controversy

Sign of the Times: mindfulness in schools

The New York Times reports on the adoption of Mindfulness-Based Education in schools to help children learn to pay attention and to handle their emotions.

“I was losing at baseball and I was about to throw a bat,” one student reported to his classmates the day after learning the technique. “The mindfulness really helped.”

Mindfulness-Based Education was featured in Wildmind’s first meditation news podcast, in which we interviewed Dr. Amy Salzman, who was also quoted in the Times article. A point she made in our interview was taken up by Philippe R. Goldin, a researcher at Stanford: “Parents and teachers tell kids 100 times a day to pay attention. But we never teach them how.”

Institutions like the psychology department at Stanford University and the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, are trying to measure the effects as schools across the US train students in mindfulness.

Although mindfulness comes from a Buddhist context, it is not primarily a religious practice and involves focused attention, often centered on the breath, and awareness of the emotions combined with the cultivation of compassion. Because of its secular nature mindfulness has so far avoided the kinds of controversy in which Transcendental Meditation has become mired. Late last year plans to start a TM club in a California school were shelved after an outcry from parents.

Dr. Saltzman, co-director of the mindfulness study at Stanford, said the initial findings showed increased control of attention and “less negative internal chatter — what one girl described as ‘the gossip inside my head: I’m stupid, I’m fat or I’m going to fail math,’ ” Dr. Saltzman said.

According to the article a recent study of teenagers by Kaiser Permanente in San Jose, California, found that meditation techniques helped improve mood disorders, depression, and self-harming behaviors like anorexia and bulimia.

The Times article has a healthy skepticism about the notion of mindfulness as the answer to all of life’s problems, with a statements such as mindfulness is “not a magic bullet” being quoted from Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the U.C.L.A. Mindful Awareness Research Center, and a second grade teacher observing that “some students tapped pencils and drummed on desks instead of closing their eyes.”

Nevertheless, mindfulness in education is an idea whose time has surely come. Children today are massively overstimulated and living under greater levels of stress than their parents’ or grandparents’ generations. Tools for handling the stress of modern life as a child or teenager are urgently needed.

Bodhipaksa is the founder and director of Wildmind. His personal blog is called Bodhi Tree Swaying.

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Dissociative bliss becomes addictive

Edmonton Sun, Canada: Joe Kellett knows gurus. He says he was one.

For years, Kellett was a disciple of the transcendental meditation movement, then a teacher. He now runs an anti-TM webpage.

His problem is complicated by the fact that TM is based on – but does not mirror – 2,000-year-old ayurvedic health rituals from India. That gives it credibility, as do studies showing it can be good for your health.

“When TMers say ‘TM is not a religion’ they are talking about the purely mechanical mental technique,” says Kellett. “However, ‘TM the technique’ is never taught without introducing recruits to ‘TM the religion’ during three days of instruction following initiation.

“Mahesh initially came out of India openly as a teacher of spirituality. Then in the early ’70s he abandoned that approach and began disguising his message in the language of scientific analogy. But the core message is still the same under the semantic covers: do TM for long enough and you will become ‘enlightened.’”

You might also have negative consequences. A compendium of 75 studies of TM technique in 2000 found that 63% of practitioners suffered long-term negative mental health consequences from the repeated dissociation – or disconnection – with reality caused by going into a trance-like state.

TM counters that by pointing out it can produce 600 studies showing the benefits to everything from high-blood pressure and stress reduction to slowing the aging of cells, reducing mental fatigue and improving clarity of thought.

Health benefits or drawbacks notwithstanding, Kellett argues, TM teachers were tasked with withholding information from students until they were susceptible enough to accept dogmatic positions related to the maharishi’s own Vedic Hindu background.

“Dissociative ‘bliss’ is often an easily produced substitute for true personal growth,” says Kellett.

“As teachers we memorize almost everything we are to tell students. We were very careful not to tell them too much less they become ‘confused’ by things that they ‘couldn’t yet understand’.

“Only after they had the ‘experience,’ could we start very gradually revealing TM dogma in easy, bite-sized chunks, always after they had just finished meditation and were therefore likely to be still in a dissociative state.”

When he left the group, Kellett took direction from cult deprogrammer Steve Hassan, who established a technique for what he calls “re-establishing reality testing” – taking people who’ve been addicted to the sensation of dissociative bliss and making them critical thinkers again.

“I realized that everything I had believed and experienced was based on the premise that Mahesh was truly an enlightened man with the highest spiritual teaching on the planet,” he says.

“When I abandoned that assumption, the whole thing fell like a house of cards.”

Original article no longer available…

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Delving into alternative care (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Susanne Quick, Journal Sentinal, Milwaukee: Johnnie Thomas spent 22 years trying to get teenagers to behave.

As a building superintendent for a dormitory first run by the YMCA, now by Marquette University, he saw more than his share of late-night shenanigans.

It took a toll, and in 1994, he underwent open-heart surgery. While recovering from the triple bypass, he re-evaluated his lifestyle – his food choices, his exercise regimen. But with an aloof doctor, and little in the way of support from home, he didn’t make much headway.

Then, two years ago, Thomas saw a late-night advertisement on TV – an ad that called for African-Americans with cardiovascular trouble to participate in a study at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The idea was to test the cardiovascular effects of Transcendental Meditation – a patented form of meditation owned and promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian guru made popular during the 1960s by the Beatles.

Thomas figured, “Why not?”

He has been meditating every day since then, and according to Thomas, his new doctors – those not involved in the study – are thrilled with the results.

“They say, keep doing whatever it is you are doing,” he said. “And I do.”

A generation ago, even a few years ago, a heart patient learning about meditation from a leading medical center would have been unthinkable.

No more.

More than a third of Americans use some form of complementary or alternative medicine – treatments or regimens used in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, standard Western medicine.

The number of people using these non-standard treatments almost doubles if prayer is included, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine – a branch of the National Institutes of Health. And even though many treatments haven’t had much scientific testing, doctors, insurance companies and health centers are paying attention.

