Meditation movement's big plans have often come to little ends

Dallas Morning News/October 5, 2002
By Jeffrey Weiss

Announcements of a Maharishi "capital" in North Texas and world's tallest skyscraper in Dallas suburb didn't come to fruitionIf the past is any indication, plans for Vedic City in Iowa should be taken with a shaker of salt.

The history of the Transcendental Meditation movement is littered with grand claims and even grander plans that didn't come to fruition. Some of those plans have had Texas connections.

There was the announcement in 1979 that a box canyon in Montague County - northwest of Dallas-Fort Worth, on the Oklahoma border - was going to become one of 20 capitals for the "Maharishi's World Government for the Age of Enlightenment." A building was constructed - abandoned and burned down in 1992.

More recently, the Maharishi Global Development Fund announced that a cow pasture in The Colony would become the home of "the world's tallest skyscraper." The property is now tied up in controversy over the expansion of State Highway 121.

And the old Hilton hotel at Mockingbird Lane and North Central Expressway was going to be converted into a "holistic living and transcendental meditation center." The hotel is still there, but the only trappings of TM are in the TM Center of Dallas on the fourth floor.

That none of those plans came to pass hasn't kept the Maharishi and his supporters from announcing new ones.

The Maharishi's representatives announced plans a couple of years ago for a "world's tallest building" to be constructed in Brazil. His organization announced plans last year for a 144-story pyramid - which would be the world's tallest - to be built in India as its headquarters.

And in 1998, he crowned a Lebanese-born doctor named Tony Nader as "His Majesty Raja Nader Raam, first sovereign of the Global Country of World Peace."

Expansive claims have been part of TM since a little-known Hindu came to the West in the 1950s with a new version of traditional Hindu teachings he called Transcendental Meditation. He became world-famous in 1960s when the Beatles took up TM.

His theology was very traditional, said Scott Lowe, a religion professor at the University of North Dakota who studies new faiths and was a TM practitioner. The Maharishi based his teachings on his readings of the Vedas, the sacred texts at the heart of many Hindu beliefs, Dr. Lowe said. The faith requires a rigid caste system as one way to pay off karmic debts incurred in previous lives, for instance. And the theology also claimed an essential connection between sound and the power that undergirds the cosmos, he said. Repetition of the right sounds or phrases - called mantras - is said to confer power.

The Maharishi separated the mantra from its religious trappings and created TM. The practice has changed little over the decades. These days, practitioners pay $2,500 to be given a short word that they are told to repeat silently for 20 minutes, twice a day. As was true when TM started, current new practitioners are told that TM is not a religion and works without any changes in belief or lifestyle.

TM practitioners say the practice has positive effects on mental and physical health - claims that are challenged by some mainstream researchers.

The current grand plans should not be dismissed because of the failures of the past, said Leonard Scott, spokesman for the TM Center of Dallas. Some of the ideas ran into problems of economics or politics that TM supporters could do nothing about, he said.

"Some of the things we said we were going to do we did not do," he said. "But some of the things we said we would do we are doing now."

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