Group Says Movement a Cult

The Washington Post/July 2, 1987

On the eve of a "yogic flying" demonstration by followers of His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi set for the Rayburn Building of the U.S. House of Representatives next week, a group of concerned parents and others known as the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) has gathered here to debunk the flying as fake and sound an alarm about cults.

The group charged in a press conference yesterday that the maharishi's Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement, of which yogic flying is an advanced stage, is not simply a method of relaxation through meditation, but a cult that ultimately seeks to strip individuals of their ability to think and choose freely.

"They want you to dress and think and speak in a certain way and not to ask questions," said Steven Hassan, a former follower of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon who has studied cults for a decade. "They go into hypnotic trances and shut off who they are as a person."

A spokesman for the maharishi, Mark Haviland of MIU's College of Natural Law here, said yesterday that "TM is a very simple, useful thing {with} practical benefits of relaxation, of increased inner potential." He added that TM is "not a philosophy, a life style or a religion."

Two former TM adherents who studied yogic flying at the Maharishi International University (MIU) in Fairfield, Iowa, Joe Kelly and John Taity, gave a demonstration of it at the press conference by sitting cross-legged on the floor and hopping in an awkward forward motion that lifted them completely off the floor a few inches.

"It's strictly physical exercise," said Kelly. "There's nothing spiritual about it."

"It's purely physical," said Taity.

Another former MIU student, Patrick L. Ryan, said that he studied yogic flying there in a "totalitarian environment" where every minute of his day was programmed.

Yet, he said, "I never saw anybody fly."

Dean Draznin, who teaches TM here and identified himself as a spokesman for the movement, discounted CAN's claims, saying that TM is "a very simple, effortless mental technique that's practiced 20 minutes, two times a day. It doesn't involve beliefs or a life style. It gives more energy, more dynamism."

Draznin also disagreed that TM involves any mind control. "We don't force people to take courses," he said. "They can take advanced courses if they choose."

A press release from the maharishi's Age of Enlightenment News Service advertises his "program to create world peace" and is headlined: "TM-Sidhi 'Yogic Flying' Technique to Be Demonstrated in the Nation's Capital."

Haviland said yesterday that "hopping" is the first stage of yogic flying. He added that "hovering" and "actual flight" -- the second and third stages -- have not yet been achieved.

"Given the results we've experienced so far, we feel that it won't be long before we'll be getting onto the second and third stage," Haviland said. He said the important thing is the "coherence" that the "flying" creates individually and collectively, "which leads to world peace."

Ex-members of the TM movement said at their press conference that TM is in fact a religion for its adherents with the maharishi seen as a god. Patrick Ryan has sued the maharishi for compensation for the eight years he said he devoted to raising money and promoting the cause. In leaving TM, Ryan said he had help from CAN and a related group, FOCUS, which offers support for those seeking to leave "cultic or totalistic involvement."

These groups are holding an anticult conference open to the public at the Shoreham hotel starting at 9:30 a.m. today and continuing through tomorrow.

A new group called TM-EX, for those leaving the TM movement, is being formed, according to Ryan.

A spokesman for Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) said yesterday that the congressman set up a room in the Rayburn Building for the maharishi's adherents to demonstrate yogic flying after receiving a request from the MIU, which is located in Leach's congressional district.

The presentation will be made for the benefit of members of Congress and their staff, according to spokesmen for Leach and the maharishi.

Leach'sspokesman said the congressman, after being told of yesterday's criticisms of the TM movement, responded that MIU is "accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and also recognized by the Federal Interagency Commission on Education."

He quoted Leach as saying, "I have no objection to any American citizen expressing their First Amendment rights on Capitol Hill or elsewhere."

Hassan said at the press conference -- held at the Shoreham yesterday at the same time that the Maharishi Continental Assembly, a conference for followers of the maharishi, was getting underway in another part of the hotel -- that TM adherents suffer a "destruction of personality. It's an addiction, akin to alcohol and drugs."

He handed out a pamphlet saying that "physical and psychological harm" may result by using TM techniques "even if only for a short time."

Patricia Ryan, the daughter of Leo J. Ryan (D.-Calif.), the representative who was shot to death on Nov. 18, 1978, in Guyana as the Rev. Jim Jones led hundreds of his followers in a mass suicide, said that "bright, idealistic people are the most vulnerable" to movements such as TM. "They become unsuspecting victims."

TM became popular in the 1960s when a number of celebrities, including the Beatles, traveled to India to study with the maharishi. Draznin estimated that 1.5 million Americans have learned TM techniques.

Outside the hotel yesterday, a group of parents from CAN carried pickets against the maharishi's conference.

The signs said: "Don't Be Fooled by Maharishi's Flying Circus," "Parents Against Cults" and "Cults Steal Minds."

One of the parents, Rudy Arkin of Washington, said he lost his son to the Hare Krishnas several years ago. The son eventually "walked out, but without deprogramming. I fear he's out there floating, because we haven't heard from him in over a year."

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