10 February, 2008

A Brief Encounter With TM

Early 1980s. Kenya. I was young and at times, restless. I passed my time, jogging, swimming, taking long walks in the wild, listening to music and voraciously reading. Reading all kinds of books. Some of which, like those by Henry Miller, Nikos Kazantzakis and Carl Jung, gave me severe headaches. It was then, one day while out in town, I bumped in to three men: two Germans (one in his early 40s and the other in his 30s) and one American (in his mid thirties).

When they saw me, for some reason, they all came to me and introduced themselves; and I introduced myself. They said that they were out to spread the great magic of ‘Transcendental Meditation’ or 'TM'. I had heard about TM, but didn’t know what it was. The more they talked, especially the older German, the more I was interested. In short: they told me that TM would give me such incredible ‘calm’, ‘bliss’ and ‘positiveness’ that my whole life would change for the better. And there was some thing about their demeanor too, that got my curiosity. I agreed to meet them the next evening for more on TM; the meeting place - the best hotel in town - got me even more interested. As we parted, they said that if I know of any one else who would be interested, I can bring along with me the next day.

I decided to get a cousin brother of mine involved. The next evening we reported at the hotel on time, and the receptionist directed us to a room. In the room, were the two Germans. It was a very comfortable room with sofa seats and tables, all around. On the tables, were books and portraits. Many portraits. Portraits of a thickly bearded man whom we were later told to be the founder of TM: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. We were offered lemon juice and were told to avoid completely any types of ‘colas’ as they ‘weren’t good’ for health. The Germans, then talked; mostly, the older one. They told us how, by practicing Transcendental Meditation, we would reach a ’special state of consciousness’ and would increase our concentration and have the highest ‘power of self-control’; they characterized that ’special state’ as “enlightenment” or “bliss.” They went on telling us that TM was a program that was scientifically validated. They showed us charts and graphs demonstrating the wonders of TM in reducing stress and blood pressure. To cap it all, they went as far as claiming that, once we master TM properly, we would be able to ‘float’ or ‘fly’; they even showed us pictures and videos of some of their members ‘hovering’ in the air. This last bit, I found impossible to believe. But still, I was interested in knowing more about TM; and so was my cousin.

During that first meeting I noticed some thing odd: while the older German seemed relaxed and was friendly and smiling all the time, the younger one seemed - most of the time - to be in some kind of a trance; as if sedated; as if on some kind of drugs. From then on, for about two weeks, I and my cousin met the Germans and the American - on and off. The more I knew of TM and its three emissaries, the more I became interested and curious; curious in that, I wondered at the expensive life style of the three: they lived in the best hotel in town and drove around in Mercedes Benz cars and a Volkswagen kombi. At times, I became intrigued, wondering: may be the three were simply secret agents or high class crooks. I and my cousin decided to be careful of the three men; after that first meeting, we avoided to take any food or drinks offered by them. I don’t know if they realized we were being careful of them.

Ten or so days after our first meeting at the hotel, the older German told us that we were ready for the ‘final introduction’ to TM and the first ‘lecture’ on TM; after which, we would be ‘initiated.’ A few days later, I and my cousin promptly reported at the hotel. This time the receptionist directed us to a different room. In the room, we found the younger German. The room was bare, except for a TV and a video player, three armchairs and several potted plants; and it was very neat. On the ceiling - was a fan, slowly rotating. And except for the slight sound the moving fan, above, made - it was very quiet. The German, directed us to our seats; which I noticed was some distance away from where he sat and I realized we were directly under the fan. After telling us that we had each to bring, after wards, the equivalent of about 50US$ for the remaining ‘main’ lectures, he showed us a video of Mahesh Yogi speaking; the ‘guru’ wasn’t impressive at all and most of the time, I felt bored.

