Vail Carruth's Story
Former teacher ofTranscendental Meditation
TheUniversity of California Berkeley campus in the 1960s was a place ofgreat social ferment, but some referred to it as “the open ward.”Fringe members of the hippie movement like me, and even those fromthe ‘far side,’ found a comfortable social acceptance there. Thecampus was divided into two main groups at the time: the politicalactivists and the spiritual seekers. Most of us felt that somethingwas terribly wrong with the way things were going in the world. Thepolitical activists joined peace marches and student strikes, orserved jail time for their confrontations with the police. Those ofus who felt we were more ‘spiritual,’ or aware, believed thatwhat the world needed was a transformation in consciousness. We tookLSD, smoked grass, went back to the land and joined communes, ormeditated.
Itseems I was born wanting to know the meaning of life, and my earlyyears were underscored by a deep, relentless hunger for personalidentity. My mother, grandmother, and some kitchen helpers told meabout the gentle, caring Jesus, and gradually I came to realize God’slove for me and His eternal provision through Christ. When I wastwelve years old, I responded to a call to invite Jesus into my life.Because I had no mentoring and no understanding of the Bible, thisfell short of a life-changingexperience. Furthermore, Jesus never seemed very real to me in thechurch services I attended, and no one ever explained how I couldhave a personal relationship with Him. The resulting vacuum drew metoward experiences that would prove to be counterfeits of spiritualfulfillment. I thought I could find ultimate answers without aScriptural basis—an unfortunate mindset held by many in our day..
AsI entered my teen years, I became interested in psychic abilities andbegan dabbling with the Ouija board, astrology, hypnotism, oranything occult. I was fascinated with psychic powers and wanted tolearn how to attain them. Consequently, I drifted away from Jesus andmore or less ‘did my own thing.’ Though I had begun my spiritualjourney believing in Jesus as the Messiah, , I inevitably cast asidewhat I perceived as ‘boring’ Christianity and chose the path ofmystical self-realization and enlightenment. This pursuit became anear obsession with me, until an event occurred much later that wouldradically change my life forever.
Seekingto be closer to where things were really ‘happening,’ I moved tothe famous Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco and hung out atthe Psychedelic Shop, the famous Bill Graham rock concerts, and theGolden Gate Park Love/Be-Ins. The marijuana and LSD began takingtheir toll on my memory. I began to view taking these drugs asplaying Russian roulette with my life and sanity.
Someof my hippie friends taught me the value of health food. They clearedout my entire food pantry declaring almost everything unfit to eat.Out went the white sugar, white flour, white bread, and almosteverything else. Within just one day I had switched over to a diet ofmostly organic and fresh vegetables, beans, brown rice, honey, andraw food. I came to believe that being high should be the result ofa healthy lifestyle and not drugs. The hippies had it right aboutmaterialism, but carried it too far, developing a kind of reverseelitism toward anything ‘establishment.’ Living in theHaight-Ashbury began to turn sour as reports of thefts and murderssurfaced. When the house next door was robbed by a cat burglar, Idecided that it was time to move on.
Asmy interest and experience with altered states of consciousnessincreased, I began to read many New Age books including the writingsof Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary, former Harvard professors whohad dropped out of the academic world to pursue the path ofalteredawarenessand spirituality. Berkeley, California, was home to a virtual buffetof spiritual and self-enlightenment groups. When I was not attendingclasses at the university, I could be found selling my jewelry onTelegraph Avenue, visiting with the street hippies, or hanging out atThe Forum coffee shop. Telegraph Avenue was considered the hub ofBerkeley’s cultural life for many of us.
Thewritings of Alan Watts and Herman Hesse were very popular at thetime, as well as the IChing and TheTibetan Book of the Dead.There was a bookstore on Telegraph Avenue called Shambala thatfeatured metaphysical books. I tried to read the EsseneGospel of Peace, whilemy own Bible was gathering dust on a shelf back in my apartment.Whenever someone nudged me to read the Bible, invariably I wouldbegin at Genesis only to get stuck somewhere in the “begets.” Myspiritual journey might have taken some big steps forward if I hadbegun with the Psalms, Proverbs, or especially the Gospel of John. .
