TM Comes to the Heartland of the Midwest
by John R. Dilley
Mr. Dilley is pastor of First United Presbyterian Church, Fairfield, Iowa. This article appeared in The Christian Century, December 10, 1975, pp. 1129-1132. Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
In July 1967 I came to Fairfield, Iowa, as pastor of a Presbyterian congregation. As my family of seven was arriving on one edge of town, the former president of Parsons College was making his exit at the other edge. From that time forward, enrollment at the college, which had at one time anticipated 5,000 students, dwindled until finally it was forced into bankruptcy and had to close its doors. Many members of our church were students, staff, faculty or alumni of Parsons College. Its closing was a blow to the life of the congregation. Not only did lay leadership falter, but attendance declined, and giving fell slightly.
In the fall of that first year in Fairfield, a teacher of "Transcendental Meditation," or "TM," came to the college to address students informally, and to speak to some of the religion classes. After his presentation to the students, the teacher indicated that there would be additional presentations, interviews, and an "initiation" for anyone who desired to become a "meditator." I had heard of TM, of course, but now I began to accumulate all the material I could on the technique and its proponent, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. During Parsons College’s remaining years, there were "meditators" on the campus, though few townspeople were aware of their presence.
Members of our congregation and community were deeply concerned over the future of the Parsons property. There was much speculation as to potential buyers; I even suggested to the United Presbyterians’ Synod of Lakes and Prairies that an offer to take over the premises for a one-dollar consideration could keep the facilities in the nonprofit category and enable the owners of the college to avoid paying enormous taxes on the property.
Then we began hearing rumors that a college in Santa Barbara, California, referred to as "MIU," was interested in buying the property. Finally we learned what the initials stood for: Maharishi International University. That was all we needed: a university whose name we could not even pronounce! We had visions of flowing robes, burning incense, long hair or shaved heads, prayer beads and sandals (and sandals would be unthinkable inside a pair of overshoes on a cold January morning in Iowa!).
The first opportunity for the townspeople to meet people from the university came at an open meeting of our church’s Session in May 1974. Two representatives of the university were to make a presentation and then answer questions from the floor. The two neatly dressed young men with attaché cases who were the university’s emissaries to Fairfield looked as though they had stepped off Madison Avenue into the cornfields of southeast Iowa. Their speech was serene yet assured. Their fiscal and educational knowledge satisfied the business and college contingent present.
After the meeting, the Session voted its support for a study and evaluation of the proposed Maharishi International University, to be located on the former Parsons College campus.
As MIU approached a decision on buying the campus, I was coming into contact with more and more TM persons each day. They possessed an inner serenity, external calmness and assurance which were almost enviable. I was busily writing and calling state and national officials on behalf of MIU, hoping that the way would open for MIU to move from Santa Barbara, California, to Fairfield -- despite the forceful and violent opposition of a vociferous minority group that included a few members of our congregation.
Finally, financial arrangements were agreed upon, and it was announced that MIU was coming to the "heartland of the midwest" -- Fairfield, Iowa. Students and faculty were coming by plane, train, car, bus and van. It would be less than accurate to suggest that there was no apprehension on the part of townspeople. Rumors abounded. Fundamentalist churches drew crowds from 50 and 60 miles away to hear a "specialist on satanism" who had been called in to disclaim the virtues of TM and the leaders of MIU.
But everyone seemed to be able to sleep better after a picture appeared on the front page of the Fairfield Ledger, showing a dozen or more students getting off the plane at Des Moines -- the fellows all in shirts and ties and jackets and, best of all, short hair; the girls in dresses, not jeans.
At our "welcoming service" for students and faculty in our congregation, more than 200 students and faculty members were present. For the first time in the history of our church, the front parking area was lined with bicycles. Inside the sanctuary, the balcony was full, and many were sitting in the aisles. The electrical vibrations which ran through the congregation that morning were fantastic. It was a real spiritual happening, a celebration of the highest order.
The university’s long-range plans included the planting of 10,000 trees on the campus. But what a campus! For over a year the property had been dormant. The grass was waist-high. The rooms in both the dormitories and the classrooms were filthy. Water pipes and heating systems were said to be unusable.
So townspeople lent their support to students and faculty to give the physical plant a thorough going-over. Everyone pitched in to make things at least livable. Some MIU faculty members and students, together with their families, were still in quarters without water or electricity. The electricity was restored much sooner than the water. At the end of October, when temperatures were well below freezing, the administrative offices were still without heat.
Now, however, MIU is an established reality in Fairfield. MIU persons are found in our Presbyterian sanctuary on Sunday mornings, and at Protestant services at MIU’s Interfaith Chapel on Sunday evening. Some are active in our choir or church school. Statistically, the majority of the MIU students are Episcopalians.