The Medical College’s meditation study, which has been funded for four years by NIH’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine center, has recently been extended for another four years. And it is similar to many others being conducted across the country.

The center has a 2004 budget of $117.7 million, double what it was just five years ago. And that’s less than half of NIH’s total annual spending on complementary and alternative medicine. Other money goes to agencies such as the National Institute on Aging and the National Cancer Institute. It funds such research as Transcendental Meditation and distance healing – defined as a “mental intention on behalf of one person, to benefit another at a distance” – as well as more “conventional” alternative treatments such as acupuncture and massage.

“Our goal is to find out what works, what doesn’t work, and what is safe and is not safe, and to share that information with consumers, practitioners, and policy-makers,” said Margaret Chesney, deputy director of the center. If the center finds something valid, doctors can start using it.

The result is that traditional research centers such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Johns Hopkins and Columbia University are competing for federal grants to study alternative medicine with places such as Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. To date, Maharishi University has received more than $20 million in government support.

Beyond the government investment, alternative medicine centers have started appearing in mainstream medical centers and managed care facilities across the country.

In the Milwaukee area, Aurora, Covenant and Columbia St. Mary’s all have supported and managed “complementary care” facilities in their health systems. Covenant’s Center for Complementary Medicine in Mequon, for example, offers acupuncture and massage, as well as a full-time trainer who advises patients on a more balanced and holistic lifestyle.

“We knew patients were seeing chiropractors as well as their surgeons and physicians,” said Nancy Conway, director of complementary medicine at Aurora, which has similar centers.

What better way to manage their patients’ care than to get both types of practitioners under the same roof, she said.

Where is this headed?

The question no one has been able to answer is where all this is headed.

Government-funded health agencies would like to systematically either legitimize or debunk the numerous alternative treatments available. Chesney said the center reviews every proposal with the same scientific and critical rigor – irrespective of the politics, religion or spiritual practice associated with it.

But to conventional Western doctors, it’s one thing if a mainstream research center such as UW-Madison or Johns Hopkins says an alternative practice such as acupuncture is valid. It’s another if the research is from Maharishi University.Will family doctors really feel comfortable referring patients with high blood pressure to the nearest Transcendental Meditation clinic – where they will be asked to write a $2,500 check?

What is more likely – and what is already happening, regardless of the NIH studies – is that some doctors are referring patients to alternative practitioners within their own medical facilities.

And then there’s the question of insurance. So far, insurance companies have been reluctant to cover many alternative and complementary treatments, said Aurora’s Conway.

Some insurers will cover visits to chiropractors or offer discounts for acupuncture and chiropractic care. But for other kinds of complementary and alternative care – the more fringe practices such as homeopathy and chelation therapy- there is little in the way of coverage, Conway said.

“With the rising costs of health care,” both insurance companies and consumers are finding themselves on the same side of the table, said Sam Benjamin, corporate medical director for integrative health strategies at Humana. They both want cost-effective medicine.

Indeed, if insurance companies can inform and educate people about complementary medicine – a lot of it low-cost with few side effects – then both parties will be better off, Benjamin said.

There just isn’t a lot of incentive right now for insurance companies to pay for alternative medicine, he said. The last thing they want to do is cover more kinds of medical treatments. And again, there’s the question of endorsing fringe organizations. If insurance companies started paying for Transcendental Meditation, for instance, would they unwittingly be promoting Maharishi’s program for achieving world peace through yogic flying?

Mixed reactions in doctors

All this interest in new forms of health care – and the money following it – has drawn a mixed reaction from doctors on the front lines.

Many physicians say they embrace alternative and complementary approaches to medical care, or at least don’t reject them. Steven Pinzer, a spokesman for Aurora Health Care, contended that skeptical primary care physicians, at least at Aurora, don’t exist.

But others said doctors are choosing not to speak out for fear of appearing close-minded, or inviting disfavor from their health care network.

And then there is Stephen Barrett, a retired Allentown, Pa., psychiatrist and director of Quackwatch Inc. – a medical fraud watchdog group. Barrett calls alternative medicine “rubbish.”

Barrett said that while it may sound as if a lot of people are using non-traditional forms of medicine, it’s just not true. Remove prayer and the use of herbal supplements, and the number drops to about 18%. Practices such as biofeedback and Ayurveda, which is a form of holistic medicine, have received a fair amount of publicity but attract only 0.1% of the American population, he said.

“The fringe stuff is just not being used all that widely,” he said.

Barrett also wonders whether more physicians are not voicing their skepticism because they don’t know much about what’s going on outside their own specific fields and have enough on their plates without inviting conflict.

Benjamin agreed.

“Believe me, I don’t mean to criticize doctors – I am one,” he said. But they are so overworked and have so little time, most are unable to keep on top of the latest research in their own field, much less the latest on massage therapy and acupuncture.

“This is a failure on the part of medical schools” and health care organizations, which should be training their physicians in these methods and giving them the time to learn, he said.

Barrett was a little more critical: “They don’t know enough. They don’t want to get caught in a fix. And they are afraid of getting sued.”

Gaining acceptance

Nevertheless, there does seem to be a level of acceptance in the medical world.

Many specialists, such as heart doctors and cancer physicians, appear to be relatively open to newfangled (or very old-fangled, depending upon how you see it) treatments.

This is particularly true for cancer doctors, who for years have incorporated an array of treatments to help their patients.

“I think oncologists are an interesting group,” said James Stewart, a medical oncologist at UW Hospital. “We take a multidisciplinary approach to disease, a holistic approach, which is pretty traditional in cancer clinics.”

From diet and exercise to psychological care, oncologists have been aware that a patient who feels better about herself – who feels she has some control in the outcome of her care – will have a better experience.

“If I had my wishes, all my patients wouldn’t smoke. They’d exercise. And they’d be an ideal body weight,” he said. “I guarantee they’d feel better.”

