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Maharishi Ayur-Veda: guru's marketing scheme promises the world
eternal 'perfect health.'
Skolnick, Andrew A.
JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association
Oct 2, 1991; v266: p1741(6)
If the claims of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi prove true, those who follow
him soon will be blessed with eternal youth, "perfect health," and
the "strength of an elephant." They will be able to "walk through
walls," make themselves "invisible," and "fly through the air"
without the benefit of machines.
In addition, there will be no more war or crime. Automobile
accidents will be a thing of the past, and even the weather will
have to obey their collective consciousness.
Such are the widely promoted claims of the Transcendental
Meditation (TM) movement and Maharishi Ayur-Veda, some of which
were presented by authors Deepak Chopra, MD, Hari M. Sharma, MD,
FRCPC, and Brihaspati Dev Triguna, in their "Letter From New Delhi"
("Maharishi Ayur-Veda: Modern Insights Into Ancient Medicine,"
According to a number of experts on religious cults, Maharishi
Mahesh Yogi, the Hindu swami from India, began his rise to fame and
great fortune in the 1960s when the Beatles rock group briefly
joined his following of worshipers. Today, he leads many thousands
of devoted followers who are dedicated to bringing about his widely
publicized "Master Plan to Create Heaven on Earth." Many of these
disciples are prominent in science, medicine, education, sports,
entertainment, and the news media. According to Indian newspaper
reports, his master plan has created an empire for the guru
conservatively estimated to be worth more than $2 billion.
But according to representatives of the TM movement, the
Maharishi's plan to turn earth into heaven is not just wishful
thinking; they say they have more than 500 scientific studies to
prove they can do it. Among them now is the "Letter From New
Delhi," which is being pointed to throughout the TM movement as a
sign that the Maharishi's plan is gaining scientific
However, among many authorities on quackery and long-time watchers
of this movement, the article in JAMA has brought anger and dismay.
(Please see Letters, pages 1769 through 1774.) They say that
Maharishi Ayur-Veda is not traditional Indian medicine, but the
latest of the Maharishi's schemes to boost the declining numbers of
people taking TM courses, through which the movement recruits new
This June, members of the TM community in Fairfield, Iowa, were
called to a special assembly at one of the Maharishi International
University's "Golden Domes of Pure Knowledge" to celebrate the news
of JAMA's publication of "Letter From New Delhi." The same month,
The Fairfield (Iowa) Source, a monthly newspaper that is run by
members of the movement, reported that the "Letter From New Delhi"
was "the lead article in JAMA." (The newspaper has since published
a correction identifying it as the first article in the issue
rather than the lead scientific article--a subtle but important
Failure to Disclose Connections
What the newspaper didn't report was what editors of THE JOURNAL
learned shortly after the article was published: The authors are
involved in organizations that promote and sell the products and
services about which they wrote. Despite this, they submitted a
signed financial disclosure form with their manuscript indicating
that they had no such affiliations.
The statement, which all authors of articles accepted by JAMA must
sign before publication, says: "I certify that any affiliations
with or involvement in any organization or entity with a direct
financial interest in the subject matter or materials discussed in
the manuscript (eg, employment, consultancies, stock ownership,
honoraria, expert testimony) are listed below. Otherwise, my
signature indicates that I have no such financial interest." The
authors of the "Letter from New Delhi" listed no involvements or
Upon learning otherwise, THE JOURNAL immediately requested a full
accounting from the authors, which was published as a financial
disclosure correction (JAMA. 1991;266:798). Although the confusing
list apparently holds the record in terms of length for corrections
published in THE JOURNAL, it still is incomplete.
In addition to being the medical director of TM's premiere health
facility, the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center for Stress
Management and Behavioral Medicine, in Lancaster, Mass, and a
former consultant and board member for Maharishi Ayur-Veda Products
International (MAPI) Inc, also in Lancaster (the sole distributor
of Maharishi Ayur-Veda _TM_ products, an extensive line of herbs,
teas, oils, food supplements, incense, and devices said to prevent
or treat disease and reverse aging), Chopra performs many of the
unproven and expensive Maharishi Ayur-Veda services throughout the
country. Indeed, he claims to have treated more than 10 000
patients with these remedies between 1985 and 1990 (Perfect Health:
The Complete Mind/Body Guide. New York, NY: Harmony Books; 1990:6).
