Detours: Vedic City Rises Above

Vedic City Rises Above

Winter 2010 Destinations
Written by Jessica Rapp

Rush hour in Vedic City, Iowa, is an understatement. Every day, just minutes before 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., its main street transforms from a desolate country road into a gently moving caravan carrying approximately 1,900 passengers intent upon achieving world peace. This common objective attracts visitors from all over the world to the heart of the Hawkeye State, many of them followers of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement and believers of the tranquil lifestyle. They eat organically-grown foods, live in housing built according to natural principles and make sustainability a priority in the 2,200 acres of land bordering Fairfield, Iowa, that they call home. Twice a day, they make the pilgrimage to two shimmering gold-domed complexes to cross their legs in the lotus position, close their eyes and meditate, to improve not only their own health but to better the society surrounding them.

The TM organization cites numerous studies that it says proves its method works and distinguishes the program from other common forms of meditation or yoga. Jeffrey Cohen, director of the Invincible America Assembly at accredited Maharishi University of Management (MUM), said TMers demonstrated their method in Washington, and even as far away as Lebanon. Cohen said that in Lebanon, statistics showed a “direct correlation” between the size of the groups meditating and the amount of crime and violence in the area.

“In Washington, D.C., large groups of TM meditators convened to show that [their technique] would lower the crime rate in D.C.,” Cohen said. “And in fact, statistical analysis showed that it lowered violent crime by… a very significant amount. And again, it was reviewed by experts and sociologists.”

Since the 1950s, six million people worldwide reached a consensus that the program developed by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, famed guru to the Beatles, is worth following. In fact, their dedication and belief is so strong that adults pay up to $4,000 in fees to enter the three stage TM-Sidhi program, even though they likely won’t advance past stage one.

Contact Information
Vedic City – City Hall
1750 Maharishi Center Ave.
Mahrishi Vedic City, IA 52556

The reason most TMers remain stuck in the first stage is because of Newton’s law of universal gravitation. That idea doesn’t hold down some TMers, who hope one day to levitate after following Maharishi’s mind-over-matter Vedic Science principles. Until then, some manage the stage one concept of Yogic Flying by physically hopping in lotus position during meditation, an experience Cohen said links to inner bliss.

Although the effects of TM are said to benefit the individual, Cohen said Maharishi had good reason for wanting group participation in meditation. He described how it works like this: Listening to music on just one quality speaker probably wouldn’t destroy an eardrum, but the addition of a second speaker results in music that’s doubly loud. Two more speakers double the volume again. Eight speakers result in an exponentially more deafening sound. People meditating in close proximity to each other create this same effect, Cohen said.

Some TMers call it nirvana. Others call it the “unified field.” Cohen said there are many names for the state of mind people transcend to when practicing TM. Those who devote time and patience to the process — and who don’t fall asleep while doing so — could attain the ability to reach the “source of thought,” a mental dimension he said is comprised of an infinite field of energy, creativity and intelligence. Individuals can walk away from the meditation feeling less stressed and enjoying numerous other health benefits.

“You get very deep rest, and rest is a way to get rid of the impurities in your nervous system, chemical and structural imbalances,” Cohen said. “The benefit of that is when you come out of meditation, you feel better, you have more energy, you think more clearly, you’re happier and your relationships are better.”

Maharishi’s ability to fully internalize and utilize the effects of TM probably had a lot to do with how the movement proliferated, said Chris Johnson, city councilmember of Vedic City and manager of Rukmapura Park Hotel. Maharishi developed TM in India during the 1950s and traveled to the U.S. a decade later, attracting mostly young followers looking for spiritual alternatives and self-improvement. At that time, Johnson became one of Maharishi’s staff members in San Francisco, watching his leader work almost around the clock.

“His energy was very dynamic,” Johnson said. “He only slept a couple of hours a night. I worked on his staff for a few years, and he would have two or three staffs working around him because he would go 22 or 23 hours a day, and no one else could do that.”

Johnson’s family of real estate developers brought TM’s hub to Fairfield in 1989 with the intent of building a Sthapatya Vedic development, a settlement that uses ancient Vedic principles for construction based on “sacred formulas,” similar to the concept of Masonic building traditions, he said. With Maharishi’s guidance, he and other developers built houses using specific dimensions and room placement to produce positive, healthy effects for the environment and the homeowner. In most of the residences, the kitchen is located in the southeast corner of the structure, while the house itself faces the sunrise.

Vedic City became an official city in 2001, boasting an outdoor Vedic observatory that features a complex system of sundials, two hotels and The Raj, an Ayurveda health spa known for its gem light therapy and herbal treatments. Tourists can drive through the town to view the uncommon structures, visit the nearby Maharishi University of Management and enjoy an organic meal at one of Fairfield’s many restaurants that feature Indian and vegetarian cuisine provided by the farm located four miles north of the city.

Dean Goodale, manager of Maharishi Vedic City Organic Farms, said its fruit and vegetable growing operation is one of the largest of its kind in Iowa, with nearly two acres of greenhouses occupying approximately 160 total acres of farmland. The greenhouses are operated by a wind turbine, which was partially paid for by a USDA grant for renewable energy.

All of the 50 varieties of fruit and vegetables grown at the farm are USDA-certified organic and grown in soil without chemicals or genetic modifications. These vegetables are then shipped out to stores and restaurants in the southern and central portions of the state.

During the early stages of Vedic City, developers also set aside 50 acres of the property that served as the best areas for conservation and preservation. Within a few years, they had transformed these acres from cornfields and a few trees to lakes, restored wetlands, prairies and forests.

“It’s loaded with all kinds of birds, geese, deer and rabbit, which in turn makes a nice environment for the people who live out here,” Johnson said. “Aside from people’s vegetable gardens, everyone enjoys the presence of the animals.”

They also introduced drought-resistant plants and other greenery that could offer a habitat value, such as food or areas for nesting. Johnson said that thanks to the combined efforts of Vedic City, the university and the Fairfield community toward new-age sustainability, this patch of green in Iowa is becoming known nationwide as more than just a TM center — it’s a location for sustainability, “green” building, energy efficiency, the arts and spiritual development.

Newcomers can enjoy the benefits of the alternative lifestyle without purchasing one of the properties that can cost anywhere from $60,000 to one million dollars. The university accepts students of all backgrounds and provides a long list of degrees for those with interests other than Vedic Science. Former journalist Diane Vance moved from Keokuk, Iowa, to Fairfield and was accepted to MUM. She said a divorce and other unexpected life turns left her wanting a new career and lifestyle.

“I wanted to come here because I knew it would be nurturing,” she said. “Some of the other students said they Googled the most stress-free place in the U.S. and this came up.”

As Vance pursues her degree in education and does some soul searching, she looks to the TM program to make her feel more grounded.

“The little things don’t matter as much,” she said about the personal effects of post-meditation. “You don’t get so dramatic over things that happen that otherwise might really be setting you off.”

Although not a skeptic herself, Vance said she’s aware of the reputation Vedic City gained from certain members of nearby areas — “Some people thought this was just too weird.” But Vedic City councilmember Johnson said he hopes to address these reservations by improving marketing tactics during the next few years to make the perks of the town accessible to more people.

Director of Invincible America Assembly Cohen, who has spent portions of his life in other big U.S. cities, said living in Vedic City is not as strange as some might think and provides a restorative and comfortable experience compared to other locations.

“When I leave Fairfield and I’m traveling back to Vedic City, I can actually feel myself settling down, feeling more relaxed as I get closer to town,” he said.

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