All you need is love and peace – but not in destructive Britain, so maharishi pulls out
Followers split as 95-year-old guru ends meditation teaching in ‘scorpion nation’
You can do it in peace-loving nations such as Ireland and Holland. And, despite its record in Vietnam and Iraq, you can still do it in the United States. But try meditating for a more enlightened Britain and you could find yourself accused of feeding “the destroyer of the world.”
Nearly 40 years after he first turned the Beatles on to transcendental meditation at his Indian ashram – sparking an upsurge of interest in his philosophy across the world – the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has ordered his followers to stop teaching his advanced meditation and levitation techniques in Britain.
Disgusted at Tony Blair’s support for the US in the Iraq war and the British electorate’s failure to unseat the prime minister at the general election, the 95-year-old guru says there is no point continuing to waste the “beautiful nectar” of TM on a “scorpion” nation.
“The good effects of transcendental meditation – increased creativity and long life – should not be given to a dangerous country that is constantly busy destroying the world,” said the maharishi, speaking at one his regular press conferences in the Netherlands. “TM is a gift from me to those who want to create peace and harmony in the world.”
Although the maharishi’s comments came before the July terror attacks on London, his declaration has divided followers in Britain and abroad concerned about his increasingly eccentric political views. In recent years, the maharishi, who broadcasts on a private satellite channel from a converted monastery in Vlodrop, in Holland, has proffered opinions on everything from crime to the Israel-Palestine conflict to how countries can best foster military defence.
In the 1992 British general election his Natural Law party fielded 300 candidates in an attempt to win support for his “age of enlightenment”. George Harrison agreed to a benefit concert at the Royal Albert Hall to launch the campaign, but not one Natural Law candidate held on to his deposit. Undeterred, last year the maharishi – known to his followers as “his holiness” and to his detractors as the “giggling guru” because of his habit of laughing in interviews – began despatching yogic flyers to the US, India, China and Brazil in an attempt to foster global peace by building a “coherent world consciouness.”
– Is TM a religion?
At the same time he ordered his followers at Skelmersdale, Lancashire – the site of an ideal maharishi village complete with a gold meditation dome – to beam peace-loving thoughts to the British electorate with the aim of overtuning the Labour government.
It was the failure of that thought experiment that prompted the maharishi to withdraw from Britain, a decision first communicated to his followers in a conference call from Holland the day after the general election.
“It has had quite a deep impact on our organisation,” acknowledged Geoffrey Clements, the former Natural Law candidate for Southport who also chairs the maharishi’s UK charity. “But the maharishi explained to us that the poison in this country was so concentrated that he felt it was no use our continuing to nurture creativity and intelligence here.”
Instead, Dr Clements said teachers of TM and the maharishi’s more advanced TM-Sidhi programme, in which devotees learn to use yoga to “levitate”, were being encouraged to take teaching positions in South Africa and at the Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa, a campus built on Vedic architectural principles that is home to around 2,000 TM devotees.
But other followers say they are astonished by the maharishi’s decison not to reject the US, particularly as last year he initiated a similar thought experiment there with the aim of defeating George Bush in a protest at his leading role in fomenting the Iraq war.
While there is good scientific evidence that meditating twice a day can reduce stress and lower blood pressure, the maharishi’s detractors say that his claims that it can also cure cancer and prolong lifespans are unproven. They also argue that at around ?1,300 for a standard TM introduction course, and more for the advanced TM-Sidhi programme, the maharishi’s fees are excessive.
But the maharishi’s most questionable claim is that through concentrated meditation by small groups of yogic flyers his disciples can effect major changes on society via a phenomenon he calls the “maharishi effect.”
“In theory, you need the square root of 1% of the British population – or about 8,000 people – practising TM to effect more positive changes in society,” explains Dr Clements. “But with the the more advanced TM-Sidhi programme you can create the same levels of coherence with just 800 people.”
According to Dr Clements, between 1988 and 1991 100 TM-Sidhi practitioners meditating regularly at Skelmersdale were able to generate sufficient “coherence” in the local community to reduce crime on Merseyside by 16%. By the end of the experiment Merseyside had moved from the third highest crime area in the UK to the second lowest.
To generate a similar “maharishi effect” across the UK, however, Dr Clements said the Skelmersdale centre would have needed much larger groups.
“Unfortunately, except for brief periods over last summer, we weren’t able to create a critical mass,” he said.
“That was a source of disappointment to the maharishi. There was a measure of exasperation when he spoke to us in May because there is a large percentage of people in this country who have expressed their distaste for the government but in the end he came to the conclusion that the tradition of divide and rule in Britain was too deeply embedded.”
Dr Clements, who last week attended a gathering in Holland of more than 1,500 followers of the maharishi to celebrate the organisation’s golden jubilee, added that despite the maharishi’s decision, the mood of his British followers remained positive. However, Mike Owen, a psychotherapist with Sunabitur Healthcare, who has recommended TM to many of his patients, said that, for many, flying overseas was both impractical and prohibitively expensive.
“Whatever you think of the maharishi’s wilder theories, TM is a proven tool for reducing stress and anxiety,” he said. “It seems a shame to deprive ordinary people of that just because the maharishi considers our government bellicose and warlike.”
The Yogi effect: Flying – or hopping – to a higher plane
• Transcendental meditation is a set of Hindu meditation techniques which supposedly brings practictioners to a higher state of consciousness characterised as “enlightenment” or “bliss”. The method involves reciting a mantra, a secret expression unique to each practictioner.
• More than 5 million people around the world – and almost 200,000 in the UK – have learned the technique since it was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1957.
• In the early 1990s, television news programmes featured clips of advanced TM practitioners, known as yogic flyers, apparently hovering off the ground while sitting in the lotus position. Closer inspection of the footage, however, showed that they were hopping, not flying.
• The two best-known British advocates of TM are the former Tory party leader William Hague and the industrialist and broadcaster Sir John Harvey-Jones. Sir John says TM has made him a much easier person to live with: “I don’t make a drama out of a crisis. If I gave it up now, my wife would leave me.”
• The Beatles song Sexy Sadie was originally called Maharishi, Maharishi, What Have You Done? John Lennon wrote the song after becoming disillusioned when the maharishi allegedly made a pass at the actor Mia Farrow at his Indian ashram, but Lennon later changed the title at George Harrison’s instigation. The lyrics read: “Sexy Sadie what have you done/You made a fool of everyone.”
• Followers of the maharishi believe that by collective meditation they can cause fundamental changes in the “physical field” which radiate throughout society. The phenomenon, known as the “maharishi effect” can be triggered by just 1% of a population of more than 10,000 meditating, or the square root of 1% in the case of advanced TMers in larger populations. In the early 1980s, followers credited the technique with bringing peace to a village of 12,000 in the Chouf mountains of Lebanon being shelled by the Israelis.
• In 2003, as part of his worldwide campaign to create a “global country of world peace”, the maharishi issued his own currency, the raam. The brightly coloured notes, in denominations of one, five and 10 raam, circulate both at his headquarters in Vlodrop in the Netherlands and at the Maharishi Vedic City in Iowa. The idea is for the 1.5 billion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty to use the currency to build new houses, roads, schools and health clinics.