Ran Marketing Company
Chopra has yet to inform JAMA that he was the president, treasurer,
and clerk of MAPI until sometimes in 1988. Nor did he tell THE
JOURNAL that he had been the sole stockholder of the marketing
company until May 1987, when he transferred the stock to a trust he
set up, called the Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation. Until sometime in
1988, he served as chairman of the foundation's board of directors
(the two other board members were Parkash Shrivastava, of New
Delhi, India, a nephew of the Maharishi, and Neil Paterson, TM's
Governor General of the Age of Enlightenment for North America).
When the authors submitted their article, Chopra and Sharma were
both consultants to MAPI. During a taped telephone interview on
June 17, Chopra acknowledged being a consultant to MAPI; however,
in a letter faxed on June 20, he claimed he no longer had any
connection to MAPI or other organizations related to the marketing
Yet, MAPI has the same telephone number and address as the
Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation and the American Association of
Ayurvedic Medicine (AAAM), of which Chopra is president. MAPI and
AAAM letterheads have identical logos--a vessel of Maharishi Amrit
Kalash, the herbs touted by the authors in their JAMA article.
Chopra was president of another entity that uses the same telephone
number and address, the Maharishi Ayur-Veda _sometimes_ Ayurveda_
Association of American (MAAA). Dean Draznin, director of public
relations for the Ayur -Veda News Service, would not say whether
Chopra is still president of MAAA, nor would he explain the
difference between AAAM and MAAA.
Despite claims to the contrary, Chopra is still connected to MAPI
and the Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation. Chopra lectures widely and
teaches the Maharishi's techniques for the foundation, which owns
the marketing company.
The fee to attend one of Chopra's 1-day seminars on "Quantum
Healing" is usually $100. Attendees usually are instructed to make
checks payable to the Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation. Chopra
recently boasted in an interview in The Fairfield Source: "It's
mind-boggling. In San Francisco, I did a seminar that 3000 people
attended. I had to get one of the civic centers. The average
audience now is anywhere from 500 to 1000.... I'm booked right
through 1992 for lectures."
Chopra also gives instructions in two special "health" techniques,
which patients must pay $700 apiece to learn. In the Maharishi
Ayur-Veda Psychophysiological Technique, Chopra instructs patients
to concentrate on the heart while meditating. For the Maharishi
Ayur-Veda Primordial Sound Technique, he provides patients with a
health mantra to repeat during meditation. For each technique, he
provides patients with a private consultation of less than 20
minutes following a general lecture. At one TM gathering in
Washington, DC, in June 1989, Chopra raised more than $25,000 just
teaching the Primordial Sound Technique.
In an undated letter sent to "Friends of Maharishi Ayurveda,"
Chopra, who identified himself as president of the marketing
company, called the concoction of more than 20 herbs, which costs
about $95 for a 1-month supply, "pure knowledge pressed into
material form." He wrote, "Maharishi Amrit Kalash forges the link
between mind and body at the critical junction points everywhere in
the physiology." While admitting that research on its health
benefits is just beginning, Chopra emphasized the need for everyone
to take the cure-all/prevent-all. "It should be placed in every
home as quickly as possible," he urged.
Chopra explains that he did not think he needed to inform JAMA of
his connections to the marketing organizations or of the hundreds
of thousands of dollars he raises through these activities because
he doesn't keep any of it; the funds go to help promote Maharishi
Ayur-Veda, he says. But Chopra's dedication to the Maharishi's
world plan has not gone unrewarded. In 1989, the guru invested
Chopra with the title "Dhanvantari _Lord of Immortality_ of Heaven
Selling Herbs and Pulse Readings
In addition to being a consultant to Maharishi Ayur-Veda in
Prathisthan, India, coauthor Triguna was and/or is director of the
World Center for Maharishi AyurVeda in Maharishi Nagar, India, and
vice chancellor of Maharishi Vedic University in Vlodrop, The
Netherlands -- all of which are involved in the promotion of the
Maharishi's "master plan" for the world. Triguna has appeared at TM
gatherings here and abroad, where he performed thousands of "pulse
diagnoses." Patients in the United States are usually charged $200
for the approximately 3-minute health consultation, which requires
translation since he speaks very little English.
The authors claimed in their JAMA article that this procedure
(which critics such as William Jarvis, PhD, president of the
National Council Against Health Fraud, Loma Linda, Calif, describe
as a variation of palm reading) can diagnose diseases not limited
to the cardiovascular system, including asthma, cancer, and
diabetes. (When asked if he would agree to a test of these claims
made in JAMA using a blinded protocol, Chopra declined on the
grounds that a blinded experiment would "eliminate the most crucial
component of the experiment, which is consciousness.") Many of
these "diagnoses" are followed by a prescription for herbal
remedies available through Triguna's pharmacy in India.
