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Westside Watch

Inner Peace Could Conquer Urban Wars, Guru Says

October 09, 1994|SCOTT COLLINS

Forget capital punishment, the "three-strikes" law and midnight basketball. The folks at the Maharishi Vedic School in Pacific Palisades have a holistic weapon in the fight against crime: transcendental meditation.

At a news conference Thursday, followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi urged Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and other leaders to fund a permanent transcendental meditation group of young and unemployed people to help reduce crime.

The Maharishi school officials delivered results of a $6-million study done in 1993 that concluded that violent crime in Washington dropped 18% during a meditation experiment involving 4,000 participants. They say a permanent program could lower what they called "social stress" and cut crime.

During the two-hour news conference at the school's hillside campus and health center overlooking the Pacific Ocean, study researchers defended their findings as reporters questioned the survey's methods and credibility. But the most unexpected response came from the Maharishi himself, who spoke to the meeting by telephone from his home in the Netherlands.

"I'm not wasting my time on scientific research anymore," said the guru, who is perhaps best-known for serving as spiritual adviser to the Beatles during the late 1960s. "Scientists can continue enjoying their lives, but don't expect anything good to come out of it."

These remarks and others left the scientists and sociologists who produced the report scrambling to define its purpose and the future of the meditation project. In separate interviews, a school official and a study researcher contradicted each other on whether the program would request public funds.

"I think what the Maharishi was doing, and this is my own interpretation, was not to say that scientific research doesn't provide valuable studies," said Charles (Skip) Alexander, a professor of psychology at Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa. "He's just less and less convinced that scientific research will lead to changes in public policy."

A change in public policy seems to have been the whole point of the study, however.

The Maharishi's followers believe large groups of meditators can send positive energy through a so-called field of consciousness that unites the universe. The larger the group, the greater the opportunity to reduce social stress and crime. School officials hope that the government might sponsor such groups in cities across the country, although they could not provide details on how such an effort would be organized or how much it would cost.

Reporters challenged the study's assertion that crime in the nation's capital dropped during the survey period, pointing out that the researchers compared actual crime rates against unofficial rates that had been predicted for the same period, as opposed to comparing actual data from previous years.

A Riordan spokeswoman said city officials had not yet been contacted about the meditation program. "But I can say that the mayor's No. 1 priority is public safety, and he supports any desire to make the city safer," the spokeswoman said.

"We came with an open mind," said Los Angeles Police Officer Steve Howenger, who attended the event with two colleagues at the invitation of Maharishi school officials. He said he had no idea what effect the program might have on law enforcement. "I don't meditate, so I guess I was at a disadvantage there."

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