"Yogic Flying" (or, The Cult of the Lotus Hoppers)
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a good example of a cult. The charismatic leader, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, became famous in the sixties when the Beatles went to India to see him. (they later distanced themselves). Soon there was a bestselling book and there were TM groups all over the US. Back then meditation was a hot topic, but we didn't have hundreds of books and websites and teachers to look to for information. Many people wanted to learn to meditate and TM was teaching meditation, so they got big. They later built a "campus" in Fairfield, Iowa, which remains active today. I know someone who lived there who says the presence of TM is pervasive in the town. The Maharishi has passed away, but his empire remains. Probably this cult is not one that we would call dangerous, but they are certainly deceptive (as the following story illustrates) and they have certainly separated a lot of people from a lot of money.
This happened probably sometime in 1998 or 1999 in Norman, Oklahoma. After attending an Ashtanga yoga class, someone pointed out a little article in the student paper that said there would be a demonstration of "yogic flying" on the OU campus. A bunch of us, including our teacher, thought we might check it out. This was a free lecture and demonstration in a large classroom. So we went on over. I'm not sure if the article mentioned it, but this turned out to be a presentation about Transcendental Meditation. I had attended one of their free lectures over twenty years earlier, when a friend and I were investigating such things. I got kind of a creepy feeling about TM back then. The first lecture is free, but if you want to learn how to meditate and get your very own personal mantra, you will need to sign up and start paying some fees. (My friend did join, and he never would tell me his mantra - you're supposed to keep it secret, of course).
Well I guess they have updated their recruitment techniques with this "yogic flying". Who wouldn't want to see people fly? The article and the large poster outside the door at the lecture (and the content of the lecture) all made it very clear that if you learn to do the type of meditation that we will teach you (after you sign up and pay, of course), you will effortlessly levitate right off the ground during your meditation. There was no misunderstanding this. It was crystal clear - if you meditate in this special way, you will FLY - you will levitate right off the ground while meditating - EFFORTLESSLY. I'm pretty sure that the words FLY, LEVITATE and EFFORTLESSLY were all actually used in the description. And the demonstration part of the lecture was quite explicitly said to be on "Yogic Flying".
So there's probably about 200 people at this lecture. A well-dressed young man and woman gave the presentation, using a lot of posters and pointers. They talked about how we just need to get a certain percentage of the population to learn this special meditation technique and we can save the Earth. Everyone will be enlightened once the critical mass has been reached. (A common feature of religious cults - join us if you want to be enlightened or saved, join us if you want to help us save the world). Several times during the lecture they mentioned that we must be anxious to see the flyers - don't worry, the flyers are here and they will be coming up shortly. We noticed three young guys dressed in white sitting in the back and figured they must be the flyers. So the time comes and they announce that the flyers are coming up. The three young guys come up to the stage, which I then noticed was covered in thick padding. They sit down in lotus and begin to "meditate". After a minute or so, they start hopping. And I mean hopping. It is possible to hop around in lotus if you are pretty strong and comfortable in lotus, though it is not easy. So these guys are huffing and puffing and turning red and hopping around in lotus - with obvious GREAT EFFORT. Since they are young athletic guys and have obviously practiced this extensively, they could hop a few inches off the ground and maybe a foot or two forward. Not exactly flying, but I guess they have found that some people fall for it.
I can't remember if the audience laughed or not. I know we were incredulous. How they could do these demonstrations without getting laughed out of the place, I do not know. And we didn't stick around to see if anyone signed up. We went back to the yoga studio and our teacher demonstrated "yogic flying" for us. He could fly as good as the TM guys. I could just barely get into lotus, but I was able to fly a bit myself. To this day, I am totally amazed that I witnessed such a wacky presentation.
But wait - there's more - check this out - www.tmgujarat.com/cms_page.php?page_id=18. This page on a TM website explains that there are 3 stages of yogic flying - the first is "hopping like a frog", the second is "flying through the air for a short time", and the third is "complete mastery of the sky". It is then explained that all demonstrations, videos, and pictures so far depict only the first stage. And then it is explained that - "No one can predict when or if "Yogic Flyers" will ever get beyond this stage one physical manifestation. It really does not matter because the effect on society from group practice has been shown to happen as long as this meditation procedure is practiced effectively."
So in other words, the more people get together and hop like frogs while sitting in lotus posture, the better things are for everyone. And someday, when we get to stage 3, we will FLY.
OK, one more thing before I go - you HAVE to check out this site:
(just a quick look at the main page should suffice)
News from FEB 2011:
There is a new documentary film called David Wants to Fly which investigates TM. More info is on my Cults Page. You want to see this! As of FEB 2018, still not yet released domestically, can order German PAL format DVD from amazon.com or amazon.de.
And let's add this excerpt from a new book published in 2018:
"Once instructed, we followed the siddha directions faithfully. We even paid a monthly fee to participate in group siddha meditations in a foam-lined warehouse in West Los Angeles. Although I devoted well over four hours a day to TM and the siddhis for well over a year, I did not experience anything Maharishi promised. Nor, from what I could tell, did anyone else. What was called levitation was a total joke. While most people think of levitation as hovering in mid-air, in the TM world it consisted of mostly younger, more athletic siddhas hopping around on their butts on thick, dense foam pretending they were flying through the air. Maharishi had to do some fancy footwork to explain the absurdity of what was happening. In the process, he brilliantly redefined what normal everyday people meant by levitation. He said that hopping was the "first stage" of levitation and called it "yogic flying." (This first stage has now lasted over 40 years.)" from Transcendental Deception, Aryeh Siegel 2018 Jenreg Press, page 26
www.behind-the-tm-facade.org Large website critical of TM
Article at above site which includes a very interesting discussion of Yogic Flying
TM-Free Blog - tmfree.blogspot.com
Chapter on Maharishi and TM from Stripping the Gurus:
Back to Slade's Cults Page
This page revised 02/21/18, 09/17/16, 12/19/15, 03/18/12.
This page first posted 04/10/08.