Attimes, before making a major spiritual shift in my life, it seems Iwas always mysteriously presented with another choice, the ‘wayout’ – but I was usually not very responsive. I discovered thattwo of my acquaintances from college dormitory days were livingupstairs in my apartment building. I was amazed to learn that theywere the best friends of the head secretary at my job, a formerpersonal secretary of Billy Graham. I met them on the stairs one day,and around their dinner table they shared how they had come toexperience a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Theydescribed how His love had given them indescribable happiness andpeace. They seemed to be enjoying a kind of Christian nirvana, butnot spacey like a lot of New Agers I knew. Their joy and fulfillmentmade me quite jealous, but I just didn’t see the answer—though itwas right in front of me.
AnotherChristian was a man who tirelessly preached in front of the CalBerkeley campus, “Holy Hubert” Lindsey, the original red hairedand freckled “Alfalfa” of the TV special, OurGang.Scores ofBerkeley hippies and bystanders were converted because Lindseypreached and prayed faithfully in the face of much opposition.Unfortunately he died many years later, in 2003, from the manyinjuries inflicted by his persecutors. God was certainly reachingout to me through these unusual circumstances, but I was unwilling tosurrender. The current political correctness was enjoying its infancyin those days. A popular saying was, “Do your own thing as long asit doesn’t hurt anyone.” I imbibed this attitude and was soldout to the lifestyle and mind-set of the sixties.
Eventhough I had been offered matchless wisdom, all I could see was myown agenda. Faith would have unlocked the golden door to theincredible richness described in Matthew 13:16-17: “But blessed areyour eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, Isay to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see whatyou see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did nothear it.” Instead, my friends and I floated on a sea of relativism,refusing to consider the possibility of moral absolutes or doctrinalboundaries—especially anything that breathed normalcy, like theChristian faith. We were not full-fledged hippies, only because westill retained some remnants of decency and social responsibilityfrom our family background. For this moral heritage and for theirlong-suffering patience, I owe my parents a considerable debt ofgratitude.
WhenMaharishi Mahesh Yogi, a guru from India, brought Transcendental Meditation to the United States, it took the Berkeley campus bystorm. Disillusioned with drugs as a means to altered awareness, manyyoung people were looking for a safer alternative. We really believedthe claim that within five years of practicing TM we would reachenlightenment. We were told that if we became TM teachers ourprogress would be quicker. The irresistible bait was the promise thatsuch a state of consciousness would free us from all suffering. Iswallowed the lure without question.
Unlikeregimens requiring hours of concentration or a change of lifestyle,TM’s appeal was its easy accommodation to the tempo of modern life.For me, TM promised to meet a need that all the benefits of educationand a high standard of living had not fulfilled. And certainly anundisciplined life had not brought me any closer to knowing who Iwas. They say hindsight is always perfect. I understand now thehollowness of the claims that were made. It is so much wiser to fullyinspect the details before embarking on some new spiritual journey.But then, we were young, idealistic, and impatient for answers.
Myfirst TM experience made me feel very relaxed and high, and I waselated that this could be had without drugs. I was very devoted to mytwice daily meditations, attended meetings regularly, and generallyenjoyed my life as a meditator. Maharishi first promoted TM as a fiveyear plan to Bliss Consciousness. TM was promoted as a simple meansto stress reduction, but it was much more than that. I began to seethere was a deep spiritual element pervading every aspect of thepractice.
SproulPlaza on the Berkeley campus was a place where political or spiritualgroups could meet and promote their programs. One day I was drawn toa group of Christians who had set up a table in the open square. Theyseemed to have the look, that ‘mellow look,’ that made me thinkthey were meditators. When I asked if they meditated, they showed mesome scriptures from the Bible that I never knew existed, quotes ofJesus like:
“Allwho ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but My sheep did nothear them”(John10:8
“Iam the way, the truth, and the life. No man can come to the Fatherexcept through Me”(John 14:6).