Triguna is described in Maharishi Ayur-Veda promotional materials
as a "doctor." However, when asked whether Triguna has any medical
or graduate degree from an accredited institution, Chopra said that
the question represents "ethnocentrism, prejudice, bigotry, and
racism carried to the extreme." He suggested that "the degree you
put after his name is 'Ayur-Veda Martand,' the Indian
acknowledgment of illustrious fame and achievement in his
profession." MAPI has honored Triguna by placing the likeness of
his head, surrounded by a glowing halo or aura, on the label of
Maharishi Amrit Kalash.
In the financial disclosure to many Sharma reports his connections
to many of the Maharishi's promotional organizations, including two
of the Maharishi's many "universities" that are not accredited by
any recognized authorities. (Only the Maharishi International
University in Fairfield, Iowa, is so accredited.)
The disclosure lists the Lancaster Foundation Inc (in North
Bethesda, Md, not Washington, DC, as Sharma stated) and the
Abramson Family Foundation, North Bethesda, among the sources of
Sharma's research funding. However, it does not make clear that the
Lancaster Foundation is run by members of the TM community and that
the foundation supports and promotes research only on Maharishi
Ayur-Veda products and services. The Abramson Family Foundation has
the same address and telephone number as the Lancaster Foundation.
Serious About Financial Disclosure
The authors misrepresented Maharishi Ayur-Veda to JAMA as Ayurvedic
medicine, the ancient, traditional health care system of India,
rather than a trademark for a brand of products and services
marketed since 1985 by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's complex network
of research, educational, and commercial organizations.
JAMA is serious about its policy regarding authors' disclosures of
potential conflicts of interest, says George D. Lundberg, MD,
editor of THE JOURNAL, who adds: "Even if the financial association
between the author and organizations that may profit by his or her
article is remote, we need to know about it. The associations
between Chopra, Sharma, and Triguna and the promoters of the
products and services they wrote about may well have affected our
decision to publish their article had we known about them. At the
very least, the reader should have been informed of the author's
involvement with those who profit from Maharishi Ayur-Veda."
Lundberg says that "JAMA has long had an interest in publishing
responsible articles on traditional health care practices from
other parts of the world. We published ' Letter From New Delhi' in
THE JOURNAL's international health theme issue believing that the
authors were acting in good faith and that they were disinterested
scientists who had expertise in the long-practiced system of folk
remedies of India known as Ayurvedic medicine. At that time, we did
not know that 'Maharishi AyurVeda,' 'Transcendental Meditation,'
and the 'TM-Sidhi' programs promoted in the article are brands of
health care products and services being marketed by the TM
Pattern of Deception
An investigation of the movement's marketing practices reveals what
appears to be a widespread pattern of misinformation, deception,
and manipulation of lay and scientific news media. This campaign
appears to be aimed at earning at least the look of scientific
respectability for the TM movement, as well as at making profits
from sales of the many products and services that carry the
The TM movement frequently boasts of the "sophistication and
effectiveness" of its publicity programs in helping to bring about
the Maharishi's "Master Plan to Create Heaven on Earth." Recently,
it has had good reasons to brag.
In June, the movement not only saw THE JOURNAL publish an article
in which the Maharishi's remedies were described as if they were
scientifically-acceptable, it also held a "Medical Conference on
Maharishi Ayur-Veda: Non-Pharmacological Approaches to Prevention
and Treatment of Chronic Diseases," in San Diego, Calif, that was
approved by the American College of Preventive Medicine for 13
hours of the American Medical Association's Physician's Recognition
Award category I Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit.
The course description gives the impression that Maharishi
Ayur-Veda is thousands of years old, rather than a trademark name
for a line of products and services introduced in 1985. Nothing in
the course description indicates that the majority of conference
speakers are affiliated with organizations that promote these
products and services.
According to Hazel Keimowitz, MA, executive director of the
American College of Preventive Medicine, the college was not aware
of connections between the conference organizers and efforts to
market TM products and services.
This was the second time the American College of Preventive
Medicine accredited a Maharishi Ayur-Veda conference for CME
credit. Shortly after the first time in December 1989, Chopra
announced that the AMA had accredited Maharishi Ayur-Veda courses
for CME credit.
Speaking during the global satellite broadcast of a gathering in
India to celebrate the Maharishi's birthday on January 12, 1990,
Chopra said, "This is the beginning of a great alliance that
Maharishi Ayur-Veda Association is going to form with the
established associations, such as the American Medical Association
and all the associations of medicine throughout the world."
