Where did this misunderstanding come from?
Apart from the common association of spiritual development with religion, the primary source of the myth "TM began as a religion, then turned scientific" appears to be the charter of the first TM organization registered in the United States, in 1955, called the "Spiritual Regeneration Movement." The document has been circulating on the Internet for years.
The charter clearly and beautifully describes the organization's sole purpose: "...to offer a simple method of developing...peace and happiness through a system of deep meditation...and maintaining centers for such instruction and study of deep meditation in the United States." The document mentions nothing about religious activities as people would normally define them (prayer, worship, study of scripture, etc.). But for legal purposes and tax classification, it did initially categorize the organization as "religious."
What does this mean?
If the document is authentic, it means that the first organization that formed in the U.S. to offer the TM program as a way to address spiritual concerns was legally defined, at first, as a "religious" organization, even though the organization's purpose and activities were described therein as non-religious.
The signers of the document are no longer living, so no one can verify why the charter classified the organization as religious — possibly for tax-exemption reasons as advised by legal counsel.
But there's another, more likely explanation.
Spirituality and Religion
In 1955, there was little distinction drawn between the words 'spiritual' and 'religious' in Western society. As more and more people in the West learned meditation and began to experience transcendental consciousness — described as purely spiritual in nature, a non-material field of pure Being — a new understanding dawned in collective consciousness: spiritual growth is natural to life and can unfold through a systematic, non-faith-based, secular practice such as the Transcendental Meditation technique.
The purpose of the Spiritual Regeneration Movement was to address the spiritual concerns of people everywhere, of all religions or no religion. It would have been natural and innocent at that time to call the organization a religious one, just as later TM organizations that were formed to address business concerns were called business organizations, or TM organizations formed to address health concerns were called health organizations.
Spirituality and Science
Over time, 'spiritual' and 'religious' have come to have increasingly distinct meanings in our culture, and the TM program emerged as a legitimate field of scientific study — with the National Institutes of Health awarding $26 million in grants for TM research over the past 20 years.
Closer scientific scrutiny of the program began to identify the uniqueness of TM practice, and it became more and more obvious that the TM technique, while having profound spiritual implications, was systematic in nature and categorically a non-religious, science-based approach to spirituality and well-being.
The Transcendental Meditation program was scientific and methodological from the beginning, but the systematic, non-religious nature of the practice became more obvious as the peer-reviewed research studies grew into the hundreds.
Myth #2: Meditation and relaxation practices are basically all the same and produce the same effects.
Myth #5: The research studies were conducted only by “TM scientists” and are not impartial scientific studies.
Myth #6: Independent scientific reviews show that Transcendental Meditation practice produces no significant health benefits. (On the AHRQ report.)
Myth #7: Yikes! It's a cult!
Myth #8: TM began as a religion, then became scientific to reach more people.
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