Thisdid give me pause to think. These were not the words of anarrow-minded fanatic. They were spoken by Jesus Himself. I began toread my Bible in an effort to find a unity between TM andChristianity, but such effort left me in frustration. So I did theonly thing that made sense to me at the time, and that was to put myBible back on the shelf and to continue TM.
Becominga TM Instructor
Inan effort to speed up my progress toward cosmic consciousness, Ienrolled in a teacher training course in Fiuggi, Italy, underMaharishi Mahesh Yogi. There were about 2,000 of us from all over theworld. We memorized the TM initiation ceremony in English as well asSanskrit, and meditated sometimes as much as 12 hours a day. We would“round off” our meditations with breathing exercises, called“pranayama,”and yoga postures, called “asanas.”
Atthis course Maharishi unveiled his “World Plan.” His goal was toestablish one TM teacher for every 1,000 inhabitants in order tobring about world peace. This would be arranged under the auspices of8,000 appointed “Peace Keeping Experts” in major cities acrossthe U.S. It might be likened to a spiritual shadow governmentexerting psychic influence It seemed like aplan that would help bring harmony around the globe. But afterwards,I overheard one teacher trainee saying, “This World Plan had betterbe right or we’re all in BIG trouble!”
Weteachers were never to teach TM without the Puja (the Sanskritinitiation ceremony). Though it was not apparent to newcomers, thisis actually a declaration of worship offered to various Hindu godsand goddesses, as well as TM’s honored lineage of gurus. Forinstance, part of the Pujatranslates:
Tothe Lord Narayana, to lotus-born Brahma the Creator, to Vashishtha,to Shakti and his son Parashar, to Vyasa, to Shukadeva, to the greatGaudapada, to Govinda, ruler among the yogis, to his disciple, ShriShankaracharya, to his disciples Padma Pada and Hasta Malaka andTrotakacharya and Vartika-Kara, to others, to the tradition of ourMaster, I bow down…offering an ablution to the lotus feet of ShriGuru Dev, I bow down.
Severalof the most revered gods in Hinduism are mentioned right at thestart: Lord Narayana (another name for Vishnu), Brahma and Govinda(another name for Krishna). Shri Guru Dev was Maharishi’s mentor.So unknown to novices in the movement, during the initiation, aconsecration to Hindu deities and a psychic link to the Hindutradition of departed masters, represented by Maharishi, isestablished. The Pujais not merely a polite ceremony to honor the tradition, which is theexcuse for requiring it.
Thoughit is claimed that TM will make one a better Buddhist, Christian, orany other religion, the philosophy behind the practice of TM stillconflicts with the basic values of the Judeo-Christian world view, aswell as other faiths that do not acknowledge these deities orsubscribe to their worship. In an earlier book, Maharishi evenadmitted this connection when explaining the mantras TMers are given:
"Forour practice, we select only the suitable mantras of personal gods.Such mantras fetch to us the grace of personal gods and make ushappier in every walk of life."
Itis interesting to note that Jesus taught against the use of “vain”or “meaningless repetitions,” but instead encouraged hisdisciples to pray with a fully alert mind in a two-way communicationwith God through His Spirit (Matthew 6:7 KJV, NASB). This does notinvolve shutting down the mind or altering the consciousness in anyway. Moreover, Jesus passionately upheld the truth of the TenCommandments, the first of which declared that there is only one Godand that none should be worshipped but Him—no god, no goddess, noguru—NONE!
Atthe teacher training course many complained about the negativesymptoms they were experiencing, but the leaders said these reactionswere merely due to a process of “unstressing.” Of course, thisexplanation is not very convincing or comforting for the one goingthrough distress. Some scientific studies have concluded that whatoccurs in TM is actually the result of a conditioningof the nervous system rather than removal of stress. It has beenshown that TM lessens—not increases—creativity in the wakingstate.There are many studies that try to prove the benefits of TM, but notsurprisingly, many are conducted by TM meditators themselves.
