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What is transcendental meditation?

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Transcendental meditation (or TM) is a technique for achieving inner peace and spiritual renewal by focusing on a mantra repeated silently. As the mind “settles,” the practitioner is able to “transcend” thought and enter a silent state of bliss and tranquility.

The practice of transcendental meditation has its roots in Hinduism. It originated in India, where it was taught by the guru (or maharishi) Mahesh Yogi, based on his interpretation of Hindu Vedic traditions. The maharishi began teaching the practice in the 1950s, and it has since become one of the most widely researched and practiced meditation techniques. Scientific studies, including those done by the American Cancer Society, concluded that transcendental meditation does not have any provable effect on disease. However, many people who practice transcendental meditation report increased relaxation and better self-understanding.

Though transcendental meditation has been called both religious and non-religious, the similarities between the practice of transcendental meditation and the practice of religious prayer rituals cannot be denied. The basic posture for transcendental meditation is sitting for 15–20 minutes, with eyes closed, repeating a mantra or a simple sound to clear the mind of thought. When compared to Muslim prayers, which have a prescribed posture and include verbal repetition; or to the prayers practiced by some Christians, which can include a repeated word or phrase, and the injunction to kneel or assume a specific posture, the similarities are obvious. Because of its similarity to religious prayer and its apparent appeal to something greater than the self for healing, transcendental meditation has been called religious. On the other hand, in Christianity or Islam, the object of the prayer is a Divine Spirit and often includes petition, but the practice of transcendental meditation clears the mind and does not appeal to a god, and this is partly why the practice has been called non-religious.

It is unclear what actually happens to the body and mind during transcendental meditation. Research continues, but so far there is only experiential rather than scientific evidence for transcendental meditation’s benefits. This is not to say that transcendental meditation has no effects, only that Western medicine does not have a way to measure them. Transcendental meditation is an inherently spiritual practice, and it depends on the metaphysical world. Scientific method depends upon the physical or natural world, and it is not surprising that it is ineffective in studying the metaphysical or supernatural world.

The Bible has nothing to say about transcendental meditation, per se, but it has some things to say about the mind that may be helpful in deciding whether or not to practice transcendental meditation. The Bible is clear about what to meditate on: not a meaningless word or phrase, but on the Word of God. The person “who meditates on his law day and night” is blessed (Psalm 1:2). Peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Peace is not found in the emptying of one’s mind but in the filling of one’s mind with the Word.

Also, to set one’s mind on the flesh is death and to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:5–6). Those who practice transcendental meditation are setting their minds on their own spirit, looking within themselves in order to transcend themselves, rather than on the Spirit of God. The warning about setting one’s mind on the flesh does not mean that the body is evil or that thinking any thoughts about oneself is automatically evil. The Bible is simply warning us of the emptiness inherent in human flesh—its inability to give life. Searching one’s own mind—or emptying one’s mind of all thought—may result in numbness or a temporary escape from reality, but transcendental meditation does not and cannot bring true peace. It looks to the spirit of the human creature and to the creation, which are inherently limited in their power. Only the life-giving, dynamic Spirit of Christ, the Creator, can create within us true peace, joy, health, and life.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022