Transcendental Meditation: Cult, Quackery, or Science?

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transcendental meditation
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In 2016, I published an interview with the person who taught me everything I know about transcendental meditation (TM). And since meditation has been on my mind as of late—with the recent release of the Kion e-book, Meditation Demystified—I wanted to share this still highly informative interview with you once again.

See, Meditation is a powerful tool for improving your mental, emotional, and even physical health.

Its widely studied benefits include stress reduction, better sleep, enhanced focus, elevated mood, improved regulation of emotions, and so much more. When practiced consistently and with intention, meditation has the unique ability to positively transform the way you think, behave, and interact with the world around you!

So what exactly is transcendental meditation?

More than 380 peer-reviewed research studies on the TM technique have been published in over 160 scientific journals. These studies were conducted at many prestigious US and international universities and research centers; including Harvard Medical School, Stanford Medical School, Yale Medical School, and UCLA Medical School.

They have shown irrefutable evidence that TM reduces insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression, blood pressure, cholesterol, congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis/stroke, free radicals, blood sugar, diabetes, pain, along with higher levels of brain functioning, longevity, sleep quality and much more.

And the man who taught me everything I know about transcendental meditation?

His name is named Philip Land, and he has been practicing transcendental meditation for the past 40 years. But he's no woo-woo, robe-clad, Eastern mystic. He's an unassuming, straight-talking, God-fearing, gun-totin' redneck living in northern Idaho. (When he's not teaching TM, you can find him walking his dog or taking selfies with Colonel Sanders.)

Philip has taught TM all over the globe, working with celebrities and high profile politicians. He's also worked in medicine, computed tomography, radiation technology, craniosacral therapy, hunting instruction, shooting, wilderness survival, and much more.

In this fascinating transcendental meditation deep dive, you'll learn…

-How “badass, redneck, hunting, hippy, family man” Philip initially got involved with TM…8:50

  • Was born and raised in Memphis, TN
  • Heard of TM while attending Memphis State Univ.
    • In retrospect, Philip believes he was “searching for something”
    • Internal happiness was missing

-Celebrity TM practitioners…11:25

-How Philip describes transcendental meditation…15:30

  • “A simple, effortless mental technique that can be done anywhere”
  • Creating white noise inside your head
  • TM does not have a monopoly on the ability to “transcend” where the mind settles to a quieter and quieter level of awareness
  • You transcend where you are physically, and take yourself to another place mentally

-Religious elements of TM and why a guarded secrecy exists among its teachers…19:45

  • No religious belief is required; it's a mental technique
  • You don't need to believe it will even work
  • TM was argued before German Supreme Court; they ruled it is not a religion
  • Teachers are sworn to secrecy to protect the integrity of TM; you can't learn certain parts of it in a weekend then teach it to others
  • These techniques are 5000-6000 years old
  • Traditional way of teaching:
    • Teacher performs a brief ceremony which reminds him or her to maintain the integrity of the knowledge
    • Performed in Sanskrit

-The “place” where a person transcends that produces a biological effect…28:45

  • The field of pure consciousness is our core, our essence
  • Many mantras that are used for each individual
  • 3 things that make TM work:
    • Mantra
    • Sound (life-supporting, no meaning assigned)
    • The nature of the mind and life is to go to greater fields of happiness, joy and intelligence
  • Within each of us is a field of perfect order, joy, intelligence, etc.
  • Color fasting cloth analogy
    • Conscious mind becomes saturated in the perfect field of order
    • Mind settles, body settles and vice versa
  • The vagus nerve plays an integral role in the mind/body relationship

-Formal studies on the effects of transcendental meditation on the brain…38:30

  • Center for Brain, Consciousness and Cognition (Dr. Fred Travis)
  • Practitioners of TM with minimal sleep (4-5 hrs) performed similarly to non-practicers with 8-9 hrs.
    • (TM is not a suitable replacement for sleep)
  • TM has been shown to stimulate dreams

-Why TM is still necessary, even with all the biohacks available today…45:30

  • TM is natural, whereas some biohacks are “forced” on us
  • TM is portable; you don't need to carry any devices anywhere
  • A large number of prisoners practice TM

-The importance of a proper mantra when performing TM…50:20

  • A proper mantra puts up no boundaries on the mind, thus enabling it to transcend its normal environment
  • They are time-tested for thousands of years
  • There is no “one size fits all”
  • The importance of one's individual mantra cannot be overstated
  • The mantra is just a small part of the totality of TM

-The connection between transcendental meditation and longevity…59:10

  • Biological age can be younger than the chronological age
  • Decreases the rate by which telomeres shorten
  • “Breath suspension” is a state of deep rest for the body

-The financial cost of learning TM and why it costs money in the first place…1:03:45

  • $960, one time, lifetime fee for the course (discounts for college and high school students)
  • Financial assistance is available if necessary
  • No one will be turned away, although you'll need to pay something
  • What is “free” anyways?