“JustAsk Them In”
Onenight an evil spirit tried to take possession of me. This was not adream or figment of my imagination; it was a real, powerful beingwith the intention of taking complete control of me. I could feel itputting pressure all over my body, and it was very frightening.Someone asked Maharishi, “What do you do if you see a demon?” towhich he replied, “Just ask it in.” On another occasion heconceded that if a demon tries to force itself upon you, resist itand it will leave. So the teaching was not always consistent.Providentially I chose to resist. The Hindu tradition does notrecognize the very real conflict between good and evil, as theChristian faith teaches. Because of my early commitment to Christ, Iknew I should resist evil. However, others on the course did not fareso well. One acquaintance of mine told me that she had personalknowledge of an entire wing of a psych ward that was filled with TMpractitioners who had flipped out.
Aftermy return from the teacher training course in Fiuggi, my sense ofspiritual emptiness grew. I also observed a lack of love in myselfand other meditators. I kept hearing about suicides and divorces,especially among the teachers who had gone in for the longermeditations. I personally witnessed a suicide attempt in themeditators’ house where I lived in Berkeley. The woman, who hadrecently come back from the teacher training course, was looking fora pair of scissors so she could kill herself. She kept screaming andcrying for a long time.
Obviously,some of the extreme changes brought about through TM or Yoga go waybeyond what is referred to as “relaxation.” Many meditatorsexperienced astral travel, visitation of spirits, psychic awareness,and other manifestations. I began to be “awake” during my sleepstate, aware of the beginnings of astral travel. However, I alwayshad a concern—“What would happen if I “checked out” of mybody? Would someone or something else “check in” while I wasgone?” I have since concluded that allowing one’s mind to becomepassive (unattended) is like a country failing to properly guard itsborders from foreign invaders. In TM there is something called the“blackout phenomenon” where one goes blank and can’t rememberanything during that time. For me, this virtual ‘black hole’experience could last anywhere from a few seconds to an hour.
Oncesomeone has been practicing TM for awhile, they are eligible to takethe “Yogic Flying” program. Surprisingly, not everyone who takesup this practice belongs to the “lunatic fringe.” Some arerecognized names in media, business, and politics. The course seemedway too expensive, not to mention ludicrous. No one to my knowledgehas ever been able to fly. My original mantra cost $35, but today itis a whopping $2,500. Advanced techniques can run as much as$100,000. One video course is said to cost a cool million dollars.When Maharishi was asked by a cynical member in his audience how TMwould help the poor in India, he responded, “They will be hungry,but they will be happy.” The mission Jesus gave to His disciples tofeed the hungry and heal the sick provides an interesting and starkcontrast.
Thedeeper I went with TM, the more my faith in Christ just kept gettinglost in the archives. Someone once asked me if I were a Christian,because they thought I looked like a believer. I replied that I wasnot a Christian, but rather a Hindu or Buddhist. The conditioningprocess of twice daily repetition of the mantra had brought about adistancing from my early Christian roots and the embracing of a NewAge concept of God as an impersonal energy or force permeatingeverything. I had turned away from the understanding of God asCreator, Savior, and Friend.
Inspite of my commitment to the goals of TM, however, I saw many thingsfrom the inside of the TM movement that I found disturbing. Forinstance, we were required to hide the Hindu/spiritual nature of thepractice from the public because ostensibly most people would not beready for advanced levels of consciousness and would only find itconfusing. Therefore, we had to operate by stealth, AKA “the endsjustify the means.” Every time I presented TM as merely scientific,I knew I was lying. One may protest, “Well, I’m just doing TM (orits counterpart Hatha Yoga) for the physical benefits.” Themanaging editor of HinduismTodayis not so naive.In his article “Hinduism is the Soul of Yoga,” he says, “AChristian trying to adapt these practices will likely disrupt theirown Christian beliefs.”
