From "Group Claims TM Movement Is a Cult," the Washington Post, July 2, 1987, p. C3
On the eve of a "yogic flying" demonstration for members of the U.S. House of Representatives by followers of Transcendental Meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a group of former TM practitioners and concerned members of the Cult Awareness Network gathered at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington to debunk the "flying" and warn about cults.
The group charged in a press conference July 1 that TM, 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. They go into hypnotic trances and shut off who they are as a person," said Steven Hassan, a former member of the Unification Church who has studied cults for a decade. He said that TM adherents suffer a "destruction of personality. It's an addiction, akin to alcohol and drugs," and stressed that "physical and psychological harm" may result from using TM techniques "even if only for a short time."
But Mark Haviland of Maharishi International University's College of Natural Law maintained that TM is "not a philosophy, a life style, or a religion," but "a very simple, useful thing [with] practical benefits of relaxation, of increased inner potential."
Haviland said that so far only the first stage of yogic flying, "hopping," had been achieved, but that "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" of "hovering" and "actual flight." He said the important thing is the."coherence" that the "flying" creates individually and collectively, "which leads to world peace."
Joe Kelly and John Taity, two former TM adherents who studied yogic flying at MIU in Fairfield, IA, demonstrated the technique at the press conference. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, they hopped in an awkward forward motion that lifted them into the air a few inches.
"It's strictly physical exercise," said Kelly. "There's nothing spiritual about it."
Former MIU student Patrick L. Ryan said he studied yogic flying in a "totalitarian environment" where every minute of his day was programmed, but that he "never saw anybody fly."
Ryan said that a new group called TM-EX is being formed to offer support to those leaving the TM movement. He said that when he left the movement he received help from CAN and a related group, FOCUS, which offers support for those seeking to leave "cultic or totalistic involvement."
Ryan has sued the Maharishi for compensation for the eight years he said he devoted to raising money and promoting TM.
Ex-members of TM said at the press conference that TM is in fact a religion for its adherents, and that the Maharishi is seen as a god.
Patricia Ryan, daughter of California Representative Leo J. Ryan, who was shot to death in 1978 in Guyana by a member of Jim Jones' Peoples Temple, said that "bright, idealistic people are the most vulnerable" to movements such as TM, of which "they become unsuspecting victims."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Republican Representative Jim Leach of Iowa said the congressman set up a room in the Rayburn Building for the TM adherents to demonstrate yogic flying after receiving a request from MIU in Fairfield, which is located in Leach's congressional district.
The spokesman said that Leach, after being told of the 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 that he has "no objection to any American citizen expressing their First Amendment rights on Capitol Hill or elsewhere."
Cult Observer, Vol. 4, No. 4, 1987, p. 7