fortune in the 1960s when the Beatles rock group briefly joined his following of worshipers. Today, he leads many thousands of devoted followers who are dedicated to bringing about his widely publicized “Master Plan to Create Heaven on Earth. “Many of these disciples are prominent in science, medicine, education, sports, entertainment, and the news media. According to Indian newspaper reports, his master plan has created an empire for the guru conservatively estimated to be worth more than $2 billion. But according to representatives of the TM movement, the Maharishi’s plan to turn earth into heaven is not just wishful thinking; they say they have more than 500 scientific studies to prove they can do it.
Among them now is the “Letter From New Delhi,” which is being pointed to throughout the TM movement as a sign that the Maharishi’s plan is gaining scientific respectability. However, among many authorities on quackery and long-time watchers of this movement, the article in JAMA has brought anger and dismay. (Please see Letters, pages 1769 through 1774.) They say that Maharishi Ayur-Veda is not traditional Indian medicine, but the latest of the Maharishi’s schemes to boost the declining numbers of people taking TM courses, through which the movement recruits new members. This June, members of the TM community in Fairfield, Iowa, were called to a special assembly at one of the Maharishi International University’s “Golden Domes of Pure Knowledge” to celebrate the news of JAMA’s publication of “Letter From New Delhi.” The same month, The Fairfield (Iowa) Source, a monthly newspaper that is run by members of the movement, reported that the “Letter From New Delhi” was “the lead article in JAMA.”(The newspaper has since published a correction identifying it as the first article in the issue rather than the lead scientific article–a subtle but important difference.)
Failure to Disclose Connections
What the newspaper didn’t report was what editors of THE JOURNAL learned shortly after the article was published: The authors are involved in organizations that promote and sell the products and services about which they wrote. Despite this, they submitted a signed financial disclosure form with their manuscript indicating that they had no such affiliations. The statement, which all authors of articles accepted by JAMA must sign before publication, says: “I certify that any affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with a direct financial interest in the subject matter or materials discussed in the manuscript (eg, employment, consultancies, stock ownership, honoraria, expert testimony) are listed below. Otherwise, my signature indicates that I have no such financial interest. “The authors of the “Letter from New Delhi” listed no involvements or affiliations. Upon learning otherwise, THE JOURNAL immediately requested a full accounting from the authors, which was published as a financial disclosure correction (JAMA.1991;266:798). Although the confusing list apparently holds the record in terms of length for corrections published in THE JOURNAL, it still is incomplete. In addition to being the medical director of TM’s premiere health facility, the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center for Stress Management and Behavioral Medicine, in Lancaster, Mass, and a former consultant and board member for Maharishi Ayur-Veda Products International (MAPI) Inc, also in Lancaster (the sole distributor of Maharishi Ayur-Veda TM products, an extensive line of herbs, teas, oils, food supplements, incense, and devices said to prevent or treat disease and reverse aging), Chopra performs many of the unproven and expensive Maharishi Ayur-Veda services throughout the country. Indeed, he claims to have treated more than 10 000 patients with these remedies between 1985 and 1990 (Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide.New York, NY: Harmony Books; 1990:6).
Ran Marketing Company
Chopra has yet to inform JAMA that he was the president, treasurer, and clerk of MAPI until sometimes in 1988. Nor did he tell THE JOURNAL that he had been the sole stockholder of the marketing company until May 1987, when he transferred the stock to a trust he set up, called the Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation. Until sometime in 1988, he served as chairman of the foundation’s board of directors (the two other board members were Parkash Shrivastava, of New Delhi, India, a nephew of the Maharishi, and Neil Paterson, TM’s Governor General of the Age of Enlightenment for North America).
When the authors submitted their article, Chopra and Sharma were both consultants to MAPI. During a taped telephone interview on June 17, Chopra acknowledged being a consultant to MAPI; however, in a letter faxed on June 20, he claimed he no longer had any connection to MAPI or other organizations related to the marketing company.
Yet, MAPI has the same telephone number and address as the Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation and the American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (AAAM), of which Chopra is president. MAPI and AAAM letterheads have identical logos–a vessel of Maharishi Amrit Kalash, the herbs touted by the authors in their JAMA article. Chopra was president of another entity that uses the same telephone number and address, the Maharishi Ayur-Veda sometimes Ayurveda Association of American (MAAA). Dean Draznin, director of public relations for the Ayur-Veda News Service, would not say whether Chopra is still president of MAAA, nor would he explain the difference between AAAM and MAAA.