After, the German began with what he referred to as an introductory lecture; which he said would last for about 40 minutes. I then noticed some thing else: directly above the fan, there was a lamp; and as the fan rotated, it created some kind of moving shadows in the room. And as the German sweetly talked, I realized I was becoming sleepy and sort of relaxed; too relaxed. I noticed too, that my cousin was almost sleeping. I didn’t like that. Intentionally, I let my mind wander away from the room thinking of all kinds of things; including my fiancee. The ‘teacher’ didn’t like this and started telling me to pay attention. Instead, I decided to have a match with him: I just stared at his icy, blue eyes. And never took in what he said. At times, I could notice that he wasn’t at ease with my direct, continuous stare. By then, I had realized what the German was trying to do: he was trying to impose his authority over us and was trying to sort of hypnotise us or brain wash us? May be, I was wrong. But I have no doubt, that the way the German spoke and the whole room lay out, was carefully thought of to induce some kind of a trance; which we would interpret as ‘bliss’ or ‘calmness’. By the time the ‘lecture’ ended, my cousin was almost asleep; and the German was very unhappy with me. He told me that I was very inattentive and ’stressed’ and wasn’t suitable at all for TM. Unless I was willing to change.

As we left, my cousin said he won’t return for the remaining lectures; not because of the money, but he, as I, were sort of scared. We wondered for days, what TM and Mahesh Yogi was all about. A few months later, we learnt that the three TM emissaries were mostly targeting young people; hundreds had enrolled for the TM ‘lectures’ and ‘courses.’ Most had paid the equivalent of the 50 or so US$ to join TM. I understood later, that thousands across Kenya had joined TM. A simple calculation showed me that TM was making a huge amount of money; mostly from young, unemployed people who hardly had any money but who believed that TM would lead them to success. I never met a single of those recruits who was satisfied or made more 'blissful' with the 'course.'

A few years after, I met the American TM ‘teacher’. He had forgotten me completely. While, I, not only remembered his full name - but even the state he came from in the US. That was sweet. One of TM’s main selling theme, is that - it increases concentration. And here was one of its ‘teachers’ who couldn’t remember me at all. He excused that, as being due to him having many students. I then asked him whether he had attained that ultimate level of transcendence: ‘Yogic flying.’ He simply laughed. I wanted to tell him, but didn’t, that: jogging, bicycle riding, fast brisk walking and especially swimming do greatly reduce stress and tension; and so does, good, peaceful music and having sound sleeps at nights. I could have added too, that: my praying five times a day, at different times of the day - gave me such ultimate peace of mind that I didn’t need to ‘fly’ to achieve it; or pay, to have it.

Years later, I came to know that Mahesh Yogi and his Transcendental Meditation had ‘an empire’ stretching across the Globe and were worth billions of Dollars. A few days ago, I heard that Mahesh Yogi had died; aged 91. And my mind went, wandering, so many years back - when I had that brief brush with his ‘disciples.’

There is no doubt that, in-spite of me having found him on video unimpressive, Mahesh Yogi was a brilliant and gifted business man. But as for what he claimed that TM would achieve for a person, especially ‘flying’ and ‘hovering’ - he was simply lying and fraudulent. There is no doubt that he himself never did manage to reach that ‘ultimate level.’ I understand that, though I was asked to pay a few Dollars years ago - people are now charged thousands of Dollars to take the TM course. Apparently, in the spiritually starving Western countries - such ideas can easily claim millions of followers; just as all kinds of drugs do. This I say with all due respect to TM’s many followers, who include: the Beatles, Mia Farrow, Clint Eastwood, David Lynch, Joaquim Chissano and the millions of others.

And to: Deepak Chopra. Deepak Chopra, a disciple of the Maharishi - is an even smarter and a bigger fraud than Mahesh. He targets the wealthy and is much more expensive. He claims that we can ‘consciously use our awareness’ to stay healthy and ‘tell our body not to age.’ He too uses ’science’, by using terms such as ‘energy’, ‘molecules’, ‘quantum’ and such - in his teachings. Note: it is common to hear now in the West, of Deepak Chopra referred to - as ‘an icon’ and as ‘one of the most influential and most powerful thinkers of our times.’ Modernity and the kind of fast, high tech, individualistic life that most people in the West lead, make them easy victims and the preferred targets for such predators. Be they drug 'barons' like Pablo Escobar or Orejuela; or 'prophets' like Jim Jones or David Koresh; or brilliant 'thinkers' like Mahesh Yogi or Deepak Chopra.