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Transcendental Meditation

by Octavian Sarbatoare

This short paper will discuss the meditation technique known as Transcendental Meditation (TM), its basic practice and the intrinsic link it has with the Hindu tradition of meditative practices. Thus the Hindu basic roots of the TM are brought into attention, along with the involvement of science into the research of TM, and the relevance of TM practices today.

As a worldwide movement TM started in 1957, when its founder the Indian Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi performed the first initiations into TM. Basically, Maharishi's intention was to teach a meditative technique of deep relaxation, by which the human mind is able to go to the source of thought, to what he calls the pure field of creative intelligence. It was also expected that the technique could enable the mind to expend and increase its power of awareness and even meditator's body could get more energy, thus a person was able to use mind and body greater potentials (note 1). From its very beginning TM was subject to scientific research.

One of the major claims of TM was that the physiological effects of stress are minimized by a deep relaxation of meditator's body and mind, a claim that has been scientifically substantiated (ref. notes for bibliography). It was also demonstrated that multiple other benefits could be obtained by such a simple method described as an easy technique although initially thought by accredited teachers only. In spite of the primary scientific face given to TM practice, Maharishi retained the Hindu ritualistic methods of imparting the knowledge of TM.

The technique was transmitted by initiation only. A ritual of initiation consisted of a short ceremony during which the would-be initiate brings to the teacher flowers, fruits, a white handkerchief and a small fee, all concordant to the Hindu ritual of disciple offering to a guru. The core of the initiation was the receiving of a Mantra, that was according to Hindu tradition, a sacred sound, which has in it the power of mental transformation. As a personal practice, the initiate was thought the technique (by the TM teacher) of how to meditate twice a day (note 2) for about 20 to 30 minutes each session. TM's claims were to serious to be neglected by the science, the scientific proof being encouraged by Maharishi himself. Following relevant scientific research into the practice, a great interest was shown upon the roots of TM that were basically within the Hindu tradition of meditation, part of yoga, more precisely of Mantra Yoga as part of Tantric tradition.

There is clear now that those magic sounds secretly given at the initiation time, they originated within the Hindu tradition of Bija Mantras, those short mystical syllables that belong to the Vedic and Tantric traditions of Mantra Yoga. But, because Bija Mantras have no meaning per se, the assumption of their effects was that such sounds act through the vibratory nature of Bija Mantras themselves rather than through the understanding of a Mantra as practice to consciously motivate the mind. In spite of Guru Maharishi's presentation of TM as non-religious and non-affiliated method, those Bija Mantras used during TM meditation practices are well known within the Hindu tradition. A frequent Mantra given at initiation was the celebrated Vedic Mantra Om, said to be the primordial sound that is expected to bring the meditator to the source of generation of the universe itself, i.e. at the time of the Big Bang occurrence. Other essential Bija Mantras of the Tantric tradition were also used.

There are for instance Bija Mantras like Aing, Shring, Kling, which are well known in Mantra Yoga as vibrational forms of major Hindu deities like Saraswati, Lakshmi and Krishna respectively. The idea behind such Bija Mantras is that through a consistent practice, that principle behind the deity itself is assimilated by the votary. For example goddess Sarasvati is linked to the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom, goddess Lakshmi to obtaining beauty and wealth, while meditation on Krishna's Mantra brings love and protection (note 4). It is thus evident that the classical way of approaching gods is behind TM in spite of its founder's claim that TM is non-religious in nature. Basically, the TM practice as promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi presents an old Hindu meditative techniques in new clothing that pertains to an entirely new social context of today where science is able to do independent research beyond the mystics of the religious tradition. The scientific research into yoga was in fact opened by TM practices, on which pioneer scientific work was done since its launch in 1957. The fact that science validated some of TM claims is a remarkable achievement towards the demystification of what was kept for millennia confined as "great mysteries" of yoga kept by only a few of knowledgeable people.

The conclusion we draw at the end of this short work is that TM is a meditative technique that uses Bija Mantras, the short mystical sounds, which are part of millennia old Hindu meditative practices, as relevant to both Veda and Tantra. The founder of TM movement was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru who has managed to bring into the open a "secret knowledge" of Hindu religious tradition and encouraged science to validate the positive results of TM practices. Since its beginnings in 1957, TM was a pioneer into the field of scientific research on the effects of mystical sounds upon the human mind. This was a proof that science is able to validate those millennia old mystic techniques and makes them valuable methods to obtain human mind and body harmony.

Endnotes

  • 1. Ref. Una Kroll, TM A Signpost for the World, Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1976, p. 10.
  • 2. Ibid., pp. 54f & 66.
  • 3. Ref. Harold Bloomfield & Co., TM Discover Inner Energy and Overcome Stress, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1976, pp. 17-18.
  • 4. Ref. Swami Vishnu-Devananda, Meditation and Mantras, Motilal Banarsidas Publishers, New Delhi, 1999, for a comprehensive use of Mantras in meditation, particularly in chapter VII for the concept of Bija Mantras.