Despite claims to the contrary, Chopra is still connected to MAPI and the Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation. Chopra lectures widely and teaches the Maharishi’s techniques for the foundation, which owns the marketing company.
The fee to attend one of Chopra’s 1-day seminars on “Quantum Healing” is usually $100.Attendees usually are instructed to make checks payable to the Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation. Chopra recently boasted in an interview in The Fairfield Source: “It’s mind-boggling. In San Francisco, I did a seminar that 3000 people attended. I had to get one of the civic centers. The average audience now is anywhere from 500 to 1000…. I’m booked right through 1992 for lectures.”
Chopra also gives instructions in two special “health” techniques, which patients must pay $700 apiece to learn. In the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Psychophysiological Technique, Chopra instructs patients to concentrate on the heart while meditating. For the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Primordial Sound Technique, he provides patients with a health mantra to repeat during meditation. For each technique, he provides patients with a private consultation of less than 20 minutes following a general lecture. At one TM gathering in Washington, DC, in June 1989, Chopra raised more than $25,000 just teaching the Primordial Sound Technique.
In an undated letter sent to “Friends of Maharishi Ayurveda,” Chopra, who identified himself as president of the marketing company, called the concoction of more than 20 herbs, which costs about $95 for a 1-month supply, “pure knowledge pressed into material form. “He wrote, “Maharishi Amrit Kalash forges the link between mind and body at the critical junction points everywhere in the physiology. “While admitting that research on its health benefits is just beginning, Chopra emphasized the need for everyone to take the cure-all/prevent-all. “It should be placed in every home as quickly as possible,” he urged.
Chopra explains that he did not think he needed to inform JAMA of his connections to the marketing organizations or of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he raises through these activities because he doesn’t keep any of it; the funds go to help promote Maharishi Ayur-Veda, he says. But Chopra’s dedication to the Maharishi’s world plan has not gone unrewarded. In 1989, the guru invested Chopra with the title “Dhanvantari Lord of Immortality of Heaven on Earth.”
Selling Herbs and Pulse Readings
In addition to being a consultant to Maharishi Ayur-Veda in Prathisthan, India, coauthor Triguna was and/or is director of the World Center for Maharishi AyurVeda in Maharishi Nagar, India, and vice chancellor of Maharishi Vedic University in Vlodrop, The Netherlands — all of which are involved in the promotion of the Maharishi’s “master plan” for the world. Triguna has appeared at TM gatherings here and abroad, where he performed thousands of “pulse diagnoses.” Patients in the United States are usually charged $200 for the approximately 3-minute health consultation, which requires translation since he speaks very little English.
The authors claimed in their JAMA article that this procedure (which critics such as William Jarvis, PhD, president of the National Council Against Health Fraud, Loma Linda, Calif, describe as a variation of palm reading) can diagnose diseases not limited to the cardiovascular system, including asthma, cancer, and diabetes. (When asked if he would agree to a test of these claims made in JAMA using a blinded protocol, Chopra declined on the grounds that a blinded experiment would “eliminate the most crucial component of the experiment, which is consciousness.”) Many of these “diagnoses” are followed by a prescription for herbal remedies available through Triguna’s pharmacy in India.
Triguna is described in Maharishi Ayur-Veda promotional materials as a “doctor.” However, when asked whether Triguna has any medical or graduate degree from an accredited institution, Chopra said that the question represents “ethnocentrism, prejudice, bigotry, and racism carried to the extreme. “He suggested that “the degree you put after his name is ‘Ayur-Veda Martand,’ the Indian acknowledgment of illustrious fame and achievement in his profession. “MAPI has honored Triguna by placing the likeness of his head, surrounded by a glowing halo or aura, on the label of Maharishi Amrit Kalash.
In the financial disclosure to many Sharma reports his connections to many of the Maharishi’s promotional organizations, including two of the Maharishi’s many “universities” that are not accredited by any recognized authorities. (Only the Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, is so accredited.)
