--- In FairfieldLife@yahoogroups.com, Rick Archer 
> http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/001/11.74.html

The text:

Field of TM Dreams
Fairfield, Iowa, of all places, is now a major world center for 
Transcendental Meditation, and local Christians are figuring out how 
best to evangelize Maharishi's devotees.

By John W. Kennedy | posted 1/12/01
Fairfield, Iowa, is the site of one of the most unusual town-gown 
relationships in the country: cornfields, summer park band concerts, 
and heavy industry mixed with Indian restaurants, colonic-irrigation 
clinics, and golden meditation domes.

It all started in 1973, when Parsons College, a 98-year-old 
Presbyterian-affiliated school in Fairfield went bankrupt, leaving 
the town of 10,000 in a quandary. A year later, the fledgling 
Maharishi International University—founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 
onetime guru to the Beatles, Clint Eastwood, and Joe Namath—bought 
the campus for a bargain $2.5 million and transplanted from Santa 
Barbara, California. At first townsfolk rejoiced at what appeared to 
be their economic salvation. Some mainline ministers embraced 
Transcendental Meditation (TM) as an effective relaxation technique.

Yet the honeymoon soon ended when several evangelical pastors 
charged that TM represented Hindu religion, not science as Maharishi 
asserted. The relationship has been strained for most of the 27 
years that the school, now known as Maharishi University of 
Management (MUM), has been in Fairfield. But the tensions have 
escalated in recent months as TM has started bulldozing historic 
campus buildings and as meditators (followers of TM) have taken 
steps to incorporate their own town, Vedic City (the Vedas are the 
Hindu scriptures), north of Fairfield.

While TM's influence continues to grow in Fairfield, most local 
evangelical churches are struggling—few have more than 150 attending 
services. Still, they are seeking ways not merely to condemn TM but 
to reach out to meditators.

Science or religion?
More than 1,200 TM instruction centers in 108 countries offer free 
introductory lectures, including 135 in the United States. In all, 6 
million people worldwide have taken TM classes, including 1.5 
million Americans. Several studies have concluded that the TM 
lifestyle leads to better health, with twice-daily relaxation 
periods, adherence to a largely vegetarian diet, and abstention from 
alcohol and tobacco. Government offices, businesses, and prisons in 
several nations pay for workers and inmates to learn the technique.

TM is also beginning to have a political presence, albeit a small 
one. John Hagelin, a quantum physicist at mum, nearly captured the 
Reform Party nomination for President of the United States. When 
that effort failed, he returned to the Maharishi-inspired Natural 
Law Party, which fielded more than 1,000 candidates in 50 states in 
November. He received 80,847 votes nationwide in the November 

As a meditation technique, TM has its origins in Hinduism, the 
religion of 700 million people worldwide, concentrated mostly in 
India. Hindus are polytheistic, recognizing an estimated 300 million 
gods. Hindus believe in reincarnation, in people's choices 
influencing their destiny, and in the sacredness of all forms of 

Meditators, though, deny they are engaged in religious 
activity. "The Transcendental Meditation technique is not a 
religion; it is not a religious practice," says Craig Pearson, 50, 
executive vice president of mum. "It has nothing to do with 
religion; it's all about developing a total potential of brain 
function." Pearson, whose office is near Taste of Utopia Street and 
Golden Dome Way, is the author of a forthcoming book on "yogic 
flying," a hopping maneuver performed with one's legs crossed.

Pearson says TM allows people to unlock their full "God-given 
potential." All problems in the world, including drug abuse, school 
violence, marital strife, and government corruption, can be traced 
to a failure to use total brain potential, Pearson believes. "There 
is no conflict with one's religion; in fact, there's only support 
for whatever one's religious tradition might be."

Pearson echoes the 1989 announcement by the TM World Plan Executive 
Council that the "scientific technique" nourishes all 
religions. "What Maharishi is propagating is the essence of 
Christianity," the council stated. "By teaching TM, Maharishi is 
creating heaven on earth and fulfilling the will of Christ."

Many Christians disagree. As Fairfield First Baptist Church pastor 
Jim Wotherspoon, 49, says, "What it boils down to is either Jesus 
Christ is Lord or Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is Lord."

For five years, Robert Relly lived in the Catskill Mountains of New 
York with an elite group that meditated, read Vedic scripture, and 
studied Sanskrit and Hindu astrology nine hours a day. He moved to 
Fairfield in 1993. "I thought I was on the path to God," says Relly, 
35. "I was going to save the world." A 1996 invitation to Jubilee 
Christian Center, now Fairfield's fastest-growing church, changed 
his life. "I saw that TM is incompatible with Christianity," he 
says. "It's Hinduism. Jesus said no one comes to him except by the 
Father. You're either for Jesus or against him."

