Second of Two Parts
Transcendental Meditation is presented to the public as a scientifically verified technique for gaining deep rest and many other benefits, including release of the boundless potential for creativity and intelligence claimed to reside in each person. These claims are supposedly substantiated by the charts and graphs of various research studies on TM arrayed in a fifty-page booklet entitled “Fundamentals of Progress.” This booklet gives the impression that the benefits suggested by these studies are the scientifically established results of the practice of TM. In most cases that impression is misleading. A British neurophysiologist, Dr. Peter Fenwick has put the research on TM in scientific perspective as follows:
All these studies need to be looked upon with reservations. Few include adequate control groups and none that I am aware of have yet used a blind control procedure … Until this sort of study is carried out in meditating groups it is almost impossible to draw any conclusion.
Psychological results are capable of being influenced by many non-specific factors … [London Times Educational Supplement, May 17, 1974].
It does seem that TM is relaxing, and Harvard Medical School cardiologist, Herbert Benson, a pioneer researcher on TM, is convinced that it can reduce blood pressure in persons with hypertension. He has even developed a secularized meditation technique similar to TM that can be self-taught in a few minutes without involvement in any ritual or philosophical explanation. Before we applaud Dr. Benson’s initiative, we must realize that the meditative technique he has abstracted from its religious context has effects on the meditator that are not physiologically measurable. To believe that the psychophysiological essence of these practices can be abstracted for particular physical benefits without any other mental and spiritual effects reflects a naive materialism.
Three effects of doing TM or any similar meditative technique completely aside from the religious rituals involved are:
1. It alters consciousness in a cumulative way that tends to convince the meditator of the Eastern presuppositions about the nature of reality and of man.
2. It desensitizes conscience by masking real guilt and relieving its symptoms of restlessness and psychosomatic illness.
3. It induces a passive state of mind and body that opens the meditator to the hazard of demonic incursion.
I cannot discuss these points thoroughly in a brief article (I am investigating them in detail in a book I am writing). I want to make a couple of comments, however.
The Eastern techniques of meditation have been cultivated because they lead to the classical unitive mystical experience of the merging of the individual with the cosmos. This experience in turn induces the concept of the unity of all being, and recurrent mystical experiences seem to verify this concept. From this unitive mystical experience emerged the monist doctrines of the unity of all being and of the identity of the soul of man with the “Soul” of the cosmos (the identity of atman/Brahman).
When a person commits himself to the practice of Eastern meditation for an extended period (twice daily for the rest of his life for a hypertensive patient, for example), whatever his conscious motive for meditating; he is subjecting himself to a rigorous process of mental conditioning that tends to modify his concept of himself and of the universe into conformity with the Eastern world view. Since this view conforms to the basic delusion of fallen man that he is autonomous—a divine being, really—it is virtually irresistible. Whether or not the meditator attaches himself to a particular guru, he is confirmed by his meditation in an idolatrous concept of himself as independent of the personal Creator.
C. S. Lewis would be monumentally unsurprised by the hailing of Hindu monism in scientific guise as a new discovery by the theologically naive dwellers in the post-Christian West. In Miracles he wrote of pantheism in a historical perspective that now seems prophetic:
Modern Europe escaped it only while she remained predominantly Christian.… So far from being the final religious refinement, Pantheism is in fact the permanent natural bent of the human mind; the permanent ordinary level below which man sometimes sinks …, but above which his own unaided efforts can never raise him for very long.… It is the attitude into which the human mind automatically falls when left to itself. No wonder we find it congenial. If “religion” means simply what man says about God, and not what God does about man, then Pantheism almost is religion. And “religion” in that sense has, in the long run, only one really formidable opponent—namely Christianity. Modern philosophy … and modern science … have both proved quite powerless to curb the human impulse toward Pantheism.… Yet, by a strange irony, each new relapse into this immemorial “religion” is hailed as the last word in novelty and emancipation.
