As always seems to be the tendency among those who market Transcendental Meditation, the names of legitimate institutions, federal agencies, and their programs and activities, like this one, are simply devices that they feel free to pick up, use, and abuse, hoping that some of that legitimacy will rub off on them and their promotional efforts. Unfortunately that also seems to be true for this year’s Awareness Day.
I hear that the David Lynch Foundation, along with the Communication Office of the so-called “Raja Hagelin’s Administration for an Invincible America” (boy, that sure sounds legit… pardon me while I stifle laughter) is right now emailing its minions in an attempt to gain both press coverage and word of mouth attention for a webinar that they’ll be running in honor of this Day… tomorrow. On that webinar will be a number of employees of the DLF, the TM movement’s university, and a few other doctors who inexplicably lend their names to this nonsense, specifically to propose TM as if it were something helpful in treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as part of Lynch’s ongoing efforts to introduce the TM program into schools. It will not be a pretty sight for those of us who are familiar with a few decades of the TM movement’s futile efforts of this nature.
The exaggerated claims for TM often take the form of this one, from the first few pages of The TM Book, which I think sums up, in the broadest sense, the attitude that its promoters exude:
The Transcendental Meditation program changes the quality of life from poverty, emptiness, and suffering to abundance, fulfillment, and happiness.
I’ve emphasized “suffering” in the above quote; it’s where the promise of a uniformly improved quality of life inherent in that quote, a panacea that’ll fix everything that ails you, completely falls apart.
That children and young people who grew up in and around the TM movement, and attended its schools, have suffered from mental illness is a fact. That students at Maharishi University of Management, who are required to practice the TM program, have suffered from diagnosed but untreated mental illness, in one case resulting in a murder, has also been documented. Likewise, the children of long-time, committed meditators have also suffered from mental illness, in one recent well-documented case resulting in suicide.
We know these things are true because the long history of suffering, and tragedy, is a subject of common knowledge among the TM community in Fairfield, and from time to time such things are reported by the media.
In the late fall of 1990, this obituary appeared in the TM-EX Newsletter:
Mark Alan Totten, 27, a resident of Building 123 B, Maharishi International University, Fairfield, Iowa, was killed early November 29, 1990 after apparently placing himself in the path of a oncoming Burlington Northern train near the Fairfield depot.
The railroad crew reported hitting a body on the tracks at 2:12 a.m. Totten originally was from the Boston area. He was the son of Norman Totten of Newton, MA, and Peggyann Sekton of Weston, MA.
Mark’s sister Julie later founded Families for Depression Awareness in memory of her brother and others. It’s an organization that, among other things, works to help depressed people obtain or manage treatment for depression, and prevent suicides.
On March 1, 2004, Shuvender Sem, a Maharishi University of Management student, stabbed and killed fellow student Levi Butler in the university’s cafeteria. Sem was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Shuvender Sem’s history of hospitalization for psychiatric problems was reported by the Fairfield Daily Ledger and the Des Moines Register, including the detail that he had not been taking medication for several months before the stabbing:
Prosecution agrees Sem was insane. Fairfield Daily Ledger, June 8, 2005
Prosecutor Virginia Barchman told the judge that in 2002 and 2003, while living in Pennsylvania, Sem had been hospitalized between nine and 12 times for psychiatric problems. She said his illness had usually been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia, which caused auditory and visual hallucinations, acts of violence and paranoia.
Ex-student ruled insane in stabbing.The Des Moines Register, June 14, 2005
Sem drifted from anger to elation before and after the attacks and reported hearing voices in his head.
Before he attended Maharishi University, Sem had been hospitalized between nearly a dozen times in 2002 and 2003 for psychiatric problems.
Sem had not taken psychiatric medications for several months before the stabbing.
Levi Butler’s estate subsequently sued Maharishi University of Management for negligence. In the complaint, this allegation appears: “While at Maharishi University of Management, Shuvender Sem did not take anti-psychotic medications that had been prescribed to control his chronic schizophrenia.”
From Mental health advocates praise new legislation, mourn those lost to suicide. The Gazette, October 7, 2008
Nicole Rowe planned her suicide carefully.
According to her father, North Potomac resident Kenneth Rowe, it happened sometime between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight on Sept. 13. Nicole Rowe, who had several months before moved to Iowa from her home in Montgomery County to be with her mother, had a long history with mental illness, including several previous suicide attempts.
That night, her father said, she was having problems with her boyfriend, and had recently threatened that she would kill herself. She dressed in dark clothing and made her way to a nearby train track, at a spot where she knew there was a bend in the rail line. She waited for an oncoming train. Then, she threw herself in front of it.
She was 20.
Kenneth Rowe, when asked to describe his daughter, said she was beautiful and intelligent. “She was a really good athlete — she was good at the 800 meters,” Rowe said. “She had a beautiful voice and she wrote beautifully.”
Nicole had a long history of struggling with bipolar disorder, Rowe said. Though bipolar disorders can often be treated successfully with medication, Nicole refused to take it, Rowe said.
As a child, Nicole attended Maharishi School for the Age of Enlightenment, a since-defunct elementary school founded by TM teachers in the Washington, DC area. Her mother, Lisa Stickels, was once an advocate of Transcendental Meditation in public schools. A published account of a meeting promoting TM in schools in 2003 reported that Stickels had practiced TM since 1971.
