Pandits come for peace

Indian scholars move to Iowa and join hundreds more in meditating for prosperity and to heal conflict.

Des Moines Register/January 7, 2007
By Mile Kilen

Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa — Only in this southeastern Iowa community will you see hundreds of men in traditional white garb step off tour buses and line up to trek across the muddy fields.

The 385 pandits from India were inspecting their new modular homes, hooked up to utilities just last week and almost ready to occupy.

This is where they will live for two years or more as part of a mass movement to create world peace and prosperity through meditation.

These Indian pandits - scholars of Transcendental Meditation with three-year visas - are among 600 advanced-level meditators who began to arrive in late summer. Another 200 are expected to arrive in the next month.

They responded to a call from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of a Transcendental Meditation movement, as well as a university in Fairfield, Ia., that bears his name.

The maharishi invited all advanced meditators - so-called yogic flyers - to move to Iowa and meditate eight hours each day, a program he has developed to reduce conflict and aggression in a war-torn world.

He calls it Invincible America Assembly, his new-age shield against violence.

The arrival of the pandits has spurred a mini building boom in Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa's newest city north of Fairfield and the first city incorporated in 20 years.

Dozens of the Vedic pandits from India will move into 30 pre-fabricated modular rental units in the next three weeks, once the final touches are put on a community meditation center and kitchen nearby.

Three more low-income neighborhoods of rental homes and apartments await federal and state low-income housing funding.

Each modular unit has about the same space - 800 square feet - as a double-wide mobile home, but with more sunlight.

All Maharishi Vedic City homes, including the low-income and modular structures, are required by city code to follow strict rules derived from ancient principles rediscovered by Maharishi.

The homes are built with nontoxic chemicals and energy-efficient materials. They face east to take advantage of the sun's power.

Beds, kitchens and gathering areas are all placed in designated areas.

In the middle of each home is a Brahmastahn, or central core, which is designed to be undisturbed by foot traffic.

"The environment creates coherence within yourself," said the city's lead architect, Jonathan Lipman.

Thriving city

Maharishi Vedic City officials say the current population boom goes a long way toward its goal of generating 2,000 residents by 2008.

Four years after incorporation, the city appears thriving and prosperous.

It has grown in acreage (1,200 to 2,200) and population (85 to 400-plus, not counting the new growth).

The settlement of pandits into the housing units is the latest marker in the 32-year evolution of Maharishi's vision of achieving inner peace, personal health, world peace and a thriving stock market.

The Invincible America meditators, now totaling 1,900 recruits - students, longtime practitioners from Fairfield and other states and the new residents from India - spend eight hours in daily meditation under the golden-topped dome on the Maharishi University campus.

The number is very near the goal of 2,000 meditators, crucial for a formula (the square root of one percent of the U.S. population) calculated to alter the physical reality and create positive forces, said Ken Chawkin, media relations at the university.

They call it the "Maharishi Effect."

In November, Maharishi spokesmen claimed the mass meditation was responsible for a surge in the stock market, low unemployment and dropping oil prices.

They also predict a 20 percent drop in violence in coming months.

The correlation between meditation and positive events has been dismissed by some skeptics.

Frank Trumpy, a retired physics professor at Des Moines Area Community College, has researched the group for years.

He says the claims of influencing everything from the lack of hurricanes this season to economic prosperity are without scientific support.

"They do what I call painting the bull's-eyes around the arrows," he said. "Notice they always take credit for events after they happen."

Business sense

But meditators have always tempered a new-age lifestyle and their own scientific theory with practical business sense.

Maharishi Vedic City and four private developers got the ball rolling four years ago by purchasing former farm ground north of Fairfield. Later, much of the land was sold to the nonprofit Global Country of World Peace.

The organization soon realized that not everyone could afford the homes, which range from $300,000 to $1 million.

Hada and Hadani of Oregon, advanced meditators who arrived in August and don't use a last name, didn't have that kind of money.

They had listened to the maharishi's message, uprooted and moved to Iowa.

"The call came out," said Hada, 70, a noted sculptor of metals who legally changed his name from Don Potts. "It was irresistible. We had to come."

It wasn't easy. Hada said he cried standing before the beauty of the foothills near Ashland, Ore., where he lived on a serene 90 acres.

Now, he says, he gathers even greater positive feelings inside the gold dome.

"I'm here to be in the middle of this power," he said.

The couple stayed for two weeks before heading home. In Colorado, they stopped and had a sudden realization: They had to return.

Like many of the advanced meditators who have gathered, they are paid a small amount to take part in Invincible America.

Quite a few have been assisted by wealthy benefactors who support the program.

Howard and Alice Settle of Texas, who made their fortune in oil, have donated $12 million for scholarships toward meditation training for the Invincible America program.

It costs $2,500 to take the initial TM course and an additional $5,000 for advanced training in what officials call the Sidhis program. That fee is now being waived to attract more meditators.

In 1983, the couple was part of the Taste of Utopia Assembly Fairfield, where nearly 8,000 people met for three weeks to meditate for "global transformation."

Low-income housing

The difference this time is that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his organization want to make the assembly permanent - thus the flurry of home construction.

Should the low-income housing grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Finance Authority come through, dwellings ranging from one-bedroom to three-bedroom homes and apartments will be available for $450 to $550 a month, said Kent Boyum, director of economic development for Maharishi Vedic City.

Because they are public housing programs, the dwellings will be available for anyone to rent.

The addition of low-income housing among $1 million homes is not causing a stir in the city, said Fred Gratzon, who owns an elegant place in Maharishi Vedic City.

"The opposite is true," he said. "The proximity of these pandits exponentially increases the value of the homes here.

"Fairfield and Maharishi Vedic City now form the epicenter of peace and enlightenment for the entire world."

Other mass-meditation efforts are occurring on a smaller scale across the world, most notably in the Netherlands, the maharishi's home country.

But the Fairfield area is clearly the showpiece.

Fairfield officials claim harmony among meditators and the community's many business ventures and retail outlets has created a vitality in the town of 9,602 people.

They also say the latest influx hasn't yet created a measurable economic impact.

The pandits from India speak little English and rarely leave the university campus.

"You won't see them roaming around Wal-Mart," said Boyum.

"They lead a very simple life," said Tom Siegel, who provides the food service for Invincible America at Maharishi University.

"They are very sweet and very happy people."

During a recent sleet storm, one pandit with limited English didn't complain, Siegel recalled.

Instead, the man declared joyfully: "Good for health. Good digestion. Makes strong."

Now, that's inner peace.

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