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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Getting "Centered" with Transcendental Meditation (Part 2 -- with David Lynch)

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2007 at 10:30 AM

There's a conspicuous overlap between the feel-good New Age crowd and those of us moonlighting as investment bankers, architects, and multi-billionaire talk show empresses. Also film industry types like David Lynch, who spends much of his time outside the studio shilling for the Maharishi University of Management out in Iowa, when he's not at the helm of his own Foundation for Consciousness-based Education and World Peace. He's got a new book out in which he rambles breathlessly and cryptically about his three-decades old love affair with coffee and TM.

The Lynch Foundation, however, has been clear about its goal of expanding the Maharishi's model to a franchise of "peace universities," where, Lynch has said, 8,000 people meditating would end all war, a reference to the so-called "Maharishi effect,” whereby TM'ers spread the love so we don't have to. Lynch has raised more than a million dollars giving large grants to public schools to run TM programs; notably last year in San Raphael, where parents concerned about TM's cult-like trappings eventually squelched the idea.

The Maharishi, for his part, ain't dead yet (somewhere about 90), and in 2004 purchased a five-story former bank building in Manhattan's Financial District where he hopes to draw big money investors for his "Invincible Defense Technology" -- basically a bevy of Vedic monks wishing good thoughts for the world -- which is touted by TM'ers as the antidote to terrorism. Members of the MUM community (shysters such as John Hagelin) have gone so far as to suggest the foundation of an alternative "U.S. Peace Government" and are committed to the idea of a unified, one-world government to "establish permanent world peace" on the back of Maharishi's "invincibility." Never mind the Maharishi also promises TM'ers powers to become invisible and fly. The Maharishi makes his appeal for cash: "There is not much to think about it. Do it quickly."

Actual scholarly work has been published on the subject better detailing the holes in this cheese, and group meditation yields no statistically significant decrease in violence.

The problem with the TM worldview came into sharp focus after a 2004 student murder on campus, when University officials were sharply criticized for both systematic denial of warning signs, and subsequent suppression of student discussion.

Okay, maybe the notoriously weird Lynch isn't the best spokesperson for anything. Meditation in general has shown to have some effect in lowering blood pressure and stress. Great. But super powers, exorcisms, tactical armies, one-world governments -- reminds me of "Commodore" L. Ron, the grand-daddy of gurus, who bore and bred the prototype in that fecund birthplace of the New Age, our very own Southern California (the parallel's complete with recent awkward spotlight by nutty film industry celeb).

It's too easy to simply ridicule TM. Much better and more informed critiques have been published, taking TM to task for far-out tenets. If TM makes you happy, Psychic Horizon's classes are on par with some other area schools, and hella cheap compared to Scientology.

But TM has developed into an industry far beyond personal philosophy or mom n' pop churches. While TM dresses up as simply a method of relaxation, closer inspection reveals a fundamental cynicism in this supposed golden cloud. By encouraging people to chase after fantastic wealth and complete autonomy, it denies the compromises of a civil society, and becomes another power play, a method to sharpen your skills of survival against those of your opponent -- the other guy. It's not just anyone who can wish for what they want and get it. It takes dedication, devotion, and fat checks to enrich yourself beyond the average Jo. In a world of limited resources, whenever somebody wins, somebody else loses.

You just can't wish that away.

--Matt Novak

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Matt Stroud


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