Is TM a cult? (cont.)
Part 3: A definition of "cult", and finally the answer to the question!
As described in this article there are a myriad of meanings for the word "cult." That article has a long list but some of the meanings of "cult", with my response to the definitions, are:
- Roman Catholics who are devoted to a particular saint are said to be members of the "cult" of that saint. The word is completely non-judgmental in this context. Of course this isn't what I mean when I use "cult" in this web site, but it gives you an idea of the wide uses of the term.
- Some people will label any group that they think has excessively eccentric beliefs a "cult." This is not what I mean either. Yes, I think that the complete set of TM beliefs is completely nuts, but that's not what my problem is with TM! If I thought TM was just a group of people with nutty beliefs I wouldn't give it a second thought. For example, I think that support groups for alien abductees are reinforcing a delusion, but I don't consider them to necessarily be "cults."
- And some people will label any group that they think has a negative impact on members a "cult." I don't use the term "cult" to describe groups like this either.
A destructive cult is a pyramid-shaped authoritarian regime with a person or group of people that have dictatorial control. It uses deception in recruiting new members (e.g. people are NOT told up front what the group is, what the group actually believes and what will be expected of them if they become members). It also uses mind control techniques to keep people dependent and obedient."
An example: Scientology
Let's take Scientology as an example:
- Scientology definitely has a pyramid-shaped dictatorial structure. No one ever argued with L. Ron Hubbard before his death. Everything he said was considered revealed truth. And now no one argues with David Miscavige today.
- Scientology absolutely uses deception in recruiting. Every word uttered after "Would you like a free personality test?" consists of deceptive maneuvering. No one who walks in to take a personality test knows what they are really getting into. They have no idea of what Scientology really teaches. If they knew, they'd never come in the door. This is the reason Scientology has to use deception. They can't have the targets balking, so the targets can't know the whole story ahead of time. The targets have to be gradually introduced to cult doctrine while in suggestible psychological states.
- And Scientology definitely uses mind control techniques. All of the post-personality-test "Training Routines" induce a dissociative state, as does the main "auditing" technique. Scientology indoctrination is always given while the person is in a vulnerable in-trance or post-trance state.
Ok, now what about TM?
Now let's have a go at TM:
- Nobody ever argued with Mahesh either. Ever. Every word that he uttered was considered to be revealed and perfect spiritual truth. The highest spiritual truth, literally, that the world had ever seen.
- Nobody who walks into a TM introductory lecture has any idea of what they're really getting into either. And for exactly the same reasons as with Scientology. For example, David Lynch would have a very hard time introducing TM into public schools if the school boards knew that their students might end up as TM monks or nuns. Or that the students might end up believing in demons. Or that the students might start believing that they can learn to physically levitate (the music is whimsical but that's actual footage of TMers thinking that they are levitating).
- And TM definitely uses mind control techniques, as I've discussed throughout this web site.
But Scientology and TM seem completely different!
If we focus entirely on the doctrines and practices that are taught then yes, Scientology and TM are completely different.
Indeed, the two groups' dogmas bear no resemblance at all. And TM is not "rabid" in the way that Scientology is. For example, TMers don't stand on sidewalks pushing "personality tests." The TM leaders aren't suing me into the ground for having this website. They are not leafleting my neighborhood accusing me of being a child molester as Scientologists often do with critics. In fact, I'm extremely happy that I was in TM rather than in Scientology.
But where Scientology and TM are the same, however, is that they deceptively exploit the exact same vulnerabilities in normal human psychology in order to recruit and retain their members. And their members incur significant psychological injury in both groups.
Ok, so finally, is TM a cult?
TM is what I call a "stealth" cult. The public tends to think of a "cult" as a group with very high-pressure recruiting tactics, or that commits group suicide, or that sells flowers in airports, or that conducts mass marriage ceremonies, or that pursues its opponents with lawsuits, etc. etc. Therefore there are very few people who recognize that TM is a cult. It has successfully marketed itself to the public as a "scientifically validated, simple, natural relaxation technique." Most members of the public are dismissive of TM, but yet they consider it at worst eccentric and harmless.
TM's recruiting is very subtle. It is based on post-trance indoctrination that begins very subtly during the basic course in TM. TM is happy to let most people fail recruiting and wander off unhindered. It's quite happy settling for the smaller subset of those who learn TM who do end up sinking into the cult. And once it starts, the descent deeper and deeper into the cult is very gradual. Everything is entirely "voluntary", and even after falling into the cult aspect of TM a person can walk away at any time without being actively blocked from doing so, and without being pursued. There is no real pressure to descend farther into the cult, people are attracted to do so by the prospect of achieving Enlightenment and "bliss", and thereby achieving complete freedom from "suffering." The phobic induction is very subtle; eventually a person will become convinced that there will significant negative karmic consequences, both in this life and the next, of leaving TM, but this also is developed very gradually and is not blatantly instilled. And so on and so forth.
Most people quit practicing TM entirely after awhile, without ever having descended into the cultic aspects of it. Those who do descend into the cult get quite stuck in it, however, and end up wasting their lives in it. They will become active in TM offerings that involve much more than "twenty minutes twice a day" of meditation. TM is just a method of self-inducing a trance state. "Trance" is a form of "dissociation." Self-inducing dissociation for hours a day for months or years at a time, as many of those who descend into the cult do, is extremely psychologically dangerous and many such people develop severe psychological problems.
The official TM dogma regarding such people is that it's their own fault if they can't handle the rapid pace of spiritual "evolution" induced by TM. When their psychological problems manifest in observable dysfunction, these people will be denied access to further "courses", access to "advanced techniques", and access to all other TM offerings that are supposed to greatly accelerate one's "evolution."
Some of these people will crash and burn, severely. Students at "Maharishi University of Management" (the TM private university) who develop debilitating dysfunction have been driven to nearby emergency rooms and dumped there. Those TMers who are working as full-time (and miserably paid) staff at TM facilities will lose their jobs. Those who have become celibate TM monks in the "Thousand-Headed Purusha Program", or celibate TM nuns in the "Mother Divine Program", will be kicked out. A great many of such "kick outs" have been living a life involving many hours of self-induced dissociation a day for many years and are ill-prepared to cope with life on the "outside", this in addition to the dissociative disorders that they have started to develop. Other TMers, as a result of their own dysfunction and also as a result of having been banned from TM's "advanced" offerings, just limp away on their own.
It is extremely rare for any of these people to ever realize that they have actually been in a cult. This is because the success of TM's "stealth cult" approach has fooled them too, and (unlike Scientology for example) there is extraordinarily little public discussion about the cultic aspects of TM. Those who crash and burn and end up outside of TM just nurse their wounds and try to "get a life" again without ever understanding what has actually happened to them. And those that do eventually come to understand that they were in a cult just want to heal and get on with their lives. So there are extremely few former TMers who publically oppose TM. And those that do so are usually dismissed by the public because of the public perception that TM is harmless despite its eccentricities.
TM's "stealth cult" approach has been extraordinarily successful. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has achieved total psychological dominance of a great many followers who consider him an enlightened man who has revived the highest spiritual teaching that has ever been available on the planet. And he has absolute control of the millions and millions of dollars that the TM organization has garnered over the decades. For awhile it seemed like TM would die out as there were very few new "initiates." However, newly developed propaganda efforts are proving highly successful. For example, the efforts by the famous film director David Lynch to introduce TM into public schools are proving distressingly successful, and his extensive of tour major college campuses giving presentations that include TM propaganda have been well received by student audiences.
For further study on cults
There are several suggestions for further study of cults on the
"Suggestions for further research"