Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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Maharishi Mahesh Yogi came to the United States from India in 1959 and established a nonprofit corporation named Spiritual Regeneration Foundation, the first of many such organizations designed to help spread his message of "transcendental meditation."

The Maharishi previously had obtained a degree in physics from a university in India, but he had abandoned a life based on science and instead became a hermit, living in caves and walking through the forests of India for some 13 years before becoming a missionary pledged to sharing his ideas with all of humankind. Maharishi Yogi developed a form of meditation he called Transcendental Meditation or TM (a copyrighted symbol), which involves silently meditating for two 20-minute periods each day using an individual secret Sanskrit mantra given to0 the meditator. The technique became quite popular in the 1960s and 1970s, and some well-known media people became adherents of the Maharishi Yogi, including the internationally popular Beatles singing group and actresses Jane Fonda and Mia Farrow. Tens of thousands of people have practiced TM techniques over the years since its inception in the United States, and most major cities continue to have TM centers open to the public.

TM received a major boost in attention and credibility in 1970, ironically from science itself. An article was published in the most prestigious scientific journal in the world—Science —presenting results of a scientific study comparing meditators with nonmeditators. The meditators were all trained to use TM meditating techniques. Quite significant differences on a number of physiological measures were found between the two categories, with TM receiving the credit. This and many other studies that followed helped establish TM as a technique with positive consequences and led to its being accepted by many people and in many different organizations, from schools to prisons and large corporations.

However, TM has since come under considerable attack from those who think of it as a religion and others who question findings of some of the earlier research. Indeed, TM lost a major court case in 1978 in which it sought to defend the claim that it was not a religion but was instead simply a technique of meditation. Losing this case made it easier for foes of TM to have it removed from organizational settings in which it had been accepted, and contributed to its dramatic decline in popularity and number of adherents. Claims that TM techniques could be used for levitation also undermined positive views of this movement.

James T. Richardson


D. Cohen, The New Believers (New York: Ballantine, 1975)

H. Johnston, "The Marketed Social Movement," in Money and Power in the New Religions , ed. J. T. Richardson (Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen, 1988): 163-183

R. K. Wallace, "Physiological Effects of Transcendental Meditation," Science (Mar. 27, 1970): 1751-1754.

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