The disclosure lists the Lancaster Foundation Inc (in North Bethesda, Md, not Washington, DC, as Sharma stated) and the Abramson Family Foundation, North Bethesda, among the sources of Sharma’s research funding. However, it does not make clear that the Lancaster Foundation is run by members of the TM community and that the foundation supports and promotes research only on Maharishi Ayur-Veda products and services. The Abramson Family Foundation has the same address and telephone number as the Lancaster Foundation.
Serious About Financial Disclosure
The authors misrepresented Maharishi Ayur-Veda to JAMA as Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient, traditional health care system of India, rather than a trademark for a brand of products and services marketed since 1985 by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s complex network of research, educational, and commercial organizations.
JAMA is serious about its policy regarding authors’ disclosures of potential conflicts of interest, says George D. Lundberg, MD, editor of THE JOURNAL, who adds: “Even if the financial association between the author and organizations that may profit by his or her article is remote, we need to know about it. The associations between Chopra, Sharma, and Triguna and the promoters of the products and services they wrote about may well have affected our decision to publish their article had we known about them. At the very least, the reader should have been informed of the author’s involvement with those who profit from Maharishi Ayur-Veda.”
Lundberg says that “JAMA has long had an interest in publishing responsible articles on traditional health care practices from other parts of the world. We published ‘Letter From New Delhi’ in THE JOURNAL’s international health theme issue believing that the authors were acting in good faith and that they were disinterested scientists who had expertise in the long-practiced system of folk remedies of India known as Ayurvedic medicine. At that time, we did not know that ‘Maharishi AyurVeda,’ ‘Transcendental Meditation,’ and the ‘TM-Sidhi’ programs promoted in the article are brands of health care products and services being marketed by the TM movement.”
Pattern of Deception
An investigation of the movement’s marketing practices reveals what appears to be a widespread pattern of misinformation, deception, and manipulation of lay and scientific news media. This campaign appears to be aimed at earning at least the look of scientific respectability for the TM movement, as well as at making profits from sales of the many products and services that carry the Maharishi’s name.
The TM movement frequently boasts of the “sophistication and effectiveness” of its publicity programs in helping to bring about the Maharishi’s “Master Plan to Create Heaven on Earth.” Recently, it has had good reasons to brag.
In June, the movement not only saw THE JOURNAL publish an article in which the Maharishi’s remedies were described as if they were scientifically-acceptable, it also held a “Medical Conference on Maharishi Ayur-Veda: Non-Pharmacological Approaches to Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Diseases,” in San Diego, Calif, that was approved by the American College of Preventive Medicine for 13 hours of the American Medical Association’s Physician’s Recognition Award category I Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit.
The course description gives the impression that Maharishi Ayur-Veda is thousands of years old, rather than a trademark name for a line of products and services introduced in 1985. Nothing in the course description indicates that the majority of conference speakers are affiliated with organizations that promote these products and services.
According to Hazel Keimowitz, MA, executive director of the American College of Preventive Medicine, the college was not aware of connections between the conference organizers and efforts to market TM products and services.
This was the second time the American College of Preventive Medicine accredited a Maharishi Ayur-Veda conference for CME credit. Shortly after the first time in December 1989, Chopra announced that the AMA had accredited Maharishi Ayur-Veda courses for CME credit.
Speaking during the global satellite broadcast of a gathering in India to celebrate the Maharishi’s birthday on January 12, 1990, Chopra said, “This is the beginning of a great alliance that Maharishi Ayur-Veda Association is going to form with the established associations, such as the American Medical Association and all the associations of medicine throughout the world.”
Expressing joy over Chopra’s “beautiful news,” the Maharishi said, “I hold the Medical Association of America to be the custodians of perfect health for all mankind . . . from today I’ll cease to think that the American Medical Association has been, and is continuing to be, a puppet of the multinational [pharmaceutical companies.]”
According to Dennis Wentz, MD, director of the AMA’s Division of Continuing Medical Education, that news was untrue; the AMA has not accredited any of the Maharishi’s programs for CME credit.
The Wrong Stationery?
In March, the American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (AAAM) sent two letters to the American College of Preventive Medicine in application for accreditation. The letters were printed on AAAM letterhead, which lists among its research council members Tony Nader, MD, PhD, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, and Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), both in Boston.
