Monthly Archives: January 2011

“David Wants to Fly” with San Francisco friends

Nearly 30 friends gathered with overwhelming support for a personal coming-out gathering, at yesterday’s 4 pm screening of “David Wants to Fly” for the German Gems Film Festival in San Francisco’s beautiful Castro Theater.

A mutual friend is convinced that I could save Mark from his confusing past. So, Mark sat next to me at our pre-film lunch. He was raised in Fairfield, Iowa’s Transcendental Meditation community, attending Maharishi schools. Like many second generation TMers, Mark also spent time on Maharishi’s segregated celibate “Thousand Headed Purusha Program” with prolonged mediations and accompanying indoctrination videos. Marks parents had alternately served as Maharishi University faculty and for David Lynch’s foundation to spread TM to the world. As a young adult trying to find his way, Mark’s inner battles continue to haunt him as tries to create an independent life. He struggles to sort love for family and community enmeshed with Maharishi’s world plan, and the insanities he saw around him.

Mark asked questions about Maharishi’s sex life and the Shrivastava family bank accounts, to which I could only respond, “Where there is smoke, there is usually fire.”

“But why won’t those former lovers of Maharishi come forth and talk?”

“They’re concerned about stigma, Mark. One them did write a book about her experience as Maharishi’s lover, called ‘Robes of Silk, Feet of Clay’. The rest remain silent.”

“But there isn’t stigma for this background, not today! I know.” Mark spoke emphatically. “When I tell people in New York about my background, they find it interesting, they don’t hold it against me.”

“Mark, you and I were raised in this. We didn’t make a seeming unwise choice. So society provides allowances for us to speak of the cult experience. However, the professional world often adversely judges those who joined a cult, viewing them as flawed, weak, insecure.”

Across the table, Joe added, “No one in my professional world knows my background with Maharishi. It could jeopardize my job. I’m very careful who I disclose this to. The professional world thinks I was old enough to know better when I joined.”

I turned to Mark, “There could be concern about their work stability or professional judgement. That is why former cult members are reluctant to speak forth. Maharishi University graduates often struggle with listing their cult education on a resume. Society overall still does not understand that anybody could be vulnerable for brainwashing techniques and social persuasion. In fact, ICSA found that the majority of those who join cults are actually above average intelligence, just caught at a vulnerable time of life.”

“But there are a lot of people who would want to know about those women who slept with Maharishi. This is big news!” Mark emphasized.

“No, Mark, it’s not big news. Outside the (TM) Movement, no one cares. The rest of the world does not care about the Movement. That’s why the Movement got away with their shenanigans for so long.”

“I disagree with you. And I really want to know where Maharishi’s family money is. I want to talk with someone who knows first hand about the Movement finances.”

“Probably in unmarked Swiss bank accounts.” I shrugged. “The only people who know are the account holders themselves, and they won’t talk. According to Maharishi’s former secretary, Maharishi sent his nephew to UCLA business school so he could run the Movement’s finances. Maharishi’s ex lovers don’t talk because they must continue with their current lives. Outside the TM Movement, sleeping with Maharishi does not carry a mystical connotation. Who would want to publicly admit they had slept with a slimy haired guy dressed in white silk and beads, even if he was the Beatles guru?”

I leaned over to Mark, “But his old secretary told me that one of the lovers stole Maharishi’s beads. He showed up for the next day’s lecture without beads to play with.”

Mark laughed, “Those would be worth a lot of money.”

“Sure,” I chuckled, “How much do you think Maharishi’s beads would fetch on eBay?”

I continued while Mark slowly chewed his lunch, wondering how much he was digesting, “One of the reasons that TM is a cult, compared to other meditation forms, is because of the secrecy. People are lured with promises of scientific method to deep rest to release creativity. In actuality, vulnerable people are brought to a supposed spiritual practice to lure them into an obtuse deceptive and expensive society – the one that you were born into. From the beginning with mantra instruction, the initiate is told to keep the mantra secret ostensibly ‘for your own good.’ A new initiate is trained to keep things secret. From that point on, the secrets continue to unfold, at higher and higher prices.”

Mark responded with calm dignity, “Hindu scriptures explain that a guru must sometimes deceive his disciple for the disciples’ own good.”

