Joseph Weber’s Transcendental Meditation in America will be published this month. Editor CatherineCocks took a moment to talk to him about what drew him to write about transcendental meditation.
Catherine Cocks: What brought TM to Fairfield, Iowa, and what did local people think when the movement’s members first arrived?
Joseph Weber: The movement bought the campus of a bankrupt Presbyterian college in Fairfield, Parsons College, in the 1970s when it was looking for a place to house a fast-growing university it had created in California. Many Fairfielders were mortified at the prospect of meditators descending on their little farm town, fearing what some thought of as practices that were at least un-Christian if not Satanic. They fretted that newcomers would be a bunch of hippies. In fact, they proved to be quite strait-laced, by order of the guru. Still, there was a gulf between them and the locals that in some respects endures years later.
CC: The Beatles were big TM supporters back in the 1960s. Are there any comparable celebrities who support the movement today?
JW: None are comparable, but there are celebrities who endorse TM-style meditation and help parts of the movement. Among these are comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Russell Brand, talk-show maven Oprah, shock-jock Howard Stern, newsman George Stephanopoulos and newswomen Candy Crowley and Soledad O’Brien, along with actors including Hugh Jackman. Celebrity endorsers have long been central to movement marketing and that endures, though some backers are getting long in the tooth, as are the followers.
CC: Why do you think spiritual practices from India, China, and other Asian nations have become more popular in the United States over the past fifty years?
JW: Americans have been materially successful beyond belief but are spiritually hungry. Traditional religious practice doesn’t cut it for many. So they look elsewhere, and the beliefs and practices of the East seem appealing, especially those that calm restless minds or promise to sharpen those minds. At the same time, Eastern spiritualists have known they could find a ready market in the United States. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was one in a line of such spiritual entrepreneurs who had come to the United States over many decades to popularize their ancient practices and, in the process, do pretty well for themselves.