An information meeting about Transcendental Meditation ended in a shouting match Thursday night at Terra Linda High School.
Principal Carole Ramsey hosted half a dozen supporters of the program so they could explain it and answer questions from parents who want to know more about the school’s possible new club. But Ramsey ended the meeting abruptly when a parent stormed the stage, refused to leave and angrily denounced Transcendental Meditation as a cult she’d broken free of after teaching it for 35 years.
“There is the danger of becoming a cult member if you learn it,” said parent Susan Crittenden, whose son is a senior.
The disruption caused many parents to call for order and for critics to respect Ramsey’s goal of more providing more information.
Parent Karin Buffenbarger said she attended because the program sounds like it could help her freshman son concentrate better on his homework, among other problems. She’d [heard] accusations in the 1970s that Transcendental Meditation is a cult, but that didn’t bother her before or after the meeting.
“My son is a bright kid,” she said. “He can put two and two together.”
Ramsey has supported a Transcendental Meditation club that would be voluntary and not part of the curriculum. She said more than 60 students indicated interest in it after physical education teacher David Garcia proposed it as a way to reduce student stress.
To learn more about Transcendental Meditation, Ramsey attended a lecture by noted filmmaker David Lynch, who is an advocate of its ability to reduce anxiety, depression, behavior problems, insomnia and other problems. She was impressed with what she heard and obtained a $175,000 grant from the David Lynch Foundation, which aims to spread the practice in schools, so Terra Linda students could learn.
– Is TM a religion?
Transcendental Meditation was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to improve mental and physical health. Maharishi is perhaps most famous for being a spiritual advisor to The Beatles when the group experimented with Eastern religion in the 1960s.
Participants would take several workshops, including 90-minute periods for four consecutive days, to learn the program. The goal is to sit silently for 15-20 minutes twice a day with their eyes closed to settle their minds and experience different levels of thought until they have fewer, less intense thoughts.
It is not, supporters strenuously claim, a religion or philosophy and practitioners do not change their lifestyles or experience any types of mind control even though the founder, Maharishi, is referred to in most instances as “His Holiness.”
A consultant with the state Department of Education said this week that she did not see a problem with the program in a public school.
“We embarked on this with a significant amount of research and thought,” Ramsey told the crowd of roughly 75 people Thursday night.
The meeting began with more than an hour of lectures by about six supporters of Transcendental Meditation.
They included a Transcendental Meditation teacher from Sausalito who provided an overview, a professor who explained the mental health benefits and a retired Stanford University medical school professor who described the overall benefits based on observations during his long career. Even the headmaster from the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment for grade school children in Iowa spoke.
Ramsey’s question-and-answer period opened innocently. One mother said she was won over and just needed help convincing her daughter to participate, while another wanted to know how clubs were formed.
Then Ramsey called on Ford Greene, a San Anselmo attorney who fled the Unification Church and became an attorney who specializes in suing organizations such as the Church of Scientology.
Greene asked Ashley Deans, headmaster of the school in Iowa, several pointed questions about the method that mantras are delivered to students, how much takes place one on one, and whether the Terra Linda program is similar to a class taught at Deans’ school that a court banned from public schools in 1979. Greene also questioned Deans’ motive for being at Terra Linda because he appears in a promotional video on the organization’s official Web site that recruits new members.
“Part of your purpose is to sell people on the belief,” Greene said.
Deans responded by saying Greene misunderstood the program and his questions were too detailed to explain without teaching the technique. He also said Greene inaccurately implied Transcendental Meditation is linked with Hinduism.
“It doesn’t matter what you believe,” Deans said.
Several audience members began shouting at Greene to sit down and allow others to speak. Ramsey tried to move the discussion on, but that’s when a visibly angry Crittenden stormed the stage and began lecturing the crowd.
“It is part of a destructive cult,” she said.
Ramsey told Crittenden to leave the stage and, when that didn’t happen, announced about 30 seconds later that the entire meeting was over. While the crowd gathered around the front of the auditorium to listen to Greene and other critics, Crittenden got in the face of Garcia, the physical education teacher who proposed the program, and told him to leave her son alone.
Garcia tried to discuss Crittenden’s issues, but gave up and asked others not to speak with her.
“Personally, I think it’s great,” Garcia said. “I’m a Catholic and it doesn’t interfere with my religion.”
Amy Villase or , whose son graduated from Terra Linda in 1995, said she attended because the program may be helpful, but it should be taught privately and not in a public school. She said she was annoyed Ramsey let supporters of Transcendental Meditation have the stage with computer presentations for an hour, then ended the event as soon as critics raised questions.
“What’s the problem with both sides being heard?” she said.