Evidentlyall was not bliss in the ranks of TM meditators, especially amongthose in the higher echelons To be honest, the more I continued topractice TM, the more negative character traits I saw in myself. Iwas becoming increasingly proud, aloof, and insensitive to the needsof others. TM acted as a sort of anesthesia, “numbing down” myconscience and hiding problems that really needed attention. While Iwas under the illusion that I was becoming a very “evolved”person, the sad truth is that I needed a change of heart.As the saying goes, “You can’t see the flies in your eyes becauseyou have flies in your eyes.” Mind numbing meditations wereaffecting my ability to distinguish simple truth from obvious error.
Myyearning for spiritual fulfillment and my dissatisfaction with thelack of integrity I saw in the TM movement caused me to look outsidethe confines of the TM organization to see what other groups had tooffer. While many people have found transformation through the plainpreaching of the Gospel, God chose a non-traditional approach withme. I met a psychic on the Berkeley campus who had dabbled inChristianity. He held some classes and led us in a unique method of“calling on the Name of the Lord.”
WhileI am not recommending this as a correct spiritual technique, God usedit in my life. First, we were told to tune into the psychic orspiritual fields of spiritual leaders such as Mohammed and Buddha.Then we called upon the names of some friends. Finally he said tocall on the name of Jesus, the “Name above all Names.” He saidthat God loves us and will respond to our call, as a loving fatherwould to his children. He said the Creator would free us from thebondage of the created world. There was a clear distinction betweenCreator and creation. The Godhead was not to be confused with a “lifeforce,” although His power created the world and continues toinfluence it. So in addition to doing my silent TM, I called on Jesusand would say prayerful statements like, “Oh Lord Jesus,” “Jesustouch me,” “Jesus fill me,” “Jesus save me,” or simply“Jesus.” There is incredible power in His Nname! We were told tocall to Him from our heart. If God is love, like a loving parent Hewould certainly respond to a child crying out to Him.
Aftercalling on the Name of Jesus for a week, verbally and out loud—notsilently like my mantra—my ego began to feel punier and I wonderedif I was losing my “enlightenment.” I reasoned that the power inthis Name was greater than the power of the mantra, so I pressed onand didn’t give up even when I felt my foundations shaking. I wantto make it clear that I had come to a point in my life where I waswilling to do anything to find God! I would lay down all mypreconceptions, hopes, and desires, with only one burning desire, toKNOW HIM! God has promised, “Youshall find Me when you seek for Me with all of your heart”(Jeremiah 29:13).
Duringthis time I often visited with the Hare Krishna group as they sat onthe lawn of the Berkeley campus. Their leader (who I felt was a verydevout and honest man) told me he thought I was following a deceptivepath. He said that the TM organization teaches that God is already inus, but they worship Krishna who is separate from them. To illustratehis point, he presented an analogy: “Picture a green bird sittingin a green tree. The bird does not become the tree, but remains abird.” This made perfect sense to me. I had never felt comfortablewith the idea that God is an impersonal force or energy. Being aworshipper of God seemed so much truer than wanting to BE God. Andthis was closer to the Christian view of being created in the imageof God. It’s just that I couldn’t quite relate to their godKrishna, represented as a little blue man with a flute. My parentsweren’t blue, I wasn’t blue, and I certainly hoped God wasn’tblue.
Afterawhile the Hare Krishna leader began to read from their sacred Hindutext, the BhagavadGita.Suddenly hestopped. He looked intently at me and said, “You are going to findGod because you are sincere.” His voice seemed magnified like amegaphone, and something inside of me began to break free. I knowthis was unusual, but God can speak any way He chooses. Then I heardthese words from the text: “God has three infinite aspects:Knowledge, Power, and Bliss.”I had a burning sense that something of monumental importance wasimminent.
