In 1971, I began doing TM (Transcendental Meditation, as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi).

One part of its appeal to me at that time was that it was presented as a totally non-religious, even non-spiritual practice. I was not at all interested in “religion” at the time — any religion. Not consciously, anyway. At the same time, I did “believe in G-d.” I just wasn’t sure that religion had anything to do with it. Looking back later on, I’d always had a certain curiosity, but at that time, it was intellectually unacceptable to me to think that religious experience could be anything more than some unusual mental condition that might be useful, but not absolutely necessary.  I would have rejected any meditation technique that presented itself in some religious, spiritual or “devotional” way.

TM was presented as a technique that brought about an unusual combination of deep rest and mental awareness which, by 1971, had been demonstrated empirically by physiologists Herbert Benson and Keith Wallace. [1] Measuring the brain waves and metabolic rates of people while they were doing TM, they found that the body fell into a state of deep rest (metabolic rate) while the mind remained awake and aware (as measured by the brain waves). Being unlike the combination of measurements found in the three more familiar states of waking, dreaming and sleeping, it thereby constituted a “fourth” state of mental/physical functioning.

The benefits of this fourth state, as explained to me before I was actually instructed in TM, included the release of deeper stresses than even deep sleep could provide, leading to improved health, energy, efficiency and overall functioning in daily life.

TM was also easily learned. Its effects began immediately. That fit well with my lack of patience!

This practicality and simplicity, combined with the lack of requirement that I “feel” or “believe” anything as a prerequisite to receiving instruction in TM or its benefits, made the choice to begin that much easier. The “proof” would be in the “pudding,” so to speak. Still, I wasn’t uncritical. Allowing that it might take time to see the overall benefits of the practice in my own experience, I agreed (with myself) to practice it as taught — for twenty minutes, twice a day, every day — for a year, after which I’d evaluate whether I thought it was truly worthwhile or not.

Long before the year was up, TM had become a “normal” part of my life. The thought of not doing it was no longer even in my mind. I actually kept it up regularly for about 15 years. After that, I found it more difficult to do so as my schedule became less consistent or my commutes longer, etc. But even up until today, I still do it as often as possible.

Along the way, it was natural to want to understand the technique further. There were optional “advanced lectures” (for people who had already learned TM) and “residence courses” (weekends with some extra opportunities to meditate). There was an optional course called “The Science of Creative Intelligence” which I didn’t actually take until the mid-’80’s. There were also a couple of books written by Maharishi — “The Science of Being and the Art of Living” and a commentary on the first six chapters of “The Bhagavad Gita” — also optional. I bought these but found them un-engaging (at first). It was enough to just do TM and ask questions at lectures and weekends — many of the answers to which came from the books Maharishi had written (perhaps I’m more of an “aural” than a “visual” learner in that I learned more from hearing these ideas than from reading about them).

But about four years after learning TM, a free 4-week course was offered (at the then-Manhattan TM Center in the Wentworth Hotel) on Maharishi’s “Gita” commentary. I thought it would be interesting; the price was certainly right! So, I signed up. At the end of the 4 weeks, there was enough interest to keep the course going. It ended up going on for 6 months, stopping only because the instructor could no longer volunteer his time (we should have chipped in to keep it going, but the idea was never brought up).

While the “Gita” can be looked on as a kind of “scripture,” Maharishi’s commentary maintained his overall focus on TM as a technique that promotes personal development. I had studied Psychology as an undergraduate. “Consciousness” was not a topic you heard about — or brought up at all, if you wanted to be taken seriously. Likewise, in my “Humanities” studies of literature, broad ideas and concepts were discussed, but not how they related to us personally. Maharishi presented the growth of “consciousness” as a “normal” part of human development. This would have been meaningless to me if I weren’t already doing TM. I could understand what he was teaching based on my experience of “pure consciousness” as a normal part of myself.

What is “pure consciousness?” Why is TM called “transcendental…?” A simple answer might be: Everything that we experience (including our own inner thoughts and feelings) is constantly changing. “Beneath” this (“beneath” being a qualitative metaphor, not meant literally) is a field that never changes. For our attention to go to the “unchanging field” within ourselves — it “transcends,” or “goes beyond” the “changing field” to a field that is “only” consciousness — i.e. “pure consciousness.” This isn’t a matter of “intellectual understanding;” it’s a distinct, measurable state of physiological and neurological functioning that has measurable, beneficial effects.

