TM faces second-generation disenchantment and loss of charismatic leadership

Transcendental Meditation (TM) has become highly factionalized since the death of founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 2008, with the familiar scenario of second-generation members chafing under original members seeking to maintain the purity of the movement’s teachings, writes Lane Atmore in the journal Communal Societies (No. 1, 2017). Atmore conducted 44 interviews with TM members and former members, as well as researching the headquarter town of Fairfield, Iowa, where many members live, and the Maharishi European Research University (MERU) in the Netherlands. Atmore divides up the TM movement into the “old guard” (original members), the second generation, and those whom she terms “disenfranchised meditators.” Many of the second generation have started to leave Fairfield and are interested in “reaching past Maharishi and TM, to explore other truths,” while the old guard has sought to conserve his teachings. The disenfranchised meditators “are those who still live in Fairfield but have chosen to leave the movement. They may continue to meditate but disagree with the Maharishi University of Management (MUM) administration, as well as the continued practice of charging exorbitant fees for meditation training,” Atmore adds.

While tension has declined between the locals of Fairfield and the TM members from the early years (the movement established its base there in 1970s), MUM is facing financial hard times, as many of the old guard face retirement and many of the students have gravitated to its graduate computer programs rather than undergraduate programs and more TM-based courses of study such as Ayurvedic health. There is also a split between low-paid staff and faculty and very wealthy meditators who live in a separate community and “style themselves as ‘rajas’ and wear golden crowns, according to various sources.” The aforementioned high costs for basic TM initiation ceremonies (at $950) and other meditation lessons have caused concern, though Atmore writes that openly criticizing TM leadership is discouraged. The individualism that has long driven TM practitioners as they seek the personal benefits of the practice has continued at Fairfield through the Maharishi’s writings and taped lectures since his passing, while MERU has pursued increased horizontal ties between members. While an outright schism between Fairfield and the global movement has yet to occur in TM, Atmore concludes that it should not be ruled out, especially over TM’s “core teachings.”

(Communal Societies,