David Lynch is the new face of Transcendental Meditation

A Montreal filmmaker’s new documentary examines the enigmatic director in his role as the yogi’s heir

The Yogi’s enigmatic heir

Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Taylor Shute

There’s no ordinary way to meet David Lynch. For Montreal filmmaker Sebastian Lange, that was definitely the case. In 2008, Lange was in India for the funeral of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement. It was there, on the Ganges River, that he met the man who would introduce him to Lynch, the famed filmmaker known for his eccentricity. Camera in hand, Lange was among hundreds of people in wooden rowboats waiting to witness the scattering of the maharishi’s ashes.

“I began hopping from boat to boat to get a better shot,” Lange recalls. He found himself face to face with Bobby Roth, one of the key spokespeople for TM, and a long-time teacher and practitioner. That led to an introduction on the Ganges to Lynch, one of several celebrities who have been trained in TM technique.

Lange decided that Lynch’s new role as a public face of TM would make a fascinating documentary. The result is Transformation, which Lange is currently editing and aims to have ready for the fall film festival circuit. For the past four years, Lange travelled with Lynch across North America, Europe and Asia, capturing his passionate lectures about the TM movement and its profound impact on his life.

This is not the first film to explore Lynch’s connection to TM. In 2010, German filmmaker David Sieveking released David Wants to Fly, a feature-length documentary that was critical both of TM and Lynch himself. In the film, Sieveking interviewed subjects who charged that the TM movement bilked followers of their money and that the maharishi was a womanizer. Lange dismisses the documentary as “shallow and sensational.”

Much of the aura around TM remains mysterious; while popular celebrities—everyone from the Beatles to Oprah Winfrey—have embraced meditation, many TM followers also believe in yogic flying, in which practitioners manage to levitate. Lange doesn’t believe in the levitation (“I’ve seen the YouTube videos, they’re just hopping,” he says). “The stereotypes about the TM movement, both perceived and projected, don’t interest me. It’s the humanity behind the scenes that I find compelling,” he says.

As a child, Lange’s family moved from Canada to Fairfield, Iowa, where Lange was taught in a TM school with twice daily meditation sessions. Lange, now 40, left TM as a young adult. “I lost touch with the TM community when I graduated from high school,” he explains. “I wanted to pursue my interests in photography and theatre, so I moved to New York.”

Lynch started practising TM in 1973 upon the advice of his sister, Martha. “I’d been looking into many forms of meditation when my sister called and told me she had started TM,” Lynch says via email. “I liked what she told me based on what I’d learned about other techniques. And most importantly, I heard a change in her voice—more self assuredness, more happiness. I said, ‘This Transcendental Meditation is for me.’ ”

After hearing Lynch speak about TM seven years ago, Roth approached the filmmaker about becoming involved in fundraising and proselytizing. Together they founded the David Lynch Foundation, which raises money to train at-risk groups, including inner-city youth, how to meditate. Lynch has largely filled the gap created when the maharishi died, becoming the public face of TM.

But while celebrity interest and endorsement can draw attention, it also brings cynicism. If TM devotees are attempting to dispel the mystery and enigma around TM, Lynch may seem an unusual choice, given that the man behind such surreal epics as Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks is renowned for being mysterious and enigmatic. Lange says it’s this complexity that makes Lynch the perfect subject for a documentary feature, and a lens through which to explore TM. He describes Lynch as “friendly, unaffected and sincere. Enigmatic, yes. This seeming contradiction between his dark films and total commitment to TM, these are the qualities that imbue him with a very human dimension and complexity.”


David Lynch is the new face of Transcendental Meditation

  1. No one in the TM organization claims the ability as of yet to be able to levitate. And what’s with the picture of Maharishi on the “money” carpet? Quite silly.

  2. Nice topic but: It’s really ridiculous that you have Maharishi floating on a dollar bill and what you’re trying to suggest by that is baseless — no one in the TM organization, including Maharishi, was ever in it for the money and no one, including Maharishi, ever profited financially from TM. All the money has always gone to help more people learn meditation, and hundreds of thousands have learned for free. the technique of yogic flying is not about “believing” in levitation, it’s about creating more EEG coherence, and the lifting of the body is almost inconsequential. 

    one thing is certain, the ‘David Wants To Fly” film is a joke — shallow and sensationalistic indeed. 

  3. Yeah, why Maharishi on the dollar bill? People  just can’t resist the stereotypes. Maharishi was a monk and a genuine spiritual teacher. He had very few possessions. Any money that came in was used 
    to teach TM throughout the world and for research on the benefits of TM. Maharishi was the real deal, but the media can’t see past the eastern guru stereotype. 

  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFfQuCGU0ZQ this video explains the TM position on Yogic Flying perfectly… including the fact that they do NOT consider it flying or levitating at all, it’s just sort of a ‘catch phrase’ for the exercise.
    Furthermore, why question the monetization of TM?  Does anyone question the monetization of pharmaceuticals?  And, TM actually works!  Just look at the research of Harvard Associate Professor of medicine Howard Benson.  Now Benson tries to simplify the technique of TM with an alternate method, but the bulk of his research that scientifically proved that meditation had healing effects on the body was done on TMr’s.  

