HALIFAX — The spiritual guru who taught the Beatles the art of transcendental meditation is planning an international peace palace on two islands off Nova Scotia, where followers will practice yogic flying to promote global peace.
Supporters of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the India-born spiritual leader whose teachings also inspired the Natural Law Party in Canada’s 1993 federal election, dedicated the two islands in a ceremony last week.
They bought the islands near the town of Canso last year for about $350,000, and plan a $1.2-million development that includes a peace tower, conference centre and school.
The islands will be part of the Community of Global Peace, and along with six other sites around the world will form the community’s so-called parliament.
Maharishi followers believe that if enough people around the world practising yogic flying — achieved by hopping in the air while sitting cross-legged — it will create world peace.
“The constitution of the universe will radiate from these islands of Canada,” the Maharishi said in an interview from the Netherlands.
“The new parliament of world peace will be from the peace-loving people . . . who are simple, sincere, innocent.”
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The Maharishi, who is nearly 90 years old, said the world cannot rely on government alliances such as the United Nations.
“The shop is a flop — the United Nations is a flop,” he said. “The constitution of every government, because made by human beings, it has human weaknesses and human failings.”
The teachings of the Maharishi have inspired a global movement, along with a multibillion-dollar industry that includes schools and businesses across Canada.
It is largely based on Hindu texts called the Vedas, but the group vehemently denies it is a religion, even taking the issue to court — and losing — in the United States.
Instead, followers claim their beliefs are based on science, embracing theories such as quantum physics.
The transcendental meditation movement shot into popularity in Canada during the 1993 federal election.
The Canadian wing of the Natural Law Party ran a multimillion-dollar campaign with candidates in 136 ridings, but none came close to winning any seats.
“I had to get into politics to know what is wrong there,” the Maharishi said.
There was also a plan in the mid-1990s to build a $900-million theme park in Niagara Falls, Ont., but those plans stalled.
A sociology professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax said the Maharishi is appealing to a secular, Western audience.
“It is supposed to provide you with some sort of tool that’s supposed to help people benefit in this world,” said Christopher Helland, who teaches religion and contemporary culture.
Prof. Helland said that is why, instead of growing as a Hindu movement, Maharishi followers built up a global business empire and entered politics.
In Nova Scotia, the group is waiting on local officials to approve its building plans before building on the islands next year.
The plans came as a surprise to Canso, a small town of about 900 people.
Mayor Ray White said he first heard the news just days before last week’s inauguration.
“I think anyone would accept that it is a very noble goal to promote peace,” Mr. White said.
But he said local residents are waiting to hear more information about the group and their plans.
The islands will become the North American capital of the movement, attracting followers from around the continent to learn and to practice.
It will also offer courses on transcendental meditation and yogic flying. Tuition at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, tops $30,000.
Oct. 17, 2005