Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion

By Lola Williamson | Go to book overview

Preface

Well before dawn when most Americans are asleep, Walter rises early to sit for meditation. He has been practicing the techniques he learned through Self-Realization Fellowship every day since 1961. “Something essential is missing,” he says, “if I don’t meditate.” Meanwhile, Aaron goes to the “Dome,” where he is joined by a thousand others who practice Transcendental Meditation together every day. He is so used to this routine that it has become, in his words, a “biological rhythm.” Jennifer, a follower of the Siddha Yoga tradition, enters her meditation room at 5:15 a.m. each morning to chant and meditate. She says, “If I can touch that place of deep stillness, even for a moment, it makes all the difference.”

This book is about Walter, Aaron, Jennifer, and others like them who have practiced meditation under the auspices of a Hindu guru for twenty or more years. It is also about the meditation movements in which they participate: Self-Realization Fellowship, Transcendental Meditation, and Siddha Yoga. These are three of many such movements that, taken together, comprise a new hybrid form of religion. This new religion combines aspects of Hinduism with Western values, institutional forms, modes of teaching, and religious sensibilities. Lying at the conjunction of two worldviews, this phenomenon could be called “Hindu-inspired meditation movements,” or HIMMs. Through personal, historical, and cultural lenses, this book explores the contours of Hindu-inspired meditation movements and their implications for American culture.

When I first began working on this book in the fall of 2002, I had participated for twenty-one years in Siddha Yoga and viewed myself as a devout disciple of Gurumayi, the current guru of that movement. Before that I had been involved for ten years with Transcendental Meditation. When I discovered meditation at the age of eighteen, I was overjoyed, sensing that my life’s purpose had been found. Thus, I began this study with a fair degree of bias. But as I began to investigate the movements in order to write this book, I learned of some disturbing accounts of abuses that had occurred within the Siddha Yoga organization. As I continued to investigate, I found that the phenomenon of abuse—or at least some type of organizational dysfunction—was endemic to many of these groups. I realized that even though I

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Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • A Note on Transliteration vii
  • Preface ix
  • I - Background 1
  • 1: What Are Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements? 3
  • 2: Laying the Foundation for American-Style Hinduism 26
  • II - Three Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements 53
  • 3: Self-Realization Fellowship 55
  • 4: Transcendental Meditation 80
  • 5: Siddha Yoga 106
  • III - In Their Own Words 133
  • 6: The Guru-Disciple Relationship 135
  • 7: Mystical Experiences 161
  • 8: Worldview 186
  • Conclusion 215
  • Notes 235
  • Bibliography 243
  • Index 251
  • About the Author 261
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