(April 8, 2001)
Soon after Maharishi International
University opened its campus in Fairfield, Iowa, in 1974, local Christians
began questioning the claims by school founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
that the core curriculum of transcendental meditation is a scientific
relaxation technique rather than a religion. During the 1970s, several
evangelical groups, including the Assemblies of God, published position
papers or passed resolutions declaring TM to be incompatible with
|The MUM campus
contains separate domes for women and men.
The relationship between the town
and campus has been strained for most of the 27 years that the school,
now known as Maharishi University of Management, has been in Fairfield,
a city of 10,000. But the tensions have escalated in recent months
as MUM has started bulldozing historic campus buildings and as meditators
have taken steps to incorporate their own community, Vedic City, north
Many townspeople have never become
accustomed to claims that group levitation in golden domes is the
avenue to world peace or that houses with east-facing entrances results
in family happiness and health. For many Christians, everything about
the practice seems religious, especially the initiation ceremony in
which newcomers bring fruit and flowers, place them before a portrait
of Guru Dev (Maharishis mentor in the 1950s) and chant the names
of Hindu deities in Sanskrit.
The standard TM practitioner spends
20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening meditating.
However, those more devoted to the cause learn the advanced TM Sidhi
program, which is up to two hours twice a day. That includes around
1,500 Fairfield residents who trek to golden domes for men and women.
The domes are where Sidhis participate in yogic flying, which in essence
is frog-like hopping. In the dome, Sidhis jump on mattresses, facing
large portraits of Guru Dev and Maharishi, who is addressed as "his
The goal of Maharishi, now 82,
is to establish several permanent groups of 7,000 advanced TMers around
the planet, which he believes would create "heaven on earth."
When Stephen Higdon, 51, the longest-serving
pastor in Fairfield, arrived to plant an A/G congregation in 1981,
he zealously wanted to evangelize meditators. Higdon was one of seven
evangelical pastors to form a prayer fellowship that met two mornings
a week. The pastors met for six years and an affiliated group sponsored
a series of lectures by evangelical experts and former Hindu gurus.
While such educational efforts
raised awareness, they also drew battle lines of confrontation, according
to Higdon. Too often the consensus among Christians in Fairfield has
been a desire that the followers of Maharishi would simply move away,
Unified efforts to address the
concerns about TM have been stymied for various reasons. Ministers
come and go in the community, most evangelical efforts are small and
meditators believe they have found true enlightenment.
Higdon and other Pentecostal pastors
in Fairfield have seen meditators become Christians in their churches.
But most quickly moved away, having no reason to stay once they left
the close-knit TM community.
Meanwhile, MUM has finished the
first phase of a three-phase $50-million rebuilding program on the
280-acre campus. By the time construction is complete, enrollment
is expected to have skyrocketed. Currently MUM has 650 full-time students.
The total number of meditators
in Fairfield is around 2,750 people who have settled in Fairfield
to be part of the movement. Approximately 400 businesses in and around
Fairfield are run by meditators, including 50 in the telecommunications
and software industries alone.
Evangelicals realize they have
a mission field at their doorstep. Higdon knows Christians in Fairfield
will not reach meditators without a unified effort. It may take signs
and wonders to reach meditators en masse. That is what happened with
Rail and her husband, Larry, moved
to Fairfield in 1986 to be at the heartbeat of the TM movement, but
less than a year later BB was bedridden because of degenerative disc
problems in her back. TM offered no help for her paralysis, but she
says Jesus supernaturally intervened. When BB, who had been a TM teacher
for 17 years, closed her eyes and tried to return to reciting her
mantra, she says she saw Jesus. The Rails, now both 57, left the movement
and, after being discipled by local Christians, including Higdon,
became vocal proponents of Christianity.
These days, Higdon is putting
efforts into education. He has been full-time administrator at Fairfield
Christian School for three years and a teacher there for seven.
John W. Kennedy in Fairfield,