-And much more…

Click here for the full written transcript of this podcast episode.

Resources from this episode:

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Got a question about anything that Philip and I talked about in this episode? Leave a comment below and we'll reply!


Also published on Medium.

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37 thoughts on “Transcendental Meditation: Cult, Quackery, or Science?

  1. Mary says:

    Ben, I appreciate you in so many ways, but TM is major BS. I took the course and was very uncomfortable at its conclusion when I was led into a room and the instructor knelt in front of an alter, singing something vaguely mystical and revealed my mantra. It was bizarre and not at all cool. My experience: There is NO special technique taught – just say the mantra over and over. The course was $1000, maybe more, and after I realized I’d been duped, asked for a refund, which they refused to do repeatedly, but I persisted and finally got it after perhaps a year or so! You DO NOT need a mantra to meditate. I have now successfully been meditating for years with extremely positive results, currently using “big and heavy waterfall” on youtube as my background. Simply clear your mind and focus on a steady sound. TM’s attempt to instill fear that you will do it “wrong” if you don’t have the correct mantra is hogwash and one’s skepticism should be way up when the persuasion technique of fear is trotted out.

    1. Joe says:

      Fortunately, suffering builds character.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I learned TM in 1971 and paid $10. for the course.

    1. Joe says:

      It’s probly too late to get a refund I’m afraid.

  3. Dr. Dental says:

    Hey Ben, great episode. Very curious how TM compares to the “flow” meditation that you also recently promoted. At a basic level how would you compare and contrast the two practices in terms of health and longevity benefits? As I understand both are from the vedic traditions. I purchased the flow course and have been practicing for about 6 weeks now and really enjoy the simplicity of the practice.

  4. Sammy says:

    I love your informative unbiased or selfless podcasts typically, but for some reason listening to you kindof poke at Philip and interrupting constantly I feel took away from the respect that’s deserved for a Healer. Haven’t listened in awhile before today but maybe keeping the ego aside and letting people that are different from you speak without any slight mockery or whatever clever comment is followed is something to work on. 💙

    1. Joe says:

      A lot of us love Ben’s irreverent sense or humor.

  5. Mark says:

    On paper, at least, I think I’ll go for the robed, eastern mystic over the gun-toting, god-frightened redneck… Reality isn’t spiritual on the one hand or material on the other. It transcends labels and descriptions. You can’t say what it is. Meditation is being aware of what is without comment or judgement. Krishnamurti describes 2 types – one that just seems to happen in wave after wave of joyous energy, and the other is a more deliberate activity by conscious effort to achieve some result or spiritual progress. The latter is 100% futile and is an exquisite trap. Alan Watts says mostly that meditation, concentration or dhyana is relaxing spotlight consciousness and supporting floodlight awareness. It’s a holistic way of experiencing, without the separating duality of experience and experiencer. To try and block off sensory input is to be a stone buddha and not a living one. Since the basis of everyThing is spectrum there’s a vast variety of meditation forms and practioners. TM is one of them, and hey they gotta make a living too…

    1. Mark 2 says:

      oops…make that “practitioners”

  6. You can see the legacy of traditional healers in the traditional healing system at
    https://e-journal.unair.ac.id/index.php/MKP/article/download/3498/2767

  7. TM is a religion because it tries to quantify higher states of consciousness and deals in spiritual terms.

  8. Hi I’ve been doing TM since 1997, started as a hack for sleep since I was working as a Consultant and training and competing in Karate for the International and National events, I’ve researched on how to sleep faster and less and get things done. So for a set of time it was like that, fast forward Portugal, Norway, UK, now US I keep doing TM. I’m interested to know if there are studies on TM and it’s effects in Martial Arts, I’m particularly interested in the relationship to combat abilities and performance under duress of effective violent attacks. In my life as a Krav Maga instructor now I believe there are benefits for the awareness, learning and execution and then all the others of day to day stress reduction and wholeness.
    It is very interesting to see that Philip does transmit the same life “energy” that I’ve got in the several countries where I could practice and be checked.
    I’m interested in bringing TM further to Krav Maga, this means pointing out to the right sources and benefits if used and trained by and properly.

