Sunday, July 21, 2013


Transcendental Meditation vs. Jewish Meditation


Transcendental Meditation vs. Jewish Meditation


     Someone commented on an article showing that a California court has allowed yoga to be taught in the public schools:


      He wrote that he taught Transcendental Meditation (TM) for 10 years, he practices yoga, has been an orthodox rabbi for 20 years, and that there is no idolatry in them, nor is there any contradiction with them and Torah. He added that the only rabbis who are speaking out against these things have no experience with them so they do not know what they are talking about.


    Gutman's response:


     Transcendental Meditation is a mantra meditation system. Mantra meditation is the repetition of a word (the mantra), a name, or a meaningless sound, over and over again. The purpose is to detach from all other mental input. This invariably leads away from the Jewish goal.


     TM was made popular in West in the 1960's by an Indian guru who had a large following. As its name indicates, it goal is to transcend worldly consciousness and to attain "Universal Consciousness." Yet, not a single one of the hundreds of thousands of devotees has ever claimed to have obtained this consciousness, not even after 20 or more years of daily meditation. They sell "secret" mantras to their initiates. Many of the mantras are names of idols, and many others are nonsensical words invented just to be sold. But the main problem is not just that the mantras are foolish.


     This type of meditation is called entirely passive because the mind focuses on a subject that you are not interested in learning about. This pacifies mental activity. Typical subjects for this type of meditation are a word, a sound, a flame, a crystal ball, and such.


     To the opposite of this, if the subject is something that you do want to learn more about, then the mind becomes actively engaged, and this is called active meditation. Such subjects as; Where is G-d? What is my soul? Where is Place? are active subjects.


     In both systems the exercise is the same. As soon as you realize that you have drifted away from the subject, return your awareness back onto the subject again, and again. 


     The main problem with TM, besides the very real association with Hindu idolatry, is that its primary result is detachment. Although this brings some positive results, such as calming the blood pressure, detachment is not a proper Jewish goal.


     The goal of Jewish meditation, as with all Jewish practices, has to be to elevate the world, not to forsake it.


     In order to safely reap the various benefits of passive meditation, one can combine the two techniques. For instance, gently focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your nose. This is an entirely passive technique. But then, after every few cycles of watching your breath move in and out, recall that, "Just as did Hashem breathe the breath of life into Adam, so is He breathing my breath in and out of me." This brings an active element into the passive technique as you try to become acutely aware of G-d's Presence and hand in your life.


     The benefit of active meditation is increased understanding of the chosen subject. Its goal is to elevate the meditators' spiritual awareness. This cannot be accomplished by simply repeating a senseless word over and over again.


     As to his statement that yoga has no connection to idolatry, last year the New York Tax Authority agreed with the petitioning yoga studios that they should be exempt from paying taxes since they are teaching a mostly spiritual practice and not just a physical exercise system.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts about TM and jewish meditation. As a long-time meditator, I suggest that your two main points about TM are a misunderstanding: The truth is, TM has no association whatsoever with Hindu idolatry, and it does not create detachment. Forty years of published peer-reviewed scientific research studies done at literally hundreds of medical schools has shown the effects of TM: increased inner wakefulness, more coherent brain functioning, increased self-actualization, increased productivity in action, reduced stress, improved relationships, increased focus, broader comprehension, increased field independence, etc. All of this is the opposite of detachment.

    Myths debunked:

  2. Tom, I wrote the article from experience having received a mantra from TM in the 1960's and having hear of others' mantras many of which were the names of Indian idols! A dear friend of mine taught TM for 20 years and confirms what I have written. Detachment was certainly the a major part of the lesson. Those benefits that you quoted come from meditation without the idolatry, too. The article did not speak against meditation, merely against the idolatry that has always been in TM.

    1. Not everyone who practices TM has a correct understanding of it or practices it correctly. I can see from you understanding that you are lacking in both. Being a teacher of TM I am wel aware of the confusion that some individuals interject into the practice. TM is purely a mechanical technique with no association to Hnduism - actually it predates Hinduism by some 2000 years. You may not believe it is something for you, but you are taking on the responsibility of confusing others with your incorrect statements and that is something you should think about.

  3. Dear R.Gutman,

    In his book "Jewish meditation", R. Aryeh Kaplan Zatsal, writes, with warnings over one's sanity, about a kosher mantra: "Ribbono Shel Holam".

    I guess transcendental meditation may be ok only if we use kosher techniques and mantras ?

  4. Mantra meditation is improper no matter what mantra is used. R' Kaplan admitted regret for having used the word for "lack of a better word". Mantras remove the mind from the world. This is not the goal of Jewish mediation.

  5. R. Gutman,

    I happen to be really interested in Jewish Meditation and Kabbalah without really practicing any of those.

    But lately, while I was reading a much more developed book on the subject during this past shabbat - "Kabbalah and meditation" by A.Kaplan, where he explains in details what were the different schools of meditation throughout history, I came across a jewish meditation (from the 16century I guess) where you would picture the tetragrammatron (unprounoucable name of g.d) in your head.

    Just by curiosity I tried this for a second only and got really scared by a bad image, I think it was just my imagination (something like a gremlin..) because it came immediatly after I closed my eyes and pictured the name, it really took just a second so I can say that I did not even "meditate" on it lol

    The thing is, I got really scared and I immediatly realized I was probably doing something really wrong, then I read the end of that chapter and R. Kaplan specifically states that that kind of meditation cannot be done without proper preparation (cleanliness) and a master for mental health purposes, and even because of another reason, one could be at risk of a really really bad decree by doing that kind of meditation (called "unifications - yechudim" ?)...Now I am really really scared, I know I was beginning to do it just for a second but obviously that was sufficient and I don't want to try again..

    Still, could you tell me if am I in danger or something like that for what I did?


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