Expressing joy over Chopra's "beautiful news," the Maharishi said,
"I hold the Medical Association of America to be the custodians of
perfect health for all mankind . . . from today I'll cease to think
that the American Medical Association has been, and is continuing
to be, a puppet of the multinational _pharmaceutical companies._"
According to Dennis Wentz, MD, director of the AMA's Division of
Continuing Medical Education, that news was untrue; the AMA has not
accredited any of the Maharishi's programs for CME credit.
The Wrong Stationery?
In March, the American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (AAAM)
sent two letters to the American College of Preventive Medicine in
application for accreditation. The letters were printed on AAAM
letterhead, which lists among its research council members Tony
Nader, MD, PhD, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cambridge, and Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General
Hospital (MGH), both in Boston.
According to spokespersons for these institutions, Nader was a
graduate student at MIT and a research fellow at MGH and Harvard
until he earned his PhD degree in neuroscience 2 years ago. His
former advisers say they haven't seen him since he graduated.
The use of "old stationery" was an innocent mistake, says David
Orme Johnson, PhD, chair of the Psychology Department at the
Maharishi International University, and a spokesperson for the TM
movement. "We are very careful not to do anything like that -- not
to misrepresent things," he says. "I can't tell you how much time
I spend checking facts so that such things don't happen. I assure
you that this is not intended fraud on our part."
However, earlier letters from AAAM list Nader as having only an MD
degree. Presumably after his graduation from MIT in September 1989,
the association reprinted its stationery identifying Nader as
having an MD and a PhD degree and as being at MIT, Harvard, and
MGH, even though he no longer was affiliated with these
institutions. What's more, the TM movement continued to make these
Nader is one of the researchers most cited by the movement as an
authority on Maharishi herbs. In June 1986, after discovering a Los
Angeles Times report about Nader's herbal research, his advisers
warned him in writing not to embarrass them any further by claiming
to be doing MIT- and Harvard-sanctioned research on Maharishi's
herbs. Despite their warning, the claims continued.
In a TM news release announcing a June 18, 1991, press conference
in London, England, Nader is identified as a "professor" and
"eminent researcher and medical doctor _who_ will present the
findings of his recent research at Harvard and MIT and discuss the
scientific basis through which Maharishi's Technology of
Consciousness can bring about world health and world peace."
According to the release, Nader also would "discuss how the new
brain imaging techniques can be used to assess the orderlines of
brain functioning in students, corporate executives, politicians,
and other leaders, and thereby 'ensure that only the best brains
are running society."
Also, on the back cover of the 1991 paperback edition of Chopra's
Creating Health: How to Wake Up the Body's Intelligence (Boston,
Mass: Houghton Mifflin Co), an endorsement by Nader identifies him
as "neuroscientist, Harvard Medical School and MIT."
A Newsletter published in 1988 by the Maharishi Ayurveda
Association of America appears even more fallacious. The headline
and lead paragraph state that Nader was honored by Harvard with
"the Whitaker Health Sciences and Technology Award" for his
"landmark studies" carried out over 2 years on the effects of
Maharishi's herbal remedies on immune functioning and aging.
It also claimed that Nader, who was identified as a clinical
researcher and not a graduate student, was also conducting "several
more ambitious and complex project at major research centers"
including "overseeing studies at Harvard's Dana Farber Cancer
Institute, the Departments of Immunology at Harvard Medical School
and the University of Massachusetts -- all testing the effects of
Maharishi Amrit Kalash on the immune system."
Orme-Johnson says these errors were the fault of the reporter who
wrote the article.
'Prejudice and Bigotry'
Nader's MIT thesis adviser, Richard J. Wurthman, MD, professor and
director of the Clinical Research Center, and Nader's former
Harvard/MGH adviser, John H. Gorwodn, MD, professor of neurology,
say they know of no such research at their institutions.
However, according to Chopra, Nader's "superiors were threatened by
his paying more attention to Ayur-Veda research than to projects
that they were interested in. Dr Nader was censured and asked to
discontinue his Ayur-Veda work. This in no way reflects on the
quality of the research. If anything, it reflects the prejudice and
bigotry of so-called objective scientists, even in prestigious
In a recent statement, MIT Provost Mark S. Wrighton, PhD, said that
Nader ended his connection with MIT upon graduating. "During his
time as a student, from October 1985 until Sept 20, 1989, he held
a visiting physician appointment at MIT's Clinical Research Center.
He was not authorized to undertake any research on his own," says
Wrighton. "MIT has called to the attention of its law firm recent
comments and documents which indicate an effort to suggest a
continuing research relationship between Dr Nader and MIT."
