An introduction to Transcendental Meditation


This Transcendental Meditation, or TM, is a system of meditation which is generally practiced twice daily. One is introduced to the practice of TM by a teacher. After a short interview with an initiator (a teacher of TM), there follows a short ceremony to which the initiate brings flowers, fruit & fresh cotton handkerchief. During the puja ceremony the teacher murmurs a traditional Sanskrit composition (a version of Acharya Vandana) and performs a ritual set of offerings in front of a portrait of Guru Dev, a revered Indian sage. Following this ceremony the initiate is given a mantra and an explanation of how to use the mantra to good effect in meditation.


During his time as Shankaracharya, Guru Dev advocated a method which involves the use of two techniques practiced simultaneously;
    1. 'japa', the 'mental repetition of a mantra
    2. 'dhyana' is 'meditation' or 'contemplation'.
Guru Dev explained that it is necessary to practice both techniques, because by japa alone the mind flits about, and by dhyana alone the mind becomes restrained, but by practising a combination of the two the process is made successful.

In the instructions as to how to practice Transcendental Meditation one is first asked to understand the how effortlessly thought occurs,  then guided as to how to repeat a mantra:-

"When we close our eyes, naturally we feel some quietness, some silence, yes?  Did you have some thoughts in that silence?  Did you notice that a thought comes effortlessly, spontaneously?  This is how effortlessly we should think the mantra."

"In this meditation, we do not concentrate, we do not try to think the mantra clearly. Mental repetition is not a clear pronunciation. It is just a faint idea. We don't try to make a rhythm of the mantra. We don't try to control thoughts. We do not wish that thoughts should not come. If a thought comes, we do not try to push it out. We don't feel sorry about it. When a thought comes, the mind is completely absorbed in the thought.

"When we become aware that we are not thinking the mantra, then we quietly come back to the mantra. Very easily we think the mantra and if at any moment we feel that we are forgetting it, we should not try to persist in repeating it. Only very easily we start and take it as it comes and do not hold the mantra if it tends to slip away.

"The mantra may change in different ways. It can get faster or slower, louder or softer, clearer or fainter. Its pronunciation may change, lengthen or shorten or even may appear to be distorted or it may not appear to change at all. In every case, we take it as it comes, neither anticipating nor resisting change, just simple innocence."

"There is no need to try to stop thinking, because thoughts are a part of meditation. Even if the mind is filled with other thoughts while the mantra is going on, there is no conflict. Our concern is with the mantra, and if other thoughts are there along with it, we do not mind them and we don't try to remove them. We are not concerned with them, we innocently favour the mantra."

"Noise is no barrier to meditation. Even in a noisy market, it is possible to be thinking thoughts and whenever we can think, we can meditate. So one can think the mantra comfortably even though aware of outside noises. We just innocently favour the mantra and do not try to resist noise in any way."

"It is easy and simple. It is just the normal, natural process of thinking the mantra and taking it as it comes. Now, this is how we will meditate, easily, morning and evening."

"One thing is very important, that we do not try to meditate. We do not try to keep the tempo of the mantra the same, nor do we try to change the tempo. And, we do not concentrate against thoughts we might have, or against noises we might hear. We do not resist thoughts, we do not resist noise, we do not resist the mantra changing or disappearing, we do not resist anything. We take it as it comes. It is a very simple, natural, innocent process. When we meditate at home, we start with half a minute sitting easily. That means, close the eyes about half a minute and then start the mantra easily. And when we want to end meditation then we stop thinking the mantra inside, but do not open the eyes for about 2 minutes. This is very important that we start with half a minute of silence and end with 2 minutes of silence."
Importantly, these instructions, about using the mantra correctly, all rely on the ability of the meditator to witness, to remember, and if necessary, to adjust, his or her practice. So, Transcendental Meditation is not simply a matter of sitting quietly and mentally intoning and repeating a pleasant sound, it also relies on the ability of the meditator to bear witness to this process. If the meditator repeats the mantra, and is mindful of that repetition, then he is practising japa and dhyana, and what occurs is that he/she 'transcends' quite naturally and spontaneously, and at times finds himself/herself in a state of 'restful alertness' where thought and mental action have subsided and there is a stasis, a suspension of mental and physical activity. So the mind is stilled and this is the state of yoga, as described in Patanajali's Yoga Sutras, in Bhagavad Gita, and in innumerable other texts.

