Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Man Who Would Be God is Dead

Maharish Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation and the guru to the Beatles, is dead. Maharish (a self-given title meaning "greatly awakened") may have done more to bring Hindu mysticism to the West than anyone else. He first presented his yogic teachings to the West in the 1950s as yogic teachings and met with little success. Then he revamped the message as nonreligious, as a mere technique for enlightenment. TM could be practiced in good conscience by anyone of any religion or of none and that person would derive measurable benefits: lower blood pressure, higher intelligence, and so on. Or so we were told.

But the essential message remained: through yogic meditation, one can find the divine within--The Source of Creative Intelligence, he called It. The intitial stages of learning TM were supposed to induce a sense of calm. This lulled the meditator into the deeper levels of meditation that were more overtly Hindu. The initiation into TM was religious, requiring a sacrifice and oblation before Maharishi's teacher, Guru Dev.

When TM tried to insinuate itself into the New Jersey public school system in the late 1970s, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP) filed a lawsuit against them, claiming that their teachings were "establishing religion" (Hinduism), and thus violated the First Amendment. SCP won that important case, although various forms of yoga are now taught in state schools around the country. It is even taught in some churches and endorsed by Doug Pagitt, an emerging church leader.

Maharishi was nothing if not messianic about his TM. He claimed that given a critical mass of meditators, all the world's problems could be solved. He modestly called this "The Maharishi Effect." Given the present state of the world, either he didn't get enough chanting heads or the theory was bankrupt.

The giggling guru attracted a number of celebrity followers over the years and established a university. What he could not establish was a coherent worldview. Consider just three points.

1. TM's claim to not be religious are absurd. He was a Hindu guru who taught people to transcend their humanity through finding Brahman with (despite the semantic smokescreens he used).

2. The idea of perfecting human beings through dissolving their personality and connecting them (or what's left of them) to an impersonal and amoral force lacks credibility. This idea is intrinsic to Hinduism (and Buddhism), which seeks release for humans by transcending their very creaturehood and their humanity.

3. The Absolute for Maharishi was Nirguna Brahman, to use the Hindu name: God beyond thought and form and attribute. But if this is so, how can we know It even exists or that it is valuable? We cannot, since ineffability cancels out any meaningful predication, as does the idea that it has no attributes.

I once attended an introductory TM lecture and was told that the highest state of being was "beyond thought." I asked how anyone could know that, since it was beyond thought and knowing require thought. They had not thought of that, and had no answer beside, "Just mediatate and you will know." But then there is no possible reason to meditate. It is a post-dated check for the Void.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man who would be God, is dead. But his worldview, pantheistic monism, is very much alive in American culture. Oprah promotes it on a regular basis by hawking The Secret and the writings of Marriane Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Gary Zukav, and others. It is promoted in films like, "What the Bleep Do We Know?"

It is the original lie: "You will be as God..." (Genesis 3)

1 comment:

Tony Lombardo said...

For John Lennon's thoughts on the Maharishi, listen to the song "Sexy Sadie," which was originally titled, "The Maharishi." It is safe to say Lennon, at least, came to think of him as a religious fraud. The song is on the Beatles' "White Album."