Is Transcendental Meditation real, a cult, or a marketing fraud?

By Sharalyn Pliler, Author, Philosopher, Mediator, Meditator

This is an important question and I want to give it the respect it deserves.

To answer, however, I need to address the meaning of the word cult.

As a wordsmith I’ve observed that people use many words without ever knowing their real meaning. The word “cult” is one of those. The online definition of a cult is “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.”

We all belong to cults

This means that every person who belongs to any religion or church is a member of a cult.

But what we venerate or passionately support is not necessarily a formal religion. For instance, many people venerate and passionately support political parties, attitudes and beliefs about the world (such as PETA [animal rights], pro-life/choice, pro/no gun control, devotees of sports teams, fans of movie and music stars, those who swear by Apple products or who are enthusiasts of Warcraft, and so forth. Anyone who holds these and countless other strongly held beliefs and practices belongs to a cult.

By this definition, almost everyone belongs to some cult or cults, and we are more apt to think of this as something interesting rather than threatening. In this sense TM might be considered a cult because, as it works better than any other meditation technique on the planet, many become passionate about practicing it. Would you be passionate too if, say, you bought a bathtub which, every time you got in and out of it, it left you feeling not only relieved but smarter, happier, healthier, more energetic, less depressed, more loving, etc., etc., etc.? Wouldn’t you expect some really enthused bathtub buyers?

And, the same way many people are passionate admirers of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Tesla, many who practice TM are passionate admirers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man, scientist, and discoverer who made TM available to the world, the world leader who made meditation a household word, who gave us this gift (this “bathtub”) that is so successful at unfolding our potential in the direction of greater health, wealth, and happiness. Because Maharishi and Transcendental Meditation inspire so much devoted appreciation, by the terms of the definition above, TM could be called a cult too, but this appreciation and respect is no more sinister or strange than what many feel for Einstein or Mozart or Mother Teresa.

Sinister cults

For the most part, however, when we use the word cult we mean it as something warped. Another part of the definition of the word cult is:

  • a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.

In this sense, TM and the TM organization is NOT a cult because, to begin with, TM isn’t a religion, it requires no faith, it certainly isn’t small, and it certainly does NOT teach strange, sinister values.

Beyond being told you should meditate twice a day, when you learn TM you are never told how to behave, how you should live your life, what to believe, or what to value. If you voluntarily go deeper into learning more about Maharishi’s teachings (Maharishi’s book The Science of Being and Art of Living will tell you the quality of life advice the TM movement generally follows) you find the emphasis is on good health in body and mind, understanding natural law, and developing your own natural potential. TM, and all programs sponsored by the TM organization, leads you in the direction of the positive—toward what is good, healthy, happy, wholesome, and scientifically proven, without conflict with religion. People of all religions (and of none) practice Transcendental Meditation. It is just a mechanical technique that develops pure potential. It is actually a major scientific discovery with hundreds of research studies that support its claims and keeps finding new benefits. The same way gravity works for people of all faiths and none, TM works for everyone without requiring any faith at all.

Mind Control

Another thing we tend to think of when we use the word cult is mind control, but among those who practice TM, research studies show increased field independence and inner locus of control. These and other studies show that TM meditators rely on their own thoughts and feelings rather than being dependent on others, and are even more capable than the general population of thinking for themselves.

Also demonstrating that TM isn’t mind-control, one learns TM in about an hour a day for four days. More depth is available if you want it, but after you learn TM, you own the technique and are not required to ever go back. Whether you participate in the larger TM movement or you just practice alone, as long as you meditate regularly, you will get the benefits.


As for your asking if TM is a marketing fraud, it is smart to ask. We live in a world where almost daily we are insulted by some slick sales gimmick that has only one goal—to get our money—so it is natural to be suspicious, especially with so many forms of free meditation available.

However, TM is not a marketing ploy. The charges actually benefit the world because it means they can do more research, get more teachers into the field, make this life-saving program available to raise human potential in disadvantaged countries, etc. When I learned TM in 1974, I literally shouted at the TM teacher, “How can you charge money for something like this?” The funny part of this story is that a few weeks later I was so humbly grateful for what I’d gotten that I donated that same amount of money to them.

But why do we expect meditation to be free? Did we get our iPhones or car or home entertainment for free? Considering that a weekend sales seminar costs upwards of $3,000 (the content of which will mostly be forgetten afterwards), learning TM (which will continue improving your life for the rest of your life) is a signifiant bargain. The cost is certainly less than the seminar or the co-pay on a hospital visit that practicing TM may actually prevent. Where free or lower-cost forms of mediation may give you some benefits, research says that you will get more benefits from TM and will be more likely to continue practicing it (and hence to continue getting benefits) than from other forms of meditation.

If you knew the value of what TM does and how much more efficiently it works, you would happily pay many times over today’s cost for it. Free forms of meditation all require effort to learn, effort to practice. But even though it is natural, TM is something you can’t discover on your own. TM teachers do things for you that means they earn their portion of TM income, with the result that you can have a technique that truly works. Because it is effortless, entirely natural, it is the technique that you are most likely to continue practicing. TM is actually a scientific discovery because nothing in the world develops human potential so surely, so profoundly, and so effortlessly.

But the world in general doesn’t know that. Where Maharishi made mediation a household word, today many meditation techniques ride on the coattails of TM’s success with claims to be “just as good” for less money, or none. But it is more important to be guarded against lesser meditation techniques than it is to be guarded against TM itself, especially as learning other techniques can complicate the experience of TM’s more natural technique, so you struggle at it rather than allowing it to work for you the way it is intended.

Whatever you do, it is good to be skeptical until you have some certainty of a thing. Do your homework. Look at the research (go to Find a Transcendental Meditation Teacher for more info). Then when you learn TM, don’t expect flashy experiences, just be open to what is happening in your life. Because the effects are natural it took six months for me to become completely convinced that TM worked (and then I was astounded to comprehend how well it had been working all along). Studies show changes in the brain begin the very first day but consciously you may not be aware that it is happening.

If you are still in doubt, rely on is the scientific research. There are those who claim that the TM research is all in-house or poorly done or whatever, but this is hype, usually by people who don’t do TM or who hope to sell you their form of meditation. If there were only a handful of studies on TM then that could raise legitimate doubts but with hundreds of studies published in peer-reviewed professional journals, you can be assured that regardless of any flaws might exist in any one study, the extant body of research can hardly be doubted.

Finally, your financial investment is safe because TM comes with a guarantee. Also, even if you feel some sense of sacrifice, you will find that there is value in paying the money. However, if you are seriously poor there may be scholarship help available.

It is smart that you asked. Good luck.

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Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail Thanks for sharing 🙂

One Comment

  1. Very nice article! Smooth and convincing logic. Well done! Thanks!

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