According to spokespersons for these institutions, Nader was a graduate student at MIT and a research fellow at MGH and Harvard until he earned his PhD degree in neuroscience 2 years ago. His former advisers say they haven’t seen him since he graduated.
The use of “old stationery” was an innocent mistake, says David Orme Johnson, PhD, chair of the Psychology Department at the Maharishi International University, and a spokesperson for the TM movement. “We are very careful not to do anything like that — not to misrepresent things,” he says. “I can’t tell you how much time I spend checking facts so that such things don’t happen. I assure you that this is not intended fraud on our part.”
However, earlier letters from AAAM list Nader as having only an MD degree. Presumably after his graduation from MIT in September 1989, the association reprinted its stationery identifying Nader as having an MD and a PhD degree and as being at MIT, Harvard, and MGH, even though he no longer was affiliated with these institutions. What’s more, the TM movement continued to make these claims elsewhere.
Nader is one of the researchers most cited by the movement as an authority on Maharishi herbs. In June 1986, after discovering a Los Angeles Times report about Nader’s herbal research, his advisers warned him in writing not to embarrass them any further by claiming to be doing MIT- and Harvard-sanctioned research on Maharishi’s herbs. Despite their warning, the claims continued.
In a TM news release announcing a June 18, 1991, press conference in London, England, Nader is identified as a “professor” and “eminent researcher and medical doctor who will present the findings of his recent research at Harvard and MIT and discuss the scientific basis through which Maharishi’s Technology of Consciousness can bring about world health and world peace.”
According to the release, Nader also would “discuss how the new brain imaging techniques can be used to assess the orderliness of brain functioning in students, corporate executives, politicians, and other leaders, and thereby ‘ensure that only the best brains are running society.”
Also, on the back cover of the 1991 paperback edition of Chopra’s Creating Health: How to Wake Up the Body’s Intelligence (Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin Co), an endorsement by Nader identifies him as “neuroscientist, Harvard Medical School and MIT.”
A newsletter published in 1988 by the Maharishi Ayurveda Association of America appears even more fallacious. The headline and lead paragraph state that Nader was honored by Harvard with “the Whitaker Health Sciences and Technology Award” for his “landmark studies” carried out over 2 years on the effects of Maharishi’s herbal remedies on immune functioning and aging.
It also claimed that Nader, who was identified as a clinical researcher and not a graduate student, was also conducting “several more ambitious and complex project at major research centers” including “overseeing studies at Harvard’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute, the Departments of Immunology at Harvard Medical School and the University of Massachusetts — all testing the effects of Maharishi Amrit Kalash on the immune system.” Orme-Johnson says these errors were the fault of the reporter who wrote the article.
‘Prejudice and Bigotry’
Nader’s MIT thesis adviser, Richard J. Wurtman, MD, professor and director of the Clinical Research Center, and Nader’s former Harvard/MGH adviser, John H. Growdon, MD, professor of neurology, say they know of no such research at their institutions.
However, according to Chopra, Nader’s “superiors were threatened by his paying more attention to Ayur-Veda research than to projects that they were interested in Dr Nader was censured and asked to discontinue his Ayur-Veda work This in no way reflects on the quality of the research. If anything, it reflects the prejudice and bigotry of so-called objective scientists, even in prestigious institutions.”
In a recent statement, MIT Provost Mark S. Wrighton, PhD, said that Nader ended his connection with MIT upon graduating. “During his time as a student, from October 1985 until Sept 20, 1989, he held a visiting physician appointment at MIT’s Clinical Research Center. He was not authorized to undertake any research on his own,” says Wrighton. “MIT has called to the attention of its law firm recent comments and documents which indicate an effort to suggest a continuing research relationship between Dr Nader and MIT.”
However, Chopra protests that Nader did conduct research at MIT with Paul M. Newberne, DVM, PhD (who is now professor of pathology at Boston University School of Medicine). The Lancaster Foundation also cites Nader’s research with Newberne and says that it was presented at the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB), Washington, DC (abstract in Fed Proc. 1987;46:959).
According to Newberne, in 1985 he had allowed himself to “be charmed” into providing Nader support for a short-term study that the student wanted to do but couldn’t get anyone to help. He said that Nader “was like a shadow. He moved in, used my facilities and resources, and was gone. I never wanted anything about this work to be published because there was nothing to warrant publication. His data were few and equivocal.”
