The mysterious Maharishi Effect
Transcendental Meditation and the power of the mind.
What if I told you there was proof that your thoughts can have an effect on the people around you?
What if I told you that you could reduce local crime rates with your brain?
I’ve been thinking (perhaps a little too much) about the power of the mind lately. The power to heal. The power to take us to deep and dark delusional places. The power to love and let go. I re-stumbled across a set of experiments run by meditators in the 70s and 80s known as the Maharishi Effect. It sent me down a rabbit hole, and frankly I’m still down it (but it’s better than a K-hole I guess).
We’ve all heard about the benefits of meditation by now. Reduced stress, better sleep, clearer thoughts, blah, blah, blah. But the ability to change the behaviours of those around us through the collective consciousness? That was definitely not mentioned on the label.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was an Indian guru known for developing and popularising Transcendental Meditation and bringing it to the west. He toured the world teaching meditation, amongst other famous claims he was known as the spiritual advisor of the Beatles. He is credited with teaching approximately five million people to meditate and initiating forty thousand teachers. In 1960, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi predicted that one percent of a population practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique would produce measurable improvements in the quality of life for the whole population, this became known as the “Maharishi Effect”.
There are thirty key documented studies involving the Maharishi Effect. The basis for the experiment is essentially to send a bunch of advanced meditators into a geographical area and measure the effects on the population as a whole. Here are three samples:
Rhode Island 1978.
A group of three hundred teachers of the TM program went to the state of Rhode Island with the goal to teach to one percent of the population. The measured variables for the experiment were: FBI total crime, motor vehicle fatality rate, motor vehicle accident rate, death rate, per capita beer consumption, per capita cigarette consumption, unemployment rate, and degree of pollution. As a control they compared measures to the nearby state of Delaware. Time series analysis found that the experiment improved quality of life, on all measures with a statistical probability of ninety-nine percent that the outcomes were caused by the intervention. Findings were published in The Journal of Mind and Behavior, 1987.
Washington D.C 1993.
In this carefully controlled experiment four thousand meditators created coherence in Washington D.C for two months. Despite rising violent crime rates (measured by FBI statistics) there was a decrease of twenty-three percent soon after the start of the study, as soon as the study finished crime rates started to rise again. The probability of this happening by chance was one in a five hundred million. The effects of the group could not be attributed to other possible causes, including temperature, precipitation, weekends, and police and community anti crime activities. Published in Social Indicators Research, 1999.
A day-by-day study of a two-month TM coherence-creating assembly in Israel in 1983 during the First Lebanon War showed that, on days when the number of participants in the assembly was high, war deaths in neighbouring Lebanon dropped by 76 percent. During these two months, crime, traffic accidents, and fires all declined in Israel. Other possible causes (weekends, holidays, weather, etc.) were statistically controlled. Published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1988.
In science they say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. How does meditating stop a gangster about to shoot someone and say, “hey maybe you’re not so bad”? How does a yogi sitting in a hotel room on the border of Lebanon make a militant go, “oh yeah I’m not going to fire this rocket today”? How does someone teaching meditation in Rhode Island make a hearty Rhodian think, “you know what I don’t need that extra cold hard Narragansett Ale today”?
As Mantooth from Anchorman claims, “You know those rating systems are flawed. They don’t take into account houses that have more than two television sets and other things of that nature”. I swing on the pretty far left on the woo-woo pendulum. I believe in the power of the mind. But these experiments definitely raise an eyebrow. When met with incredulous findings such as those on the Maharishi Effect, there is a tendency to dismiss them as faulty research. Statistics can be twisted to prove any point. But the deeper I looked into these studies the deeper I realised they were conducted with the highest level of rigour. Not to mention being published by well respected journals, which themselves uphold the highest standards of science research. Now I’m here like… what does all this mean?
Generally, the Maharishi Effect may be defined as the influence of coherence and positivity in the social and natural environment generated by the practice of the TM and TM-Sidhi programs. Further, just as there is an individual consciousness there is a collective consciousness. Just as the quality of an individual consciousness can be improved, so can the collective consciousness.
Maharishi believed accumulated stress causes tension, frustration, ill health and unhappiness and these were the roots of destructive, violent and anti-social behaviour. All occurrences of violence, negativity and conflict, crises, or problems in any society are just the expression of growth of stress in collective consciousness. The physical influence of harmony and coherence produced by collective practice of meditation removes negative, chaotic, and violent trends in society, and thereby promotes peace.
These studies have a profound implication for our understanding of consciousness. What they essentially suggest, is that consciousness is not bound to just the brain and that we are all connected. The idea of non-local phenomena is well accepted in science, concepts like gravity and radio frequencies are familiar to us today. So it’s not entirely ridiculous to think that our brains are capable of sending and receiving coherence in some huge, yet to be revealed unified field. Our individual consciousness is said to be the basic unit of collective consciousness which influences the whole and in turn is influenced by it.
But it sure as hell makes you think, there might just be something to this meditation stuff science hasn’t quite caught up with yet.