Beforereturning to my apartment, I was standing outside the Student Uniontalking with some friends. As I looked across at some trees, Inoticed with utter astonishment that somehow they appeared to beclapping their hands in the wind. I did a reality check, and sureenough the trees seemed to be praising God. I was unaware of theBible verse that says, “Foryou shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountainsand the hills shall break forth into singing before you. And all thetrees of the field shall clap their hands”(Isaiah 55:12).
Backin my apartment I randomly pulled a book out of the bookcase whichfell open to these words, “Godhas three infinite aspects: Knowledge, Power, and Bliss.”I was stunned! That night I wanted to commemorate such an amazingday by saying the Lord’s Prayer, which in itself would have been ahuge change in my life. When I got to the part that says, “ForThine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory,”there was a powerful burst of brilliant white light which shook me tothe core. Immediately I remembered the words, “Knowledge,Power, and Bliss.”
Thefollowing night I removed all pictures of gurus and spiritual mastersfrom my walls except one: the Lord Jesus. I had concluded that I onlyneeded one Master. This picture was approximately six feet from mybed. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. My yogi friend stoodthere and asked if I would join him in calling on the Name of theLord, as we had done many times before. Shortly after we started,something totally unexpected happened.
Theheavenly light of God’s inimitable glory descended from above and Ifelt lifted into a timeless, eternal space. I don’t know how long Iwas in this state, because I lost all sense of time and feltweightless. It was as though I were a child, full of wonder and awe.Cords of bondage previously unknown to me were released as wave afterwave of the purest love unimaginable poured through every fiber of mybeing. There was a sense of freedom and release that I had neverexperienced in all my years of TM and Yoga. My friend saw this, butsaid he did not experience it himself, after which he lookedstrangely afraid.
WhenI returned to my bedroom, the picture of Jesus had amazingly changedits location and wasnow right beside my pillow. A vision of something like a flaming dartpierced my heart with a love that was unconditional, permanent, andtotally undeserved. This amazing love changed me forever. By placingthis picture right beside my pillow, God was sending me theundeniable message that He is the Friend who will always “stickcloser than a brother”(Proverbs 18:24). I knew I had a secure relationship with Him thatnothing could take away.
Asa result of this breakthrough, the Word of God, the Bible, became acompass of spiritual direction and living inspiration for me. The TMmantra no longer held the same power or attraction. Instead itbrought negative results, so I stopped. The power of Jesus and Hisprecious name threw light on everything dark and sinful in my life,and His love truly set me free!
Ironically,I became a “Jesus freak” in the eyes of others. Humbled, butundaunted, I relished every opportunity to share Jesus with themisguided and wandering souls where I lived. I did go through what Irefer to as my ‘white period’ in which I wore beads and whiteclothes because I thought they had pure vibes. I didn’t realizethat outward trappings don’t have a thing to do with purity.Nevertheless, God used it to disarm a lot of spiritual seekers whootherwise would have kept a ‘safe’ distance from me. During thistime a friend of mine and I visited some ashrams and yoga centers. Wewould ask them if they would like to experience Jesus for themselves,and most of the time they responded favorably. After all, they calledon the names of gods and spirit guides all the time. It shouldn’tbe considered too strange to call on the One who claimed to be theCreator manifested in human form. Several of them were radicallychanged.
GraduallyI came to understand the difference between true salvation and cosmicconsciousness, psychic power and spiritual. But Jesus did notdisappoint my desire for the supernatural! Right from the start ofthis new life, I experienced many divine touches and miracles of God,including a dramatic, fully documented healing of my own spine. Ofcourse, the greatest miracle of transformation occurred in thesanctuary of my heart.
Thereis no greater way of summing up this account than to quote anappropriate passage from my compass, the Bible:
TheLord says, “I will rescue those who love Me.
Iwill protect those who trust in My name.
When they call onMe, I will answer;
I will bewith them in trouble.
I willrescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a longlife
and givethem Mysalvation.” (Psalms91:14-16 NLT)
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