There are several explanations offered as to how Transcendental Meditation works; viz. because it is 'effortless', 'spontaneous' and 'a simple natural innocent process'.

Further insight might be gained, about how TM works, from this exchange between a student of TM and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi:-

Question - "How can we think something effortlessly when we are told to try to think it? It doesn't make sense."

Maharishi - "Right, it doesn't make sense. Mind is told to be effortless, and mind is also told to think this thought. Mind tries to bring together these two contradictory instructions and in this moment of struggling to do these two contradictory actions, mind slips between both instructions and there it slips inward toward the source of thought."


Subjectively, it is as if one were stepping back a pace, within, drawing one's breath and taking some moments to compose oneself.
One might also say that this TM meditation is like routinely clearing one's vision or cleaning one's windscreen. But more importantly this meditation seems to perform the function of a circuit-breaker, automatically ridding one of accumulated stress. In short, to many of its practitioners, Transcendental Meditation is an invaluable practice, as it seems to enable one to find solace from everyday entanglements and pressures, whilst simultaneously recharging one's batteries. The practice is held to yield these benefits without effort, therefore one is told that it is not necessary to change one's philosophy or lifestyle. So, it is important to understand that one is not being persuaded to adopt Indian thinking or religion, merely to practice a routine that will hopefully put a light in the eye and a spring in the step!

The principal effects of twice-daily periods of Transcendental Meditation appear to be;

    1. Feeling more relaxed .
    2. Feeling more capable of attending to one's everyday life.

    3. Sensation of well-being

    4. Possibility of experiencing higher states of consciousness.


Maharishi Mahesh Yogi promoted this system of meditation, first in India in 1955, and then throughout the West from 1959, dubbing it 'Deep Meditation', then 'Transcendental Deep Meditation', before eventually settling on the terms 'Transcendental Meditation' & 'TM' by the mid-1960's. 

Importantly, Maharishi declared TM to be scientifically verifiable and not dependant on any belief system or philosophy. Equally important is that he also claimed that TM is not a process of auto-suggestion.

The writings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi provide some very intriguing food for thought, in that they appear to apply rigorous scientific method to the subject of Indian mysticism. Furthermore, the study of the teachings of his guru, Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, often referred to simply as 'Guru Dev', offers an exceptional opportunity to gain a broad understanding of traditional Indian thinking.

Is TM a cult or religion?

Over the years, since the popularisation of TM, the question has been raised as to whether or not TM is a religion or cult. In truth the question has not been answered to everyone's satisfaction, but, seemingly, if one simply practices the meditation, and one does not become overly immersed in any attendant philosophy or get too deeply involved in the activities of the TM organisation, then one is unlikely to adopt a cult mentality or feel a compulsion to change one's religious beliefs.

Did John Lennon continue to practise Transcendental Meditation?


NPR On Point - June 27th 2012, Tom Ashbrook interviewed Yoko Ono

A caller named Craig Berg phoned in and asked Yoko a question:-
Craig - "I read in the press a few years ago Yoko went to a fund raiser by the David Lynch Foundation to raise money to teach Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation to disadvantaged youths, and I was wondering what Yoko thinks about what John would say about such efforts today? Yoko?"

Yoko - "Well, you see, John was not against Transcendental Meditation. He was a meditator, he was always meditating."
Quote is from at 39:19 onwards

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Life & Teachings of Guru Dev
Roots of TM