  9. betsy maldonado says:

    Ooops the proper spelling is “hirim” just looked it up.

  10. betsy maldonado says:

    I took TM training…. it is definitely very culty. My secrete mantra I was given just for me is “harim” I wonder how many others have that same “secrete” mantra. OH no I just shared my secret mantra. The sky hasn’t fallen. LOL

    1. Lisette Callis says:

      what does it mean? sounds like haram which is bad lol.

  11. Derek says:

    Sorry, but TM practitioners and teachers sound like scientologists.

    I have done meditation (zazen, vipassana) for years and, while I don’t use a mantra myself, I understand the value of using one and I don’t doubt the efficacy of TM.

    But meditation in many forms (and just as beneficial) can be learned much more inexpensively via books, websites, local teachers, etc. rather than spending hundreds of dollars on the ultra-secret TM method and mantra.

    Maybe TM has more scientific data backing it up but perhaps that is because it is more researched, as should be expected when people spend so much money to learn it.

    1. Vince says:

      Actually TM has little to none real research to back up it’s claims. The promoters will have you believe otherwise and for obvious reasons. Take a careful look at any research they point to and you’ll see bad or unknown study design, hidden conflicts of interest, exaggeration and bias. It’s nothing more than a scientology type organisation out to make bank. You really think there is only a “one time fee”? Think again. There are always “higher levels” to attain.

      How much does TM cost? (including the “extras”) – Be sure to read the comments section of this blog for some really insightful dialog.

      http://tinyurl.com/jnxtmq6a

    2. Lisette Callis says:

      does it have to cost (so much)? My sister was doing it aged 4.. maybe before, via invitation from unknown guru.

  12. Angie says:

    The Earth Runners promo code is only for 10% off, not 30%. Will this be fixed? That is a big difference.

    1. It actually IS 10%…that was a mistake on my part! I am sorry!

  13. Palma says:

    Something that Phil and Ben mentioned deeply resonates with me: TM vs. Biohacking…

    Though I do love gadgets and shortcuts, when one needs a quick fix on a short notice, to me “bulletproof” means that you have all the resources within yourself to sustain the curves that life generally throws at you, and bounce back stronger, learning and mastering skills and techniques that are in abundance in collective wisdom and hidden in our beings.

    Thank you Ben for your great work for bringing it to our attention and show us the gateway to education!

    1. Palma, see Philip's response above!

  14. kevin says:

    Meditation is meditation. TM is just meditation, nothing special. 20 years ago my wife developed cancer. The oncologist sent her to a meditation course. The instructor required me to come with. It was the Jon Kabat Zinn method which is simple, needs no Guru methods. It can be learned in a hour or not even in a lifetime. It all depends on the individual. Philip makes it seem harder than meditation actually is. It’s really simple.

    1. Philip Land says:

      Palma, great comment. Yes, we all have the inner resources for our growth and enlightenment..it is part of our makeup as humans. TM allows for unfoldment of our full potential, by experience of Pure Unbounded Awareness, and subsequent release of the stress that blocks that experience. The physiology is then refined to continue the experience of enlivened, unbounded awareness during our 24/7 life. Tools are necessary for work, and growth in life. Some tools fit one person’s hands better than will fit in another’s. And some tools will break usually at the most inopportune time…Transcendental Meditation, is the easiest tool to pick up, learn, and use..and should you forget how to use it, or need a tune-up on your skills…the program is an international, lifetime program. I currently have several individuals, taking a No Cost TM Refresher course, that learned TM in 1969! All the Best to you in your journey of unfolding your full potential. Philip

  15. Johane says:

    Question for the two of you. I’ve been doing Holosync for 2 1/2 years now. What I read about it was quite amazing. I do it for 1 hour almost every morning. Would TM still be beneficial for me? Could I do it at the same time as Holosync?

