Because Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a popular style with some celebrity followers, people often want to understand the difference between Unified Mindfulness and TM.
But before we consider the differences, we want to affirm that there is no “right way” to practice meditation other than the way that works for you. Some people find TM helpful, and others find Unified Mindfulness helpful. Still others find both helpful. It’s essential for you to find a teacher you trust and a practice and approach that resonates with you.
This is not a competition. You can do both TM and Unified Mindfulness. Many people do, and we’ll make clear how that’s possible.
What Is Transcendental Meditation?
To understand the difference between Unified Mindfulness and TM, it’s helpful to understand the origins of TM.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, there is a long tradition of using what’s called a “mantra” to practice meditation. The mantra is most strongly associated with Vajrayana Buddhism, which is the form of practice prevalent in Tibet. You choose, or are given, a word or sound to repeat out loud or to yourself. Repeating this word or sound for a period of time each day is a simple yet powerful way to strengthen your concentration.
TM is considered a Shamatha practice, which means it’s designed to calm the mind.
Put simply, TM is mantra practice. You’re given a mantra and a system of accountability, which includes your TM instructor and the TM community within which you maintain your practice.
No mantra is inherently more special than any other, despite what some teachers of TM may claim. According to the research of Harvard Dr. Herbert Benson, there is no unique power present in any particular TM mantra. A positive affirmation you make up yourself can be just as powerful as any mantra you are given, as long as the mantra provides you with a sense of being supported by something greater than yourself.
You can achieve the same results as people have for thousands of years by choosing your own mantra and practicing diligently with it.
The value of meditation lies in how it positively and permanently affects your life. It is not to be found in any particular state that you may achieve temporarily, and it’s advisable to be wary of claims that emphasize special states. What makes any practice effective is how consistently you practice it and how you are supported in your practice. It’s important to have a system of accountability when you begin practicing and a technique you’re motivated to do. So, if you enjoy a trusting relationship with the TM teacher who provided your mantra and acts as your support, then, by all means, go for it. You’ll develop concentration and calm, which is a great place to start; for some people this translates into profound insight over time.
How Does Unified Mindfulness Differ?
Unified Mindfulness is a particular style of mindfulness meditation that encompasses every contemplative tradition available in the world. In addition to being a standalone practice, Unified Mindfulness is designed so that anyone can seamlessly integrate it with whatever form of meditation they already practice.
Unified Mindfulness emphasizes three attention skills: Concentration Power, Sensory Clarity, and Equanimity. These three skills can be developed while focusing on anything, including a mantra.
In my years as a trainer in the Unified Mindfulness system, I’ve encountered many people with a background in TM who have no trouble integrating the two styles. The report I hear most often is that they turned to Unified Mindfulness when their TM practice stalled.
Here Are Some Basic Differences:
In TM you practice only by focusing on a mantra.
While a mantra focus is an option in the Unified Mindfulness system, you don’t typically start your practice by focusing on a mantra. In Unified Mindfulness, you start by exploring all your senses and then focus in on anything you choose to develop your skills, including, but not limited to, a mantra, a physical sensation, a sound, a sight, an emotion, and so on.
TM emphasizes calming the mind.
Unified Mindfulness also offers techniques for calming the mind and/or body, but the emphasis is equally on insight. Insight leads to profound clarity, just as the word suggests. You know that moment a light bulb turns on in your head? That “aha” moment? Unified Mindfulness is designed to trigger that moment on a grand scale.
Calm can naturally lead to insight, which is why many approaches to meditation start simply with a mantra or breath practice, which are mainly intended to calm the mind. When the mind is busy and preoccupied, it’s difficult for wisdom and clarity to penetrate. On the other hand, if the insight aspect of meditation is never emphasized, students may not discover it on their own, even after they have learned to calm their mind.
So Unified Mindfulness integrates calming tools, such as labeling, into insight practice in order to ensure a complete practice. Unified Mindfulness also offers techniques specifically designed to further calm the mind and body. Knowing how to work with a range of conditions, such as how to be skillful with a noisy mind, makes insight more likely and accelerates our growth.
Overall, Unified Mindfulness offers a meditator more practice choices that suit his or her specific needs at any given time.
Why Do Both?
You may already have momentum going with your TM practice and feel connected to your TM teacher. You may want to keep things very simple, as many people do when they’re getting started with their meditation practice. These are valid reasons to stick with your current practice.
At the same time, you may now recognize how Unified Mindfulness can expand and evolve your practice. If so, feel free to do both. We’re here to support you in your practice, whatever form that takes. The key is for you to find an approach you’ll stick with—whatever that may be!
Photo by: Nickolai Kashirin