The Good and the Bad of TM

"If a person meditates with out religious content——"If a person meditates with out religious content——leaving himself with an empty and susceptible mind—there is a grave danger that satanic influences will take over." ——Billy Graham.

Don Day is employed by Concerned Communications, Arroyo Grande, California.


SOME MIGHT argue that there is no good in transcendental meditation. But let's lay down a principle at the beginning that may avoid misconceptions as we progress: to allow that there are some good aspects to a general system is in no way an endorsement of the total. In fact, the absence of any good would make a system of little significance, since only the totally depraved would embrace it. That many people who are less than totally depraved have become involved with TM suggests that there are some attractive facets to it, at least. Yet, in spite of this, it could be that TM is a major threat to the gospel. If so, we need to understand precisely why. Pastors, especially, need to view the issue from all sides.

First, what is TM? Transcendental meditation is a technique by which stressful, anxious men and women seek to achieve a relaxed, peaceful state of mind—and thereby cope with life more effectively. But can they? Apparently many of them can. The testimonies are abundant, and unless all these people are lying, TM does work—at least insofar as those who employ it do feel more able to cope than they did before.

Shall we, then, adopt the position that if it works, it must be all right? Not at all. A system may fulfill certain objectives admirably, and yet be severely detrimental when considered in terms of its total impact. We must consider all the implications.

Proponents of TM declare that it is not a religion 1 and that "TM does not interfere with any established social or moral or religious beliefs. It is just a new physiological experience." 2 They quote all the benefits of TM, from its documented slowing down of body machinery (reducing levels, presumably, of stress) 3 to its impact on success levels in drug rehabilitation efforts which has been impressive. 4 And they argue that all this has been accomplished with "as little Eastern mysticism clinging to it as possible." 5

This is easier to affirm, sometimes, than to demonstrate. It is important in this respect to consider the roots from which TM springs. Zen Buddhism (an earlier system that shares much common ground with TM and provided much of its seminal conceptualization), for example, not only is different from the philosophical presuppositions of traditional Christianity, it is totally alien—bringing into question, as it does, the very rational processes by which truth is perceived.6 Christianity affirms an experience built on an understanding and acceptance of certain prepositional statements about God, man, and, in particular, Jesus Christ. Certainly, faith is more than acceptance of these doctrinal statements—far more—yet doctrinal statements play an important part in organizing what it is.

We Believe in Someone

Put in more familiar terms, we don't just believe; we believe in something, and, more precisely, in Someone. There is an existential reality to our faith, to be sure, but historical Christianity has always affirmed that contemporary experience is built upon and needs to be constantly related to the objective Word of God. In this sense, we may say that Christianity is content-oriented; it focuses its eye outward or upward, making God's Word, and the Person it reveals, the center of Christian meditation. 7

Eastern mysticism in general, and TM in particular, however, denies the significance of specific content to belief, and focuses its attention inward. The Maharishi invites the student to exclude from his thinking all interest in objective cognition and to allow his mind to "wander inward." 8 He is to employ, in droll repetition, a nonsense sound, called a mantra, the purpose of which is to help induce a trance state, in which the mind is totally open, receptive, and non-directive.9

There is a perspective here that leads logically to TM, when once it is accepted. That perspective is that all the necessary resources for coping with life and, in fact, the very source of all truth is to be found within man.10 Our rational thought processes, according to this position, are the chief barrier to our appreciation of reality. What we need to do, then, is to find some way to break through the artificial structures of life (including the false perspectives of organized religion) and get in touch with ourselves: for then we will have met with truth.

A critique of TM does not require that we deny its logical integrity; if one accepts the initial assumption—that the focus of reality is totally subjective—then the resulting implications become both reasonable and persuasive. But the whole system stands or falls on that initial assumption.

Christianity begins with a different assumption: that the focus of truth is not within man, but within God, and that God has revealed Himself to man through His Word. And here is our strength. Whenever we attempt to validate Christianity by the excellence of our experiences, we fall into the trap that the Corinthian church in Paul's day fell into. Once truth or righteousness or faith (or whatever word we choose) be comes tied too closely with the subjective experience, depending for its foundation on how well the individual performs the indicated spiritual or psychological gymnastics, it ceases to be the arena of God's initiative and becomes another attempt by man to achieve self-deification.