    1. Johane, see Philips response above!

  16. John says:

    Hi Ben, and Philip,

    Great Podcast. Any thoughts as to the effectiveness of NSR (National Stress Relief), which is a mantra based mediation (http://www.naturalstressreliefusa.org/) that is supposedly very similar to TM? (http://www.naturalstressreliefusa.org/compare.php)
    Thanks!

    John R.

    1. Philip Land says:

      Johane, I have not researched Holosync. Transcendental Meditation is a very easy to learn and practice, effortless technique that allows an individual to effortlessly experience the field of inner pure consciousness that is available to any human. It is built into our nervous system to have this experience. There are many ways to have the experience of transcending…TM is the easiest to learn, effortless to practice and achieve the most immediate results as evidenced by the over 600 scientific papers, many are peer reviewed and performed at Harvard, Stanford and many other universities in the US and international universities. Journals such as “Psychological Studies”,”American Journal of Managed Care”,” Journal of Psychosomatic Research” and many others, have published the research. I have personally instructed over 500 individuals, ranging in age from 10 to 86, and various conditions from perfect health to PTSD and extreme high blood pressure. All individuals have reported positive results, from “when I finish my TM, I feel like smiling” and “”I am a Navy veteran, living with my

      wife of 28 years. TM has been instrumental in bringing my blood pressure down from 156/98 to 110/75 in less than a months time!! I feel I’m stress free, everything seems more open and clear in my daily affairs…

      I couldn’t ask for better results!!”

      And to answer your question about TM and Holosync, when you learn TM, I will suggest that you practice your 20 minutes of Transcendental Meditation, THEN practice your Holosync should you feel the need. Philip

  17. Celia says:

    what Alan said..

  18. Ken says:

    Hi Ben,

    I love your Podcasts!

    I’m all for biohacking and experimentation. Having practiced both TM and Mindfulness (MM) forms of meditation for me personally TM seems to be an “easy fix” compared to MM. MM can be very difficult and require more time but the benefits have been shown to physically change brain matter. MM is like lifting weights to make your muscles bigger and stronger. TM is like a walk in the park. Sure it may be relaxing but so is taking a nap. I did find an interesting recent review of TM below. I chopped out only a few snippets so if you want to read the full thing I provided the link. I don’t think TM honestly has much (I’m not sure any) truthfully unbiased third party research to back up most of it’s claims. It’s a big organization that makes it’s money promoting it’s branded meditation product which it will do anything to protect. You can generally learn Mindfulness Meditation for free (or for a very small fee/donation) all over the place. MM has ZERO vested interests unlike TM.

    TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2015

    Chinese Review of Transcendental Meditation Reveals Blood Pressure Research Bias and Bad Methodology

    A recent (2015) paper is interesting for what is tells us, honestly, about Transcendental Meditation and its history of shady research.

    …Another common complaint in TM research, is bias. Many TM researchers are actually TM employees, TM university affiliates or TM teachers, etc. and often this bias is concealed. For example, after an independent government review was performed on meditation research found TM worst at lowering blood pressure, an undisclosed TM affiliated “review” was pushed to the web claiming the opposite. Obviously this was not lost on the present reviewers who state clearly:

    “…biases may have influenced the results, primarily a lack of information about study design and methods of BP measurement in primary studies.”

    It’s worth pointing out to non-scientists that bias elimination is a essential element in the scientific method. If a study is biased, as many, many TM research studies (and reviews) appear to be, they are effectively null and void as a piece of science. Conflict of Interest bias is common, as is Experimenter bias and Cognitive bias. Bias due to poor study design or deliberate study mis-design is very common since the earliest days of TM marketing research.

    So this latest review from China is interesting, as it highlights several well known issues with TM research:

    – Bias

    – Poor or unknown (!) methodology.

    – Undisclosed conflicts of interest

    – Exaggeration

    – Poor or unknown study design

    We would guess the TM org is getting pretty desperate after the US Military dumped them regarding their PTSD claims. In the BP realm it look like the Mindfulness Meditation (MM) folks are the winners in terms of pure science. Not only have they recently published a paper with dramatically better BP lowering results, results so compelling, immediate independent replication is in the pipes. There is still no independent interest in TM BP replication. Also MM is still the only major meditation form present virtually all major hospitals. TM is not currently taught at any major hospitals.

    http://transcendental-meditation-honestly.blogspo…

  19. Alan says:

    Thanks for another great podcast. Is the only way to become a certified teacher is the five month course? What about those who are interested but have a career, work, family schedules that would not allow for such a big block of time?

