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Transcendental Meditation is a popular form of meditation that, many practitioners claim, relieves psychological stress. Although it was founded an Indian guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, it is not at all clear what, if any, religious qualities there are to the practice.

This site, for example, claims the following:

The practice of the program involves no religious beliefs but is a mechanical and effortless technique for experiencing increasingly refined or restful levels of mental and physiological activity enjoyed by individuals of all religious (and non-religious) backgrounds. [...] The practice of the Transcendental Meditation program does not involve contemplation about any religious or secular ideas, nor does it involve concentration, which is characteristic of some religious practices.

I am not familiar with the practice itself. All that I have seen in rabbinic literature is a reference by R. Aryeh Kaplan in an article, "Davening with Kavana." In it, he mentions a girl who has been practicing TM by repeating a mantra and writes:

To be sure, TM, which is a type of avodah zarah (idolatry), bears absolutely no relationship to davening.

Can one practice TM without saying a mantra? If one were seeking a method to relieve stress, what exactly are the halakhic issues with practicing TM?

  • Not sure if judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/8713/… is dupe or just related. – DanF Apr 22 '15 at 19:26
  • see jewish meditation by Aryeh kaplan – ray Apr 22 '15 at 19:30
  • @DanF: It is not clear to me if TM is yoga, but I don't think there are any traditional positions. – Aryeh Apr 22 '15 at 19:33
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    @ray: All that R. Kaplan describes about TM in that book is this: "In many types of Eastern meditation, mantra meditation is the central exercise, and it forms virtually the entire basis of Transcendental Meditation." – Aryeh Apr 22 '15 at 19:39
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    @ray: I don't see what you're referring to. Can you specify? – Aryeh Apr 22 '15 at 22:36
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There are about twelve mantras in TM. An initiate is given one of them during a TM ceremony. I understand that each of the mantras represents an Indian God. Although I'm not Jewish, I don't think TM is kosher for Jews or Christians who are against idoltary.

  • Please give a source for your understanding. – sabbahillel Jan 31 '17 at 10:47
  • Nothing wrong with two extra words that don't directly address the question. No need to change someone's answer over them. – mevaqesh Mar 8 '17 at 3:36
  • How do you know the mantras represent a G-d? – IgorGanapolsky Sep 17 '18 at 10:51
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To my knowledge, meditation is of not focusing on anything but the breath. you are literally taking control of your mind by just focusing on the breath and the breath itself. the whole Mantra thing is misleading and not the right way. Why should there be an issur to do this. If anything, practicing self awareness (meditation) can strengthen your brain and tune your body. And by doing this you are keeping your mind healthy.

  • Yes. As far as I know, TM is purely for stress relief. It doesn't teach about G-d or religious devotion. It is just a meditation to transcend our busy minds. – IgorGanapolsky Sep 17 '18 at 10:52
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Many practices are called meditation, but two types have been repeatedly validated by research: self-transcending meditation, and minfulness meditation. They both originated in the context of eastern religions, but are mental techniques without any religious component. Nonetheless, they are likely to enhance the experience of your own religion or philosophy.

Readily available versions of self-transcending meditation are TM (Transcendental Meditation) and NSR (Natural Stress Reduction). These use effortless repetition of a mantra (mental syllables without meaning) as vehicles for experiencing mental-physiological states of restful alertness and pure consciousness (traditionally called dhyana and samadhi).

Readily available versions of mindfulness meditation are MBSR (Mindfullness Based Stress Refuction) and Vipassana Meditation. These use effortless attention to breathing or scanning one’s body sensations as vehicles to states of broadened awareness and detachment from the ever-changing conditions of life (referred to in different schools as dhyana /jhana and satori).

As an observant Jew, I have practiced both forms of meditation for many years. I am a doctor of psychology, and a certified instructor of meditation and yoga with over 40 years teaching these techniques in TM centers, schools, and clinical settings. In my experience, the most important aspect of both types of meditation is that they teach one to gently attend to a simple mental vehicle (e.g. mantra, breath, or rhythmic motions) while allowing other thoughts and perceptions to come and go.

None of these methods aim to make the mind go blank, nor treat thoughts, noises, and sensations as distractions. They are accepted as a natural, even beneficial part of the meditation. When you notice them, you accept them as passing thoughts, and gently shift attention back to the mental vehicle (mantra, breath, etc). This shifting of attention between the vehicle and other thoughts can easily happen many times in a single 20-minute session of meditation. Additionally, one doesn’t try to control how the vehicle (mantra, breath, etc) is repeated — speed, clarity of pronunciation, etc. will all change. One allows these features to shift effortlessly. Indeed, at some points in meditation they may completely fade out, disappear, or stop for brief periods. All of these changes are signs of correct, effortless practice.

Research indicates that both types of meditation lead to novel states of mental flow and altered physiological functions. The precise physiological states differ somewhat between different techniques, but they all tend to promote states of reduced stress and increased awareness, via minimal effort.

Regarding your question about mantras: I have extensively studied traditional practices, eastern and western, and I can assure you that the mantras used by TM and NSR are not the names of any gods, teachers, holy places, or rituals (et cetera) that I have ever seen or heard. Just as these meditation programs state, their mantras are pleasant sounding syllables that do not have any recognizable meaning. I would add that these meditation methods do not really emphasized the mantra as the main point; they are just tools of meditation.

If, despite these assurances, you are still cautious about mantras but still want to try the method, that is okay. Instead, you may want to choose a short, pleasant word from your own tradition. The most important thing is that you find the sound harmonious, and that you learn to use it in the effortless manner described above. Some people find this easy to learn on their own. However, you may have greater confidence if you find an experienced meditation teachet to guide you to the essential effortlessness of practice.

Best wishes!

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