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The Transcendental Meditation Scandal, Still an open wound for the Romanian people

An article by Angela Anghel

Most of the Romanian intellectuals in the old generation simply get allergic when it comes to the spiritual teachings, particularly to the eastern ones. The fanciful clichés swarming in the “specialists” speeches about MISA are rooted in the former events, more than 20 years now. That is the “Transcendental Meditation scandal” (TM), a crucial moment that strongly influenced the Romanian mentality. Due to this scandal Romania was the only country where Yoga and different spiritual disciplines were prohibited, also psychology that was even eradicated as a field of study and research.

Although the files in this scandal are thrown in the archives lying in dust and oblivion, people involved in it can hardly talk even now about what happened 23 years ago. Even if most of them are enjoying a brilliant career in universities, or in science and cultural institutions, time lapsing couldn’t heal yet the wounds of the huge injustice they have been undergone at that time.

I’ve been often wondering why so many preconceived ideas about Yoga, such as it allegedly leads to suicide, to mental disorders, or it gets you unemployed or out of society. There is a logical connection to the Transcendental Meditation.

Subsequently to the big framing in the TM there have been committed suicides, some people had heart attacks, persons were confined in psychiatric asylums, unexpected deaths happened and great personalities among the Romanian intellectuals had their careers brutally destroyed. There’s no surprise now to see all these mature, intelligent and erudite persons become that sensitive and irrational when referring to Yoga. Starting from their own unhappy experience, these people are now considering they already know what is all about. I wouldn’t blame them for not having the mere curiosity of investigating things they are talking about as if connoisseurs.  If they would do it they would have to face their huge fear and recall the painful and humiliating experience they had been through. The most serious thing is that when they speak about MISA or about Yoga, they are actually talking about their own experiences and miseries they undergone 23 years ago, not because of the TM but because of a totalitarian regime.

What is the Transcendental Meditation?

The Transcendental Meditation (TM) was introduced in the USA by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who founded the International Society of Meditation, the Students International Society of Meditation and the Movement of Spiritual Regeneration. There are several millions followers these days all over the world. The TM concerns a technique which is similar to Laya Yoga. After attending a few courses, every practitioner is given a personal mantra, particularly adapted for him, which he utters in his mind for 15-20 minutes, every day. There are more than 400 scientific studies to attest the beneficial results of the technique.

According to the http://anti-stress.tripod.com/TM there even exists a certain “Maharishi effect” to appear when 1% persons in a community are practicing the TM. The “Maharishi effect” is considered by the TM practitioners “a stage of transition to a superior state of harmony and order in life, reported by a lower number of murders, crimes, violence, accidents, diseases and by the improvement of the economical conditions and of other sociological indexes”. The scientists who discovered the effect gave it this name to praise Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had predicted 30 years before that “should a small amount of persons act in the Transcendental Meditation program, that would suffice to improve the life quality for the entire community”.

Ceausescu had himself approved this project

In 1977, Nicolae Stoian, a Romanian established in France from long time comes back to Bucharest to organize some courses in the “creative intelligence science”. Stoian was working at the BBC and he was an authorized TM teacher at the Meru University in France, a university involved in the TM promoting system supported by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, that had several centers in different countries. As no step could be taken at that time unless given approval, Mr. Stoian had been given green light from the Health Ministry. Therefore he held his first conferences at the Gheorghe Marinescu Hospital and had a few persons initiated in the TM.

One year later, he is also given The Education Ministry approval to continue these conferences. But the ministry wanted an interdisciplinary research project for doctors, psychologists, physiologists and teachers to study the TM effects in order to introduce the technique in the mass education. Therefore the famous hypnosis and suggestion specialist Vladimir Gheorghiu and the neuro-psychologist Ioan Ciofu from the Psychological and Pedagogical Research Institute of Romanian Academy are asked opinion. They suggest a large research team to practice the technique and scientifically study the effects for a long period of time in order to check out the extent at which it could be applied and adopted to the Romanian spirit.