The present relapse into the religion of pantheism is novel, then, only in that it is often presented as a matter of science rather than religion or philosophy. Despite Lewis’s insight into the seductiveness of pantheism to mankind, he might be dismayed at the lack of theological definition and spiritual discernment that permits Hinduism to pass unchallenged by the Church when it comes in scientific disguise.
By offering the mystical experience of transcendence and the monist philosophy of oneness as the essence of all religion, including Christianity, Maharishi challenges the Christian Church sharply and directly. He doubtless has observed the spiritual deadness of some parts of the professing church; a spiritual hunger leads many from Christian backgrounds to become his followers. He correctly (if unwittingly) assesses the dessicating effect on spiritual life of liberal and existential theology on the one hand and of dead orthodoxy on the other when he says:
The whole field of religion is just left on the mental, on the basis of mental hallucination. Think, think, think, think, what is it? Thought of God is a thought of God, keep on thinking. You are thirsty, keep thinking of water, water, water, water and it does not satisfy the thirst. Thought of water is not water. No, it is not the thought of God that is going to help. It is the content of Godhead … that is going to help [Meditations of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, p. 64].
The Church can be subjected to this reproach of its spiritual drought only because theologians, pastors, and people have not responded wholeheartedly to the life-giving call of Jesus, “Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, just as the Scripture says, streams of water will flow from his innermost being” (John 7:37, 38).
The testimonial letters by Christian clergymen published in The TM Book deserve special scrutiny because of their potential to mislead Christians. One of these letters was written by a Lutheran clergyman and professor of theology at Valparaiso University, Karl E. Lutze. His letter reads in part:
I had some initial reservations about TM from a religious and theological standpoint. It was not without careful and serious study and reflection that I attempted to learn whether or not this art … from the traditions of the far East might be compatible or in fact in conflict with my Christian faith.…
I do not find Transcendental Meditation an alternative to Christian faith; I practice it within the context of my Christian life.… I regard meditation as another of God’s good gifts to me.
The other letter by a Christian clergyman in this book was written by Leo McAllister, a Roman Catholic priest who is the pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Sacramento, California, who was for six years chaplain of the California Assembly. He writes:
I am writing this letter to allay any fears, anxieties or misconceptions which Catholics may have concerning the practice of Transcendental Meditation.… It is not a religion or a religious practice. It in no way conflicts with a person’s belief in God or in his church.… A persons’s relationship to God and the practice of one’s faith should be enhanced, rather than diminished, by the use of Transcendental Meditation.… I am happy to say that I can recommend it highly.
Another striking testimony to the value of TM written by a clergyman appeared in the Christian Century of December 10, 1975. Presbyterian Pastor John R. Dilley of Fairfield, Iowa (home of MIU), became a meditator in 1974 out of concern for a heart condition. He wrote:
Our entire family have become meditators, and we have found no compromise in our commitment to Jesus Christ and to his church. Indeed, we have found that our entire life style has become more Christian as we both give and receive love with less tension in our lives.
The failure of some Christian clergymen to discern the anti-Christian character of the practice of TM may have stemmed in part from an innocent acceptance of Maharishi’s non-religious claim at face value. Jesus warned us, however, that we are to be “as shrewd as snakes,” as well as “as innocent as doves,” because he sends his disciples into the world “like sheep among wolves.” For those with pastoral authority, a failure of spiritual discernment that exposes those entrusted to their care to idolatrous ritual and practice is no light matter; “they keep watch … as men who must give an account” (Heb. 13:17). Had their initial vague misgivings about TM been reinforced by a firm theological understanding of the challenge of Christianity to Eastern religion, neither TM nor any other pantheistic system based on the premise of human autonomy would have caught them unawares. Spiritual discernment, however, is finally a matter of the work of the Holy Spirit stemming from an experience of spiritual rebirth that brings us into a conscious, personal relationship with the Father through the mediation of Jesus Christ. It must be cultivated, of course, by a life of continuing obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ and his ministers in the church. Knowing theology can never be a substitute for knowing God, but both are needed to challenge missionary Hinduism in the post Christian West.