In April 1974 I was given a catheterization of the heart. I had suffered my first heart attack in 1970, my second in 1973. As I entered the University of Iowa’s department of cardiology, I was mindful that my future in the ministry was largely dependent upon the result of the testings. An arterial bypass was being considered. At the entranceway of the lecture auditorium for the Department of Cardiology, there was a large sign: "TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION AND CARDIOLOGY." Later I discovered that there had been a series of lectures on the relationship between TM and the function of the heart. Among the findings on that topic are these: "Transcendental Meditation produces superior physiological rest and causes the heart to maintain a restful pace even outside of meditation. This gradually brings about a permanent and beneficial reduction in heart rate, indicating less wear on the heart: improved cardiovascular efficiency in meditators" (Fundamentals of Progress [MIU Press, 1974], p. 23). TM is also beneficial for persons suffering from high blood pressure: "Systolic and arterial blood pressure was recorded 1,119 times in 22 hypertensive patients before and after learning Transcendental Meditation. The decreases in blood pressure after practicing Transcendental Meditation were statistically significant and indicate the clinical value of Transcendental Meditation in helping hypertensive patients" (ibid., p. 35). Finally, the evidence reveals that "during Transcendental Meditation cardiac output markedly decreases, indicating a reduction in the workload of the heart" (ibid., p.17).
It was in light of these findings that a team of doctors asked if I had ever heard of Transcendental Meditation. I replied that I had studied it with great interest for the past eight years. They suggested that I give serious consideration to practicing TM. There was only one hang-up: neither a minister nor a psychiatrist may be initiated as a meditator unless special permission is granted by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, or unless the person goes through the complete course of "The Science of Creative Intelligence." I knew, however, that for a very selfish motivation -- namely, concern for my health -- I would become a meditator.
In my ministry I had referred others to the practice of TM for a number of reasons -- drug dependency, hypertension, or a situation in which a person was carrying around a lot of "spiritual and mental garbage" from the past which was causing undue tension and stress. In each case, Transcendental Meditation was helpful. While I was in a position to commend the practice to others, I stood on the outside looking in.
In spring 1974 notices went up throughout our community that, a series of introductory lectures on Transcendental Meditation would be presented. As a family we went to the first two lectures. When we asked which members of the family could become meditators, we were informed that only our oldest son, Joel, who was then 17, could receive personal instruction. Joel, then, was the first member of our family to become a meditator. Within the first week there were discernible changes in Joel. He had been "going to" write some record reviews for several months -- but never got around to doing it. The first week after he began practicing TM he wrote a record review and got it in the mail. Within a few weeks it was published. Again he wrote a review, and it too was published. He was able to accomplish tasks with a much greater ease and to accept disappointments with less stress.
The practice of Transcendental Meditation is effortless, natural and easy. It is a spontaneous use of the progressive nature of the mind. TM is not prayer, nor does it replace or even relate to prayer; quite the contrary, it clears the mind so that in prayer the mind and spirit move more naturally toward God. The practice allows the mind to become more aware of its full potential.
Our entire family have become meditators, and we have found no compromise in our commitment to Jesus Christ and to his church. Indeed, we have found that our entire life style has become more Christian as we both give and receive love with less tension in our lives.
On the day our family was to be initiated, my wife, LaVonne, and I were more concerned with the mechanics of the initiation than with the benefits. All of our efforts were "times six." We needed six long-stemmed fresh flowers -- one for each of the six of us being initiated. We needed six new white handkerchiefs. I tried to persuade my wife that clean, freshly ironed handkerchiefs were sufficient, but she encouraged me to "go all the way," so we bought six new ones. We also tried to get some of the less expensive varieties of fresh fruit needed for the initiation.
The hour arrived, and we proceeded to the appointed place. The four children were giggling and getting their fruit mixed up. We tried to get into the building, but each door seemed to be locked. Finally I pushed on a door, anticipating that it too would be locked, and I found myself immediately on the inside with my new handkerchief underfoot. My shoes were still freshly shined. A young lady greeted us in whispers -- like an usherette in a theater. She took our flowers, fruit, handkerchiefs -- and money. We were told to be seated and to remove our shoes.
As our turns came, we were ushered into separate rooms. As I entered the room, I was welcomed by my "teacher" Dennis Heaton -- and by my fruit, flowers, and shoe-scuffed handkerchief. There was the sweet smell of incense, the soft flicker of candlelight, a white cloth on the table, and a picture of "His Divinity Swami Brahmananda Saraswati Jagadguru, Bhagwan Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math." I was impressed. Soon Dennis began a very soft sing-song chant in a language I surmised to be Sanskrit. Then he began to utter a very soft-sounding word, and with his hands moving toward my mouth, I knew I was supposed to repeat the word which was to be my mantra. It sounded strange to me. I was encouraged to say it more and more softly, then, only to think it. I was taken into another room. I started to think the mantra, but was told not to "cling" to it.