As things had been delayed, Stoian managed to lodge a memo to Ceausescu and from the highest level of power the Institute is given order to start the study. So, in 1981, the project starts off and the team attends some conferences lectured by Stoian and his wife, concerning general aspects in TM. There was a proper frame created according to traditional customs, which whether shocked or amused the audience. The participants were supposed to bring fruits and flowers, and then they were entering one by one, barefoot in the room where they were told the mantra and asked not to disclose it. Then they start practicing individually and they meet at times to discuss the effects.

“The transcendentals”

There have been some researchers in the Institute performing the study as an official task, but also outsiders, friends and acquaintances of them from the Bucharest high-life, urged by curiosity.

Just to mention some names: the writer Andrei Plesu and his wife Catrinel Plesu, the painter Sorin Dumitrescu, the philosopher Mihai Sora, the famous Pan-flute player Gheorghe Zamfir, the Academy members Victor Sahleanu and Stefan Milcu, the opera singer Ludovic Spiess, the poet Marin Sorescu and the psychologists Vladimir Gheorghiu, Ioan Ciofu, Ion Manzatu, Irina Holdevici, Aurora Liiceanu.

After several meetings, the gathered data is considered to be sufficient and the Institute recommends the closing of the study; this decision being also conveyed to the central committee of the Romanian Communist Party. This was already considered an accomplished task by the Institute researchers and thus they proceeded to some other projects.

Punishment to the “enemies of the people”

One year later started the madness. There were launched rumors about some neo-fascist sect in the background.  The form required to be filled up in order to join the study, referring to general information such as: surname, given name, health or psyche problems, was considered a way to provide data for selecting people in a spying service. The Internal Affairs Ministry magazine “Pentru Patrie” (“For the Country”) issued a series of articles in the well-known communist Romania journalistic style, about sects invasion gnawing the souls like locusts or cholera and pest epidemics.

Everybody was panic-stricken. Countless party meetings are summoned, where the guilty are classified and eradicated, just for having accomplished some official orders. Whoever might have tried to defend them could risk the same treatment for having any connection to the “transcendentals”. The researchers were dismissed and sent to the low work. Irina Holdevici is now putting pills in packages and labeling bottles while some of her colleague is wrapping up ties. Aurora Liiceanu, after she had been sent to bleaching textures became a cleaning woman in a kindergarten! The public enemy Institute was first closed then wiped out during the systematizations in the Bucharest central area. Were also dismissed Aneta Spornic, Minister of Education and Ilie Verdet, Prime Minister at that time.      

As an epilog

Some of the more than 350 victims of this hideous framing couldn’t manage the pressures and whether they committed suicide or they got serious diseases. Nicolae Stoian and his wife were convicted to jail for fraud. Were submitted memos and appeals but nobody was taking care of. Only in 1991, after the Romanian Revolution, was the appeal for the jail verdict in the case of the Stoians admitted.  The other complaints, some of them lodged in 1990, have not yet been solved!

The results of this framing were incredible and brought high prejudices to the Romanian intellectuals, who were given a lesson about what they might undergo in case they dare think. The Romanian intellectuality was thus silenced down for a long time, as a prologue for its almost complete abolishment.

However, Romania is the only country where “dangerous” things transforming the consciousness, such as the psychosocial sciences or Yoga have been prohibited and here we can still see these days the traces of this wound. Given such a preceding why should we be surprised that 25 years later we are now witnessing a remake in oppressing the spiritual values? Should we be surprised their name was the “transcendentals” and now we are the “bivolars”? Should we be surprised that today media is using the same stiffen language when referring to us, same like the communist party press in the old times used to?

These things are deeply rooted in people’s consciousness, these mentalities had been carefully strengthen by the former regime to avoid trouble with those who might think. Later, after the Revolution, the new regime carried them on also.

What happened to the Transcendental Meditation during the communist regime, all the professional and life dramas of peoples involved in it of their own will or not are not due to practicing the Transcendental Meditation, but it’s due to a totalitarian regime. Yet, there is a deeply irrational idea rooted in everybody’s consciousness, protagonists or witnesses, which survives up until today. It refers to staying away from the eastern teachings such as Yoga, for they might bring troubles. Nobody would dare to say who is the real trouble-maker, but we’ll take care to remind this, with every opportunity.

July 10, 2005