TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi


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    TM on Trial

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 illness."

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 feel powerless.

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 technique.

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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