I learned much from this course. I realized that the Western academic emphasis on “classical” (i.e. Greek and Roman) literature totally ignored (clearly out of bias) the depth and breadth of other literary traditions and the commentaries that accompanied them — in this case, especially that of India. I also learned how to read a “scriptural” rather than a “literary” commentary appreciatively: Meaning can be derived or inferred not only from paragraphs and sentences, but from every word, even every letter, sometimes by methods that are more spontaneous and intuitive than strictly rational.  It was very different — and far more interesting — than my college courses had been. Later, I was able to begin studying the Hertz Chumash — because I could now read a “scriptural” commentary. Even later, I was that much more comfortable with Talmudic and Midrashic commentary on Torah — in which meaning can likewise be derived from the actual letters (even their shapes). One interesting outcome of this was that years later, I prepared a Hebrew school curriculum in “How to Read a Chumash” — teaching the students to look at the comments on each verse, rather than trying to read an entire section and then going back to read the comments as a group.

But the pivotal thing I learned — that opened up Judaism to me — were Maharishi’s comments on the verses discussing “yagya” (Vedic ritual offerings). Especially this one: “The word ‘yagya’ commonly means a religious performance or a holy ritual, a sacrificial ceremony in which gifts are offered to the presiding deity and are consumed in fire. But [here] it means the act of going to the transcendental Being [i.e. pure consciousness] — bringing the attention from the gross external experience of the world to the state of the Transcendent, allowing all thoughts and desires to converge on the Transcendent, as objects of oblation consumed in the fire.” [2]

From this, I realized that the purpose of all religious ceremony is to draw our attention from the “changing” to the “unchanging” basis of our own minds. Somehow, even without knowing much about Judaism at that time, I realized that every religious act — every “mitzvah,” although I wouldn’t have known the word — was an “offering,” a “sacrifice.” Even when it came to sacrifice itself (imagine how surprised I was to discover that Jews had once sacrificed animals!), I intuitively understood that the real sacrifice was what we gave of ourselves to G-d.

I also found the discussion of these ideas uplifting and absorbing by itself. I came out of each session happy and excited about what I’d learned.

The Bhagavad Gita course had started in July, ’75. In October of that year, I began attending a “Young Israel” (Modern Orthodox) synagogue near where I lived.  I barely understood the words or the structure of the service at all, of course. I was surprised to find that no one else seemed to read Hebrew as slowly as I did! But I loved going every Shabbat, spending the time I was there trying to interpret what I saw as Maharishi interpreted the Gita. I always came out very uplifted. (Based on this, I believe that a Jewish service — of any denomination — can be exciting and uplifting, depending on what what we think about during the service. I also think that kabbalistic — especially Lurianic — kavanot added a further inspirational dimension to the service not just by saying them or thinking their literal words, but by internalizing and focusing our attention on the spiritual paradigm they described.)

I can’t remember now if I began reading the chumash before beginning to attend services or afterwards, but it was all around the same time. I didn’t just “read” the chumash: as with the service, I tried applying Maharishi’s Gita commentary to it! I tried to reproduce the same happiness and upliftment I’d felt, by focusing on the same ideas as they related to Torah and synagogue. I actually began taking notes and keeping a notebook, the need for a looseleaf binder soon becoming apparent. In the process, I also learned much from Rabbi Hertz’ own commentary. But it was Maharishi’s emphasis on the internal truth about myself (ourselves), coupled with actually doing TM, that opened it all up to me.

A few years later, reading Luzzatto’s “Mesillat Yesharim” (“The Path of the ‘Just’ or ‘Upright'”), I came across this (in the chapter on “Holiness”): “…all of his actions, even the lowly physical ones, will be accounted as sacrifices ["korbanot" -- the Hebrew word that corresponds to "yagya"] and as Divine service ["avodah" -- the Hebrew word for the entire practice of worship in the Temple, which included sacrifices placed in the altar-fire].” [3]

I understood this well, based on Maharishi’s teachings.

His teachings underlie directly, or indirectly, everything I write and teach.

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[1] Wallace R. K., Benson H., Wilson A. F. (1971). A wakeful hypometabolic physiologic state. American Journal of Physiology; vol. 221, pp. 795–799
[2] Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita;  p. 194 (on v. 3:9).
[3] Luzzatto, Rabbi Moshe Chayim; The Path of the Just; Shraga Silverstein, trans.; Feldheim Publishers; ©1966; p. 333
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