Founder: Born Mahesh Prasad Varna in Utter Kashi, India, in either 1911 or 1918, he studied physics at the University of Allahabad. He graduated in 1940 and become a disciple of the great Hindu leader Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (1868-1953), known as Guru Dev. He adopted the name Maharishi ("Great Sage") Mahesh (his family name) Yogi ("united with the divine").

Birth of a Movement: Following his master's death, Mahesh retreated to the Himalayas to meditate for at least two years before going on an extended pilgrimage in south India, where in 1955 he announced plans for a Hindu world mission. This was launched with the foundation of the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in 1958. TM was founded as the International Meditation Society for the Science of Creative Intelligence in 1961.

Basic Beliefs: TM teaches a form of Hindu neo-Vedanta philosophy mixed with Western psychological insights, using pseudoscientific language that masks its religious nature by mythologizing science. Its philosophical roots may be traced to the nondualist philosopher Sankara (788-838), and in the West it usually morphs into a form of pantheism. The Hindu tradition, including Vedanta, is extraordinarily complex. It can support atheistic ideas, commitment to a personalized god, and beliefs that assume the absorption of the individual into a void of nothingness. Thus it is almost impossible to say exactly what TM teaches, or what individual members of the movement believe, because it is capable of presenting many different faces.

Differences with Christianity: The basic ideas of neo-Vedanta involve a denial of a Creator God and a personal Savior like Jesus who was born in history to die for the sins of humanity. TM also rejects the Christian/Western concepts of personhood and the individual.

—Irving Hexham, professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Related Elsewhere

Be sure to read Christianity Today's related stories "Field of TM Dreams | Fairfield Iowa is now a major center for Transcendental Meditation" and "Sometimes It Takes a Miracle | Jim Sieber found Christ more sufficient than self-realization."

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