By Saundra Saperstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 1986; Page B03
ranscendental Meditation, the movement that first swept the nation
in the 1960s with a promise to relieve stress, went on trial in federal
court here yesterday, as the lawyer for a former student charged the
movement was a "cult" that "seduced" the student into "relinquishing
control over his life" and psychologically injured him.
As the case opened yesterday, attorney Gerald Ragland asserted that
the movement claimed that Transcendental Meditation, known as TM, could
do everything from reducing depression and reversing the aging process
to controlling the laws of nature and teaching students to fly.
In a day of argument and testimony that was peppered with talk of
levitation and swamis, Ragland said he would show that "these defendants
knew or should have known that some of these things . . . were untrue or
purely reckless statements." However, attorney Dwight James,
representing the defendants, asserted, "There was a sincere belief by
the defendants in the things they taught."
He told the jury that his clients "aren't asking you to believe TM
can promote world peace . . . or that people could levitate or fly. But
they want you to see that they are sincere in their beliefs." James
asserted that Robert Kropinski, the 36-year-old Philadelphia man who
filed the lawsuit, "quit TM in 1983 . . . and has never seen a
psychiatrist or psychologist to this day to treat him for any emotional
James said that terms such as "cult" are "very emotional words," and
that the trial really involves "freedom" and the values of free speech
and free association.
Kropinski, who began practicing TM in 1972 and remained with the
movement for 11 years, originally filed suit against Maharishi Mahesh
Yogi, the Indian guru who founded the movement; and the World Plan
Executive Council-United States, a nonprofit corporation that runs TM
programs throughout the nation, and Maharishi International University,
the college the maharishi founded in Iowa. After Kropinski's lawyers
were unable to serve the maharishi with court papers, he was dismissed
from the case.
TM was introduced into the United States in 1959 and began attracting
wide attention in the 1960s when celebrities including the Beatles went
to India to learn the technique from the maharishi. The technique
involved repeating one word, known as a mantra, for 20 minutes twice a
day as a way of clearing the mind and reducing stress.
According to James, the movement has 1 million followers in the
United States and 3 million worldwide. But Ragland said the case is "not
about people . . . who practice meditation twice a day . . . . This case
is about those sucked into the process through thought reform," which
involves controlling the student's time and environment and making him
Yesterday, Margaret Singer, a clinical psychologist from the
University of California at Berkeley, testified that she had examined
Kropinski and that he had complained of feeling "lightheaded and
disconnected" and having "sensations of sheer horror all over his body"
at times. She found that he was suffering from a special form of
anxiety, as well as from a "dissociative disorder" caused by "long
periods of self-hypnosis" practiced over 11 years as he used the TM
The disorder, she testified, involved "moments of drifting off," when
"the normal thought processes get split off" and Kropinski "could not
get back into full focus."
During cross-examination, lawyer John Ridge, who also represents the
defendants, attempted to show that Kropinski had complained of similar
problems when he filed a lawsuit against a Philadelphia department store
for a head injury he suffered in 1982.
The TM case was scheduled to continue today before U.S. District
Judge Oliver Gasch.
© Copyright 1986 The Washington Post Company
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