Aren't all meditations the same?
All methods of meditation consist of a two-phase cycle: use of a mental technique followed by the arising of thoughts. The cycle is repeated throughout the period of meditation.
In Transcendental Meditation there is a third element – transcending – that occurs spontaneously in between the mental technique and the thoughts. Transcendental consciousness is a highly orderly state of restful alertness that is deeply beneficial and a joy to experience. (See What Happens During Transcendental Meditation?)
Easy access to this state characterizes Transcendental Meditation as fundamentally different in principles and practice from other meditation techniques.
The unique benefits of Transcendental Meditation (see What Are the Benefits?) all occur as a result of the physiological repairs and renewals that occur naturally - automatically - during transcendental consciousness. Research confirms this (see What Does the Research Show? and Latest News).
Other meditation techniques do not mention transcending in their teaching because they offer neither a reliable means of experiencing it nor an appreciation of its fundamental value. Moreover, their instructions can actually hinder transcending.
This does not mean that transcending never occurs during other meditations. But if it does, it tends to be by default – because other techniques are not completely effortless and the mind seeks refuge from them in the transcendent. Such techniques are not blissful and can be frustrating.
In other meditations, deviations from the effortlessness – naturalness – of transcending are commonly found in the instructions given, both for the mental technique and for the thoughts that arise. They involve concentration or contemplation.
Mental techniques that hinder transcending: any instruction to try to fix the attention upon a thought, whether the thought is a word or phrase or object or visual image or awareness of a physiological process (for example, breathing or heartbeat). Likewise, watchfulness of the mental process during meditation - with or without a meditation guide - is a deviation from effortlessness. And is usually tedious.
Instructions for dealing with thoughts that hinder transcending: any instruction to try to push out thoughts or “let go” of thoughts, or establish a relationship with thoughts, or to try to empty the mind by conscious effort. It is a fallacy that thoughts can be expelled by conscious effort or training - because every thought that we become aware of during meditation is already a past event. It is history. It cannot be undone.
Transcendental Meditation technique: the mantra that is assigned by the teacher during personal instruction – together with the way of using it - is harmonious, suited to the individual and devoid of meaning. It is a sound, originating in the ancient Vedic tradition of India, whose effect is known. In practice, it is a comfortable vehicle for the natural tendency of the mind to ride on. The destination is transcendental consciousness. Time and again during Transcendental Meditation, transcendental consciousness replaces the mantra – spontaneously and without effort. Personal instruction by a teacher registered with Maharishi Vedic Institute is necessary to ensure that use of the mantra does not involve concentration or any sort of effort that could hinder transcending. Trying to hold on to any particular thought – including a mantra – is a strain.
Transcendental Meditation: thoughts. There is nothing to be done about the thoughts that arise during Transcendental Meditation (see above). You do not need to try to get rid of them. They are an integral part of the meditation cycle and they take care of themselves. Personal instruction in the Transcendental Meditation technique ensures that the role of thoughts during meditation is understood both in principle and practice.
Another common fallacy in other meditations is that thinking about a particular state of mind – calmness, peacefulness, for example – is the same as directly experiencing it. It is not. A poor man does not become rich by thinking about wealth – in fact, his daydreaming, whether with eyes closed or eyes open, will distract him from the creative activity necessary to make his fortune.
Mental techniques that advocate thinking about something – imagining things – keep the mind on the surface level. They are at best soothing. At worst, they can make the mind lethargic and dull and foster passivity. Yes, there is truth in the old complaint that “meditation can make you passive” but Transcendental Meditation is fundamentally different. It is refreshing and enlivening.
Recent research (see Dr Fred Travis's paper to the New York Academy of Sciences, January 2014 in Latest News) clearly distinguishes Transcendental Meditation – which is described as “automatic self-transcending” – from the other two categories of meditation: “focused attention” (trying to keep the attention focused on a thought or object) and “open monitoring” (keeping the attention on the mental process). The paper reviews and contrasts meditation techniques from Vedic, Buddhist and Chinese traditions.
Every kind of meditation - every experience, in fact - produces specific effects in some part or parts of the brain. Only during Transcendental Meditation has whole-brain coherence of functioning been recorded. This is an effect not found elsewhere in the scientific literature. It cannot be achieved by trying or concentration. Individual effort produces only individual effects in the brain. Only nature can achieve whole-brain coherence - spontaneously, without effort on the part of the individual meditator. Transcendental Meditation is the only completely natural meditation.
Video clips: Maharishi talks about the difference between Transcendental Meditation and other systems and Dr Fred Travis shows how different meditations produce different brainwave patterns: