Danbury — It is a movement that has influenced Hollywood types ranging from shock jock Howard Stern to the guy who plays the dad on the wholesome television show "7th Heaven."
Its leaders have opened countless enlightenment centers, a university — heck, they've even founded their own city.
The movement is the Global Country of World Peace, headed by an Indian guru now in his 90s, and it's coming to Danbury. Maybe.
For three months, Terry and Bernie Nevas hjave searched greater Danbury for a place to build a Maharishi Peace Palace — a place where people can learn and practice transcendental meditation, a technique made famous by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a guru who once served as spiritual guide to The Beatles.
The Nevases, a married couple from Weston, are part of an international movement led by the Maharishi to spread peace, transcendental meditation and ancient teachings from India around the globe.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Maharishi gave his followers a mission: to build 2,400 Peace Palaces in the United States and 3,000 palaces worldwide.
The idea is to have powerful, positive, peaceful vibes flow out of the Peace Palaces and into the surrounding communities, therefore making the world a more peaceful place.
"What we're offering is all kinds of peace-creating technologies. That means peace for the individual and peace for the environment. Transcendental meditation is the primary technique that we teach," Terry Nevas said.
Practitioners repeat a mantra silently to reach a state of deep relaxation and pure consciousness. Studies have shown this reduces blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, and even strengthens the immune system.
Not everyone, however, is fond of the Maharishi. In fact, some say he's the "charismatic leader" of a sprawling group that treats him like a god.
The Maharishi controls a vast business and real estate empire worth $3 billion to $5 billion, according to various news reports, though some estimates place the empire's worth as high as $9 billion.
Rick Ross, a cult expert who runs the Rick Ross Institute in New Jersey and its associated Web site, said the Peace Palace effort is nothing more than a way for the Maharishi to make money on real estate.
"Many of these proposed Peace Palaces never come to fruition. Much of Maharishi's vast fortune is in real estate investments," Ross said.
"Frequently what he does is buy and hold properties. Eventually he'll dump it and make some money that way."
The two-story, 12,000-square-foot Peace Palace is envisioned as an enlightenment center where people can practice transcendental meditation, relax in a "Maharishi spa," take classes in "Maharishi consciousness-based education" or purchase a book on "Raam Raj organic clothing."
While Terry and Bernie Nevas are running ads in newspapers that claim the palace is "to be built in Danbury," they've yet to find suitable land.
Finding a spot for a Maharishi Peace Palace isn't easy.
The Maharishi gives specific requirements governing what type of land is suitable. The land can't be too close to high-tension wires or graveyards. Also, the land can't have large hills that block rays from the east side of the building for more than 12 minutes after the sun comes up.
That last requirement is proving to be a real pain in the neck for the effort to spread peace locally.
The Nevases hope to construct two buildings — one for women, the other for men. They had their eyes on some land in New Milford, but too many hills blocked the horizon.
They've also looked in Ridgefield and Danbury.
"The topography of Danbury is very difficult. There are hills all over the place," Terry Nevas said.
The Maharishi, through myriad non-profit corporations such as the Global Country of World Peace and the Maharishi Vedic Education Development Corp., owns land all over the United States.
The Maharishi International University was founded in 1973 in Fairfield, Iowa. It later changed its name to the Maharishi University of Management.
In 2001, Maharishi followers incorporated Maharishi Vedic City, five miles away from the university. All buildings in the burgeoning town are built according to the principles of Vedic architecture, which is akin to feng shui. The structures use only nontoxic materials and solar energy.
Robert Phipps, executive vice president of the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce, said the "meditators" have transformed the Fairfield area into a haven for artists, artisans and entrepreneurs.
"I would not say it is a cult," Phipps said. "They have had a tremendous effect on this city."
In Hamden, five acres of land purchased by the Nevases will hold the state's first Peace Palace. The application was approved by Hamden officials, and the Nevases are busy entertaining bids from contractors.
To secure money for the project, the Nevases are asking developers to finance the project, then allow Global Country of World Peace to lease the property for a few years until the organization can purchase it outright.
They are looking in greater Danbury for interested builders.
Maharishi Peace Palaces have already built in Bethesda, Md., Vedic City and Lexington, Ky.
Reba Wall lives in Lexington, three miles from a Maharishi Peace Palace that opened in 2003. It is near several corporate parks.
"I see their picture in the paper quite often about things they do there," Wall said. "All I know is that it looks very pretty when you pass it. It spreads a long way out and they have a lot of land around it."
Terry Nevas said transcendental meditation is not a religion and the Peace Palace plan isn't a scam.
"It is a technique," she said. "It's taught the same way to everyone. It doesn't matter what religion you are. It's a simple, natural technique to learn."
She said U.S. residents are becoming more receptive to eastern philosophies such as yoga and transcendental meditation.
"People are more accepting of things that come from other cultures."