But when he can’t get them to follow this advice – and they show interest in other treatments – he’s willing to refer them.

He’s quick to point out these treatments are complementary – not alternatives to the standard front lines of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. And, he reiterated, the patient has to ask for it.

“There are definitely charlatans out there, people who take advantage of those with chronic, life-threatening diseases for which there are no easy cures,” he said. “And it’s those few who can give everybody a bad name.”

What Stewart and Ellen Hartenbach, another oncologist at UW, try to do is make sure they and their patients keep talking to each other.

Others hesitate

For doctors such as Jon Keevil, a cardiologist at UW, the open approach that his oncology colleagues have shown is not entirely comfortable.

He thinks heart specialists may be a bit less holistic than oncologists and primary care physicians – although he does have a dietitian in his clinic and regularly discusses the benefits of exercise and a good diet with his patients.

“When it comes right down to it, when a person suffers a heart attack, we don’t take over everything else” in the body, he said.

Indeed, discussing alternative and complementary approaches may be somewhat inappropriate coming from a specialist such as himself, he said. “That’s really what their primary care doctor is there for.”

That where David Rakel comes in.

Rakel is a primary care physician in Madison, and director of UW’s Integrative Medicine clinic, so he’s open – almost by the definition of his job – to new methods of health care.

But he thinks “adding more tools to the tool bag” is not the answer.

Instead, he said, there needs to be “a change in the way we approach the patient.”

From the minute patients walk into the room, the focus should be on listening to their story, and hearing what the patients have to say – instead of peppering them with questions to cram them into a preconceived diagnostic box.

Studies have shown that within 18 seconds of patients’ descriptions of their ailments, they are interrupted. And other research has indicated that only a handful of patients actually understand what their doctors tell them, or know what to do when they leave their doctor’s office.

“We really need to match a therapy to an individual,” said Rakel, taking into account that individual’s “biopsychosocial and spiritual influences.”

That means spending time with patients.

If adding 15 more minutes to a patient’s visit is what’s required, than that’s what should happen, Rakel said. And if that’s considered complementary or alternative, then so be it, he said.

“Integrative medicine encourages empowerment. It facilitates the body in a way that it is best able to heal itself,” he said.

So where does acupuncture, massage therapy and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi come in?

With any treatment, he said, “you have to take into account the potential harm, cost, the patient’s belief system and the evidence-based science,” he said.

“What’s legitimate for one person may not be for another,” he said. “The goal is how we can help a human being.”

Original article no longer available…

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Windham family finds peace in meditation (Union Leader, New Hampshire)

Carol Robidoux, Union Leader, New Hampshire: Gloria Norris Schwartz discovered Transcendental Meditation – TM – five years ago after a mostly fruitless search for a natural remedy for healing and stress.

Since then she and her husband Jeffrey, a mathematical scientist, and their two sons, 13 and 11, have trained in the technique described by TM enthusiasts as the opposite of concentration, completely effortless and totally life-changing.

How true for the Schwartz family.

They meditate regularly and follow a TM-recommended natural health program. And as soon as they can sell their home in Windham, they’re moving to Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa, a new city built three years ago in the middle of farm country just beyond the Maharishi University of Management – a college founded in 1974 by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Yes, guru to the Beatles during the late 1960s.

“I can’t wait to get there. As soon as I heard about it I had to see it. We’ve been there twice – I loved it,” Schwartz, 50, said.

Although they arrived in New Hampshire from the Washington, D.C., area already practicing TM, Schwartz wanted to connect with a TM teacher here.

She met Sherry Levesque, director of Manchester’s TM Program Center and part of the faculty at Maharishi Vedic University in Antrim, which last year took over the campus of the defunct Nathaniel Hawthorne College. The organization is looking to build a meditation “Peace Palace” in the Manchester area, as well.

Tonight Levesque will offer an introductory TM lecture at Manchester City Library auditorium at 7 p.m. Levesque said her presentation, “The TM Program: Opening a New World of Knowledge, Health and Quality of Life,” is based on data proving the physical and mental benefits of TM from more than 600 scientific studies at more than 200 credible universities and research centers, including Harvard Medical School, Stanford University and UCLA.

Goal: World peace

Levesque cites benefits ranging from enhanced creativity, memory and alpha wave brain function (key to taming attention deficit disorders), to solving blood pressure, cholesterol, anxiety and stress-related ailments.

“TM provides the mind with the ability to transcend to a place TMers refer to as the ‘universal unified field of intelligence’ – called the unified field, in ultra modern physics,” Levesque said.

Albert Einstein was among those great thinkers who first explored the so-called Theory Of Everything (TOE) in the context of the universe.

Only now are physicists catching up with Einstein and applying TOE to the current controversial buzz in the scientific community, “String Theory” by Columbia University physicist Brian Greene.

But make no mistake: TM is a trademarked, worldwide non-profit educational organization based solely on the sacred teachings of “His Holiness” the Maharishi. It relies heavily on repetition of a mantra. And the goal is nothing short of world peace.

“What Maharishi says in the language of science – we call it Natural Law – in layman’s terms might be called the will of God. In whatever language you use, peace should be the way of the world,” Levesque said.

“For the cost of a B-2 bomber, we could set up a group of 40,000 people in India to meditate and act as peace keepers by creating a major effect on the unified field,” Levesque said.

A $2,500 check

Anyone interested in learning TM must participate in three preliminary lectures – two group and a one-on-one with a certified instructor. After that, a $2,500 check buys you a lifetime of instruction at any trademarked Maharishi Vedic center around the globe.

“The fee may sound high, but it’s a standard fee, and actually, it’s the best bargain in America,” Levesque said.

Schwartz has borrowed money in order to pay that much, times four, and agrees with Levesque that it’s a wise investment in her family’s future.

“What does a person pay for a course in college? What do you pay for a one-week vacation for a family of four? How much is a laptop computer and some software and, in a few years, it’s obsolete?,” Schwartz said.