Newberne says this is the first he has heard of the research being published. He says that while the signature on the application to FASEB appears to be his, he has no recollection of signing it. He says there is no way he would have knowingly submitted such a “pseudoscientific” paper for publication. “The abstract describes tests on a mixture of unidentified herbs and minerals. This isn’t science. I never would knowingly put my name on such a study,” he adds.
However, says Ayur-Veda public affairs director Draznin, it’s got his (Newberne’s) signature on it and that should speak for itself. Newberne says that if necessary, he will seek legal counsel to prevent this use of his name.
Nader could not be reached for comment.
‘Dog and Pony Show’?
In its listing of “recent research on Maharishi Ayur-Veda,” the Lancaster Foundation cites research by Nader, Orme-Johnson, and others that was presented at the 28th Annual Meeting of the Society for Economic Botany, held at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in June 1987.
However, according to Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD, research professor of pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy, and director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine, what was presented could hardly be called scientific papers.
According to Farnsworth, the Maharishi’s people showed up with a television news crew from the local CBS station in Chicago and put on a “dog and pony show. “He says: “They had no interest in the conference other than to grab a scientific forum–they showed up just before their time slot and split as soon as the publicity stunt was over.”
What they presented hardly resembled the two abstracts they submitted, he says. Instead, they gave a marketing presentation extolling the Maharishi’s meditation and herbal products.
Charlotte Gyllenhaal, PhD, a research associate at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy, who served as cochair of the botany meeting’s organizing committee, agrees that the behavior of the Maharishi’s representatives was “entirely inappropriate.” She says, “While the submitted abstracts seemed reasonable, what they presented had little to do with their abstracts. In one presentation, they couldn’t even provide the scientific names of the medicinal plants they claimed to have tested. The other presentation was a pitch for the Maharishi’s meditation techniques–hardly appropriate for a botany meeting. It was a bait and switch ploy and a publicity stunt.”
Gyllenhaal says there is “so much potential for finding useful drugs from the thousands of years of interesting observations made by India’s traditional healers. It’s really a shame that this group’s deceptive activities may become associated with all of ayurveda.”
Submission of the “Letter From New Delhi” was not the first time JAMA was uninformed about an author’s connection to the Maharishi’s organizations. THE JOURNAL had previously published a letter praising the beneficial effects of TM (JAMA. 1989;262:2681-2682) written by Brian M. Rees, MD, MPH, who gave the Rees Family Medical Clinic, Pacific Palisades, Calif, as his affiliation. Rees turns out to be the medical director of the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Medical Center in Pacific Palisades. However, in correspondence with THE JOURNAL, he used “Rees Family Medical Clinic” stationery, which lists an address and telephone number that are identical to those used by the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Medical Center located within the TM center complex.
JAMA is not the only prestigious journal to have published an article highly favorable to Maharishi AyurVeda without its editors or readers knowing of the author’s involvement with the TM movement. Prominent on the back cover of Chopra’s book Quantum Healing (New Yok, NY: Bantum Books Inc; 1990) is an endorsement attributed to the New England Journal of Medicine. This was not the view of the journal, but the opinion of John W. Zamarra, MD, Brea, Calif, in an unsolicited book review (N Engl J Med. 1989; 321: 1688). According to a New England of Journal of Medicine editor, Zamarra signed a conflict-of-interest disclaimer as the journal routinely requires. Despite its policy that requires the disclosure of all connections between reviewers and the authors of the books they review, the journal was not informed of Zamarra’s long-time connection with the TM movement. Indeed, he is an author of a 1975 study on TM, which is cited in movement literature. Recently, a receptionist at the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Medical Center in Pacific Palisades identified Zamarra as being on the center’s staff. However, Zamarra claims he is associated with the center only as a patient, although he says that he has treated patients there on a voluntary basis after his book review appeared.
Harvard Magazine’s readers may have been similarly disserved when the magazine published in its 1989 September/October issue a cover story on Chopra, which gave a glowing account of Maharishi Ayur-Veda. According to associate managing editor Jean Martin, the TM movement ordered a large number of reprints for promotional distribution. The magazine’s readers were not informed that the author, associate editor Craig A. Lambert, PhD, practices TM-Sidhi or “yogic flying,” the Maharishi’s technique to develop levitation and other supernatural powers.
