The movement claims that more than 600 studies have proven the benefits of TM. Most scientists agree it can ease stress, high blood pressure, pain and insomnia. But some argue it's no more effective than many other mind-body relaxation techniques. But meditation, once dismissed as Eastern mysticism, has gained legitimacy. The National Institutes of Health has had a Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine since 1998 to research nonconventional practices.
Maharishi's claims about the power of TM, including the ability to fly, have led to occasional charges of fraud.
"I let people make remarks about me, but it doesn't touch me, all those remarks," he says.
The Hindu holy man took up residence in 1990 on the 65-acre grounds of a Franciscan monastery in a secluded forest near Vlodrop, an eastern Dutch village near the German border.
Inside the security fence, huge satellite dishes provide his daily link with the world. His wood-and-glass pavilion -- built without a single nail, his aides say -- has a dozen conference rooms for visiting experts and researchers who stay in temporary huts on the grounds.
In recent years, Maharishi has rarely left the two rooms he has made his home. Concerned about preserving his health, he talks by video with aides and visitors who gather in a separate room around a table filled with golden vessels, each bearing the flag of a different country. The red velvet throne he once used in that room now remains empty.
The two-story building, ringed by another security fence, is dwarfed by the century-old monastery and school of St. Ludwig, which briefly served as a Nazi storehouse during World War II and was abandoned in 1978.
His organization has been locked in a courtroom battle for years with preservationists trying to block him from tearing down the historic but derelict building, and Maharishi has few friends among his neighbors.
"Few local people know anything about them. It's a closed community," said Ton Wolswijk of the Roerstreek Heritage Society.
Little is known of Maharishi's early years, and he refuses to talk about them. It's believed he was born Jan. 12, 1917, in central India. He earned a physics degree from Allahabad University, was the longtime secretary to a leading Hindu sage, then went into silent retreat for two years in the northern India's hills.
In 1955, he began teaching Transcendental Meditation, introducing it to the United States in 1959. But the movement really took off after the Beatles visited his ashram in India in 1968.
His aides say he was disappointed that TM became identified with the counterculture. Before admitting a visiting reporter to the camera room, they make it clear that he doesn't want to talk about the past.