Myth #7: Yikes! It's a cult!

Dr. Sandeep Chaudhary, Medical Director of Endocrinology, Scripps Memorial Hospital:   
"If anyone is concerned that the TM program might be some kind of religious sect or cult, then just ask yourself: How many so-called cults have had their program researched by teams of scientists who've received nearly $30 million in U.S. government research grants from the NIH (National Institutes of Health), or offer programs validated by peer-reviewed research studies published in hundreds of refereed medical and scientific journals, including the American Medical Association’s Archives of Internal Medicine or the American Heart Association's journal Cardiology?

"How many religious sects have offered AMA-approved continuing education courses for physicians, or teach systematic instruction in a technique that’s regularly featured in brain research presentations at the American Psychological Association’s annual conferences, and highlighted in the American College of Cardiology press releases for benefits to cardiovascular health?

"The distinguished recognition and scientific validation goes on and on."

The Transcendental Meditation technique involves no beliefs or dogma and no change in lifestyle. Research shows that the practice creates coherence in the brain's prefrontal cortex and thereby improves discrimination, comprehension and focus—the basis of critical thinking. Scientific studies show that the technique creates self-sufficiency and heightens self-actualization.

All of these effects suggest the exact opposite of "cult." TM is not something you join, it's a technique you practice for your own personal benefit—like yoga or jogging, but with its own holistic range of effects.

"Cult" is often a derogatory label some people use to denounce any group they think they don't like. Granted, there are harmful, dangerous groups in the world, but by any rational standards the TM organization is not one of them.

As a meditator recently told me: "When I do TM, I'm minding my own business. Nothing that I do on my own, in my room, by myself, for my own personal benefit, is a cult. Even doing the group meditations, I am just minding my own business. When you're transcending, you're totally free from anyone telling you what to do or think."

Numerous peer-reviewed studies show that TM practice develops independent, responsible, creative thinking. The founder of the TM program, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, rather than positioning himself as a "spiritual leader" with followers, was known for encouraging personal independence, integration with society and good citizenship.

Improved Brain Functioning:
TM practice creates brainwave
coherence (in the frequency of high amplitude alpha) throughout the frontal regions of the brain, and in the left and right hemispheres and posterior regions, clearly distinguishing the technique from hypnosis and other forms of meditation. Researchers have long known that most experiences (including hypnotic trance) activate only small, specific areas of the brain. Studies indicate that the Transcendental Meditation technique enlivens and coordinates synchronous brain activity over a wide area — stimulating what neuroscientists call “more efficient, integrated brain functioning.”

Dozens of peer-reviewed studies on brain patterns of people practicing the TM technique show heightened brainwave coherence during meditation, and, more importantly, the studies show that this coherence grows in daily life outside of meditation, over time, as one continues practicing.

Brainwave coherence is healthy and desirable for many reasons: it's associated with increased intelligence and creativity, improved moral reasoning and self-actualization. Neuroscientists tell us that everything good about our brains depends on its healthy, coherent and orderly functioning.

Enhanced Critical Thinking:

According to research studies, the area of the brain most immediately affected by TM practice is the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher-level discrimination and decision making. The TM technique is found to bring the prefrontal cortex more fully "online," directly enhancing the neurological basis of "critical thinking"—application of one's higher discriminatory powers.

Also, research shows that reaction time is faster after TM practice and that creativity, IQ, comprehension, and problem-solving abilities improve. Those who practice the technique actually become less susceptible to suggestion and control by other people, as shown by measures of increased discrimination, self-sufficiency and self-concept. People practicing the technique also display greater field independence (sharper focus along with broader comprehension), which psychologists associate with leadership qualities, self-reliance and independent thinking. (Consciousness and Cognition, 8, 302-318, 1999; International Journal of Neuroscience 14: 147–151, 1981: Cognitive Processing, 11, 1, 2010)

Students of the Maharishi School (K-12) in Fairfield, Iowa, where the Transcendental Meditation technique is an integral part of the curriculum, are famous among educators and students for their consistent wins, year after year, at national and world championship competitions involving critical, creative and innovative thinking. 

In reality, the TM technique is a beneficial mental practice that people do for their own well-being, and the organization teaching it (Maharishi Foundation) is a collection of people enjoying their daily meditations and striving to help create more peace in the world.

Phillip Goldberg, author of "American Veda" and writer for the Huffington Post:

"I've found that some people will call any unconventional spiritual movement a cult. If you stretch the definition far enough the term fits an awful lot of organizations, making it a useless term... The TM Movement is incredibly benign. Most people recognize that. But there are always the loud, angry, disappointed folks... Other movements that started in the 70s have far more anger directed at them, from far more people, in far harsher terms—they're flaming all over the internet and in support groups. Compared to them, TM's detractors are like people dropping notes in a suggestion box." 

• Who runs the TM organization—and what is a raja?

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