Maharishi's Minions Come to Wall Street

New York Times/July 2, 2007
By Maria Aspan

When the Beatles sought guidance from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968, they traveled to India. Now that the "giggling guru," as he has been called, is seeking investors, a branch of his organization has come to the New York financial district.

In March, Maharishi's Global Financial Capital of New York quietly opened a headquarters at 70 Broad Street, close to the New York Stock Exchange. The organization had purchased the five-story, 20,000-square-foot building in May 2004 from Goldman Properties for $5.5 million.

The group was drawn to the building, the former home of the American Bank Note Company and its first Manhattan property, for reasons both spiritual and practical.

"It's one of the very few buildings in all of New York City that's oriented due east," said Paul Potter, the director of Global Financial Capital, referring to the Maharishi's principles of "Vedic architecture" that hold that east-facing buildings are spiritually healthy.

But, Mr. Potter added, the other incentive was the financial district location and access to the world's moneymakers.

"We've been offering our programs for 50 years," he said, "and now is the time that we want to create financial support for these programs. We want to offer a chance for the investment bankers to steer the finances of the world in this positive direction."

The building required extensive renovations, which continue, and will cost about $4.9 million, according to the organization, which took out a mortgage in 2005 to cover them. In addition to donations and income from real estate assets, the Maharishi's worldwide network is financed primarily by classes in transcendental meditation, which cost $2,500 for a one-time, five-day session.

The new building's first floor is open for business, with meeting rooms to welcome the investment bankers and hold videoconferences. The Maharishi, who is at least 90, conducts many of these Webcasts from a Dutch village, Vlodrop, where he has established his Global Country of World Peace.

The building purchase was a canny one considering the financial district's resurgence, the broker, David N. Lebenstein, director of the nonprofit division at Colliers ABR, said. "Building prices are at least 30 to 50 percent more than in 2004 and in some cases 100 percent more," he said, adding that the Maharishi's choice to buy an entire building is unusual for nonprofits downtown. Most prefer to avoid overhead costs by purchasing commercial condos or leasing long-term office space, he said.

Those overhead costs may yet prove to be a challenge for the Maharishi, who has had decidedly mixed success in the real estate business. While he established the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, he has stumbled in developing properties including a Chicago hotel that was eventually sold and a proposed São Paulo skyscraper that was abandoned after Brazil stalled on approval.

Plans for 3,000 worldwide "peace palaces," which will teach transcendental meditation and the elusive art of "yogic flying," have also had mixed reactions. (Four of the projected 200 palaces in the United States have been completed, while land for 52 others has been acquired.)

In January, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland published an article reviewing the Maharishi's history in developing two local properties that were later sold and questioning whether his palace proposals would ever come to fruition. And in March, the Maharishi's organization sued the city of Mayfield Heights, Ohio, saying it refused to allow a proposed peace palace setback variances given to local corporate offices.

When asked about these earthly roadblocks, Mr. Potter seemed, well, serene. "The pursuit of money hasn't really brought real happiness, real fulfillment," he said. "We hope to be able to rebuild the whole world to be fortune-oriented buildings, to be heaven on earth."

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