However, Chopra protests that Nader did conduct research at MIT
with Paul M. Newberne, DVM, PhD (who is now professor of pathology
at Boston University School of Medicine). The Lancaster Foundation
also cites Nader's research with Newberne and says that it was
presented at the Federation of American Societies of Experimental
Biology (FASEB), Washington, DC (abstract in Fed Proc.
According to Newberne, in 1985 he had allowed himself to "be
charmed" into providing Nader support for a short-term study that
the student wanted to do but couldn't get anyone to help. He said
that Nader "was like a shadow. He moved in, used my facilities and
resources, and was gone. I never wanted anything about this work to
be published because there was nothing to warrant publication. His
data were few and equivocal."
Newberne says this is the first he has heard of the research being
published. He says that while the signature on the application to
FASEB appears to be his, he has no recollection of signing it. He
says there is no way he would have knowingly submitted such a
"pseudoscientific" paper for publication. "The abstract describes
tests on a mixture of unidentified herbs and minerals. This isn't
science. I never would knowingly put my name on such a study," he
However, says Ayur-Veda public affairs director Draznin, it's got
his (Newberne's) signature on it and that should speak for itself.
Newberne says that if necessary, he will seek legal counsel to
prevent this use of his name.
Nader could not be reached for comment.
'Dog and Pony Show'?
In its listing of "recent research on Maharishi Ayur-Veda," the
Lancaster Foundation cites research by Nader, Orme-Johnson, and
others that was presented at the 28th Annual Meeting of the Society
for Economic Botany, held at the University of Illinois at Chicago,
in June 1987.
However, according to Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD, research professor
of pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois at Chicago College
of Pharmacy, and director of the World Health Organization's
Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine, what was presented
could hardly be called scientific papers.
According to Farnsworth, the Maharishi's people showed up with a
television news crew from the local CBS station in Chicago and put
on a "dog and pony show." He says: "They had no interest in the
conference other than to grab a scientific forum--they showed up
just before their time slot and split as soon as the publicity
stunt was over."
What they presented hardly resembled the two abstracts they
submitted, he says. Instead, they gave a marketing presentation
extolling the Maharishi's meditation and herbal products.
Charlotte Gyllenhaal, PhD, a research associate at the University
of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy, who served as cochair
of the botany meeting's organizing committee, agrees that the
behavior of the Maharishi's representatives was "entirely
inappropriate." She says, "While the submitted abstracts seemed
reasonable, what they presented had little to do with their
abstracts. In one presentation, they couldn't even provide the
scientific names of the medicinal plants they claimed to have
tested. The other presentation was a pitch for the Maharishi's
meditation techniques--hardly appropriate for a botany meeting. It
was a bait and switch ploy and a publicity stunt."
Gyllenhaal says there is "so much potential for finding useful
drugs from the thousands of years of interesting observations made
by India's traditional healers. It's really a shame that this
group's deceptive activities may become associated with all of
Submission of the "Letter From New Delhi" was not the first time
JAMA was uninformed about an author's connection to the Maharishi's
organizations. THE JOURNAL had previously published a letter
praising the beneficial effects of TM (JAMA. 1989;262:2681-2682)
written by Brian M. Rees, MD, MPH, who gave the Rees Family Medical
Clinic, Pacific Palisades, Calif, as his affiliation.
Rees turns out to be the medical director of the Maharishi
Ayur-Veda Medical Center in Pacific Palisades. However, in
correspondence with THE JOURNAL, he used "Rees Family Medical
Clinic" stationery, which lists an address and telephone number
that are identical to those used by the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Medical
Center located within the TM center complex.
JAMA is not the only prestigious journal to have published an
article highly favorable to Maharishi AyurVeda without its editors
or readers knowing of the author's involvement with the TM
movement. Prominent on the back cover of Chopra's book Quantum
Healing (New York, NY: Bantum Books Inc; 1990) is an endorsement
attributed to the New England Journal of Medicine. This was not the
view of the journal, but the opinion of John W. Zamarra, MD, Brea,
Calif, in an unsolicited book review (N Engl J Med. 1989; 321:
According to a New England of Journal of Medicine editor, Zamarra
signed a conflict-of-interest disclaimer as the journal routinely
requires. Despite its policy that requires the disclosure of all
connections between reviewers and the authors of the books they
review, the journal was not informed of Zamarra's long-time
connection with the TM movement. Indeed, he is an author of a 1975
study on TM, which is cited in movement literature. Recently, a
receptionist at the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Medical Center in Pacific
Palisades identified Zamarra as being on the center's staff.