Highly Exaggerated Claims
According to an interview with Chopra in the June issue of The Fairfield Source, Chopra is president and chair of the board of trustees of the new Maharishi Vedic University in Cambridge, Mass. Chopra is quoted as saying that the university will soon offer three degree programs, including a “Master’s in Maharishi Ayur-Veda,” which will “be very popular because anyone with a bachelor’s degree can enroll, and when they graduate they will be able to hang out their shingle and become practitioners of Maharishi’s Ayur-Veda. They can prescribe, they can treat, they can do anything they want, just like any other health profession. This is a major breakthrough. . . .We’ve been talking to the State of Massachusetts Board of Education and they have given us more or less complete assurance that that accreditation of the Maharishi Vedic University’s graduate degree programs will happen. . . .In fact, they seem even more keen on it than we are.”
Not so, says Tossie Taylor, PhD, associate vice chancellor for independent institutions at the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. “We have accepted some paperwork from them, but we haven’t conducted a review nor have we done all the things we generally do in the process of granting accreditation. We have given them no such assurance,” Taylor says.
Breaking Into Prisons
Such premature–and often wrong–public announcements appear to be a promotional tactic used by the TM movement. On January 29, a press conference was held in Tucson, Ariz, to announce that TM representatives were about to meet with the director of Arizona’s Department of Corrections to discuss setting up a program to teach prisoners TM. The next day, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix daily newspaper, reported this claim and quoted Charles H. Alexander, PhD, a psychologist at Maharishi International University, as saying that “right now, TM is the only effective way of rehabilitating prisoners.”
The media event angered corrections department officials. According to John R. Thompson, administrator of pastoral activities, the press conference took place “before any conversations with representatives of the department were held. . . .It seems to have been a strategy to put pressure on the department to respond to TM’s proposal.”
Thompson says that they investigated other prison systems in which TM had been used and received negative and uncomplimentary reports. At the meeting with TM representatives, “it was made clear that the Arizona Department of Corrections was not interested in their proposal,” says Thompson.”If and when funds become available for rehabilitation programs, TM will not be considered for such purposes.”
Maharishi Ayur-Veda at the NIH
An introductory free seminar on Maharishi Ayur-Veda is being offered every month at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, Md, says a recorded telephone announcement from the Ayurvedic Health Education Services in Bethesda. This claim appears to be true if somewhat misleading.
According to public information specialist Donald Ralbovsky, an NIH staff member has obtained permission to use a conference room after hours for the seminars. The NIH has no policy restricting use of space on its campus, even for groups that want to use it to promote unproven health products, Ralbovsky says.
The NIH had been a target of TM exploitation before. The World Medical Association for Perfect Health, Washington, DC (not to be confused with the World Medical Association, based on Ferney-Voltaire, France), one of TM’s many front groups, issued a news release dated October 15, 1985, that claimed that Thomas E. Malone, MD, then deputy director of the NIH, had chaired an NIH conference on MaharishiAyur-Veda.
According to Malone, who is now vice president for biomedical research at the Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC, he had been approached by TM representatives and asked to set up a meeting with Triguna and anyone at the NIH who might be interested in hearing what they had to say. Malone says he never chaired a conference on Maharishi Ayur-Veda.
Nevertheless, the July 25, 1985, issue of The Uptown Citizen (Washington, DC) quotes Malone as saying: “I am convinced that the meditation being practiced here and the utilization of natural law can prevent disease . . .As I sat listening to the various speakers I could but wonder what will happen in the future when we see this movement spreading out to all the centers of the earth and what a great impact it will make for man’s happiness.”
“They twisted my words and made up those quotes,” Malone says. “It appears that’s how they do things. “He is “dismayed,” he says, that the promoters of TM would exploit scientists who are willing to listen to their claims.
Expensive Flights of Fancy
The TM movement similarly exploits other scientific institutions and universities that lend or rent their facilities for TM events. Their names are prominently displayed in advertisements, giving the impression that the events are sponsored by the institutions.
