So I resonated with a "Mantras" post on the TM-Free blog, which describes itself as:
Insider information about the Transcendental Meditation™ techniques, the TM movement and its late founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Our bloggers take independent, skeptical and critical views of TM claims and research. We report allegations of deception by TM organizations and reports that some individuals experience harm from involvement.
For most of those forty years I used a mantra taught by a Sant Mat organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, that was known as the Five Holy Names. The mantra bore some resemblance to the ones used by the Transcendental Meditation folks.
Sudarsha, the author of the post, says:
My question is this: why are the results in activity so much more rewarding for me using the breath as an object than using a "meaningless sound".
The “method” is useful, but what about the “mantra”?
The mantra (a.k.a. meaningless thought, meaningless sound): Let’s look at what Mahesh said at the beginning:
We do not select any sound like mike, flower, table, pen, wall etc. because such ordinary sounds can do nothing more than merely sharpening the mind; whereas there are some special sounds which have the additional efficacy of producing vibrations whose effects are found to be congenial to our way of life. This is the scientific reason why we do not select any word at random. For our practice we select only the suitable mantras of personal Gods. Such mantras fetch to us the grace of personal Gods and make us happier in every walk of life.***
So, first we don’t want sounds that just do nothing more than merely sharpening the mind. Isn’t this in and of itself a red flag? Why wouldn’t we want sharp minds? If we had sharp minds might we detect something not in Mahesh’s best interests? That was my thought when I read this remark by Mahesh.
Like any totalitarian thinker, Mahesh would only want sharp minds from which he could cull information. Then, as he has done so often when finished with someone providing him with answers, he could send them to round and do the ‘sidhi’ program until they were no longer sharp enough to realize they were being blindsided and their work siphoned off to the credit of someone else.
Later in the blog post Sudarsha talks about the dulling effect of a mantra.
A simple experiment:
(after you read this)
Sit and close your eyes and say/think/ponder some word over and over; just that word, over and over, some word you understand, some particular word you know the meaning of. Pick a simple word like house or flower or chair.
If you keep doing it you notice that it becomes nonsense. The sound and the meaning detach from one another. There’s just this very strange sound that does not have the sense it had when you started. It’s even funnier if you do it again and pick a complex word like hypothalamus or train station. After a while you begin to hear what someone who known no English hears.
Now notice: do you get intellectually sharper doing this, or do you feel slightly spacey? – Ask yourself very carefully how different is “just any word” and your personally selected meaningless sound? Do different words bring different experiences of silliness? Is this a beneficial experience of altered alertness? Is this experience of altered alertness beneficial?
Good questions. I started asking similar ones myself after many years of repeating a mantra for at least ninety minutes during a morning meditation session, and then as much as possible throughout the rest of the day.
I've come to much the same concluson as Sudarsha has: following the breath mindfully is a better meditation approach than is repeating a mantra mindlessly.
In some way, I knew I was in the darkened house of ignorance and TM really had the feel of gold. Maybe it might have been just that; but much later I discovered that Mahesh was corrupted by his own greed and narcissism subsequently corrupting not only what he had purloined from his tradition and teacher, but those he taught as well. This is my perception to this day, based upon my interaction with Mahesh and observing his interaction with others.
But just because I had been hoodwinked by a charlatan whose motives I felt were highly suspicious, I did not cease seeking. I kept looking for the gold and now I feel I have found that gold and have been examining it in the broad daylight, questioning practitioners and teachers alike, watching, observing, certainly looking for the behaviours and attitudes with which TM allowed me to be familiar. I am also looking at criteria such as Lifton’s to see if I am being cheated. I wish I could have done this from the beginning with TM.
I have continued the search that began in the spring of 1964. I can only conclude at this time that there is much more to life than TM. There is more than imagining that if you believe something good is happening long enough something good will happen. There is more to life than imagining you have been spiritually endowed by using the suitable mantras for personal gods.
I am a Buddhist presently practicing in the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravāda Buddhism. I have no intention of suggesting that this is better than or superior to what Mahesh or Guru Dev is teaching/taught. However, if you are or feel you might be or might have been a TM casualty, you might want to look at “feeling the body” as explained in the Buddhist teachings.
...I am suggesting nothing easy, but I am suggesting something very do-able and uncomplicated. But, if you will, notice that the teaching begins with following the breath and letting mind and body become calm. Do you remember from the checking procedure how, before any mention of mantra, after opening and closing the eyes, you felt some quiet and calm, just naturally?
Did you realize anything or ever think about this?
You already knew how to be calm and quiet. It is my opinion that Mahesh’s teachings beyond establishing this insight is nothing more than a distraction from that calm and quiet, sidestepping the only meaningful reality, your own innate, knowable reality.
How can there possibly be any other basis for happiness in the world than knowing your own specific reality (your own colour)?
Cultivating this calm-and-quiet is the object of the Anapanasati Sutta. The method and teaching above (A Practical Guide) has been extremely helpful for me and I feel that if it is only read as an explanation it is helpful to understand the concept of mindfulness in the Buddhist tradition.
Further, in the The Satipatthana Sutta, we read how the Buddha established mindfulness in four REALITIES, the primary four realities of the individual, the person, YOU.
Lastly, I'll end with some cogent thoughts from Tucson, a regular commenter on this blog. Back in 2007 I shared what he said in a comment.
I will say that Sant Mat meditation, at least the basic technique of simran (mantra repetition), seems to me to have a dulling, dumbing-down effect that seems to interfere with intuitive perception.
Imagine you are in a wilderness at night. It is pitch black and you know there is a predator out there. All your being, all your senses are fully in the moment listening for some sound or movement to indicate where that predator is. You are fully absorbed in the present situation, in the immediacy of your current reality. No simran is necessary at this time and would actually be a hinderance to full awareness of what is. Your mind is totally quiet absorbing the sounds of the night because of the urgency of the situation. It is alert, ready.
This is a good non-meditation. Be fully present in whatever you are doing. The mind will wander off. No matter, it can't be helped. When you are fully aware again, just be that way.
Great advice from Tucson. Why would you repeat a mantra in your mind when your goal is to be aware of what exists in what I like to call really real reality?
It'd be ridiculous to remain focused on mentally repeating sex, sex, sex, sex, sex when a beautiful willing partner is lying next to you on a bed, arms outstretched for your embrace.
Likewise, it'd be ridiculous to keep saying sunset, sunset, sunset, sunset, sunset as the REAL sun is dipping below the horizon, displaying gorgeous colors across the sky.
And even if your aim is religious, does it make any sense to utter God, God, God, God, God (or other supposed names of divinity) instead of being receptively open to whatever divine presence might be capable of being experienced at the moment?
Occasionally I still use a mantra, but more and more it seems pointless to speak repeated words inside my head. Life is going on all the time I'm awake and aware; experience is happening all the time I'm awake and aware.
A mantra now seems like an unnecessary distraction from life and experience. When I'm ballroom dancing, I don't think to myself dance, dance, dance, dance, dance. I just dance.