However, Zamarra claims he is associated with the center only as a
patient, although he says that he has treated patients there on a
voluntary basis after his book review appeared.
Harvard Magazine's readers may have been similarly disserved when
the magazine published in its 1989 September/October issue a cover
story on Chopra, which gave a glowing account of Maharishi
Ayur-Veda. According to associate managing editor Jean Martin, the
TM movement ordered a large number of reprints for promotional
distribution. The magazine's readers were not informed that the
author, associate editor Craig A. Lambert, PhD, practices TM-Sichi
or "yogic flying," the Maharishi's technique to develop levitation
and other supernatural powers.
Highly Exaggerated Claims
According to an interview with Chopra in the June issue of The
Fairfield Source, Chopra is president and chair of the board of
trustees of the new Maharishi Vedic University in Cambridge, Mass.
Chopra is quoted as saying that the university will soon offer
three degree programs, including a "Master's in Maharishi
Ayur-Veda," which will "be very popular because anyone with a
bachelor's degree can enroll, and when they graduate they will be
able to hang out their shingle and become practitioners of
Maharishi's Ayur-Veda. They can prescribe, they can treat, they can
do anything they want, just like any other health profession. This
is a major breakthrough. . . . We've been talking to the State of
Massachusetts Board of Education and they have given us more or
less complete assurance that
e_programs_will_happen. ... In fact, they seem even more keen on it
than we are."
Not so, says Tossie Taylor, PhD, associate vice chancellor for
independent institutions at the Massachusetts Board of Higher
Education. "We have accepted some paperwork from them, but we
haven't conducted a review nor have we done all the things we
generally do in the process of granting accreditation. We have
given them no such assurance," Taylor says.
Breaking Into Prisons
Such premature--and often wrong--public announcements appear to be
a promotional tactic used by the TM movement. On January 29, a
press conference was held in Tucson, Ariz, to announce that TM
representatives were about to meet with the director of Arizona's
Department of Corrections to discuss setting up a program to teach
prisoners TM. The next day, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix daily
newspaper, reported this claim and quoted Charles H. Alexander,
PhD, a psychologist at Maharishi International University, as
saying that "right now, TM is the only effective way of
The media event angered corrections department officials. According
to John R. Thompson, administrator of pastoral activities, the
press conference took place "before any conversations with
representatives of the department were held. . . . It seems to have
been a strategy to put pressure on the department to respond to
Thompson says that they investigated other prison systems in which
TM had been used and received negative and uncomplimentary reports.
At the meeting with TM representatives, "it was made clear that the
Arizona Department of Corrections was not interested in their
proposal," says Thompson. "If and when funds become available for
rehabilitation programs, TM will not be considered for such
Maharishi Ayur-Veda at the NIH
An introductory free seminar on Maharishi Ayur-Veda is being
offered every month at the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
Bethesda, Md, says a recorded telephone announcement from the
Ayurvedic Health Education Services in Bethesda. This claim appears
to be true if somewhat misleading.
According to public information specialist Donald Ralbovsky, an NIH
staff member has obtained permission to use a conference room after
hours for the seminars. The NIH has no policy restricting use of
space on its campus, even for groups that want to use it to promote
unproven health products, Ralbovsky says.
The NIH had been a target of TM exploitation before. The World
Medical Association for Perfect Health, Washington, DC (not to be
confused with the World Medical Association, based on
Ferney-Voltaire, France), one of TM's many front groups, issued a
news release dated October 15, 1985, that claimed that Thomas E.
Malone, MD, then deputy director of the NIH, had chaired an NIH
conference on Maharishi Ayur-Veda.
According to Malone, who is now vice president for biomedical
research at the Association of American Medical Colleges,
Washington, DC, he had been approached by TM representatives and
asked to set up a meeting with Triguna and anyone at the NIH who
might be interested in hearing what they had to say. Malone says he
never chaired a conference on Maharishi Ayur-Veda.
Nevertheless, the July 25, 1985, issue of The Uptown Citizen
(Washington, DC) quotes Malone as saying: "I am convinced that the
meditation being practiced here and the utilization of natural law
can prevent disease . . . As I sat listening to the various
speakers I could but wonder what will happen in the future when we
see this movement spreading out to all the centers of the earth and
what a great impact it will make for man's happiness."
"They twisted my words and made up those quotes," Malone says. "It
appears that's how they do things." He is "dismayed," he says, that
the promoters of TM would exploit scientists who are willing to
listen to their claims.
