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A lotus amid the Iowa corn

A new Midwestern town has the teachings of a well-known maharishi at its heart.

September 10, 2006|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa — WHEN I booked my trip last April to attend a conference on Transcendental Meditation at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, I had no idea I would be visiting another country. My airline ticket clearly indicated Cedar Rapids, and from there I would rent a car and drive about two hours to a small town 50 miles from the Mississippi River. I was a longtime fan of filmmaker David Lynch, one of the conference's keynote speakers, and I was interested in meditation, occasionally popping in for a guided meditation at a neighborhood Buddhist temple.

By the time I had made the travel arrangements, I knew I would be spending two nights at the improbably named Raj, an ayurvedic spa-hotel improbably located in the middle of a cornfield. I knew I would be attending a conference entitled "Consciousness, Creativity and the Brain," where John Hagelin, the onetime Natural Law Party presidential candidate would also speak. Hagelin once offered to deploy 400 "yogic fliers" to Kosovo to meditate for peace (then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declined).

What I didn't know is that the Raj is not in Fairfield but just outside of it, in a brand-new town called Maharishi Vedic City, which happens to be the North American capital of the Global Country of World Peace.

So to say that Maharishi Vedic City exists on a plane of its own is not quite to speak metaphorically. The town, which consists of several still-sprouting residential developments, is surrounded by cornfields dotted with barns and gloomy Victorians. The area is no stranger to sectarian lifestyle experiments: Not far away is the Mennonite community of Kalona, where bearded men and bonneted women drive around in buggies.

When I arrived, the sky looked as though it had been carpeted in a gray Stainmaster Berber. Fairfield proper looked as though it had seen better days -- specifically 1854, when it hosted the first Iowa State Fair. It has the stately but melancholy air of a once-prosperous Midwestern town in decline.

By contrast, M.V.C. displays all the architectural characteristics of a new exurban development: gaudy, oversize construction that has no stylistic relation to its environment but instead vaguely alludes to a theme-park version someplace sort of magical and far away.

The first thing that alerted me to the existence of the Global Country of World Peace was a bright yellow flag with an orange sunburst design, which I took at first to be an expression of meditator pride, the TM equivalent of a rainbow flag. Checking in at the Raj, I noticed a display of the Global Country's paper money, "the ideal currency of the city" (though they did take my American Express).


Think pink

STEVE YELLIN, my guide and PR liaison for the weekend, met me at my room, which was bright and plush, done in a smoothed-over rustic style I decided to call Santa Barbara Provencal. He was wearing a radiant pure pink cashmere sweater, which I initially took for a fashion statement. But it turned out pink was everywhere. It was the color of the media room at the Raj, where pastel Barcaloungers faced a TV permanently tuned to the Maharishi Channel. And it was the color of the private plane that first delivered the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to rural Iowa in 1971.

Over a vegetarian buffet lunch, I got a brief history of the town. The maharishi (now an octogenarian billionaire living in the Netherlands) introduced TM to the West in the 1950s. He founded the Maharishi University of Management in 1971, around the time he became one in the long line of "fifth Beatles." (John Lennon would go on to write the none-too-flattering "Sexy Sadie.")

Vedic City grew around the school, incorporating in 2001. "Vedic" refers to "Veda," the Sanskrit word for "knowledge," which the maharishi claims to have distilled into a comprehensive system for living. TM is just the beginning. The "complete Vedic science of consciousness" encompasses architecture, education, health, agriculture, administration, economy and defense.

There are, according to the TM organization, more than 6 million practitioners worldwide. Fairfield/M.V.C. is home to a few thousand of them and offers, beyond individual daily practice, an all-inclusive lifestyle.

After lunch, my guide took me on a tour of the town. All of the structures in M.V.C. are built in strict adherence to Maharishi Sthapatya Veda technique, which requires that all buildings face east, include a central "quiet space," and be adorned with a golden dollop called a kalash.

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