Townies vs. gurus

Meanwhile, in Vedic City, Iowa, it’s hard to say whether the city that chants together achieves world peace together. But it seemed like a logical question for Jefferson County Iowa Sheriff Jerry Droz.

“This whole county is low crime, has been for years – since before they got here,” Droz said. “Everybody there is involved in TM.” Although he’s never tried it, some of his best friends are TM’ers.

He said Vedic City has caused a rift between some Iowa natives and their new mystical neighbors.

“It’s become the ‘Townies’ and ‘Gurus,’ a ‘we’ and ‘them’ situation, when it should be ‘us.’ Although the factions are getting a little less, you can understand it. When something new comes into your neighborhood you wouldn’t like it,” Droz said.

One of the persistent controversies surrounding TM is its connection to Hinduism through mantras, and the cult-like influence of the Maharishi over his followers. Some say it undermines traditional Biblical teachings on the absolute truth of Christian doctrine.

Droz said he would be reluctant to say what he thinks, but offered this anecdote.

“When Maharishi said all the toilets had to face East, everyone changed their homes around. All the buildings have to be facing East. Why? That’s what he said to do. There are several things they have to do, because he says so,” Droz said. “Sure, we’ve had people disgruntled with the program, but the bottom line is, you can’t please everybody.”

A ‘destructive cult’

But Andrew Skolnick, a former editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association and current director of the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health, a newly formed New York-based organization dedicated to debunking overblown alternative medicine and health theories, is not so diplomatic.

He says TM is nothing but BS.

“It’s widely considered by cult experts to be a destructive cult, in that its followers believe in a divine-like quality or powers of their leader and they accept his teachings, which are blatantly absurd, self-contradictory and harmful,” Skolnick said. “And it costs a fortune.”

He said the Maharishi’s rationale is based on his interpretations of Hindu mysticism wrapped in scientific jargon.

“What he did in the 1950s was he started to rewrite his Hindu theology, replacing it with scientific words. And that’s enough for the ‘believer,’ who will not try to see the consistencies or inconsistencies for himself,” Skolnick said.

“You go take a basic TM course that teaches you to meditate. Then you come back for ‘checking’ and they say you can’t advance in TM without the checking sessions. And it’s during those sessions you’re baited for costly courses. Then, slowly, they reel you in,” Skolnick said.

That kind of criticism does not sway Schwartz against her decision to move her family West, to Vedic City. She’s heard it all, and said her commitment to TM was made for exactly the opposite reason.

“I wanted something that wasn’t going to interfere with whatever religious path I was taking, and that’s exactly what you get with TM. So many of these other methods of relaxation and healing are either all spiritual or all scientific. This is both,” said Schwartz. “And at the same time, it’s not like a religion, like you have to subscribe to a particular belief system. It’s just a technique.”

Original article no longer available…

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Mystic’s burial site at commune is reincarnated as posh resort (San Francisco Chronicle)

Mike McPhate, San Francisco Chronicle: As a softly lit classroom of fellow devotees of the late Indian mystic Osho try to enliven their sex centers — whirling to the music of Madonna, howling like macaques and blowing hysterically through their nostrils, Prem Dita sits alone in her maroon robe at a nearby vegetarian cafe. “If you are at a higher level, it’s boring,” Dita says of the class as she nibbles at a croissant.

Like the whirling devotees, Dita, a long-faced, graying German woman who says her birth name is Weintraub, came to this city in western India in search of bliss.

That was 26 years ago, back when Osho was giving 50-cent sermons to flocks of hippies, who built a colony of bamboo huts to be near him, and she’s never left, she says.

Three years later — in 1981 — Osho, the slender, white-bearded son of a cloth merchant who is better known to Americans by his previous name, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, went to Oregon with thousands of followers hoping to build a New Age utopia. He returned to Pune in 1987.

But Dita never left Pune, an industrial center 100 miles east of Bombay. With no family in Germany, she has nothing to return to. The city of the Bhagwan’s resting place is her home now.

More than a decade after the mystic’s death in 1990, the commune that houses his ashes has been reincarnated as the luxurious Osho Meditation Resort, complete with tennis courts, lagoon-style swimming pool, high-speed Internet cafe and cappuccino bar that serves vodka in the evenings…

The old days were “really fantastic,” says Dita, who refuses to enter the new complex. “It’s terrible now. It’s like a Holiday Inn.”

Dispute over Osho’s legacy

The preaching grounds in Pune where Osho offered a mish-mash of pop psychology and ancient Indian wisdom have become the site of a fierce dispute over his legacy.

The battle is being waged between a group of mainly foreign disciples in control of the resort, and an Indian-led faction that feels the guru’s memory is being cheapened.

“Those who were prominent practitioners don’t even visit the ashram anymore,” says S.E. Bhelke, a philosophy professor at Pune University and an admirer of the late guru. Greed, he says, is the problem.

Behind the commune’s makeover are five Osho disciples — a Canadian, a Briton, two Germans and an Indian — who in the years after his death, seized control of the Inner Circle, the secretive group the guru entrusted with continuing his work.

In addition to the property, they control a multimillion-dollar trove of Osho’s assets, including 7,000 hours of recorded lectures, which have been published in more than 600 books in 53 languages.

The renaming of the commune as a resort, the doubling of entrance fees and the razing of one of Osho’s lecture halls have particularly upset the old-time Indian devotees.

An influential faction broke away from the commune four years ago in protest. Denouncing what they saw as the commercialization of the mystic’s legacy by foreign opportunists, they set up a rival camp called Osho World in New Delhi, with its own meditation hall, gallery and magazine.

“The (Pune) commune has become a club for the select few,” says defector Chaitanya Keerti, one of the guru’s original disciples and the editor of the Osho World magazine. “The emphasis now is on entertainment, relaxation, Jacuzzi, sauna.”

The resort, which draws 200,000 visitors a year, is lovely. After 12 days of muggy monsoon rain, the unpaved roads, where beggars have been relegated away from the park gates, have turned into an excrement-scented muck, but the grounds remain a sparkling oasis.

The 40-acre campus undulates with jasmine-scented bamboo groves, peacocks, silky waterfalls and wide white marble paths.

In expression of their harmony, all the guests, known as beloveds, wear robes that cost $3 on the street or $7 at the “nonprofit” Osho boutique — maroon in the daytime and white in the evening.

On a recent morning, several sat in silent, yogic poses by a brook. Others checked e-mail behind the Internet cafe’s blue-tinted windows or sipped white wine by the pool. One Indian woman twirled like a ballerina, her eyes shut in bliss, along the marble floor of Buddha Grove.

“There’s just some gorgeous things about Osho,” said Ananda Das, Sanskrit for “seeker of bliss,” sipping Earl Grey tea by the resort’s black marble pyramid complex. “He’s wild, you know? He is an invitation to grow in consciousness.”

Guests work for meditations

Das, a gray-bearded house painter from Australia who used to be named Russell Gardner, said he lives partly on an inheritance. He was participating in the resort’s Work as Meditation program, in which guests work 42 hours per week for the privilege of attending meditations.

“Meditation is a luxury,” said Das, dismissing the suggestion that Osho followers should reach out to the poor. “Buddha had this big, compassionate heart,” he said. “I’m not so compassionate. I’m interested in me personally.”

Most beloveds are harried foreigners; Americans make up the largest group. In Osho’s day, disciples came for months and years, but resort-goers now do short stays like the popular Wellness Weekend Getaway — $120 for two nights at the posh, on-site guesthouse — a steep rate in a country known among backpackers for its dirt-cheap prices.

“The demographics here are so high,” said park administrator Yogendra, or “the god of yoga,” a Canadian lawyer whose name used to be D’Arcy O’Byrne. “They have Ph.D.s, double Ph.D.s, law degrees. So many doctors, so many psychologists, psychiatrists are here.

“They have everything in the world that is supposed to make them happy. And they’re not happy.”

The meat and potatoes of the resort are the meditations. A new menu — Craniosacral Balancing, Primal Deconditioning, Secret of the Golden Flower — is offered every day.

But many of the beloveds, whose average age is 32, appear to come for the revelry: There are bikini parties by the pool, costume parties, lunchtime disco parties, as well as nightly parties at the cappuccino bar. The preferred soundtrack is techno.

Men from Bombay, having heard the tales of tantric orgies and drug-induced raves at the commune, are known to arrive with high hopes. The resort staff warns all new guests, who must clear an HIV test before being admitted, that they must respect female beloveds’ right not to be hugged and that Western women sometimes prefer to dance alone.

The festive atmosphere is inspired by Osho himself, who acquired notoriety for his radical views on sex. Dubbed the “sex guru” in the Indian press, he preached that monogamy is foolhardy, marriage is a prison for women, and young boys and girls should explore each other’s bodies.

Critics say that resort leaders, who have taken down nearly all of the hundreds of portraits of Osho that once decorated the property, have gone too far, substituting entertainment for spiritual quest.

The Indian faction has aroused a patriotic backlash in the country, drawing wide support for their cause among the Indian press.

While many Indians originally rejected Osho’s eccentric ideas on sex, he is today considered a national treasure, with admirers including India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sikh writer Khushwant Singh.

Indians oppose copyrights

The Indians have loudly criticized the Westerners for seeking copyrights with the U.S. Library of Congress on Osho’s name, words and even meditations, opening up corporate offices in New York and Zurich to monitor violations.

“I could understand Americans trying to grab patent rights over basmati rice and neem products — where they mercifully failed — but how can anyone patent thought and meditation?” Singh wrote in the Chandigarh paper the Tribune, describing the attempt as “preposterous.”

Defector Keerti calls the foreigners’ actions evil.

“When they come to this country, they are tourists,” he says. “The whole of India resents them.”

Resort administrator Yogendra, whose elusive older brother, Jayesh, is said to be the most powerful member of the Inner Circle, said seeking copyrights in the United States, where they are more strictly enforced, is just common sense. “Those people from India,” he said, “don’t really understand copyrights.”

Yogendra, 50, who has a lilting voice and a shaved scalp, suggests that the Indian critics just aren’t meditating enough.

“You know the press likes to talk about the trademarks and the copyrights and all the problems,” he says from his cool resort office, “but really, the fundamental, underlying thing, everybody will tell you, is it’s about meditation.

“It’s like this place is the manifestation of Osho’s vision,” he adds. “It’s just heaven.”

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Spiritual fusion (Miami Herald)

Alexandra Alter, Miami Herald: Armed with snacks and prizes, Audrey Bloom is trying to coax an answer out of her 17 students. ”So who can tell me what duhka means?” she asks, dangling a set of golden bells from India before a semicircle of confused faces.

”Suffering,” a handful of her adult students call out, correctly identifying the Sanskrit term. For the last hour, Bloom has been illuminating the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity at Miami’s Unity on the Bay, a non-denominational Christian worship center.

To the casual observer, the 2,500-year-old religion of Gautama Buddha bears scant resemblance to Christianity. But as Buddhism becomes increasingly popular in the United States — outpacing Episcopalianism with as many as four million members — a growing number of Christians are exploring Buddhist practices while remaining within their own tradition. Christian-Buddhist meditation groups, retreat centers, books and websites attest to the growth of the trend.

”Times are so scary that people are looking for spiritual discipline that offers some kind of detachment and peace amid all this chaos,” said Rita Gross, co-author of Buddhists Talk about Jesus: Christians Talk About the Buddha (Continuum International Publishing Group, $15.95). “People might find a basic meditation practice very helpful, and Buddhism is very chic right now.”

But spiritual fusion isn’t as easy as whipping up Cuban Chinese or Jamaican Indian.

DIFFERENT WORLDS

On almost every level, the two doctrines clash. Christianity holds that a divine creator fashioned the Earth in seven days; Buddhists believe the universe — thought to be one of many — has no beginning. Christian doctrine maintains the dead will be resurrected on judgement day, while Buddhism, like Hinduism, posits that individuals will be reborn until they achieve spiritual liberation. And while some say Buddha and Jesus offer similar messages of peace and compassion, one is an enlightened sage who offers a contemplative path to liberation, the other, the sole savior.

But the glaring theological contradictions don’t impede Ruben Habito, a Zen Buddhist teacher and a practicing Jesuit, from finding common ground between Buddhist and Christian mystical experiences.

”There is a way one can, in a single life, be faithful to two faiths,” said Habito, a professor of world religions at the Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, who recently led a week-long meditation retreat with 35 people, and offered the Catholic Eucharist after the evening meditation.

Prominent Buddhist leaders like the Dalai Lama and Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn have written about the shared goals of the two faiths, as well as Christian authors.

But it’s not just scholars and religious leaders who are driving the conversation — a quick Internet search unveils a smattering of Christian Buddhist listservs and support groups.

And Christian Buddhist meditation groups have sprung up in Massachusetts, Texas, Minnesota, and Washington.

Christians who are not comfortable in a strictly Buddhist setting seek nirvana at the Empty Bell, a Christian Buddhist retreat center in Watertown, Mass. The center, founded 10 years ago by Robert Jones, a Roman Catholic and Buddhist practitioner, has attracted a Christian base of followers.

”We have all stayed in our own tradition but been changed by Buddhism,” Jones said.

The popularity of Buddhist practice among Christians has grown substantially during the last two decades, said John Cowan, author of Taking Jesus Seriously: Buddhist Meditations for Christians (Liturgical Press, $16.95).

A Roman Catholic and Zen Buddhist who teaches meditation in churches throughout the Midwest, Cowan said it took a meditation practice to help him understand the Gospels.

‘Jesus said, `The kingdom of God is right before you but you can’t see it.’ A meditation practice gives you a glimpse of that,” he said.

Many agree it’s Buddhist meditations and chants, not doctrine, that attract Christians.

”Buddhists have a lot of good techniques, and those techniques don’t have to be tied down to Buddhist philosophy,” said Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University and an expert on Buddhism in America.

It’s also a matter of convenience. Buddhist meditation centers, which have doubled to more than 1,000 in the last 15 years, vastly outnumber Christian retreat centers, making them a draw for those seeking a contemplative spiritual practice.

MERGING PHILOSOPHIES

The Rev. Annette Jones, pastor of St. John’s On The Lake First United Methodist Church, became interested in Buddhism while working as a pastor in Houston in 1990. A counselor to people dying of AIDS, Jones turned to Buddhist philosophy, where she found practical ways of dealing with death, particularly the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence and the meditation on dying.

”I remembered from my seminary days that Buddhism used dying as an entrance into meditation and self growth,” she said.

After getting a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy at Rice University in Houston, Jones moved to Miami Beach in 1999 to take the pastor’s post at St. John’s, where she began teaching a course on Buddhism and Christianity.

On Monday nights, Jones and up to 12 students squeeze into the church office to practice a form of Tibetan Buddhist meditation that includes mantra recitation, yogic breathing, and concentrating on the Tibetan letter ”A.” There’s little mention of Christianity.

”As far as I’m concerned, what has to fit is the inner experience,” she said.

Some seekers have entered Christianity through Buddhism. After 15 years of Buddhist practice, Susan Postal was baptized as an Episcopalian in 1985 after she experienced ”a reconnection with Christianity” during meditation. Postal, who continues to act as a Zen meditation teacher, said a number of her students are practicing Catholics, and several are lapsed Catholics.

Many are apprehensive about meditating at first, she said. ”When they first come to the zendo, they feel a little guilty and wonder if they’re being a good Christian,” she said. “Once they see that it’s just sitting, they relax a bit.”

But some Christians disapprove of mixing and matching Buddhist practices with Christian doctrine. Russell Moore, the dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the two faiths are completely at odds.

“Those who claim to be Christian Buddhists don’t take Buddhism or Christianity very seriously,” he said. “Christianity believes in a personal God and the resurrection of the dead, and Buddhism totally rejects that.”

Some of the congregants from Miami’s Unity on the Bay, despite their teacher’s best efforts, are still having a hard time grasping the connections.

”Buddha is a way-shower, does that sound familiar to anyone?” Bloom prods, receiving blank stares. Jesus, they are reminded, is also a way-shower or spiritual teacher, according to the philosophy of Unity.

Seated next to an altar adorned with a statue of Buddha, flowers and incense, Bloom is the picture of patience, as serene as the Buddha himself. She queries them once more.

“Buddhism sees itself as a practical spirituality, does that sound familiar?”

This time, she gets a few knowing laughs. But many seem caught up in the differences between Buddhism and Christianity. In particular, they seem baffled by the Buddhist concept of selflessness.

‘We are told, `Know thyself,’ and Buddhism says, ‘Know no self,’ ” a member of the class, LeGrande Green, offers cheerfully.

”So if you believe in both, you’re schizophrenic,” a woman across the circle mutters. Well, it’s only their second class.

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Church warns of risks from ‘New Age’ therapies (Belfast Telegraph, UK)

David Quinn, Belfast Telegraph, UK: Christians have been warned about the dangers of using a whole range of increasingly popular ‘New Age’ therapies, including reflexology, reiki, yoga, transcendental meditation, and ‘charms and cures’. The Presbyterian Church issued the warning in a report that was approved yesterday at its annual General Assembly in Belfast.

The report says that ‘alternative therapies’ can lead believers away from God and Jesus because they “have their roots in either Eastern religion (Taoism or Hinduism) or vital life force or energy”, which implies the existence of “an impersonal god”.

However, the report was criticised as too negative by one Presbyterian clergyman who addressed yesterday’s assembly meeting.

Rev Jim Campbell told delegates: “Too often resistance to change, to the new, has been a feature of Presbyterianism and I fear that the report on alternative medicine and therapies fits into this category.

“If you read the comments . . . on a whole range of therapies, nothing is commended and some negative feature is always found.”

He stressed that a therapy could be accepted for its practical value without having to accept the religious beliefs associated with it.

“Many of us have difficulty separating a particular medicine or therapy from the primitive understanding of how it actually works,” he said. “I believe that, as Christians, we must not limit God by claiming that He can only reveal the mysteries of the workings of his creation through the discoveries of Western science.”

However, Martin Ford, a naturopath with Tony Quinn Health Stores, which has popularised many alternative therapies in Ireland, said that even the Bible acknowledges the existence of ‘vital energies’.

He stated: “All of these therapies listed by the Presbyterians do acknowledge energy of some sort. The Bible makes reference to these energies when Jesus says ‘power has gone from me’ after a woman touches his cloak and is cured.”

Mr Ford said: “No religious person need worry that these therapies will take people away from religion. Quite the opposite, in fact. All holistic therapy expands people’s awareness of life. It encourages people to expand out of a narrow point of view.”

Alternative therapies are now thought to be availed of by tens of thousands of Irish people each year. A ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ seminar held annually at the RDS draws an estimated 6,000 people.

Alternative therapy courses are offered nationwide, including in many Catholic institutes.

Our Lady’s Hospice in Dublin has hosted a course offering the chance to learn about shamanism, chakras, and ‘dancing the rainbow’.

Courses such as the Enneagram, aimed at self-understanding, are hugely popular, including with nuns and priests.

The specific therapies which the Presbyterian report warned against yesterday were: reflexology; acupuncture; yoga and transcendental meditation; reiki; aromatherapy; homoeopathy; and charms and cures.

The report said: “We need to be careful before, as Christians, we take part in any of these therapies and their belief in ‘other gods’.”

“There is clearly a search for a deeper spiritual reality going on in society. However, we need to be clear that not all spirituality is good.”

The Presbyterian General Assembly ends today.

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Education Ministry denies plan for TM in schools (Newsday Trinidad, Trinidad and Tobago)

Newsday, Trinidad: The [Trinidad and Tobago] Education Ministry yesterday denied any plan to introduce Transcendental Meditation (TM) into schools, as was being reported in some media claiming TM would soon be introduced into the school’s curriculum. Responding to queries by various persons, the Ministry yesterday issued a release advising of its policy when introducing new elements into the school curriculum. “The process is one of consultation, research and investigation. No one and no organisation has approached the Ministry of Education with respect to the introduction of Transcendental Meditation techniques in schools,” the release stated.

The ministry admitted to responding to an invitation last week from the TT Peace Government to attend a seminar with the theme — “The Brain Campaign — Substance Abuse and the Brain” in which TM was discussed. However, at no time during the seminar did the ministry’s representatives indicate an acceptance of this approach, claimed the ministry. The use of TM has been offered as an alternative to reducing crime, substance abuse, illiteracy and violence which is currently plaguing society. The suggestion was proffered by leader of the TT Peace Government, David Lee Sheng Tin, and leading neuroscientist, educator and researcher into the neurobiology of the human brain development and potential, Dr Alarik Arenander. The TT Peace Government is a non-religious, non-political organisation.

TM, which has been practiced in the Western world for over 50 years, is an ancient Asian form of meditation which has been scientifically proven to increase a person’s mental, emotional and physical health. TM is being used in 108 countries around the world, and at all levels of society, both governmental and non-governmental. Speaking with Newsday, Communications Specialist at the Ministry of Education, Mervyn Crichlow said while the invitation extended by the TT Peace Government had been accepted, at no time did ministry representatives indicate that TM would be introduced into schools.

When contacted for a comment on the issue of TM, President of the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), Zena Ramatali said she was unable to comment, as their General Council had not yet met to obtain a consensus from its entire membership. First Vice President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association, Sally Siriram told Newsday she fully endorsed remarks by TTUTA President Trevor Oliver to support any initiative which helped to curb the violence and indiscipline in schools. She said TTUTA would support any intervention or strategy which can be used to impact on students in a positive manner.

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Heavenly Mountain’s developer cuts ties with group (Winston-Salem Journal, North Carolina)

Monte Mitchell, Winston-Salem Journal: A developer of the more than 7,000 acre Heavenly Mountain resort in southeastern Watauga County says he is severing ties with the Transcendental Meditation movement and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The Maharishi Spiritual Center of America has separate campuses for men and women at Heavenly Mountain.

Hundreds of Transcendental Meditation practitioners meditate there in opulent surroundings.

David Kaplan used to be one of them, but he said in a letter dated last Friday and released this week that he was kicked out of the movement in 1999 after getting married.

That prompted him and his twin brother Earl Kaplan, the president of the Spiritual Center of America, to investigate the maharishi and the TM organization.

“Due to our findings, I can no longer support or be associated with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, his ideas, his knowledge, or any of this organizations, in any way whatsoever,” he wrote.

Kaplan sent out two almost-identical letters, one to business associates of Heavenly Mountain and one to TM practitioners.

To both groups, he said he is not writing to share what he has learned about the maharishi.

“But I will say what I have found out is shocking, and because of what I have learned I feel very sorry for you,” he wrote to the TM practitioners.

Kaplan said he has donated tens of millions of dollars and practiced a form of TM for hours a day for 25 years.

In 1999, he got so sick he nearly died, he said. When he recovered, he voluntarily left the Purusha TM program for single men and got married.

“For that I was kicked out of the movement,” he wrote.

A phone message left yesterday at the Spiritual Center of America was not returned.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a former Hindu monk, drew from ancient Eastern techniques of meditation as he began the TM movement in 1958. He gained worldwide fame in the 1960s when the Beatles visited with him and practiced TM.