Expensive Flights of Fancy
The TM movement similarly exploits other scientific institutions
and universities that lend or rent their facilities for TM events.
Their names are prominently displayed in advertisements, giving the
impression that the events are sponsored by the institutions.
One extremely profitable example, reported in The Skeptical
Inquirer (1980; 4:7-8), involved the rental of a gymnasium at the
University of Massachusetts at Amherst during the summer of 1979
for TM's yogic flying courses. Three thousand students enrolled,
one third of whom paid $3000 each to learn the Maharishi's TM-Sidhi
program. According to promotional materials, the TM-Sidhi program
allows one to master the forces of nature to become invisible, walk
through walls, fly through the air, and have "the strength of an
The Skeptical Inquirer article says that the other students learned
more down-to-earth TM skills for $800-$1000 tuition and that the TM
movement reaped between $ 3 million and $ 5 million, before
expenses, from the courses at the University of Massachusetts.
How Cost Effective?
Whether Maharishi Ayur-Veda products do any good or not, they are
hardly as cost effective as their promoters claim. While Chopra
claims that their treatments cost "a lot less than a single day in
the hospital or a hotel, even," the cost of just one of the
products he recommends, Maharishi Amrit Kalash, is approximately
$1000 for a 1-year personal supply. By comparison, according to
federal sources, the total cost for health care in the United
States in 1989 was $2500 per person.
A few of the other products and services recommended just to
maintain health include TM and TM-Sidhi instruction, which costs
$3400, the Maharishi Psychophysiological and Primordial Sound
Techniques for $1400, and 7 days of panchakarma (cleansing programs
that use oil massages and enemas to rid the body of its "ama"--the
"foul-smelling, sticky, noxious residue" that otherwise
accumulates, according to Chopra) repeated three times a year for
$2700 to $6600 or more.
However, the costs of Maharishi Ayur-Veda can rise steeply in case
of actual illness. Patients with serious illnesses often pay
hundreds or even thousands of dollars for gemstones prescribed by
Jyotish consultants (Hindu astrologers) at Chopra's Maharishi
Ayur-Veda Health Center in Lancaster. According to former movement
members, they also may be asked to pay thousands of dollars for a
"yagya," which is a religious ceremony performed to solicit the aid
of one or more Hindu deities. Patients who pay for these ceremonies
do not take part in them or even get to see them performed, say the
During an interview in June, Chopra denied that yagyas are part of
the Maharishi Ayur-Veda program. Nevertheless, there are many
REFERENCES in Maharishi Ayur-Veda literature that describe yagyas
as one of "the 20 different treatment approaches" available to
patients. In a US Internal Revenue Service document (form 1023)
dated September 10, 1987, and signed by Chopra as a trustee, yagyas
are identified as one of 20 research activities of the Maharishi
In a written reply to questions about their recommending yagyas,
Chopra said that while their literature may describe yagyas as one
of their 20 different treatment approaches, they don't prescribe
them to patients. However, according to the July/August 1991
National Council Against Health Fraud newsletter, and the fall 1990
newsletter of TM-Ex, a support organization for former movement
members in Arlington, Va, "a yagya prescribed for endometriosis was
priced at $11500" for one patient, although a "less than
recommended' yagya was also available for $8500, as was a $3300
yagya that would suffice."
JAMA has obtained a copy of one Marharishi Jyotish Gem/Yagya
Analysis for a patient. According to the analysis, the patient's
Jyotish horoscope indicated that she needed two kinds of yagyas for
her health, one to be performed then and another "every birthday."
It also recommended that she purchase gems that cost between $2000
and $3000. The recommendations appear on a Marishi Ayurveda
Association of America form. The address and telephone number on
the form is the same as Chopra's at the American Association for
Asked to explain this document, Maharishi Ayur-Veda director of
public relations Draznin says that because the operations and staff
of these organizations are modest, they have to share the same
office and telephone number, so the document doesn't prove
Maharishi Physicians Face Charges
Two physicians who are the chief promoters of Maharishi Ayur-Veda
in Great Britain have been charged with "serious professional
misconduct" by the Professional Conduct Committee of the General
Medical Council in London.
According to British newspaper accounts, evidence was presented at
the hearing that allegedly shows the physicians promoted and sold
"worthless" herbal remedies as an effective treatment for the
acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Laboratory analyses
presented by Timothy Langdale, counsel for the General Medical
Council, showed some of the herbal preparations were composed of
plant material, fungus, feces, and bacteria, which may have caused
the gastrointestinal problems reported by the patient (now
deceased) with AIDS, on whose behalf the charges were brought.
