The term Transcendental Meditation (TM) was made famous by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918–2008) in the late 1960s. Yogi’s diagnosis of the human problem was that humans who are part of the infinite Brahman are unaware of this fact due to our ignorance (avidya), particularly because of our emphasis placed on mundane things. In other words, we need to “transcend” the ordinary via the practice of TM with the goal of finding union with the Infinite. TM was also a classical pantheistic teaching of the earlier guru Sankara (788-820 AD).
Yogi’s practical manner of meditation was likewise made accessible because it never required one to have any sophistication in Hindu thought and/or philosophy. Commentator Lawrence Jeyachandran explains the methods employed by Yogi when he was in India:
“In his ashram (prayer hall) in northern India, he would assign a monosyllabic word to each of the devotees in the language with which they were comfortable. Each devotee would have to repeat the assigned word audibly as a chant during all of one’s waking moments. One could change over to a silent mode as long as the preoccupation was with that one word. After a few days, when the conscious mind was preoccupied with the word, the devotee was advised to expel the thought of that word so that the mind would become (theoretically) blank. In that moment of blankness, one could suddenly have an inward enlightenment (Brahmavidya) that one was an extension of Brahman. It was at this point that one would have transcended the transient in order to find the inward liberation that is the longing of the human heart” (1).
Today TM is taught by certified teachers, and involves the use of a sound or mantra and is practiced for 15-20 minutes twice per day. It is used to achieve relaxation as well as the prevention from stress. However, in the end Yogi’s TM claims that everyone is an extension of Brahman, and thus it is the goal to transcend the ordinary in order to find the inward liberation that is the longing of the human heart, as Yogi affirmed that “Transcendental experience awakens that divinity in man.” Essentially, Yogi’s form of meditation involved the emptying of the mind because “He argued that the clutter in our human minds came in the way of true knowledge of the Infinite” (2).
Similarly, another philosopher by the name of Krishnamurti would likewise advocate a contentless philosophy as Yogi’s. Krishnamurti claimed that the human problem was in our thoughts particularly as a result of the conditioning of our lives through various stages of intellectual development. Thus he advocated “freedom from thoughts” as the means of liberation. Jeyachandran, however, critiques this method of the emptying of one’s mind:
“Practical as well as philosophical problems exist with this approach. Our minds are designed to think, and even to transcend (or get rid of) thinking we have to think! The guru who tells us that our thoughts are the problem has reached this conclusion and communicates it to us only by use of the very faculties that he decries. We are caught in a web of contradiction from which there is no escape. In fact, the logical conclusion of this philosophy is total silence – absence of communication. An ancient Indian scripture called the Kenopanishad has this unaffirmable quote: “He who speaks does not know, and he who knows does not speak”!” (3)
We would also do well to note that meditation in this sense is “looking inward” to self rather than “looking outward” to God. This follows since the philosophical teaching behind TM is that we are extensions of the Infinite Reality of Brahman and therefore we are urged to peer inward to realize the truth that we are part of the Infinite.
1. Lawrence Jeyachandran in Ravi Zacharias’s Who Made God? And Answers To Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith (2003). p. 196-197.
2. Zacharias, R. 2003. Ibid.
3. Zacharias, R. 2003. Ibid.