Joseph Weber’s Transcendental Meditation in America will be published this month. Editor Catherine Cocks took a moment to talk to him about what drew him to write about transcendental meditation.
Catherine Cocks: Why did you decide to write about the Transcendental Meditation movement?
Joseph Weber: The movement’s influence on American culture has been profound. It popularized meditation at a time—in the early 1960s—when the practice was seen as foreign and strange. Then it took off like wildfire as the Baby Boomer generation came of age and sought something spiritual that was outside traditional religious practice and a bit anti-establishment. The movement’s influence endures today, as meditation has become comfortably entrenched in society. But somewhere along the way the movement went off the tracks, moving from a youth-oriented organization that catered to Boomers fed up with war and violence to something critics derided as cult-like, with its own esoteric body of practices and beliefs. I was curious about what happened, why and how, and about what that story said about a particularly American predilection for Utopian movements and charismatic leaders.
CC: How did movement officials and members respond to your interest?
JW: Some were cool and some warm, perhaps because the movement has been fractured ever since the guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, died in 2008. Some leaders, such as those at the Maharishi University of Management, were quite helpful. They believe they have a great story to tell. But the top leaders of the world movement and its U.S. arm did not talk with me, though their chief spokesman was of some help. Many members in Fairfield, the home of the U.S. arm of the movement, were quite gracious and welcoming.