Does Transcendental Meditation Differ From Zen?

Zen meditation and other concentration techniques

Classic examples of concentration or controlled focus techniques are found in many venerated traditions of meditation — such as Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Yoga and Vedanta, though most types of meditation involve attempts to control the mind or to keep attention focused in a particular way. By holding awareness on an object of meditation — such as one’s breathing, physical or mental sensations or a candle flame — the meditator strives for insight, calmness, heightened awareness, improved focus, relaxation or other desired benefits. (Some Zen practices, such as Soto Zen, may fall under the category of "open monitoring.")
According to scientific research studies, the EEG signature of controlled focus or concentration is gamma waves (20-50 Hz), commonly associated with tasks involving focused attention.

The Transcendental Meditation technique involves no concentration, no mind control. It is a practice of "automatic self-transcending" with an EEG signature of frontal alpha coherence, which indicates relaxation and settled awareness. The TM technique is an effortless “non-doing” practice that enables the mind to settle inward spontaneously, beyond all mental activity, to the state of restful alertness, known as transcendental consciousness. As numerous scientific studies show, this unique state of silent, inner wakefulness provides profound relaxation, reduces anxiety and depression, helps normalize high blood pressure and leads to holistic benefits for mind, body and behavior.

Even though TM practice does not involve concentration, the technique is found to improve one’s ability to concentrate and focus after meditation — during daily activity — at the same time developing broader comprehension.

The TM technique provides the experience of the Transcendent — pure consciousness. This experience trains the human brain to function more coherently in daily life, so that the brain can support the state of fully awakened consciousness known as Enlightenment. In this way the Transcendental Meditation technique fulfills the aspirations of the world’s great traditions of meditation.


Concentration practices:
• Are forms of controlled focus
• Tend to keep the mind active, focused and localized on the object of meditation
• EEG signature: High frequency frontal gamma, indicating controlled focus (Proceedings National Academy of Sciences, 101,16369-73, 2004)
Not shown by research studies to consistently produce a state of deep relaxation
• Have not been shown by research to consistently reduce anxiety
• The practices are usually difficult to master — adherents often advise that success may take many years

The Transcendental Meditation technique:

• Automatic self-transcending

• Enables mental activity to subside as awareness itself broadens and becomes primary

• EEG signature: Widespread alpha coherence, indicating relaxation and settled awareness (
Consciousness and Cognition, 8, 302-318, 1999; Cognitive Processing 11:1 2010)

• Shown by research to provide physiological rest deeper than ordinary relaxation (
American Psychologist, [42] 879-81, 1987)

• Shown by research to significantly reduce anxiety (
Journal of Clinical Psychology [45] 957-974, 1989)

• Effortless — easy to learn and enjoyable to practice — and most people report immediate benefits

Read more about the three major categories of meditation techniques: