THE APOCALYPSE WAS NEVER IN THE BROCHURE
I learned how to practice Transcendental Mediation
13 years ago. At the time, I was a student at the University of
Victoria, and was attracted to meditate by a simple flyer somebody
had left in a lecture hall.
On the cover of the flyer was a simple line
drawing of a slim man gesturing towards an easy chair, the sort
of thing Archie Bunker would hold court in. A fatter man stood
beside him, clearly tempted to have a seat. A few brief sentences
explained that learning TM could make my life nicer.
I went to a meeting, mulled it over, and said
I'd go for it.
For $125, I was given my mantra and was treated
to a private ceremony, after which I tried meditating for the
first time. Thrown into the deal was the offer for help if I wanted
it, a handkerchief, and an apple.
As I walked home, it occurred to me that I
had just spent my monthly grocery budget. I ate the apple.
Subsequent meditation lessons were free, and
so was the tea when I visited the TM centre. Anytime I felt my
meditation was going nowhere, a nice guy who took his fashion
cues from Mr. Rogers would meditate beside me for about 10 minutes.
He barely said three sentences and sent me on my way.
You know what? After a few weeks, I started
to feel like that chubby guy on the cover of the flyer. I was
meditating twice a day in my own comfortable chair. My life got
nicer, just as they had promised. In my opinion, the best thing
I ever got out of practicing TM was that I smoked a lot less pot.
It was easier to stay within my monthly food budget, too.
Contact with the TM movement was minimal.
Occasionally I received mail from them. Photocopied newsletters
offered listings of videos they were showing. They sold a few
products like incense and books. Often they promoted weekend retreats
in seaside hotels where you meditated more than normal and hung
out with other people who'd seen the flyer and, like me, had written
a cheque and sat in that comfy chair.
That was back in 1986. The TM movement had
not changed much since its flurry of press in the mid-'60s. Today,
however, something is up. This same group, which never asked me
for another penny after my initial training, now warns me to pony
up big time. Or else!
"You are invited to contribute to the
Maharishi Global Yagya performances to protect your life, your
family, and your wealth from destruction," a recent letter
informed me. "Now is the time to contribute to Maharishi's
effort to save the world from a catastrophe, for your own personal
benefit as well as your country.
The performances, which they call Yagyas,
involve hundreds of people meditating together, in groups all
over the world, in order to calm down an overheated, but unspecified,
The letter's intent couldn't be more clear:
Go ahead and meditate in your chair, but if you don't cough up
some serious coin, prepare for the roof to fall on your head.
It then goes on to explain that appreciated stock is accepted.
You'll save the world and avoid a nasty capital gains tax.
What's going on here is exactly what the TM
movement has been up to ever since the Beatles marched up a mountain
with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, wrote the White Album, and came home
early because Ringo didn't like the food. It's called positioning:
determine what the public wants, then try to get them to believe
you are the best group to offer it to them. In the '60s they co-opted
the Beatles. During the '70s it was anti-nuclear activities and
a meditation group right in the heart of the Pentagon. In the
'80s the movement promised better business management through
meditation. VedaLand, a colossal theme park, was also on the books.
This decade we've seen the Natural Law Party and the first-ever
use of a magician to promote a political party.
The pitch changed, but the concept was always
the same: sit in your chair, calm your mind, and help make the
world a better place. To a lot of people, me included, that makes
sense. To those who dismissed it all, TM was nothing more than
a harmless cult which didn't mind being ridiculed for claiming
that hopping around like a frog was actually "Yogic flying."
So why the sudden threats? Why the prediction
of global catastrophe for those who don't phone in their Visa
I've got two theories. The first is that Maharishi
is getting a little long in the tooth and no successor has been
named. A leaderless cult always deteriorates into internal bickering,
lawsuits, and a rush for the exits. If ever there was time for
a cash grab, it's now.
The second theory is more in line with a movement
that has a history of repositioning itself to exploit the public
mood. There's a millennium coming up. Our computers are set on
"fail." We just had a war in Europe. Plenty of reasons
to start screaming. Whatever we might fear, it might be coming!
People are a little antsy and want to feel
secure. The TM movement knows this and they've cooked up a way
to get you grounded. Except now you don't even have to meditate!
Just cut a cheque and others will do it for you! That's pretty
clever, but it's a shill's pitch no different than a psychic hotline.
Desperate folks hand over desperate cash. Every time.
I'm saddened and disappointed. Partly because
I think the movement dropped the ball. If they really wanted to
pull in the cash, a better repositioning would have been to replace
Maharishi with Deepak Chopra; he's a well-liked guy with a lot
of years ahead of him and he never hesitates to promote TM in
his best-selling books.
Mainly though, I feel that this time they've
gone too far. I could swallow their running for office to get
the message across. I think some businesses would be better if
they instituted programs where staff had a way to ward off stress.
But the Apocalypse was never in the brochure.
Their metaphors were always about roses, not ruin.
I'll continue to meditate, though, because
I like it. And I will try to remember the advice Maharishi once
gave in a lecture. He said we should avoid thinking negative thoughts,
or negative things will happen.