Book review: "Roots of TM: The Transcendental Meditation of Guru Dev & Maharishi Mahesh Yogi" by Paul Mason

Thank you, Paul Mason, for this book!  

The TM movement has an official story of how TM came to be spread to the world.  That story comes from the mouth of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  But we know that Mahesh loved to embroider stories.  So – what does independent historical research reveal about Guru Dev, Mahesh, and TM?

Paul Mason doesn’t give us his personal conclusions.  Rather, he researches and relates the facts, and lets us decide for ourselves.  What I have decided is that the procedure of Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation, of how to think the mantra, is virtually identical to one of the several meditation techniques taught by Guru Dev. 

But other aspects of Mahesh’s Transcendental Meditation differ from his master’s teachings.   Although Mahesh claimed to revere Guru Dev as “divinity incarnate,” he disobeyed a number of his guru‘s wishes, and as the years progressed, altered more and more of his master’s teachings.

From Guru Dev’s instructions to meditate one hour, Mahesh decreased it to 30 minutes, then to 20 minutes.  From the necessity of sitting cross-legged to the acceptability of sitting in a chair.  From insistence on a straight spine during meditation to the acceptability of slouching.  From no money accepted, as per Guru Dev’s strict rule, to a set fee. 

And then there is the choosing of the mantra, which is part of a guru’s responsibility.  According to Guru Dev, only a perfect master is qualified to choose a mantra.  Guru Dev said (page 98),  “…[I]t is very difficult to obtain a perfect teacher.  The traditional Indian Scriptures are full of mantra,…but until someone will tell which [mantra] is fit, the pile…will really be next to useless….[O]bserving the energy and inclination of those devoted to spiritual achievement, in accordance to their qualification,…the experienced guru…deduces the mantra of one’s favored god which would be of benefit to the spiritual seekers.”

Maharishi did not dispense the same mantras that his guru did.  Maharishi said, “It’s very difficult for me to find out what [mantras] he was using.  Because initiation is all in private.  And I was never interested in who was given what mantra.  I was interested in myself.” 

And instead of using Guru Dev’s dual criteria for choosing mantras, (see above: aspirant’s “energy and inclination” plus “favored god”), Mahesh reduced the criterion to only “favored god.”         Mahesh explained (p. 259), “[The gurus choose] from the tendencies, from the cut of the face….I don’t go into all these vibrations, botherations.  I ask him (the student), ‘Which god you like?’…Ask him directly ‘What he likes?’ and that is it.”

When he initiated Christians, Jews and Muslims, he could not very well ask, “Who is your favored god?”  And what could he have asked when he taught atheists? So he made another change – to assign the mantra by age and sex.  I couldn’t find any evidence in “Roots of TM” that there was any precedent for this criteria.  Later Mahesh simplified the criteria yet again, to choose by age only.  Even in this he was inconsistent.  One year he would use one set of mantras and ages, another year he would use another.  On occasion, he even broke these simple rules, for instance when he instructed some initiators to use teenagers’ mantras for all adults.

And most paradoxically, was Mahesh disobeying his master by even teaching meditation?  Guru Dev had said, (p. 96), “…[N]ot everyone can be a guru.  Actually only members of the Brahmin caste are in the position to be a guru….”  Mahesh was from the Kshatriya caste, so according to his own guru, he was prohibited from teaching meditation.  (By the way, Mahesh was the secretary at the ashram.  Did you know that?)

So how then did Mahesh justify teaching meditation?  Page 143:  “I thought, ‘What to do, what to do, what to do?’ then I thought, ‘I should teach them all in the name of Guru Dev.  I should design a system, a system of puja [ritual or ceremony] to Guru Dev.’  This decision did not follow the letter of Guru Dev’s teaching; do you think it followed the spirit of Guru Dev’s teaching?  

What went through Mahesh’s mind as he made these changes?  Did he tell himself that he was not really changing Guru Dev’s teachings?  Did he tell himself that some of his divine Guru’s teachings were imperfect?  Did he decide he had surpassed his guruDid he rationalize that the changes didn’t matter because he was teaching “inferior” Westerners?  What do you think? 

“Roots of TM” helped me understand the fourth possibility more.  As I read, I realized how different Mahesh’s world was from the Western world.  I realized that despite India’s pursuit of modernity, underneath India’s veneer of westernization, the traditional Indian ways are vibrantly alive.  It is entirely a different world view from the West’s.

For instance, Guru Dev taught (page 81):  “The man who gives suffering to the cow goes to hell.  [Intermixing of Indian culture with Western culture] has caused ignorance of the Hindu scriptures, that the cow and Absolute Divine Truth are the same.  This devout scriptural knowledge is disappearing.”  

Or, on page 47, Mahesh relates how it is to be brought up properly in an Indian family.  “The children…are told to bow down to your mother, your father, your elders, your school teacher.  It provides a great shield of security and assistance for the child….[as] this later on develops in devotion to Almighty….”

And this excerpt from the chapter “Yoga Teachings of Swami Brahmanand (Guru Dev.)”  Pages 98-99, (paraphrased by this editor), “The principal teaching of Swami Brahmanand Saraswati was that one should routinely practice a system of [mental repetition of a word of benefit to the spiritual seeker] in order to…realize the purpose of one’s life…. Realization comes from doing word repetition….By practicing, sins are destroyed….”

(Page 231):  “During his stay in San Francisco, Maharishi received his first press coverage in the USA, and was rather surprised that the meditation had been dubbed a ‘non-medicinal tranquilizer.’  His comment was, ‘Cruel…!  I feel like running away, back home.  This seems to be a strange country.  Values are different here.’ “

This book is filled with gems.  Arrange them together in different ways, and many questions can be answered about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, his guru and his Transcendental Meditation.  

Paul Mason is one of the world’s leading English-language experts on Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his guru, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (Guru Dev.)  He has written, co-written, or translated from the Sanskrit over seven books on these topics.  He is a former co-editor for TM-Free Blog.

“Book review: "Roots of TM: The Transcendental Meditation of Guru Dev & Maharishi Mahesh Yogi" by Paul Mason”