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Transcendental Meditation

In this twelve-part series we are taking a brief look at some of the major cults,
past and present, that have found adherents in the United States. Your pastor can
help you if you’d like a more in-depth study of a particular group.

This might be the perfect, modern American cult. It requires minimal effort (meditate for 15-20 minutes twice a day), demands no repentance, is mainly self-focused, and promises the world. Want more happiness? Better health? Increased intelligence? Stress relief? Improved relationships? Enlightenment? Success at work? The ability to treat depression without medications? It offers these and more.
But can it deliver?
Developed in the 1940’s, Transcendental Meditation (TM) is really just a repackaging of ancient pagan beliefs (Hinduism). After getting a master’s degree in physics, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi studied under Swami Brahmanada Saraswati. His teacher charged him with preserving his meditation technique by taking it beyond the borders of India to the entire world. Efforts inched along at first. Then, in the late 1960’s, it caught the break it needed to move into the mainstream, thanks to its most famous adopters: The Beatles.
When drugs, fortune, and fame left the “Fab Four” unfulfilled, they stumbled upon a practice that promised them meaning and happiness in life. They became willing followers of the Maharishi and devout disciples of his techniques . . . until the day they realized that TM left them just as empty as did everything else. Little did they know—the Maharishi was no more enlightened than they were.
The goal of TM is to transcend the problems of this world by focusing on one thing in order to experience a new layer of consciousness. Each person is assigned a private “mantra”—a special word given them by a licensed instructor. “Mantra is a specific thought which suits us, a suitable sound for us which we receive from a trained teacher of Transcendental Meditation. By using this mantra, the practitioner experiences the thought of that sound and starts minimizing that thought to experience the finer states of that thought—until the source of thought is fathomed and the conscious mind reaches the transcendental area of being.”
TM claims millions of adherents worldwide. In order to practice it, a person must first learn its official doctrines and techniques. Though the cult is “non-profit,” training is not free. Profits underwrite the group’s cause and further its reach.
It is no secret who lurks behind the mask of TM. The Bible warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) And, “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Genesis 8:21) Yet, TM directs people to find answers in their own darkened, rebellious hearts.
From Scripture we know that enlightenment and happiness cannot be found by chanting mantras or searching within. Enlightenment is a gift of the Holy Spirit working through Word and sacrament. “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach).” (Romans 10:6-8) Answers to life’s great questions are not uncovered by self-focus or meditation, but by hearing the Gospel.
Luther used the Latin phrase incurvatus in se as a way to describe how all people are by nature. Every person is born “curved in on self.” This is a universal problem that is also permanently embedded into your flesh and mine. Thankfully, we have a Savior Who looked away from self and laid down His perfect life in our place. He alone provides true happiness and meaning for this life and for the life to come.
James Albrecht is pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Okabena, Minnesota.