‘A house of cards’
Joe Kellett knows gurus. He says he was one.
For years, Kellett was a disciple of the transcendental meditation movement, then a teacher. He now runs an anti-TM webpage.
His problem is complicated by the fact that TM is based on – but does not mirror – 2,000-year-old ayurvedic health rituals from India. That gives it credibility, as do studies showing it can be good for your health.
“When TMers say ‘TM is not a religion’ they are talking about the purely mechanical mental technique,” says Kellett. “However, ‘TM the technique’ is never taught without introducing recruits to ‘TM the religion’ during three days of instruction following initiation.
“Mahesh initially came out of India openly as a teacher of spirituality. Then in the early ’70s he abandoned that approach and began disguising his message in the language of scientific analogy. But the core message is still the same under the semantic covers: do TM for long enough and you will become ‘enlightened.’ “
– Is TM a religion?
You might also have negative consequences. A compendium of 75 studies of TM technique in 2000 found that 63% of practitioners suffered long-term negative mental health consequences from the repeated dissociation – or disconnection – with reality caused by going into a trance-like state.
TM counters that by pointing out it can produce 600 studies showing the benefits to everything from high-blood pressure and stress reduction to slowing the aging of cells, reducing mental fatigue and improving clarity of thought.
Health benefits or drawbacks notwithstanding, Kellett argues, TM teachers were tasked with withholding information from students until they were susceptible enough to accept dogmatic positions related to the maharishi’s own Vedic Hindu background.
“Dissociative ‘bliss’ is often an easily produced substitute for true personal growth,” says Kellett.
“As teachers we memorize almost everything we are to tell students. We were very careful not to tell them too much less they become ‘confused’ by things that they ‘couldn’t yet understand’.
“Only after they had the ‘experience,’ could we start very gradually revealing TM dogma in easy, bite-sized chunks, always after they had just finished meditation and were therefore likely to be still in a dissociative state.”
Freedom of Mind Center
When he left the group, Kellett took direction from cult deprogrammer Steve Hassan, who established a technique for what he calls “re-establishing reality testing” – taking people who’ve been addicted to the sensation of dissociative bliss and making them critical thinkers again.
“I realized that everything I had believed and experienced was based on the premise that Mahesh was truly an enlightened man with the highest spiritual teaching on the planet,” he says.
“When I abandoned that assumption, the whole thing fell like a house of cards.”