According to the newspaper accounts, person with AIDS were charged
$500 a month for the herbal remedies. In addition, they were
persuaded to spend hundreds of dollars more to learn TM. Some also
were encouraged to discontinue taking the AIDS drug zidovudine.
The physicians charged with these actions are Leslie Davis, MA, MB,
BCh, FRCS, who said he is dean of physiology at the Marishi
University of Natural Law, Bedfordshire, and Roger A. Chalmers, MA,
MB, BCh, MRCP, who advertised himself as the dean of medicine at
the new Maharishi Ayur-Veda College of Natural Medicine and
president of the World Association for Perfect Health in
Bedfordshire. The schools are not recognized by the General Medical
Council or other accrediting agency.
Davis has been charged with seven counts and Chalmers with six.
Among other charges, they are accused of giving dietary advice that
could endanger the health of patients with AIDS and of distributing
promotional literature that boasted of a weight gain of 6 kg and
other improvements in the health of a patient who was already dead.
The hearing, which began in July, has been postponed until October
21. Chalmers would not comment about the proceedings or charges
against him. Le Brasseurs, the London solicitors firm that
represents the Medical Protection Society, of which Chalmers is a
member, wrote to JAMA that the above account "does not in any way
present a fair reflection of the evidence in toto. We cannot
comment further while the case is still pending." According to
Chopra, "the testimony on fecal contamination was totally refuted
to the satisfaction of all experts." He would not say how it was
refuted nor who these experts were. Sources close to the hearing in
England say they have no idea what Chopra is referring to.
While the promoters of Maharishi Ayur-Veda in the United States do
not openly claim to be able to cure AIDS, they do claim that their
system offers "unprecedented advances in its management" and that
scientific evidence suggests their herbal product Maharishi Amrit
Kalash can alleviate many AIDS-related symptoms and protect against
After receiving the newspaper reports of fecal and bacterial
contamination of the Maharishi Ayur-Veda remedies in Great Britain,
the US Food and Drug Administration has decided to investigate the
Marishi herbal products sold here, says press officer Brad Stone.
Physics and Mystical Medicine
Some of those have been favorably impressed by books and
presentations on Marishi Ayur-Veda say they are intrigued by the
apparent connection between the discoveries of quantum physics and
the mysticism behind the healing system. In his 1990 book Perfect
Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide, Chopra claims that the
practices of TM and Maharishi Ayur-Veda are supported by quantum
physics, and refers readers who want "more insights into these
ideas" to The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of
Nature (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Inc; 1982) by the eminent
physicist Heinz R. Pagels, PhD.
In that book, however, the physics denounced as "nonsense" attempts
to tie quantum physics to Eastern mysticism. He wrote, "Individuals
who make such claims have substituted a wish fulfilling fantasy for
In his capacity as executive director of the New York Academy of
Science in 1986, Pagels submitted an affidavit on behalf of a
former TM member who was suing the movement for fraud. "There is no
known connection between meditation states and states of matter in
physics," Pagels wrote. "No qualified physicist that I know would
claim to find such a connection without knowingly committing fraud.
. . . The presentation of the ideas of modern physics side by side,
and apparently supportive of, the ideas of the Maharishi about pure
consciousness was only be intended to deceive those who might not
know any better. . . . To see the beautiful and profound ideas of
modern physics, the labor of generations of scientists, so
willfully perverted provokes a feeling of compassion for those who
might be taken in by these distortions."
Mastering the 'SIMS Shuffle'
In his book Return of the Rishi (Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin Co;
1988:139), Chopra repeats an old Indian saying, "Four things in
life you must cherish: first the guru, then your parents, next your
wife and children, and finally your nation." Former members of the
TM movement say their belief in the Maharishi was so great that
they would have done anything the guru asked.
Ex-members say that the movement widely practices a style of
deception some call the "SIMS shuffle." Curtis Mailloux, a former
member who lives in Fairfax, Va, says the name is derived from the
Student International Meditation Society, one of the Maharishi's
front groups, where many members develop this skill. Mailloux says
he "left the cult" in 1989 after 15 years. As a former TM teacher
and chair of the TM center in Washington, DC, the largest in the
United States, he is one of the highest ranking members to defect.
"I was taught to lie and to get around the pretty rules of the
'unenlightened' in order to get favorable reports into the media,"
says Maillous. "We were taught how to exploit the reporters'
gullibility and fascination with the exotic, especially what comes
from the East. We thought we weren't doing anything wrong, because
we were told it was often necessary to deceive the unenlightened to
advance our guru's plan to save the world."