Transcendental meditation: is it the key to world peace or corporate hokum? For The Baffler, Lauren Collee learns the practice and explores some of TM’s curious history to find out for herself.

Previously, the Maharishi had claimed that for quality of life to improve, at least one percent of the population had to practice TM; an equation that was known as the “Maharishi effect.” After the introduction of the TM-Sidhi program, he proposed that if the square root of one percent of the population practiced Yogic flying at the same time, noticeable benefits would be seen in society. This was known as the “extended Maharishi effect.” Doug Henning did the math and incorporated it into his 1993 federal election campaign in Canada. “Seven thousand yogic flyers can create a perfect government with the ability to satisfy everyone,” he explained to his would-be voters. “All of our national problems are basically caused by stress. And the best antidote is Transcendental Meditation and seven thousand yogic flyers.”

Is TM extracting money via false promises to potentially vulnerable people? Most certainly yes. But is the whole enterprise one big sham? It depends on how you look at it. Over the years, TM has grown and splintered. Some of its branches are undoubtedly rotten. Others perhaps remain well-intentioned. All things considered, I regret giving money to the organization, and wish that I had trained with teachers who situate themselves outside of the official TM umbrella, as some of my friends have done. At the same time, I do not regret learning TM. I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling that my mind and I weren’t the best of friends. The central principle of TM—that every person’s mind has a natural tendency towards a state of happiness and tranquillity, and need not be viewed as an enemy to be subdued—is deeply reassuring to me.