Given the theological and spiritual disarray in large sections of the Church that has been exposed by the success of Hinduism in scientific disguise, it is encouraging to note a pair of books, one by a pastor, the other by a theologian, that correctly take the measure of TM as a Hindu religious practice and reject it as obscuring the truth of reality as it is in Christ Jesus. The two books are The Meditators by Doug Shah (Logos, 147 pp., $3.50) and What Everyone Should Know About Transcendental Meditation by Gordon Lewis (Regal, 92 pp., $1.45). Shah is an associate pastor at Valley Christian Center in Dublin, California, and Lewis is professor of systematic theology at Conservative Baptist Seminary in Denver. Shah is an Indian Christian whose grandfather made the discovery of Christ while living as a yogi in India. Shah’s gradual revelation of Jesus Christ through his own investigation into the Eastern spiritual currents in today’s America as well as in the pilgrimage of his grandfather makes an evangelistic appeal tailored to those who are seeking God in TM or other Eastern bypaths. Lewis’s book is a forthright exposure of the Hindu basis of TM together with a contrast of Hindu and Christian doctrine of God, man, and salvation.
Convinced meditators hold important positions in government, the academic world, the public schools, big business, psychiatry, medicine, the media, entertainment, sports, and religion. Their numbers are still relatively small, but many of them are willing to use their influence to promote TM because they believe that it has benefited them personally and that it provides answers to social and political problems. Maharishi’s WPEC appears to run as a well-oiled international corporation on the basis of its large American revenues and the frugal life-style of the typical TM teacher, who is dedicated to the transformation of mankind by TM.
At the moment, the spiritually starved members of our secularized society continue to flock to Maharishi’s technique for rest of body and peace of mind. The monism of materialism and naturalism feeds rather readily into the monism of Brahmanism. Maharishi’s teaching feeds on the insatiable spiritual thirst of a race secretly convinced of its divinity but never at ease in it because of all the contrary evidence of man’s creaturehood. An “innocent” technique to tap the “unlimited potential” of inner divinity reassures fallen man of his autonomy.
The prospects, then, for a continuing expansion of the practice of TM in the United States would seem to be excellent—except for one thing: the contradiction between the public presentation of TM as a non-religious technique of relaxation and the private reality of TM as a religious practice requiring ritual initiation. Maharishi’s shrewd opportunism in shifting from a spiritual to a scientific emphasis in the presentation of TM in the late sixties led him to make a total public denial of the religious aspects of TM. But now the religious aspects of TM are being exposed to public view by the publication of the English translation of the text of the Sanskrit hymn (“puja”) of worship to Guru Dev and the major Hindu divinities used in the required initiation ceremony, and Maharishi’s credibility as a spiritual leader is being undermined.
The most serious threat to the TM organization in this regard may come in the form of consumer-fraud suits. According to Christian Century special correspondent Robert B. Fulton, a Fairfield, Iowa (home of MIU), clergyman named Charles Sloca has requested that the state attorney take action against the TM organization for violating the consumer’s right to know the true nature of a service offered. Sloca claims that TM is being sold as a scientific technique when it is really a religious practice. The prospect of a consumer-fraud suit must be a nightmare for WPEC officials, because a judgment against the TM organization might mean that any initiate could demand a refund of his initiation fee.
Missionary Hinduism may severely challenge the Church where its relationship to its Lord, Jesus Christ, has been weakened by bad theology, a loss of church discipline, and disregard of the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no basis for pessimism, however. Christianity alone challenges the fundamental premise of Eastern religion that man is autonomous, divine, God. Christianity rejects the concept of human divinity because of the biblical revelation of the absolute distinction between Creator and creature (Rom. 1:25). Only Christianity reveals to man the humility and dignity inherent in what he is—a creature made in the image of the living God. And only Christ himself provides the fullness of life for which all human beings yearn. Our challenge to missionary Hinduism is to present the living reality of Christ, “for in him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and in him, who is the head of all rule and authority, you are enjoying fullness of life.”
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