While advocates of TM are quick to point to the endorsement of doctors and scientists to support their marketing claims – to the point of creating a “doctorsontm.org” website – the actual attitudes, common among long-term TM devotees and the organization’s leaders, appear to diverge from an endorsement of science and medicine to outright hostility. It is difficult to nail down the existence of those attitudes, and even policies, since they travel by word of mouth, in advanced lectures, residence courses, and other such venues. They do not normally appear in print or on websites. But over time, evidence of this hostility eventually comes to light.
I once visited Maharishi University of Management. The lobby of one of the buildings there, Dreier Hall, is apparently used for various exhibitions of the movement’s marketing materials. One exhibit that was hanging on the wall there, in mid-2004, was particularly striking. It consisted of two large plastic boxes, in each was a stack of paper representing published scientific studies. A short stack, maybe six inches tall, was labeled “side effects of Ayurvedic medicine.” Another stack, perhaps six feet tall, was labeled “side effects of Western medicine.” Clearly the creator of this exhibit intended to get the point across that the TM movement’s Ayurvedic products are somehow safer and more effective than western medicine. (I, on the other hand, note the obvious – that fewer unintended effects implies less effect of any kind, beneficial or otherwise.)
Perhaps the most spectacular evidence of this hostility toward medical professionals appears in an internal document recently made available to the public by way of wikileaks.org, an organization that specializes in the publication of leaked, confidential documents. The “Governor Recertification Course Overview of Policies and Procedures” purports to be a review of the policies presented during the 2005 recertification course for TM teachers. All TM teachers who wished to continue teaching TM under the official auspices of the TM organization were required to complete this course in residence, involving a commitment of a few weeks of time and some thousands of dollars.
The document was written by, among other people, Kingsley Brooks, who was also involved with the movement’s Natural Law Party in the 1990′s. Brooks, at the time he wrote this document, was “Raja of New England,” which along with the role of being one of the movement’s regional managers, involves wearing a golden crown and being called “His Highness.”
In between a considerable amount of mundane administrative detail of a regional branch of the TM organizational structure, this section concerns the operation and promotion of “Maharishi Ayurveda and Day Spas.” Here is a striking reversal: where much of the promotion of TM, particularly to schools, exploits the legitimacy and authority of medical professionals, here the involvement of medical professionals is clearly, strongly discouraged, with a sweeping false and destructive claim that “medical professionals give poison” and the tired old claim that TM is part of a program to “create perfect health.”
- We are not going to take help from medical Drs. as medical professionals give poison. So don’t engage any medical Drs. for anything — absolutely whatever it is — even if they are in our Movement family
- Raja Raam’s discovery shows us that without handling consciousness there is no hope of handling health–there will never be total health. And we have the programs for handling consciousness.
- Hold onto the fact that we are the supreme authorities on health—we know how to create perfect health—we are challenging all governments in world.
The TM movement’s claims that its people are the “supreme authorities on health” and that they “know how to create perfect health” are obviously the kinds of claims one normally hears from quacks and fraudsters, even if they were only made in private. It’s as if the movement’s management actually believes that they hold a monopoly on effective health care.
That the TM movement is, internally and at any time ever, broadly dismissive if not hostile to medical professionals and scientists, while at the same time gaining the endorsement and participation of those professionals, is an important fact in evaluating the marketing claims of the TM organization and the closely allied David Lynch Foundation.
That an organization that works to gain access to schools, has at any time expressed such overwhelming and generalized hostility to medical professionals of this nature, should permanently disqualify them from ever gaining such access.
We may never know, exactly, why mentally ill young people who’ve attended the movement’s schools, or grew up in the movement’s cultural stew, did not seek, or maintain, treatment for depression and mental illness. But we can clearly point out the obvious: such attitudes held against medical professionals, expressed by the TM organization’s management, may eventually serve to undermine the provision of health services to young people who are involved with any part of the TM organization. And that is reason enough to keep the sellers of Transcendental Meditation far away from schools.
Sources and References
Coping After A Suicide. Families for Depression Awareness, 2008.
Estate of Levi Andelin Butler v. Maharishi University of Management et al. Complaint and jury demand. February 24, 2006. From Yahoo group Fairfield Life.
Colleges have varying policies on reporting criminal incidents. Fairfield Daily Ledger, March 9, 2004
Prosecution agrees Sem was insane. Fairfield Daily Ledger, June 8, 2005
Ex-student ruled insane in stabbing. Des Moines Register, June 14, 2005
Judge enters ‘not guilty’ verdict in murder case. Fairfield Daily Ledger, June 15, 2005
Settlement expected in killing at Maharishi school. Intelligencer Journal, January 9, 2009
Mental health advocates praise new legislation, mourn those lost to suicide. The Gazette, October 7, 2008
Genealogy Record For Nicole Rowe. Mark Stickels Family Website, April 20, 2009
Residents advocate meditation in public, charter schools. The Gazette, September 17, 2003
Governor Recertification Course. Overview of Policies & Procedures, May, 2005 – via Wikileaks.org
“National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day”