Maharishi's group announces plans for university, school in Lancaster

Worcester Telegram & Gazette/February 16, 2006
By Jason Feifer

Lancaster— Followers of a transcendental meditation movement plan to open a grade school and university in town, expanding upon a health center they’ve operated there since 1985.

When complete, the current Maharishi Ayur-Veda Medical Center will be joined by 13 new buildings. They would serve between 30 and 50 students from kindergarten to Grade 12, up to 500 students working on degrees, and about 100 staff members, according to Gregory Spitzfaden, director of the Maharishi group’s New England Reconstruction Office.

The health center sits on 217 acres of land off George Hill Road. The new buildings would use about 40 acres, Mr. Spitzfaden said.

“All the staff and students would live in these buildings, which are designed to enhance the creativity and good fortune and mental clarity of the people who are living and working and studying in them,” Mr. Spitzfaden said.

The organization is made up of followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a controversial guru who promotes a wide range of healing and meditation practices. His group claims the methods are scientifically tested, but many critics claim otherwise.

The group has two universities in Iowa, as well as a full town devoted to its teachings there. The proposed university in Lancaster would be the group’s first American school site outside of Iowa.

The Lancaster project is part of a larger expansion plan for the Maharishi’s followers, according to Mr. Spitzfaden. The group also wants to build a university on property it owns in Antrim, N.H., as well as 28 “Peace Palaces” across New England. The palaces would be buildings dedicated to practicing the Maharishi’s teachings.

The group has not run into any opposition in town, according to Lancaster Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco. It has met the initial zoning requirements, he said.

Mr. Spitzfaden said he hopes construction will begin by the spring.

But the announced plan doesn’t guarantee the new school will ever be built, according to Rick A. Ross of the New Jersey-based Rick A. Ross Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements. He said the Maharishi’s companies have a long history of announcing grandiose plans and not following through, or simply buying land in order to sell it for profit.

“Because of so many announced plans that never come to fruition, I’m deeply skeptical of what they say they’re going to do,” he said.

The Lancaster site was going to be sold in 2000 for a reported $14 million, but the deal eventually fell through.

The Maharishi’s movement has taken many forms since its inception in the 1950s, and has been bolstered by its affiliation with celebrities such as The Beatles. It began by promoting basic relaxation techniques, but has since grown to own and operate facilities across the world.

It has promoted its teachings as an antidote to the world’s ills, and claims to have decreased crime and terrorism. At its Web site,, it offers charts such as one claiming a correlation between three assemblies of followers and a reduction in global conflict.

Mr. Spitzfaden said the claims are all scientifically sound, but Mr. Ross believes otherwise.

“It’s a religious belief system,” Mr. Ross said. “It’s based on faith, not on facts.”

The Lancaster project is expected to cost about $30 million, according to Mr. Spitzfaden. He said his organization is lining up funding now.

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