David Kaplan owns the biggest chunk of private property in Watauga County. He started Heavenly Mountain in 1993, putting in $8 million of his own money, the head accountant at the Spiritual Center said in a 1998 Winston-Salem Journal story.

All told, the Heavenly Mountain developers spent $60 million buying the property and developing the resort and spiritual center up to that point, the accountant said.

In addition to the 500-acre nonprofit Spiritual Center of America, Heavenly Mountain includes 1,000 acres of for-profit development of private lots and houses. About 30 houses have been built there so far.

Sales of lots and houses have helped pay for the Spiritual Center of America.

Heavenly Mountain includes an additional 5,800 acres. A championship golf course designed by Scott Miller is being developed on part of that property.

A spokeswoman for David Kaplan said that he did not wish to comment further right now but that he sees the development moving away from its spiritual roots.

During the past year, property owners have filed lawsuits against the Kaplans, saying that the changes violate the reasons they came there in the first place.

The Web site of the Maharishi Spiritual Center of America says that the center is creating a reality of the age-old dream of a mythical Shangri-la and a Garden of Eden, where life is ideal and perfection reigns supreme.

Practitioners of TM seek bliss and peace through levitation, or yogic flying, and through repeating a mantra in meditation aimed at creating a state of deep relaxation. That feeling of bliss is an unconditional happiness and joy that wells up spontaneously from within and begins to pervade every moment of the day, according to the Web site.

In May 2003, the N.C. Supreme Court reversed the N.C. Court of Appeals, and upheld a ruling by Watauga County tax officials that denied the Maharishi Spiritual Center of America tax-exempt status as an educational, scientific or charitable organization.

County tax administrators said that, if the lower court’s decision had stood, Watauga County would have had to return more than $1 million in taxes and interest the center paid for the tax years 1999 through 2002.

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Future of Heavenly Mountain disputed (Watauga Democrat, North Carolina)

Jason Reagan, Watauga Democrat: The man who, along with his twin brother, owns most of the land at Heavenly Mountain Resort, has disavowed the spiritual movement that helped establish the retreat.

David Kaplan, who owns the largest privately-owned land tract in Watauga County, publicly repudiated the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement and its founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in a letter released Tuesday to Heavenly Mountain residents and the public.

In the letter, Kaplan said he and his brother, Earl, investigated Maharishi and the TM movement closely, and subsequently could “no longer support or be associated with Maharishi, his ideas, his knowledge or any of his organizations in any way whatsoever.”

“I am not involved in the TM movement or in any of Maharishi organizations in any way and have nothing to do with his teaching,” he repeated in the letter.

Heavenly Mountain, located east of Boone overlooking the Triplett community, has been synonymous with Maharishi’s technique of meditation since its establishment in 1996.

The tract, mostly owned by David Kaplan, is divided into two areas. The Heavenly Mountain Resort is a for-profit venture that develops and markets homesites. Currently, about 30 homes are located in the development as well as a community center and meditation hall. A landowner, who asked not to be identified, said most landowners are TM practitioners.

Amid the 7,000-acre tract sits the non-profit Spiritual Center of America.

According to its Web site, the center “was established to bring fulfillment to the spiritual and material aspirations of all Americans through Maharishi Vedic Science and Technology” and is said to be a study of consciousness, based on classical Indian Vedic literature.

Split into two campuses for men and women, the center has provided a place for TM adherents to live and practice the technique. Although the center is not owned by the Kaplans, Earl Kaplan is listed as its board chairman and president. Currently, the center still houses TM adherents and is presumably still teaching TM classes (the center’s Web site actively advocates TM classes and Maharishi’s teachings).

The center’s attempt to garner tax-exempt status as an educational institution failed before the N.C. Supreme Court in May 2003. The center had sought county tax exemption since 1997 on property valued at more than $6 million.

The Kaplan brothers initially bought 1,100 acres of forest and farm land, eventually buying a total of 7,000 acres. Developers later sold some of the land as homesites and several TM practitioners bought lots. Currently, 5,800 acres are undeveloped.

After reading Kaplan’s letter, a group of Heavenly Mountain homeowners issued an e-mail statement emphasizing their continued support and practice of the technique.

“It is important to remember that the benefits of the TM program have been published in hundreds of studies reported in major medical journals all over the world. What has brought people here is the opportunity to practice those programs and to participate in a development which is dedicated to peace, harmony, and personal development.”

“Each family has made a large investment in the community here and feels the promises made to them should be honored, namely, that this would be a permanent home for the TM programs and knowledge. We expect to get what we paid for,” the statement continued. Last fall, dozens of Heavenly Mountain residents sued David Kaplan, claiming the developer breached his fiduciary duty and required potential land buyers to donate to the TM movement “as a condition to building a home in Heavenly Mountain.”

The suit accuses Kaplan of “endangering the tax status of the center and thereby acting contrary to its well-being by causing it to engage in private benefit transactions,” in alleged violation of the federal tax code.

The property owners asked the court to appoint a receiver for the center and require an “accounting of all funds contributed directly or indirectly to the Spiritual Center, including loan guarantees and contributions that the individual defendants caused to be made.”

Superior Judge Ronald K. Payne heard a motion to dismiss the case in March and has taken the motion under advisement with no date set for a hearing.

Kaplan sees the development eventually moving away from its spiritual roots.

“I hope Heavenly Mountain becomes a normal development not a TM development,” Kaplan said in a phone interview Tuesday, adding he plans to develop a Scott Miller-designed championship golf course on his property.

What is TM?

Practitioners of Transcendental Meditation define TM as a technique that aids relaxation, relieves stress and provides physical and mental energy.

Indian mystic Maharishi Mahesh Yogi made headlines in the 1960s after teaching The Beatles meditation techniques.

His association with the group helped popularize TM. By the early 1970s, meditation centers had spread across the globe.

Bob Roth, a spokesman for the movement, said there are an estimated 5 million people who have practiced TM.

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