A skeptical look at the Natural Law Party provided to journalists in preparation for the election.
The Natural Law Party, the political party that makes McGillicuddy look really serious, is again running candidates in the general election. The Natural Law Party has received $35,000 from the electoral commission to run its campaign.
The Natural Law Party is the political front organisation for a religion: Transcendental Meditation, founded and still orchestrated by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Beatles made the Maharishi famous in the 1960s and he has followers all over the world, including thousands of Americans. One of the ways they have devised to promote their beliefs is to form the Natural Law Party.
That TM is a religion is something the Natural Law people will probably deny, but it has been ruled so by a judge in an important American court decision. That decision came as a result of the attempt to introduce TM into a public school curriculum; as the US Constitution forbids the teaching of religion in tax-supported public schools, the courts had to decide whether TM was a religion. After very careful consideration, the decision, upheld on appeal, is that TM is a religion.
The Christian parties in New Zealand are promoters of religious beliefs too, and there may be other such parties. The New Zealand Skeptics have no objections to religion or to religious-based political parties. But it is especially important to understand this about the Natural Law Party because the party would have us think its claims are based in legitimate science. These claims need to be understood.
- Yogic crime busting
The party has claimed that large number of meditators sending out their magical vibes en masse can lower the crime rate. Some Natural Law people insist that they lowered crime in Washington DC by a mass meditation of followers in Washington. In fact, the murder rate rose significantly during their most recent Washington exercise, and the general crime rate was unchanged. The Maharishi himself has repeatedly claimed TM would reduce crime but has also denounced Washington DC as a “pool of mud” and admitted defeat with his project (Washington Post, December 16, 1991). If Natural Party people make these claims about crime, demand proof not from Natural Law Party publications, but from recognised local law enforcement authorities. So far as we can see, the only effect meditation has on crime is that the crime rate among TM meditators drops to zero while they meditate. You can’t rob a bank in the lotus position.
Recently in the US, Robert Kropinski was awarded $137,890 by a jury because the Transcendental Meditation organisation had not taught him to levitate (“yogic flying”) as it had promised. The court found the TM promoters and the Maharishi International University guilty of fraud, according to American press reports. The ultimate claim of Transcendental Meditation is that if you study long enough, and pay enough money to the TM folks, you’ll be able to fly. Whether by “yogic flying” they mean cross-legged hopping or actual levitation is something we’ve never been clear on. In the US, they have shown levitation videos and photos (taken over trampolines which are cropped out in the prints), but nobody has ever seen them in person do anything but hop in the lotus position. (Quite funny, incidentally, if you get a chance to witness it.)
“Studies show” — to use the phrase beloved by medical medical salesmen the world over — studies show that people who practice Transcendental Meditation are admitted to hospital less often than the general population, and enjoy a generally higher level of health than the general population. And it’s true! Studies would also show that journalists and university lecturers are admitted to hospital less often than the general population. The reason for this is not because being a journalist makes you healthy but because middle-class people in gainful employment are always healthier than the “general population”, which includes the chronically ill, the medically disabled, the very young, and the very old. The kind of thirty-something, self-obsessed people who take up TM (Seinfeld characters perfectly fit the mould) are always going to be healthier than the total average for any national population. So what?
Many of the “scientific studies” supporting the Natural Law Party’s claims originate from the science departments of the Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa. This “scientific” research has exactly the same degree of credibility as the anti-Darwinist research carried out by the fundamentalist-backed Creation Research Institute in San Diego. According to John Knapp, an ex-TM instructor who makes information available on the Internet, “In sworn court documents Anthony DeNaro, MIU professor of economics and business law, alleged TM-research fraud at the school in 1986. One year later, Dennis Roark, MIU dean of faculty and chair of the department of physics, claimed he had seen routine suppression of negative data collection in movement research studies.”
- The Germans
The Institute for Youth and Society in Germany has come up with some truly disturbing findings about Transcendental Meditation. They say that long-term meditators experienced psychological disorders (76%) and that 26% have nervous breakdowns. According to Knapp’s summary, “Researchers found a startling drop in honesty among long-term meditators,” and “70% recorded a worsening ability to concentrate.” We have no idea whether this is all true (I wonder if these figures are about the results of meditation or the kind of people who are attracted to TM); in any event, it’s not the sort of thing you’ll get out of “research” conducted at the Maharishi International University. It is a very unsettling report.
There is now a wealth of information available on the Internet at the web site run by John Knapp, who was for twenty years a TM practitioner. He has a Web site at
Internationally, the Maharishi and his TM movement, along with the Natural Law Party, is said to be a multi-billion dollar organisation. It is very important that journalists know the background of this group: always demand independent proof of any claims made on behalf of TM or the Natural Law Party policies.
It is the right of every political party in New Zealand to have its claims tested in open debate. The Natural Law Party is no exception. The attached material is provided with the hope that it will generate more informed discussion of the claims of this unusual political party.
Copies of the 20-page information package, with clippings and articles, can be had for the paltry sum of $5 from Denis at:
Fine Arts Department
University of Canterbury
Private Bag 4800