“Mark, I’m sorry. You’re not as aware of the recruitment process, because you were raised with this and are accustomed to the mythological society. But TM is not presented that way to the outside world.”

Mark nodded.

Joe, a former TM Initiator, interjected from across the table, “That’s ancient hinduism. This is modern America and Europe. Do you think such deception is appropriate? The validity of ancient mystical teachings is the study of philosophy. TM claims to be scientific, but it is anything but. TM teachers know they are lying. It is deception by omission. Their goal is to recruit people for increased involvement with the TM Movement. You know that. I know that. They know that. They speak in their trained semi hypnotic voices to reassuringly encourage someone to begin TM.”

Mark nodded in agreement, “I cannot disagree with you here.”

“Mark, it’s not normal. We were taught to ‘reveal higher levels of knowledge’ only to those who are ready. The TM insider definition of ‘those who are ready’ means those who’ve relinquished critical thinking so that they’ll slowly accept a alternative life paradigm, then pay Maharishi’s organization thousands of dollars to maintain their status.”

Mark added, “When I was on Purusha, rich kids like the Daniels’ kid could do whatever they wanted. They didn’t follow ‘Program,’ at all and never got into trouble. The rest of us had to stay strictly on ‘Program’ or be reprimanded.”

“That’s right, it’s about keeping the wealthy happy so they’ll continue to donate. You saw that. It’s not about spirituality. A valid organization does not hide their hierarchy to the outside world – whether it’s a business, church or political institution.”

Mark defended the Movement, with standard insider justifications, “Going into the future, if the Movement survives they might not need to hide the hierarchy anymore. It’s an early developmental stage of the Movement. Early Christianity probably kept secrets. The Catholic Church has a robbed monastic hierarchy too.”

“Mark, first off the Movement tells the world that Transcendental Mediation is not religious. You know differently. I’m not an expert on the history of the Catholic Church. I know that Catholicism began with a public alliance with Rome’s government under the Emperor Constantine. Today, anyone entering a Catholic church knows the existence of priests, nuns, convents, monasteries, the palatial Vatican, extremes of Opus Dei and their holy communion. The basic structure of Catholicism is not hidden, whether one accepts the teachings or not. The basic structure of Transcendental Mediation is hidden by presenters who try to bring this to school children, businesses and other groups. That is a classic mark of a destructive cult.”

Joe added, “The people who went psychotic on the long rounding courses are split inside themselves, from the trance technique and dissociation that can occur. That’s not higher consciousness, that’s an aberrant dissociative state.”

Mark almost whispered, “I know people who went crazy and others who committed suicide. Someone recently.”

“I know, Mark. I’m sorry.” I momentarily placed my hand on his, “We all lost loved ones in the Movement. I knew the Swarz family too.”

“You knew them?” He looked up.

“Yes, a long time ago, when Daniel was a baby. They are good people. It’s sad.” I sighed, “Mark, many of them did not need to go insane or die. They could have accessed real help.”

“But those who became schizophrenic already had a weakness toward that. TM didn’t make them that way.” Mark declared.

“Maybe some had a propensity for mental problems, But TM should not be marketed as panacea for everything. If TM teachers really helped, they could refer troubled meditators to appropriate professionals, rather than direct them more deeply into the Movement for solutions.”

“The Movement changed.” Mark returned to a defensive stance. “They don’t tell people to continue to meditate thought unstressing. You’re talking about the old days. Those old directions changed. It’s better.”

Joe looked momentarily surprised, he turned to me, “The Movement doesn’t encourage long rounding anymore?”

“Joe, they don’t push the long meditations as much as they used to.” I explained, “I think they tired of the law suits. Now they sell other products to keep the money coming. Untested Ayurvedic therapies, spa treatments, magical architecture plans for thousands of dollars, special gemstones, yagyas to balance the doshas, fundraising arms for donations to spread TM elsewhere and generate new recruits.”

“What are doshas?” asked Joe

“Some type of mystical body energetic tendencies. I refused to learn them. It’s a theory that creates a market for Maharishi teas and other magic for enlightenment. They changed products to suit a changing market. Have to maintain the novelty factor.”

