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Former Student Wins Religious Liberty Case Against CPS

In a July 2019 Chicago Tribune article, reporter Hannah Leone told the story of a CPS student troubled by the peculiar ceremony she was compelled to participate in during her school day. About that I wrote, “Next time you hear some arch-defender of the a-constitutional ‘wall’ of separation between the church and state whose knickers are in a twist because a school allows ten seconds of silence during which students may pray, remember this story:

Students at a Chicago high school were led into a room with shades drawn and door windows papered over, lit only with candles and scented by incense. They were handed flowers and told to pay attention to instructors, according to one student’s account.
Jade Thomas, an incoming sophomore at Bogan Computer Technical High School, said instructors “chanted in a foreign language” and “threw rice, seasonings and oranges in a pan in front of a picture of a man.” She described the ritual, which she said involved a “secret mantra,” to a rapt audience at a Chicago Board of Education. …
At one point, Jade said, “they tell us to place the flowers in the pan with everything else, and they ended the song. I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t know what they were saying or who the man was in the picture.”

Jade Thomas was not the only student uncomfortable with being compelled to participate in a religious practice. So too was Jariyah Green who transferred to Bogan from a charter school at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. Just last week, Center Square’s Chalkboard News described Green’s uncomfortable initiation into this Eastern mystical religious practice:

[A] transcendental meditation instructor would pull 3-5 students at a time out of class and take them to a darkened classroom to purportedly teach them how to meditate. … “As I go into the classroom, the setting was very uncomfortable for me. … The lights were off in the classroom. There was a picture of a man, and at the moment, I didn’t know from what religion it was, i just knew it wasn’t my religion, and I’m a Christian.”

Green also told Chalkboard News that the twice-daily meditation times, during which they were expected to repeat mantras that all meditators are instructed to tell no one, were “linked to a participation grade.”

The fantastic news is that Green, represented by the religious liberty law firm Mauck & Baker, sued the CPS and won. Green “was recently awarded $75,000 for damages and legal fees” in a judgment, which John Mauck explained, means they are “’effectively admitting they did wrong’ regarding the claims in the complaint.”

The program to which Jade Thomas and Jariyah Green objected is called Quiet Time, a euphemistic name that conceals from parents that it’s the practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM), which is Hinduism repackaged (and trademarked) for Western audiences.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, famous for his celebrity clientele like the Beatles, repackaged Hinduism—which emerged from the ancient religious Vedic tradition—in a form more palatable to western minds and brought it to American hippies in the 1960s and 1970s.

While disciples of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi publicly (and deceitfully) claim that TM is solely a scientific method for relieving stress, they conveniently omit the religious dimensions of the program and practice.

The Chicago Board of Education, which ended the program in 2020, was colluding with the University of Chicago Urban Labs, which, in turn, was partnering with Hollywood director and long-time Transcendental Meditator David Lynch to experiment on Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. They hoped to determine whether introducing students secretly to Hindu religious practices could “help youth reduce their toxic stress, succeed in school and stay safe.”

The Quiet Time website includes this claim: "Transcendental Meditation, the core intervention of the Quiet Time Program. … does not involve any religion [or] philosophy.”

“Does not involve any religion”? Lol. You be the judge of that claim. As a former TMer married to a former TM teacher, I’ve already judged that claim.

Decades ago, when I became a TMer and my husband was a TM teacher who studied with Maharishi in Spain, mantras—the secret word repeated soundlessly during meditation—were assigned during the “initiation” ceremony that Jade Thomas and Jariyah Green described, which is called a puja.

At the time of my initiation, initiates were asked to bring a piece of fruit, a new handkerchief, and flowers to the initiation ceremony, which was conducted in a darkened, incense-filled room in front of a de facto altar on which sits a picture of Maharishi's guru, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, aka Guru Dev.

The TM teacher would then begin the ceremony, which was conducted in Sanskrit so the initiate had no idea what was being spoken. After studying in Spain with Maharishi and becoming a TM teacher, my husband learned the Sanskrit words spoken during the ceremony and here translated:

To LORD NARAYANA, to lotus-born BRAHMA the Creator to…GOVINDA, ruler among the yogis…to SHANKARACHARYA the redeemer, hailed as KRISHNA and BADARAYANA, to the commentator of the BRAHMA SUTRAS I bow down. To the glory of the LORD I bow down again and again, at whose door the whole galaxy of gods pray for perfection day and night…GURU [Dev] in the glory of BRAHMA, GURU in the glory of the great LORD SHIVA, GURU in the glory of the personified transcendental fullness of BRAHMAN, to Him, to SHRI GURU DEV adorned with glory, I bow down…with Brahman ever dwelling in the lotus of my heart…to That [Brahman], in the form of Guru Dev, I bow down.

At various points during the initiation ceremony, the TM teacher would pause and ask the initiate for one of the gifts they were asked to bring, which the teacher would then place on the altar, thus making the initiate an unwitting participant in a distinctly religious ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, initiates were given their mantras, which, as it turns out, are the names of Hindu gods.

Initiates were prohibited from telling anyone their secret mantras, which I eventually learned were chosen according to the initiate’s age. My mantra was pronounced “ah-ing” and is intended to honor the Hindu goddess of Saraswati.

So, does that sound like TM “does not involve any religion”?

An article by former TM teacher Aryeh Siegel makes clear that TM is a religion that has no place in public schools:

According to Professor Candy Gunther Brown, author of Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools, the federal appellate case of Malnak v. Yogi (1979) ruled that teaching TM in public schools constitutes an impermissible “establishment of religion.” … TM appealed the decision to a higher court and lost again. According to Dr. Brown, it’s “remarkable” that TM is still being taught in public schools given how little public-school TM practices (e.g. assignment of mantras associated with personal gods, initiation through pūjās that invoke divine aid with chants, bowing, and offerings) have changed since Malnak.”

As to the claim that TM involves no philosophy, ask any long-time meditator about cosmic-consciousness, unity-consciousness, god-consciousness, and sidhis. If you have the patience to slog through Maharishi’s thicket of religious/philosophical dogma, click here.

Unfortunately, CPS is not the only school district introducing children to the ancient Vedic practice of TM.

For decades, the TM organization has been plagued by myriad criticisms for deception, like its failure to acknowledge its religious nature or promises of developing superpowers (sidhis) like Yogic flying. Over 40 years ago, Maharishi told his disciples that by attending longer residential courses during which attendees would meditate for extended periods of time and receive additional magic words (i.e., sutras), they would start levitating and shortly thereafter flying. Surprise, surprise, no meditators can yet fly.

Of course, the TM organization profited handsomely from the fees paid by gullible dupes to attend these longer courses—so handsomely, in fact, that when Maharishi died, he left “behind an estate worth an estimated $300 million,” and 12,000 acres of property in India, which four nephews inherited.

In the interest of fiscal transparency and accountability, I hope some public watch dogs will find out if any local, state, and/or federal money has been dumped into the coffers of the David Lynch Foundation to foist a false religion on students in Chicago Public School students.

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