An increasing number of public schools are seeking to incorporate Transcendental Meditation (TM) into the school day, a trend that has alarmed advocates of church-state separation.
Newsweek magazine reported recently that there is a “small but growing movement” to bring TM into U.S. classrooms.
TM is the trademarked name of a meditation technique created by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1958. Although some practitioners use TM as a secular relaxation device, it has clear religious origins. TM is an offshoot of Hinduism, and some of its rituals involve invoking Hindu deities and a private “Puja” initiation in Sanskrit, involving incense, a candle and the bestowing of mantras.
“TM has always been rooted in the religion of Hinduism,” Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told Newsweek. Lynn pointed out that in 1979, Americans United and other groups won a case in federal court challenging the use of TM in a New Jersey public school.
“If they want TM in private universities or schools, no problem,” Lynn continued. “But when they move into public schools, they are crossing that same constitutional line that was crossed in 1979.”
In the 1979 decision, Malnak v. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court and ordered TM removed from public schools in Maplewood, N.J.
TM practitioners had claimed that their beliefs are a “true science” and not religion. But during the oral argument, one of the judges on the panel noted that TM’s ceremony on initiation included the phrase, “Guru in the glory of Brahma, Guru in the glory of Vishnu, Guru in the glory of the great Lord Shiva, Guru in the glory of the personified transcendental fullness of Brahman to Him, to Shri Guru Dev adorned with glory, I bow down.”
TM practitioners, the court later ruled, were attempting to “take a cow and put a sign on it that says ‘horse.’”
Attempts to bring TM into the classroom usually raise the ire of some parents. In 2006, a foundation run by filmmaker David Lynch offered $175,000 to a public high school in Marin County, Calif., to bring in TM, ostensibly as a “stress reducer.” The school was receptive to the idea at first but dropped it after several parents complained.
Newsweek reported that Lynch’s foundation has poured $5 million into TM research and that it runs voluntary TM programs at 21 U.S. schools and universities.
Lynn told Newsweek that the use of TM in public schools may cause conservative Christians to rethink their promotion of religion in the classroom.
“There are no imminent cases right now,” Lynn said, “but people, including conservative Christian parents, will say if Christianity can’t be taught in the public schools then Hinduism can’t be either.”