One extremely profitable example, reported in The Skeptical Inquirer (1980; 4:7-8), involved the rental of a gymnasium at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst during the summer of 1979 for TM’s yogic flying courses. Three thousand students enrolled, one third of whom paid $3000 each to learn the Maharishi’s TM-Sidhi program. According to promotional materials, the TM-Sidhi program allows one to master the forces of nature to become invisible, walk through walls, fly through the air, and have “the strength of an elephant.” The Skeptical Inquirer article says that the other students learned more down-to-earth TM skills for $800-$1000 tuition and that the TM movement reaped between $ 3 million and $ 5 million, before expenses, from the courses at the University of Massachusetts.
How Cost Effective?
Whether Maharishi Ayur-Veda products do any good or not, they are hardly as cost effective as their promoters claim. While Chopra claims that their treatments cost “a lot less than a single day in the hospital or a hotel, even,” the cost of just one of the products he recommends, Maharishi Amrit Kalash, is approximately $1000 for a 1-year personal supply. By comparison, according to federal sources, the total cost for health care in the United States in 1989 was $2500 per person.
A few of the other products and services recommended just to maintain health include TM and TM-Sidhi instruction, which costs $3400, the Maharishi Psychophysiological and Primordial Sound Techniques for $1400, and 7 days of panchakarma (cleansing programs that use oil massages and enemas to rid the body of its “ama”–the “foul-smelling, sticky, noxious residue” that otherwise accumulates, according to Chopra) repeated three times a year for $2700 to $6600 or more.
However, the costs of Maharishi Ayur-Veda can rise steeply in case of actual illness. Patients with serious illnesses often pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for gemstones prescribed by Jyotish consultants (Hindu astrologers) at Chopra’s Maharishi Ayur-Veda Health Center in Lancaster. According to former movement members, they also may be asked to pay thousands of dollars for a “yagya,” which is a religious ceremony performed to solicit the aid of one or more Hindu deities. Patients who pay for these ceremonies do not take part in them or even get to see them performed, say the ex-members.
During an interview in June, Chopra denied that yagyas are part of the Maharishi Ayur-Veda program. Nevertheless, there are many references in Maharishi Ayur-Veda literature that describe yagyas as one of “the 20 different treatment approaches” available to patients. In a US Internal Revenue Service document (form 1023) dated September 10, 1987, and signed by Chopra as a trustee, yagyas are identified as one of 20 research activities of the Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation.
In a written reply to questions about their recommending yagyas, Chopra said that while their literature may describe yagyas as one of their 20 different treatment approaches, they don’t prescribe them to patients. However, according to the July/August 1991 National Council Against Health Fraud newsletter, and the fall 1990 newsletter of TM-Ex, a support organization for former movement members in Arlington, Va, “a yagya prescribed for endometriosis was priced at $11500” for one patient, although a “less than recommended’ yagya was also available for $8500, as was a $3300 yagya that would suffice.” JAMA has obtained a copy of one Marharishi Jyotish Gem/Yagya Analysis for a patient. According to the analysis, the patient’s Jyotish horoscope indicated that she needed two kinds of yagyas for her health, one to be performed then and another “every birthday ” It also recommended that she purchase gems that cost between $2000 and $3000. The recommendations appear on a Maharishi Ayurveda Association of America form. The address and telephone number on the form is the same as Chopra’s at the American Association for Ayurvedic Medicine. Asked to explain this document, Maharishi Ayur-Veda director of public relations Draznin says that because the operations and staff of these organizations are modest, they have to share the same office and telephone number, so the document doesn’t prove anything.
Maharishi Physicians Face Charges
Two physicians who are the chief promoters of Maharishi Ayur-Veda in Great Britain have been charged with “serious professional misconduct” by the Professional Conduct Committee of the General Medical Council in London.
According to British newspaper accounts, evidence was presented at the hearing that allegedly shows the physicians promoted and sold “worthless” herbal remedies as an effective treatment for the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Laboratory analyses presented by Timothy Langdale, counsel for the General Medical Council, showed some of the herbal preparations were composed of plant material, fungus, feces, and bacteria, which may have caused the gastrointestinal problems reported by the patient (now deceased) with AIDS, on whose behalf the charges were brought.
According to the newspaper accounts, persons with AIDS were charged $500 a month for the herbal remedies. In addition, they were persuaded to spend hundreds of dollars more to learn TM. Some also were encouraged to discontinue taking the AIDS drug zidovudine.