What a fantastic ensuing 20 minutes! Thoughts and no-thoughts. Sounds and no-sounds. Sights and no-sights. I heard a semitrailer racing by out on the highway, and the tires seemed to be humming the mantra. A train went by on the tracks not far from the building, and again I heard the mantra. I was aware of it without being attached to it. I was warm, yet cool. I sensed an inner and outer harmony.
I became aware that someone was in the room. It was Dennis, and he indicated that I was to go back into the initiation room. We sat on chairs as we had done when he first gave me the mantra. He made a few general observations, asked a few questions, and I was released to the bondage of my shoes once again. Each member of our family was similarly initiated. As the six of us were leaving the building, we were each given a piece of the fruit we had brought for the initiation. I was embarrassed at how inexpensive and tiny the fruit looked.
That was almost a year ago. Morning and evening our family has meditated daily since then. In our home it is most convenient to do it before our morning and evening prayers and Scripture readings. I have missed meditating only three times since my initiation.
During Transcendental Meditation the mind settles down to a state of no activity, yet there is full awareness. The analogy is used of a bow drawn with a fixed arrow. The individual is in a state of restful alertness. Like the arrow on the bow, the mind is steady and nonactive, yet it is ready to move into action. Nonaction is not understood to be inertia. Preparation for activity, then, begins with a withdrawal from activity. Again to use the analogy of the bow and arrow: the arrow is drawn in so that it may be projected out and away.
The body is seated comfortably in a chair. The mind temporarily fixes itself upon the mantra. Soon the mantra disappears. If thoughts enter the mind, they are not clung to. This form of meditation is different from both concentration and contemplation. "Transcendental" should not be confused with transcendentalism, nor should "Meditation" be confused with the usual Christian usage of meditation as a part of one’s devotional time. The process is determined not by what the mantra is, but by what the mind is. If the tendency of the mind is to expand, evolve, progress, and find fulfillment, then the mind rides the enjoyable vehicle of the mantra to attain the goal of the mental process. Thus prepared, the nervous system attunes the body so that physical activity is done with vigor, and mental activity is undertaken with a keen alertness.
I do not pretend to know exactly how and why it works, but I can attest to the fact that I have never felt so great in my 20 years in the ministry. Essentially, the meditation supplies me with a deeply satisfying rest which prepares me for extended and increased activity. It is a technique that works. One does not have to believe in anything for it to work, not even in the technique. Simply employ it and enjoy it!
There are now more than 250 meditators among the citizenry of Fairfield. New introductory lectures are conducted each week, with increasing numbers attending.
A calm has settled over this Iowa town with the coming of the Maharishi International University. The 185-acre facility has residence accommodations for 1,500 students and teaching facilities for 5,000. Seven hundred undergraduates, along with 200 master’s degree students, began the new academic year in September 1974. The faculty has expanded to 50. Today, in addition to the undergraduate and master’s students and faculty, there are 452 students on campus taking "special programs" and a staff of 326. The MIU board of trustees has been joined by two prominent persons: Alfred Le Sesne Jenkins, former director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Asian Communist Affairs, who organized the diplomatic initiative which established friendly relations between the United States and China; and Major General Franklin M. Davis, former commandant of the U.S. Army War College, who introduced TM to the army while director of military personnel policies in Washington in 1969.
Some have expressed concern that Transcendental Meditation is a form of religion. I would refute that claim categorically. A Hindu monk in Switzerland made the technique available to millions of people. But he is a Hindu, and he is a monk. I am a Christian, and I am a minister. The technique is equally applicable for both of us, although we are thousands of miles apart both geographically and theologically.
Perhaps the greatest thing that TM has done for our family is to unify us. We previously had devotions on a hit-or-miss basis, depending on who was around at a particular time. We always had the blessing at the table, but we found it difficult to corral the entire family for prayer and Scripture reading at one time. Now, we are all up early in the morning, we meditate for 20 minutes (not quite so long for the younger children), and then we have morning devotions with prayer and Scripture reading. Similarly, in the late afternoon, just before the evening meal, we meditate and again have our family’s evening devotions. Every aspect of our life has changed. Scripture reading is more meaningful. Our prayers are more real. Our relationships are more harmonious. Our entire life style has been changed. TM works! It is not a compromise with one’s own personal faith or religious convictions. It does, however, give additional release from pressure and stress which allows our minds, bodies and spirits to soar to greater heights than previously experienced.
Transcendental Meditation has come to the heartland of the midwest, and I am thankful that it has come not only to our community but also into our lives. As our family completed devotions recently, we read the words of Joshua: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." This is our renewed exclamation as we continue to practice TM and continue to manifest the love of Christ to those about us.