In Many Ways, a New Iowa Town Looks to East

New York Times/April 17, 2001
By Jennifer Lee

Vedic City, Iowa -- Ten years ago, Chris Johnson, a San Francisco real estate developer, looked at the rolling farmland of gravel roads and scattered wooden houses here in southeast Iowa and had a vision.

He saw a city of harmony, a circular town where all the buildings faced east toward the rising sun. He saw golden domes rising out of the town circle that would hold thousands of transcendental meditators, all with the shared goal of bringing coherence to the world around them.

Mr. Johnson, along with a dozen other believers, took his proposal back to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the leader of the international transcendental meditation movement who had sown the seeds of such a community when he chose neighboring Fairfield to locate his home for higher learning, Maharishi International University, in the early 1970's.

Maharishi blessed their vision, and the State of Iowa approved Vedic City's incorporation petition in January. Once the city's 125 residents give their formal approval, which is expected next month, Vedic (pronounced VAY-dick) City will become Iowa's 950th city and the first new one since 1982.

The decade-long journey began in the spring of 1991 when Mr. Johnson and other developers bought 50 farms with 3,000 acres of windswept corn and soybean fields for about $7 million.

The developers tried to keep their plans quiet for fear of scaring off sellers, Mr. Johnson said. "It was pretty wild," he said. "Some people sold with some reluctance."

The developers kept 1,200 acres on which to build the town. During the next several years, they installed a sewage system, paved the roads and installed equipment for wireless Internet access. They began building houses, hotels and office buildings, which all align with the rotation of the earth by facing east.

"It's the ideal planned city from scratch," Bob Wynne, one of the developers, said.

The town's name is derived from the Sanskrit word "veda," meaning "knowledge," and was considered a safe choice. "We didn't want anything too ooga-booga," said Fred Gretzon, a local businessman and practitioner of transcendental meditation who has been a main force behind the incorporation petition. "This is Iowa, after all."

Vedic City planners expect it to grow to 1,000 residents within the next 10 years, many of them transplants from Fairfield, which has attracted more than 3,000 adherents of transcendental meditation since the university opened in 1973.

Vedic City is made up of a ring of 10 circles covering slightly more than one square mile. Though development has a long way to go, the town already has its own observatory with ancient astrological and astronomical instruments to orient itself within the cosmos.

According to the master plan, two golden domes will be built in the center of town that together will seat 10,000 for a type of group meditation called yogic flying, which actually resembles cross-legged hopping. "It looks like hopping, but it feels like flying," said John Revolinski, a spokesman for the university, where transcendental meditation and Sanskrit are requirements for students.

More than 1,500 people practice yogic flying daily on the university's campus in two golden domes, one for women and one for men. The three stages of yogic flying are hopping on the ground, hovering in the air, and flying through the air. Right now, most of the meditators are in the hopping stage.

"The concept is that if the square root of 1 percent of the country's population is doing the transcendental meditation yogic flying program, we'll create coherence for the whole country," Mr. Johnson said. That number comes, roughly, to slightly less than 1,675 practitioners.

Extending the logic, the square root of one percent of the world population of 6 billion comes in at slightly fewer than 7,750 people. But to make sure, the meditators are aiming to build a population of 10,000. Hence, a banner that reads "Ten Thousand for Heaven on Earth" hangs in one of the Fairfield domes.

The meditators feel the current meditation in the domes has played a part in what they call the upward trajectory of the United States in the past two decades. "There is a greater orderliness, greater peace, greater friendliness among countries that has emerged since 1979," Mr. Revolinski said.

"We were very heartened when we saw the end of the cold war." The design of Vedic City and its buildings conform with Sthapatya Veda architectural principles, which hold that health, happiness and fortune are influenced by the orientation and structure of buildings.

In the past five years, $250 million has been spent on constructing Sthapatya Vedic buildings, mostly in Fairfield. Houses range from modest homes to a $5 million mansion with a swimming pool, theater and bowling alley.

Several businesses have built Vedic complexes, but Vedic City is the first settlement to build in complete accord with Vedic principles.

Those principles will eventually become objective standards, Jonathan Lipman, a Sthapatya Vedic architect, predicted. "Some day you could be sued for architectural malpractice if you designed a south-facing house," he said.

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