Harmony and joy may be coming to St. Paul and other areas in the form of a Peace Palace.
They promise inner happiness and fulfillment through transcendental meditation. And they’ve got their eye on a vacant lot on St. Paul’s East Side for the first of 10 Maharishi Peace Palaces in the Twin Cities area.
Neighbors and community leaders, trying to keep an open mind about opening minds, are a bit skeptical and concerned about “hidden agendas.”
But the group’s local leader insisted Wednesday that “our only agenda is world peace. “It’s all part of a gigantic push, and we’ve bought 34 pieces of property scattered across the United States in the last week,” said Michael Hauth, the Minnesota director for the Global Country of World Peace.
The organization, based in Holland with a university in Iowa, flows from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who founded the transcendental meditation movement.
Hauth said he hopes to complete negotiations within a few weeks to buy a parcel on the southwest corner of Ruth Street and Wilson Avenue, a couple of blocks north of Interstate Hwy. 94.
City planners and politicians hadn’t heard about the plan, yet the property is zoned for schools or businesses. Hauth said the $3 million project would be privately financed.
“There are no Peace Palaces currently listed in our zoning code, and I’m having trouble getting my arms around this,” said City Council President Kathy Lantry, whose ward includes the lot.
“Despite my East Side background, there is some benefit to having an open mind to different ways of doing things,” she said. “And honestly, how can you disagree with world peace?”
Far from reality
Hauth said the Peace Palace, built in a style of ancient East Indian architecture, would offer classes ranging from herbal medicine to advanced yoga. Similar facilities built recently in Texas, Maryland and Kentucky include spas.
But before one of them rises behind a Ruth Street gas station, the deal would have to be closed and St. Paul officials would have to approve site plans.
– Is TM a religion?
Tom Madsen, a business development director at the Benson-Orth general contractor firm in Minnetonka, said his company has had preliminary talks with the Maharishi’s people about building Peace Palaces. “But we’ve told them they’ve got a long way to go through the development process,” he said. “It will be interesting to see where this goes.”
Alex Johnson, a Pentecostal pastor who lives across Wilson Avenue from the potential palace, has mixed feelings.
“If it helps the community, who am I to object?” he asked. “My only concerns are whether they have any secret agendas that we’ll learn about after five years.”
Ann Mueller, director of the neighborhood’s District 1 Community Council, said that she has noticed a spike in crime and that anything that brought new activity to the area would be great. “But we’d want to make sure there was no neighborhood disruption,” she said.
All quiet on other fronts
Two of the newer Peace Palaces are in Lexington, Ky., and in Texas, 30 miles north of Houston. Both are lovely temples about which local officials have nothing but kind words.
“We’re delighted with the look of the building and its intricate design, and the whole thing is rather fascinating,” said Susan Vreeland, a marketing director for The Woodlands community near Houston.
The Houston Peace Palace, which opened a couple of months ago, shares space with an energy and exploration company whose president and CEO, Howard Settle, bankrolled the project. Settle, who has practiced transcendental meditation since 1972, also helped finance the palace on the University of Kentucky’s Coldstream Research Campus in Lexington.
Meanwhile, Hauth, who has worked with the Transcendental Meditation Program since the 1960s, said that its too early to discuss other sites he is scouting in the Twin Cities, but that he hopes 10 Peace Palaces can be built in the next few years.
“I was hired to look for land, and there’s a couple hundred people like me pushing across the country,” he said. “It should be quite interesting.”
What is it?: Transcendental meditation (TM) is a mental technique for increasing awareness in two 20-minute meditation periods a day. During these quiet periods, the individual transcends the hectic nature of daily life and reaches a deeper understanding of himself — or herself. It’s associated with repeating a mantra to stay focused.
History: TM derives from ancient Indian rituals dating to 1000 B.C. It was made popular by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who in 1958 began an effort to bring its benefits to the world.
Star power: By the mid-1960s, students of TM included the Beatles, the Beach Boys and actress Mia Farrow. Today, there are an estimated 4 million to 6 million students.
What does it do? Adherents claim it can lower blood pressure, reduce stress levels and improve immune functions. Studies do substantiate several of these claims for adults.
More information: www.maharishipeacepalace.org
Sources: Encyclopedia Americana and news reports