Monkeys, Crows, and the Maharishi

Monkeys, Crows, and the Maharishi
In 1950, a group of scientists noticed an unusual occurrence on areas of land separated by ocean. Both islands had monkey populations, but the two tribes, if you will, were unable to communicate with each other because of the distance and physical barriers. Nonetheless, when occupants of one landmass started practicing behaviors en masse, the actions suddenly appeared on the second atoll. Named the Hundred Monkey theory, this idea was then popularized in 1975 by writer Ken Keyes. Unfortunately, because of the political views and of the writer, in addition to his lack of scientific rigor, scientists ceased studying the phenomenon.

Around the same time, an idea named the Maharishi Effect became part of the global conversation. This idea was named for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation. In 1960, he claimed that the effects of his style went far beyond individual improvement, and that a group of meditators could change the community around them. Sixteen years later, in 1974, an academic study looked at this idea, noting that meditation by one percent of the population lowered the crime rate in that area by sixteen percent. Since that time, science has gone back and forth on the true nature of the Maharishi Effect. Some studies have claimed to show a definite link between meditation and community improvement; others have derided the idea, stating that the studies lack basis in scientific rigor.
In 2011, more research was done in this area, this time with crows.

Scientists noted that the intelligent birds are able to distinguish between human faces and remember people. In particular, angry crows were able to hold and share grudges. A few displeased crows apparently communicated their anger to other crows, passing the mood across their community. What’s more, the children of these crows soon shared the mood, although they had never witnessed the original incident. This group of studies has followed scientific protocol, and researchers are still building onto the original theories.

What does all of this mean to individual meditators? Although the first two ideas have not been borne out by rigorous scientific scrutiny, they have given rise to the idea that our individual actions, whether in the public or private eye, have repercussions. Does this seem obvious? Let us then take the idea a step further. Although we think of our meditation time as self-care, might it not impact the greater world around us?

On a common sense level, we know that our moods are communicable. Think about the pay it forward idea. If I do a favor for someone and improve his, her, or their quality of life, that person is then in a position to continue the transmission of well-being. We know that meditation helps individuals to be more calm, centered, and able to work on their own samskaras, or character defects. This makes them more able to positively influence their communities. Might it be true, although not yet scientifically understood, that our meditation practices can indeed change the world?

If you are upset about something around you, so the saying goes, changing it has become part of your obligation to the world. If we are upset about global issues, we need to do what we can financially and politically to make the world a better place. In addition, we should understand our meditation time as part of the greater good. Whether because of its influence on our actions, or because of its metaphysical effect on the world at large, meditation can indeed help.

You Should Also Read:
Demystifying Meditation
One Movement, One Breath

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