    I’m not shy about saying that TM changed my life, and the cost associated is roughly equivalent to three months of antidepressants and blood pressure meds.

  5. Haha, away we go… with the usual contingent of TM-supportive commenters with their “how dare you even insinuate there’s anything wrong with TM or Maharishi” attitude.

    Guest: the ability (or not) to levitate was long kept under relative secrecy and ambiguity, particularly back in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s when so-called “yogic flying” was never, ever done in public. This transcript of a TM movement spokesperson contains a number of examples of what was being said at the time: “When one’s consciousness is completely developed then one could levitate.” Nothing has changed since then, TM and the rest of the TM program’s practices are supposedly all about “developing consciousness” in some way unknown to either science or common sense so this silly exercise in extremely wishful thinking is still the point. That is, the announced goal of the TM movement (creating a so-called “Heaven on Earth” aka “World Peace” aka the Vedic religious/theocratic paradise of Sat Yuga) includes all sorts of otherworldly phenomena like levitation; check out the movement’s animated “Heaven is Descending” video for a small hint of what the TM movement’s leaders want the world to look like.

    Hi, Tammy! I already know throwing facts in your direction is a guaranteed exercise in futility, but for those willing to look beyond the TM marketing façade, there is the small matter of 43 million dollars having been shipped from one of the US TM charities to India for the construction of as many as 100 schools run by Maharishi’s nephew. These are analogous to parochial schools, effectively a primary education system run by a Vedic sect connected to the TM movement, and in which TM is practiced. Those schools, along with a network of various businesses in India, were the actual product of Maharishi’s work in the Western world – effectively reversing colonial capital flows back to India. That $43 million is what is easily documented, certainly there were rumors of large amounts of cash flowing internationally from the proceeds of TM teaching and courses back in the day, and today various elements of the global TM movement still have many millions, if not billions, of dollars tied up in real estate holdings globally. The diversion of whether or not this wealth accrued to individuals is not the point, though clearly, there’s little doubt that the people who run these enterprises are relatively well off.

    There’s a whole back end to the TM movement that is never mentioned to prospective meditators, centering on a bunch of crazy guys in royal robes and crowns, led by an honest-to-goodness king, that thinks they’re going to bring about “world peace” if they just get enough people to do the right sets of mental gyrations, of dubious effectiveness, but obviously with a distinctly religious doctrine underlying it all. In the middle of this is a whole pile of real estate holdings, business enterprises, and mad craziness (such as “Vedic agriculture” which is, basically, singing to plants). All of it is best avoided for one’s sanity, or to avoid having one’s wallet needlessly lightened.

  6. Looking forward to the film. However, I think filmmaker Lange might want to consider a more specific, “enigmatic” worthy title than the generic sounding TRANSFORMATION. Does not do the film’s subject justice.

  7. This idea  of “David Lynch as the new Maharishi” is only the story if you are the celebrity obsessed purveyor of western oriented superficialities. More than 2/3rds of those currently enrolled in TM programs in schools, military academies, monasteries and prisons around the world were paid for by parents or the institutions themselves and not by the David Lynch Foundation.
    Also the salary of one of the top people in the teaching organization is public knowledge , he has a salary that could only be likened to a stipend compared to people in comparable NGOs or University heads
    Also money that went to fund schools in India is exactly furthering the stated aims of the organisation.

  8. David Lynch is just another TM meditator who is inspired by his experiences with Tm and the TM-Sidhis program and, who is also inspired by his association with Maharishi.  david, a no nonsense kind of guy..tels itas he sees it in avery innocent, charming manner.  He has given a great deal of his time, energy and financial resources to help others benefit from TM..it’s just that simple. 
     As for Maharshi…every moment of his life was devoted “completely” to bringing the knowledge he received from his master…a Vedic Tradition master..to as many people as possible, so that suffering was minimized and happiness maximized..it’s that simple.  The details of how he went about this are commonly misconstrued based on the consciousness/perspective of the observer…so what else is new. Personally..after 40 years of doing TM…i’m very grateful for the experience….very.  Thank you David Lynch…Thank you. Maharshi.

  9. See http://www.belfastpeacelineproject.org  This wonderful project in Northern Ireland is an example of  how Maharishi and the David Lynch Foundation are quietly and practicialy helping create peace and reconciliation in Ireland.  This is a very real, very practical, down to earth project to bring together the divided communities in a school for the performing arts.  

  10. Sounds like an interesting project and I look forward to checking it out. I ‘ve read about some of the programs The David Lynch Foundation is involved in. Teaching TM to at risk kids and our vets – with amazing results for them –  good news doesn’t get better than this.

  11. I’ve bee looking at TM lately and can’t help wonder why this brand name is $1500 and other meditation programs are $50 in my local market.

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