I continued, “For example, yagyas were the big push some years back. For thousands of dollars a person could buy mystical prayer ceremonies performed by invisible Indian pundits. When I nearly died of a car accident in 1999, as a single mother of three with one in college, my mother was pleased to have purchased a $10,000 yagya for my recovery. My daughter was confused when her grandmother sent thousands of dollars to India while our family was in a survival crisis. We were were trying to keep our home and continue my daughter in college when I had almost died. I explained to my daughter that was the best her grandmother could offer. We shouldn’t take it personally, just pretend we don’t have a grandmother because she’ll never be able to provide real support.”

I turned to Mark next me, “That’s what a cult looks like. You’ve seen it. It’s not about deep rest, nor consciousness, nor spiritual growth. It’s money for Maharishi’s family.”

Mark quietly nodded; he didn’t respond.

At this time, I thought to myself, I cannot save Mark. I’m not a professional exit counselor. Bringing someone out of cult-think, without precipitating an identity crisis or anxiety attack is the purview of experts. Mark still self-defines by the fantasy. He wants to create his life outside of the Movement, seeing some insanity in his family’s behaviors. It’s not possible to live both worlds. Mark’s family and entire history are defined by Maharishi. What would be left for Mark if he leaves TM fully? He may awaken in his own time, or not. It’s not my responsibility to convince him.

We paid our restaurant tab and took a sunny walk to the Castro movie theater. Even more friends turned out at the movie! After keeping my family history quiet for decades, the acceptance and support of intelligent accomplished peers was overwhelming. What an odd way to unite my life’s first and second halves – on a sidewalk ticket line. The irony of my coming-out-of-the-closet in San Francisco’s famed tolerant Castro district did not go unnoticed.

Inside the beautiful theater, Eve spoke from the row behind me. “When waiting outside, I asked the person in line next to me ‘Why did you come to see this film?’ He responded, “Transcendental Meditation is being taught at my kid’s high school. I want to see the other side of the story.’ I told him about your family upbringing, how you helped prevent TM from coming to you kids’ high school; that’s why we are attending this film! It’s exciting. We’re proud of you, Gina!”

I smiled and laughed, not knowing how to respond. “Thank you for coming today. I really appreciate it.”

A master of ceremonies briefly introduced the filmmaker David Sieveking on stage. Then lights dimmed as the red velvet curtains pulled open, and the film began.

The audience watched Sieveking’s skillful and compassionate editing of his enthusiastic youthful journey to meet his idol, filmmaker David Lynch. At Lynch’s encouragement, Sieveking paid 2,800 euros cash for TM instruction. The film then follows Sieveking’s journey through images into some of TM’s global empire, New York, Berlin, Vlodrop, Iowa, India. After filming Maharishi’s memorial service on the Ganges, Sieveking was granted access to inner aspects of the Movement in Vlodrop, Netherlands. He filmed the lavish golden-crowned assembly of rajas in long white robes and gold chains during an early power struggle between Maharishi’s deemed successor, Maharaja Nader Raam, and the Indian factions of the Movement. In several instances, TM leaders directed Sieveking to turn off his camera. Several film clips include former devotees revealing bits of the Movement’s underbelly.

The post-film Q & A primarily revolved around film making. David Sieveking spoke frankly of the irony that he sought David Lynch and Transcendental Meditation to spur his filmmaking career. In the end, David Lynch and the Transcendental Meditation Movement demanded to censure the film. When Sieveking refused to allow the Movement censorship rights, David Lynch and the Movement refused further interviews with the young filmmaker who they referred to as “David from Berlin.” Both Lynch’s foundation and Maharishi’s organization had threatened Sieveking with law suits.

The audience laughed when Sieveking explained that meeting with an entertainment law attorney proved more beneficial for his stress level, than had the Transcendental Meditation technique.

Ironically, Sieveking’s pursuit of David Lynch and Transcendental Meditation did, in fact, provide the basis for a successful film. It’s just not the film that Sieveking had initially expected to make.

My friend Joe stood up, “Thank you, David, for making this film. I spent 15 years devotedly working for this organization. You’ve depicted that world eloquently and compassionately. The only thing missing was stories of the severe psychological and financial damage that occurred to many. The movie did not highlight those aspects, but you probably could not cover that. Transcendental Meditation is both manipulative and dangerous. Over all, your film was an excellent portrayal of the inside of that organization. Thank you.”

