Murder and other violent crimes are getting out of hand -- and local followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi intend to put a stop to them.
How do they propose to fight crime? Through twice-daily, 20-minute group practices of Transcendental Meditation (TM). If enough people in an area meditate together, they believe, they can change the social and economic climate.
This is called the "Maharishi effect," and followers of the Maharishi have recently launched such a program at a center in Pikesville and a dozen or so TM centers in the greater Washington area.
TM spokesman Robert Roth explains how it's supposed to work:
"Human beings, like everything else in nature, are connected together at a profound level. . . . During TM, the mind settles down to its deepest, quietest level and we access that unified field -- like when you hook up a radio and access the electromagnetic field.
"When people do this together rather than individually, the influence is more powerful, and peace and coherence radiate out into the environment, creating an atmosphere of coherence everywhere," says Mr. Roth.
TM types cite a study showing that the number of murders in Washington declined significantly in 1985-1986, when the largest group of meditators were practicing together there.
But District police spokesman Quentin Peterson, asked about the claim that TM might have helped reduce the number of murders, comments, "No, we would never say that."
The local effort to fight crime through meditation is spearheaded by the -- take a deep breath -- Greater Baltimore Association of Professionals Practicing the Transcendental Meditation Program. It has attracted a 30s- and 40s-something group that includes doctors, lawyers, engineers and investment counselors.
At the recently opened Baltimore-area TM center on Irving Place in Pikesville, a dozen or more followers of the Maharishi may be found each day at around 8:30 a.m. and again at 5:30 p.m. They sit cross-legged on foam rubber pads, eyes closed, hands clasped lightly, with ethereal expressions. Men and women meditate in separate rooms in the spartan center to avoid distraction.
In a phone interview from his headquarters in Vlodrop, The Netherlands, the Maharishi said he was dismayed that his recent peace overtures -- including a proposal to President Bush to establish a group of 7,000 meditators to avert war in the Persian Gulf -- went unheeded by Washington. He added peace could scarcely thrive in such a setting, hence the reason for TM's focus on the area.
"So much of the world's fate is decided in Washington, and yet the capital of that most powerful country is known as the crime capital of the world," he said regretfully. "With all the crime and negative things, I don't know why they don't listen."
To fully achieve the Maharishi effect in a given area, 1 percent of the population needs to do TM or the square root of 1 percent needs to practice the more potent TM-Sidhi technique, according to TM followers.
Adherents point out TM is not a religion or philosophy, and requires no belief, just the practice of a simple technique, easily learned in a few hours. The cost of instruction ranges from $400 for an adult with a full-time job to the equivalent of two weeks' allowance for a 10-year-old child.