The physicians charged with these actions are Leslie Davis, MA, MB, BCh, FRCS, who said he is dean of physiology at the Marishi University of Natural Law, Bedfordshire, and Roger A. Chalmers, MA, MB, BCh, MRCP, who advertised himself as the dean of medicine at the new Maharishi Ayur-Veda College of Natural Medicine and president of the World Association for Perfect Health in Bedfordshire. The schools are not recognized by the General Medical Council or other accrediting agency.
Davis has been charged with seven counts and Chalmers with six. Among other charges, they are accused of giving dietary advice that could endanger the health of patients with AIDS and of distributing promotional literature that boasted of a weight gain of 6 kg and other improvements in the health of a patient who was already dead.
The hearing, which began in July, has been postponed until October 21. Chalmers would not comment about the proceedings or charges against him. Le Brasseurs, the London solicitors firm that represents the Medical Protection Society, of which Chalmers is a member, wrote to JAMA that the above account “does not in any way present a fair reflection of the evidence in toto. We cannot comment further while the case is still pending.” According to Chopra, “the testimony on fecal contamination was totally refuted to the satisfaction of all experts.” He would not say how it was refuted nor who these experts were. Sources close to the hearing in England say they have no idea what Chopra is referring to.
While the promoters of Maharishi Ayur-Veda in the United States do not openly claim to be able to cure AIDS, they do claim that their system offers “unprecedented advances in its management” and that scientific evidence suggests their herbal product Maharishi Amrit Kalash can alleviate many AIDS-related symptoms and protect against opportunistic infections.
After receiving the newspaper reports of fecal and bacterial contamination of the Maharishi Ayur-Veda remedies in Great Britain, the US Food and Drug Administration has decided to investigate the Marishi herbal products sold here, says press officer Brad Stone.
Physics and Mystical Medicine
Some of those have been favorably impressed by books and presentations on Marishi Ayur-Veda say they are intrigued by the apparent connection between the discoveries of quantum physics and the mysticism behind the healing system. In his 1990 book Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide, Chopra claims that the practices of TM and Maharishi Ayur-Veda are supported by quantum physics, and refers readers who want “more insights into these ideas” to The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Inc; 1982) by the eminent physicist Heinz R. Pagels, PhD.
In that book, however, the physicist denounced as “nonsense” attempts to tie quantum physics to Eastern mysticism. He wrote, “Individuals who make such claims have substituted a wishfulfilling fantasy for understanding.”
In his capacity as executive director of the New York Academy of Science in 1986, Pagels submitted an affidavit on behalf of a former TM member who was suing the movement for fraud. “There is no known connection between meditation states and states of matter in physics,” Pagels wrote. “No qualified physicist that I know would claim to find such a connection without knowingly committing fraud. . . .The presentation of the ideas of modern physics side by side, and apparently supportive of, the ideas of the Maharishi about pure consciousness was only be intended to deceive those who might not know any better. . . . To see the beautiful and profound ideas of modern physics, the labor of generations of scientists, so willfully perverted provokes a feeling of compassion for those who might be taken in by these distortions.”
Mastering the ‘SIMS Shuffle’
In his book Return of the Rishi (Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin Co; 1988:139), Chopra repeats an old Indian saying, “Four things in life you must cherish: first the guru, then your parents, next your wife and children, and finally your nation. “Former members of the TM movement say their belief in the Maharishi was so great that they would have done anything the guru asked.
Ex-members say that the movement widely practices a style of deception some call the “SIMS shuffle. “Curtis Mailloux, a former member who lives in Fairfax, Va, says the name is derived from the Student International Meditation Society, one of the Maharishi’s front groups, where many members develop this skill. Mailloux says he “left the cult” in 1989 after 15 years. As a former TM teacher and chair of the TM center in Washington, DC, the largest in the United States, he is one of the highest ranking members to defect.
“I was taught to lie and to get around the pretty rules of the ‘unenlightened’ in order to get favorable reports into the media,” says Mailloux. “We were taught how to exploit the reporters’ gullibility and fascination with the exotic, especially what comes from the East. We thought we weren’t doing anything wrong, because we were told it was often necessary to deceive the unenlightened to advance our guru’s plan to save the world.”– by Andrew A. Skolnick