After the film, Mark (the young man struggling with family relation to TM) cornered David Sieveking in the lobby, discussing aspects of the TM Movement. David Sieveking politely spoke with Mark, while trying to work contacts for his filmmaking career. Sieveking is not a professional exit counselor, nor a cult expert. He is a talented young filmmaker who recognized when he had stumbled upon a story, and pursued that story with passion.

Over dinner later, I asked another girlfriend, “So, as an outsider, what did you think of the film?”

“Oh, Sieveking did a great job! I was not fully objective, because I know Gina and I’d heard her stories. In the beginning of the film, I was surprised because I’d expected a hard core expose’. In fact he presented TM’s sales pitch. He showed how wonderful it is to relax with meditation. It was all just lovely, in fact, really lovely. He had a break up, a psychological crisis, and retreated to the comfort of meditation with new friends. Then he slowly revealed the group’s cracks, and the cracks just got bigger across the globe. The viewer walks that road with him through cracks that seem ready to crumble. He also clearly alluded to the fact that there is more to those cracks, but he could not tell those stories because of legal threats. The film clearly shows there is deep ugly dysfunction in Transcendental Meditation. He is a brilliant filmmaker with a bright career ahead of him! The fact that he’s funny and handsome doesn’t hurt!”

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Review : Cartwheels in a Sari by Jayanti Tamm

I first heard Jayanti Tamm during an NPR interview in 2009. Her poised discussion of her cult upbringing as the “Chosen One” within Sri Chinmoy’s cult inspired me to immediately order a copy of her book. Like many such books, “Cartwheels in a Sari” waited upon my bedside stack. A considerate friend then gifted me an autographed copy of her memoir, kindly saying, “Gina, it’s time to write yours.”

Wrestling with editing sections of my own cult upbringing memoir in the shadow of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, I finally delved into Tamm’s story.

Jayanti Tamm, in “Cartwheels in a Sari; a memoir of growing up cult” bravely, humorously and with compassion describes the spiritual devotion which lured her parents and others to their deemed incarnation of God, Sri Chinmoy in 1969. Sri Chinmoy dictated her parents’ marriage upon their first meeting.

Tamm’s existence is in direct disobedience of the guru’s mandate for celibacy. Despite her parents humiliation for conceiving a child against their Guru’s wishes, Tam was labeled as the Guru’s “Chosen One.” Chinmoy dictated every aspect of her family home, her parents employment, education, dress, diet. Good girl that she was, Tamm lived to please her guru, reveling in each smile and praise he bestowed.

Tamm unabashedly writes of her devotion to Guru. Being raised in mainstream America while living in a cult house and family, Tamm experienced inevitable conflicts with public school social dynamics. Hiding her home life from school friends, she was set apart and unable to socialize with those in both public and private schools. Ever afraid that her families’ uniqueness would be discovered, Tamm lived a dual life. Yet she continued in devotion to guru, struggling and repressing her interest in boys so that she could remain on Guru’s spiritual path.

In her early twenties, Tamm began to realize that she had lived in a bubble her entire life. She was socially crippled when interacting with non cult members. She felt safe and assured of her place when within familiar repressive cult dynamics.

Tamm had traveled the world, met many politician and celebrities through Chinmoy’s contacts, yet she experienced the world only as Guru dictated. Everyone she loved also experienced the world only as their Guru, their God incarnate, dictated.

More than any cult memoir I’ve read, Tamm dramatically writes of the traumatic moment when she realized that her Guru is a fraud. Therefore Tamm, herself, and all that she had ever known was also fraudulent. Without guru, she had no identity, no family, no social world, no worldview, no God. Upon this realization as a non person, Tamm ran through her home seeking the most expedient method to end the fraud through suicide. Fortunately for all, her third floor apartment was not high enough to warrant a jump, her bread knife was dull, and the medicine cabinet held no medication since she had never seen a doctor.

In the psychological destruction of all that she knew, Tamm was forced to become a self determined individual. Her mother eventually left the group. Tamm’s brother remains devoted to Shri Chinmoy, ceasing contact with Tamm, since he could not support her destructive (e.g. non cult) choices.

For all who were raised in a cult, Tamm’s story is a variation on a theme. Her ability to describe the journey through a fantasy world that she both loved and despised, and subsequently move forward is testament to her great strength and determination.