    1. Hi Alan, see Philip's response above!

  20. Richard Price says:

    sorry about typos.

    1. Philip Land says:

      Alan, you are welcome for the podcast. Yes, the only way to become a Certified Teacher of the TM Program is a 5-6 month course, conducted in residence. The courses are held once a year, usually in Fairfield Iowa. As you may have researched, or heard Ben and I discussing that the course of instruction that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (founder of TM Program) organized for TM instruction, consists of 7 steps. Introduction (Ben’s podcast covered many points) ,Preparatory Talk, Personal Interview with your teacher, Personal one-on-one instruction, and 3 one and a half hour follow up sessions-usually immediately subsequent to personal instruction. We then follow up 10 days to 2 weeks later. Lifetime follow up instruction is part of your course, should you want it. As this course of instruction that Maharishi laid out, has been very successful for over 6 million people around the world to experience many good benefits, he also set the TM Teacher course for a minimum of 5 months, in residence. Due to the great success of this method of training,this will probably remain in effect for some time to come. Philip

  21. Richard Price says:

    You’re in my realm now !

    TM an adapted or bastardized version of meditation depending on your degree of purity, Yoga is about as true as you get , what is it , basically when the brain- mind is tuned out of the normal distractive events which possess us , white noise our normal signal to noise ratio goes up to the point the vritti are stilled and with that stillness the projection into the ext and into “world” is seen or can be seen for what it is ( appearance or just movement of consciousness perceived by that consciousness itself which is awareness( Bliss) or I am = eventually insight and identification with that consciousness / awareness itself through this deeper level understanding , stabilization occurs ( the Jhanis great work).

    TM is quick dive into this , but for a deeper appreciation Meditation, it is mantra based and so uses this insignificant to tune out the normal things which distract us 24/7.

    Again Mantras are actually sacred i.e. the guru knows the disciple and then gives him the mantra TM is like fitness routines designed by experts for beginners it is severely limited and does nothing for total integration and personification of the God -“I” link and synchrony.

    so on , I’m a “Christian oh… Ben…….yes and no ?

    Please watch Into Great Silence , here it is the difference , TM works on one level but another doesn’t i.e. we all need a sense of the unique way for us , God becomes “man” in us and through us , Jesus was the best unadulterated example again please read Bernard of Clairveaux’s 12 steps of Humility.

    So here is the difference , I can go to the gym and do a quick intense expert led weights session BUT this will not make me into C.T .Fletcher he is to with training what Jesus was to spirituality and prayer/ Meditation.

    BUT The Yes is it is a great way to start to practice quiet Meditation , I am with you into training ( Yoga) and meditation.

    Action – Non Action( distillation) —-“development” or insight and change .

    Ah now I see !

    On One level yes the brain Para sympath nerve and the sympathetique sytem are balanced ie not in flight fight reactive mode so the whole sytem calms down. see Zen masters insights.

    This is a good one level indicator of effects .

    But at depth tells us little , I feel though brain wave paterns are the best measure of what is a happening and can help tremendously, 1-2 mins.

    Add to all of this Ben a deeper appreciation of Mysticism and what is happening on a deeper feeling level , meaning is imporant , the bio feedback telementry stuff is really usefull though, TM is on this level .

    Freedom without knowledge cannot be stabilized, once understanding grows over th years , this is a mistake , Ive learnt aftre umteen times and now I am begginning to see ah here is the problem, problem unravelled ,

    As with other posts some really interesting stuff though.

    A good analogy, I have been into gardening for nearly 50 years , love it despite the problems now of having no back teeth, and I am at the point where I can say …Yes but I do not need now to go into “ways” I just am open to new stuff and then when assimilated , knowledge has doen it’s work … end I am in Open mode again ( unknowing again).

    It all becomes a big TM trip!

    Cheese burger…….C b..yuk!…..OM better …….Jesus have mercy on me ,especially on a dull overcaste day !

    Mantra ( the power of Faith in ignorance)

    On a sunny Day , I’m off………….God Bless R

  22. Jennifer Colon says:

    The Earth Runners promo code is only for 10% off, not 30%. Is this an error on their side?

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