Strong words? Perhaps. But TM needs to be identified for what it is. The real danger of TM is not that it may be flavored by spiritualism. The real danger is that TM is a whole system that provides a substitute for spiritual life, pandering to the weaknesses and misconceptions that pervade Christian life and theology. In this sense, TM can get us coming and going. It promises the behavioral changes that appeal to those who have viewed their religion in terms of legalism, while at the same time manifesting the mystical accouterments that tingle the senses of those whose religion is merely "baptized" emotionalism. It is the ready host to all whose religious experience declines from the dynamics of true faith.

What Are the Implications?

What, then, does the unprecedented interest in TM and all its bedfellows in the various disciplines of Eastern mysticism imply?

1. That a spiritual vacuum exists in our nation today.

2. That the churches of all denominations have failed to maintain the confidence of vast numbers of our people.

3. That the popular theology of our day has denied clear perceptions of true faith, and has allowed anemic counterfeits to take its place.

4. That far too many Christians have failed to articulate the attractiveness and effectiveness of their own spiritual lives, for one reason or another.

In today's market place of ideas, it is not adequate to declare that people must accept a concept because it is backed by a set of inspired writings. But neither is it safe to rely on the testimony of spectacular subjective experiences: they can too easily be duplicated in other, nonspiritual contexts. An effective Christian witness in the final quarter of the twentieth century (and the only real hope to counter the appeal of systems like TM) must provide a subtle blend of the subjective and objective facets of spiritual life; a Christian must be able to demonstrate in his life that his religion works, and he must clearly perceive why it works—not because he has mastered a more advanced spiritual technique, but because of the objective revelation of God in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Faith is a precious commodity, unique (in its true form) to Christianity. In simplest terms, it is trusting God to transform from within, and being patient while He does it, regardless of external situations. It is beholding Jesus, making Him the focus of life, when all our natural inclinations are to make ourselves that focus. The one great criticism of TM and all systems like it is that it undermines faith, substituting technique for trust.

Do we deny that TM can accomplish many of the behavioral changes it claims? No. Do we deny that it has enabled many to cope with life better than they ever have before? Again, no. But in these very things—the goodness of TM—lie seeds of its badness, its principal danger. The success of TM in alleviating symptoms masks continuing spiritual need and unresolved spiritual conflict. In helping a person cope with this life, TM may be stealing eternal life away from him.

How shall we deal with the challenge of TM? Not by denying that it is a powerful foe, or that its claims have sub stance. Instead, we must re-examine the vitality of our own spiritual lives—especially if we occupy roles of spiritual leadership. The witness of a man or woman in whose life Jesus Christ has become central is a power no man-made system can gainsay. And it is only the absence of a multitude of such lives that has created the vacuum TM attempts to fill. It cannot fill the God-shaped hole in our lives; only God can. But millions can be lost eternally while making the at tempt.

Our great need today is not better spiritual technique, but more faith—genuine faith, the kind that clings to Jesus in the face of all the world's sophistries. By beholding Him, we will be changed. 11


1 Frederic A. Birmingham, "There's No Use Talking to Me—I'm Meditating," Saturday Evening Post, March, 1975, p. 11.

2 Ibid.

3 Science, March 17, 1970.

4 "The Drugless High," Time, Oct. 23, 1972, p. 13.

5 Birmingham, op. cit.

6 William Johnston, Christian Zen (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 1.

7 Psalm 119:97.

8 J. B. Marcus, Drug Forum, vol. 3(2), winter, 1974.

9 Based on research conducted by the Institute of Living, Hartford, Connecticut. Quoted in Saturday Evening Post, Birmingham, op. cit.

10 Adelaide Gardner, Meditation, a Practical Study (Wheaton: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1968), p. 16.

11 2 Cor. 3:18.

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Don Day is employed by Concerned Communications, Arroyo Grande, California.

March 1977

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