Tamm’s writing proves that she is not a fraud. Her upbringing is real, an integral part of who she is today. Her compassionate voice, quest for honesty and love is a human theme told through the post-1960s idealism. Through her memoir, Tamm provides a service to all who struggle with cult history.

More about Jayanti Tamm can be read at her website: www.jayantitamm.com

“David Wants to Fly” in USA

For those awaiting North American showings of Sieveking’ compassionate expose’ as he journeys through Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation Movement, his film is featured in upcoming film festivals in Palm Springs, San Francisco, Denver and Boston.

Palm Springs : Palm Springs International Film Festival, January 7th, 11 am, January 10th 7 pm, and January 12th 10 am, ticket purchase here.

Denver : Festivus Film Festival : January 15th 8 pm, Oriental Theater, ticket purchase here.

San Francisco: German Gems Film Festival, January 16th 4 pm, Castro Theater
ticket purchase here.

Boston: The DocYard, March 15th 7 pm, Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.
Tickets will soon be available here.

“David Wants to Fly” received awards from film festivals throughout Europe.

In this film, the aspiring filmmaker documents his initial enthrall with his idol, filmmaker David Lynch. Taking Lynch’s advice to learn Transcendental Meditation to free his inner creativity, Sieveking was briefly brought under Lynch’s wing to film the international glory of the TM Movement. Instead, Sieveking found a mystical hierarchy, unstructured science, and questionable finances.

As Sieveking told me, “I was kicked out the Movement before I had fully joined! Once I started asking questions, they wouldn’t allow me on further courses and refused to answer my phone calls.”

In this film, Sieveking humorously and compassionately calls out the elephant in the room – the behemoth TM Movement.

New Year’s Day 2011

Happy New Year 2011!

Through the fog outside my window, the sun rises earlier than it did only a week ago. The day creeps longer. The year changes. Nature provides another renewal milestone.

Some partied last night, others slept early to begin today refreshed. Some have New Year’s resolutions, others prepare business goals or taxes, still others clean closets, plan upcoming vacations, or anticipate milestones planned for 2011.

For millennia, the change from depth of winter to increasing daylight was cause of reflection.

In ancient Rome the winter solstice was honored for rebirth of Apollo the sun god. Simultaneous celebrations for Saturn, god of agriculture, occurred for a week of festivities at year’s end – Saturnalia. Crowds once gathered in Rome’s streets to sing and dance by candlelight honoring winter’s depth with anticipation of sunnier days to accompany the next year’s harvest.

Early Christians’ isolated prayerful lifestyle was the antithesis of Romans’ raucous preferences, making it difficult for Christians to convert Romans to their faith.

In the early 4th century A.D. Constantine’s wife had adopted Christianity.
Emperor Constantine then officially declared December 25 as Jesus’ birthday. This allowed the Roman government to sponsor a birth-of-Jesus celebration amidst birth-of-Apollo hoopla.

Constantine’s government added Jesus’ birthday celebration to Rome’s year end revelry, with candlelight and singing in the streets. In the early 4th century A.D., Rome’s officials gradually increased support for Jesus’ birthday festivities, allowing Apollo’s solstice celebration to fade from common memory.

Early sculptures of baby Jesus transposed the same infant face for Jesus as had appeared on sculptures of infant Apollo, easing the worshipful transition to baby Jesus away from baby Apollo. Jesus’ December birthday proved a successful recruitment tool for Christianity to honor midwinter renewal. The once-new tradition continues 1700 years later. Throngs still gather annually at Roman Catholicism’s greatest symbol, in the Vatican’s Piazza San Pietro, for the Pope’s annual Christmas mass and public New Year blessing. Appearances changed; Roman tradition remains.

Regardless of historic or religious context, midwinter celebration continues with the return of sunlight, new life, vital crops, and loved ones. Today, the secular world begins 2011 with personal renewal, to-do lists, plans and obstacles to overcome.

Honoring the season of renewal, I recommit to writing endeavors. Inner doubts and barriers must be laid aside to focus upon stories’ linguistic details.

Through this juncture of darkness-to-light, rebirth and resolutions, may all awaken their personal baby Apollo-Jesus with new year growth. Happiness comes through celebrating the process, not only upon reaching an elusive goal. May all nurture a life of values while dancing toward dreams.

Wishing a blessed, healthy, strong 2011 to all!