The Big Question: What is transcendental meditation, and is it the cure for society's ills?

Why are we asking this now?

Film director David Lynch and Sixties pop star Donovan have teamed up to launch a campaign to encourage children to meditate in school. In a series of talks , the pair will promote the technique of transcendental meditation practised by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and popularised by the Beatles 40 years ago.Another TM convert to have just emerged is Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, who has been honoured with the Achievement in African Leadership award.

Has David Lynch done this before?

Yes. Lynch is reported to have persuaded 20,000 US pupils to take twice daily transcendental meditation lessons with their teachers. He has also donated millions to the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education. He said: "The technique of transcendental meditation has seen a drop in stabbings, violence, depressions, suicides and the use of illegal drugs in some of the worst schools in the US you can imagine." Lynch has also spoken of the benefits he has gained from TM: "When I started meditating I had a real anger in me, and I would take this out on my first wife. Two weeks after I started meditating, this anger lifted."

What does Donovan say about TM?

He claims it is the secret of his success as a musician. Last year the Scots-born troubadour, famous for hits such as "Mellow Yellow" and "Jennifer Juniper", said he was planning a world tour to reawaken people to the mind-expanding wonders of meditation. "I had all the western trouble of the psyche: anxiety, anger, stress and fear which all cause illness. Over the past 40 years I have experienced the way this system has absolute healing benefits."

How many people practise TM, and what does it involve?

About 6 million people worldwide, according to the official TM website. The technique involves a form of concentrated attention in which the mind is turned inward and focused on a single point of reference. This is achieved by uttering the mantra, a word given to the student during the initiation ceremony which is chanted silently over and over. The aim is to empty the mind of thoughts, feelings and fantasies, not by blocking their intrusion, which is impossible, but by observing them as they intrude and then always returning to the central task of attending to the mantra. In this way a state of inner peace is achieved.
With practice, it is said, the mind can transcend thought, is no longer bound by feelings or fantasies, and experiences "awareness of itself alone." Hence "transcendental" meditation.

Is there evidence that it is beneficial?

Yes. Scores of scientific studies have been published since the 1970s, a number of which have shown benefits in lowering stress, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, drinking and anxiety. In 2005, the American Journal of Cardiology reported that among 202 patients with raised blood pressure who were followed for 18 years, those who practised TM had a 23 per cent lower death rate. In 2006, a study in Archives of Internal Medicine found patients who practised the technique for 16 weeks had improved blood pressure, insulin resistance and nervous system. The National Institutes of Health in the US has found that people practising meditation have lower breathing and heart rate yet "higher EEG coherence" indicating greater concentration and alertness. Long-term practitioners speak of an experience of "unboundedness."

Source - Independent

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