Maharishi Inc. The bearded popularizer of transcendental meditation has earthly holdings that will blow your mind. His corporate empire includes land holdings, hotels, publishing houses and plans fro spiritual theme parks.

February 05, 1993|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Staff Writer

Here's the deal:

Some 2,400 masters of transcendental meditation fly into Baltimore, check into a hotel at the harbor and start to meditate, each morning and evening.

Within weeks, muggers begin to lose the urge to mug. Months pass, and robbers forswear robbery. A year or two, and drug dealers are staying off the corners. Within five years, crime has been -- not reduced. Eliminated.

"With its cities free from crime," say newspaper advertisements for the American City Project, placed over the last four months in 60 urban centers, "the United States will radiate a powerful positive, harmonious, and nourishing influence for the whole world."

This is the laudable result of the Maharishi Effect, named for its inventor: His Holiness, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, popularizer of TM, once-upon-a-time guru to the great, brilliant seer or shameless charlatan, depending on whom you ask.

Here he is now, his lilting, authentic-guru falsetto coming via speakerphone from Vlodrop, Netherlands. He is giving interviews promote his crime scheme.

How's it work, Maharishi?

"When people are involved in crime," he explains, "they are reacting to a stressed atmosphere. When the mind loses its stress, that affects the atmosphere. . . . In one, two, three weeks, no more, the criminals will think of not using their guns. Their thinking will be more positive. They will not know why."

If you've ever heard of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, you may vaguely remember him as the Indian holy man who turned the Beatles from LSD to a more spiritual variety of tripping in 1968. You may know he brought transcendental meditation from his native India to a spellbound West and watched it flourish alongside the baby boom. You may even have glimpsed Maharishi's other grand plans over the years, his white-bearded visage gazing from a college-campus poster or a fine-print ad in Time.

And you may have thought of him as a harmless eccentric, a slightly dotty old man, a little too ethereal for this mercenary world.

If so, you might be surprised to learn that Maharishi today presides over a corporate empire Indian sources have estimated to be worth more than $2 billion, a sort of Wal-Mart of the spirit, encompassing extensive land holdings in India, hotels in Europe, and publishing houses in the United States.

There's the Maharishi Heaven on Earth Development Company, selling schemes for suburbs built in harmony with natural law. There are Maharishi Ayur-Veda medical clinics, curing with herbs and diagnosing disease by taking the patient's pulse. There are plans for Maharishi Veda Land spiritual theme parks in Orlando, Fla., Niagara Falls, India and Japan.

There are Maharishi universities on three continents. There is Maharishi's Natural Law Party, which fielded candidates in the British and U.S. elections last year. There is Maharishi everything, it seems, right down to the Maharishi Jyotish astrology service and the Maharishi Yagya Hindu-good-luck-ceremonies-for-rent.

True, while the movement is prosperous, in some of its ventures there may be less than meets the eye. Some "universities" are rumored to consist of a hotel suite. A Heaven on Earth executive says development has been stalled by the recession. The theme parks consist, so far, of land purchases and press conferences. Natural Law Party candidates drew far less than 1 percent of the vote.

But whatever the substance, the image is getting meticulous attention. Maharishi's empire is served by an eager public relations operation, the Age of Enlightenment News Service, ready to beam Maharishi's pronouncements by satellite from his palatial headquarters in the Netherlands or Fed-Ex videocassettes of His Holiness explaining Maharishi's Science of Creative Intelligence.

"Maharishi's got so many major projects, it's unbelievable," says Craig Berg, an affable PR man in Fairfield, Iowa, the unlikely home of Maharishi International University and U.S. Capital of the Age of Enlightenment. "I don't know how he remembers them all."

'Like a mental shower'

Mr. Berg, 43, who grew up in Baltimore, is one of thousands of devotees who serve Maharishi's projects around the globe for room, board and a small monthly stipend. Many dress in the coat-and-tie style he advises to change TM's counterculture reputation: "Throw your blue jeans into the ocean," he once told them.

To many of the tens of thousands of Americans who still actively practice TM, it remains a useful tool for stress-reduction. "It's extremely clarifying to my awareness," says Kevin P. Condon, 48, an Ellicott City investment manager who has meditated for 25 years. "It's like a mental shower. I like it."

But for some former devotees who have left the TM movement, Maharishi is the leader of a cult that literally entrances its subjects, bombards them with propaganda and cripples their ability to think critically. Caught up in TM as teen-agers in the '70s, they now view their involvement as a prolonged bout of self-hypnosis.

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