Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011, marks the 3rd yahrtzeit of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who passed on 2/5/08 (29 Sh’vat 5768).
Maharishi is best known as the person who brought Transcendental Meditation — popularly known as “TM” — to the West.
TM is a meditation technique that could be learned and practiced with ease. When he first came, “meditation” was considered the activity of monks and those inclined to esoteric practices. After trying several approaches, Maharishi found great acceptance for TM through scientific research conducted by Drs. Herbert Benson and Keith Wallace.  This research allowed TM to be explained in concrete, physiological terms. The technique produced its effects independent of belief, faith, etc.
It was on the basis of this research that I was even willing to consider starting TM. In those days, I’d have kept a far distance from anything that suggested “religion” — any religion. After attending two required (free) lectures, I was taught TM on Sept. 11, 1971 (21 Elul 5731). It was a Saturday. It wouldn’t have occurred to me at that time to call it “Shabbat,” although I’d attended Hebrew School for 4 years, and had had a bar mitzvah. Four years later, I began attending synagogue services at a nearby Young Israel (Modern Orthodox) congregation, my interest kindled by what I’d learned through doing TM.
In retrospect, the research did more than validate TM. Almost overnight, it transformed Western culture into one in which meditation of almost any kind was perfectly natural and acceptable. A short blog can’t be the place for a long description of TM or its influence. But it would be well-worth reading about. The current widespread interest in “Jewish Meditation” can and should be traced back to that point, too, although there’d been previous scholarly research on the subject (e.g. by Gershom Scholem).
Maharishi, a genius as a teacher, was able to take difficult concepts relating to experiences in meditation and explain them clearly to people who had virtually no background in such studies. The influence of his ideas, like the influence of the technique he brought, would be well worth reading more about.
But for now, in a short post in a blog, almost 40 years after learning TM, it must suffice to say that if I hadn’t learned TM, and some of the concepts that it clarified for me, I don’t see how I would ever have become involved in Jewish learning as an adult — let alone writing and teaching about it.
Though I never met him personally (although I did see him speak one summer at Amherst, MA, and another time in Manhattan), I owe Maharishi all this and more.
(Recommended for further reading): http://www.tm.org/blog/people/rabbi-transcendental-meditation