For many, nearly everything about TM seems religious—especially 
devotees' gathering daily in a sacred place before a portrait of a 
leader addressed as "his holiness." In some areas, courts seem to 
agree. In a case involving use of TM in New Jersey public schools in 
1977, U.S. District Judge H. Curtis Meanor ruled that TM 
teachings "are religious in nature" under the First Amendment's 
establishment clause. At about the same time, several evangelical 
denominations published position papers or passed resolutions 
declaring TM to be incompatible with Christianity.

Fearful reactions
While Maharishi's early devotees were rich and famous, his current 
following is much broader. There are 20,000 TM instructors in the 
United States, each of whom has undergone at least six months of 
training. The standard course fee is $1,200, for 11 hours of 
instruction over five days.

"When people, regardless of their background, learn this practice, 
their intelligence begins increasing again regardless of their age," 
Pearson says. "Creativity increases, health improves, moral maturity 
improves." He claims that when enough TMers gather in a certain 
locale, crime, sickness, and accidents all decrease and the economy 
improves in the area.

The commitment of even the average meditator is impressive, even to 
many Christians. The standard practitioner meditates for 20 minutes 
in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. Those who want to 
develop their "total brain physiology potential" and to contribute 
significantly to world peace learn the advanced TM Sidhi program, 
which requires up to two hours twice a day. Around 1,500 who trek to 
Fairfield's golden domes (one for men, one for women) follow this 

The goal of Maharishi, now at least 82, is to establish several 
permanent groups of 7,000 advanced TMers around the planet, which he 
believes would create heaven on Earth. The World Center of Vedic 
Learning is being constructed in India to house up to 
100,000 "custodians of the ancient Vedic tradition." When finished, 
the center may be the tallest building in the world.

Back in Fairfield, mum admissions representative Steve Yellin, 47, 
provides a tour of the men's dome. Dome visitors must remove their 
shoes before entering the vast meditation hall, and no photographs 
are allowed.

In the dome, Sidhis have their own real estate—mattresses, sheets, 
and pillows—where they practice yogic flying. They face east, where 
there are large portraits of Maharishi and his mentor, Guru 
Dev. "Seven million hours of transcending have occurred in here," 
Yellin says. "There's almost a church-like quality."

Meditators are a difficult group to reach with the gospel. Robert 
Relly has evangelized numerous TMers, but only a few have become 
Christians. "Theological arguments don't work because they are 
already dedicated to a cause," Relly says. "I don't know many people 
who pray four hours a day." Telling meditators they are worshiping 
the devil is ineffective, Relly believes: "They don't think they 
need a Savior. They aren't feeling the conviction of sin."

Many early evangelistic efforts were counterproductive, says Jim 
Cecil, 59, pastor of Fairfield's Foursquare Gospel Church since 
1983. "No one had a real mission strategy other than to treat them 
as cultic," Cecil says. "There were prayer marches around the 
university, but it really was misdirected energy, spun out of 
fearfulness rather than a desire to reach people who needed Christ. 
It came off as an attack against meditators."

When pastor Stephen Higdon arrived to plant an Assemblies of God 
congregation in 1981, he zealously wanted to evangelize meditators. 
Yet his efforts were largely unproductive, he admits. "I became 
convicted that I was spending so much time reading books on TM, 
trying to figure out where they were coming from, that I neglected 
God's Word," Higdon says.

Still, some Christians in Fairfield say that studying the meditators 
carries benefits that go beyond evangelism. "We can learn dedication 
and commitment from the TM community," says Greg Crawford, pastor of 
Jubilee Christian Center. "One of the arguments I hear is, 'Why 
would I want to be a part of what you're doing? You have no 
commitment.' They don't see Christians taking their faith as 
seriously as they take their meditation."

Both Higdon and Cecil have had meditators become Christians in their 
churches. But most of those disillusioned with TM eventually move 
out of town, having no reason to stay once they have left the close-
knit meditating community.

"They have a cause they will give everything for, and we can't even 
agree on what our cause is," Crawford says. "They view meditation as 
bigger than Christianity."

Wotherspoon says Christians could learn lessons in harmonious living 
from the TM community. When Wotherspoon arrived in 1995 to lead an 
American Baptist congregation, he swiftly heard warnings from 
townspeople to be wary of the "roos," the disparaging nickname 
attributed to followers of "guru" Maharishi. He also heard that all 
meditators are selfish and self-absorbed.

"That's not a fair characterization," Wotherspoon says. He also 
found Christians leery of participating in Habitat for Humanity, a 
distinctly Christian organization, because meditators served on the 
local board. "They are doing this to benefit others," he says. "Yet 
churches haven't been responsive because meditators are a part of 
the local leadership."

Evangelicals realize they have a mission field at their 
doorstep. "Meditators are spiritually seeking and have given up 
things to pursue this," Wotherspoon says. "They're looking for 
meaning and purpose. God is the answer to their quest."

Longtime Fairfield pastors Cecil and Higdon concede it may be time 
for strategies used by relative newcomers such as Crawford and Clint 

Freeman moved to Fairfield a year ago after living in Tokyo for 15 
years. With knowledge of Eastern culture and a Japanese wife, Keiko, 
Freeman believes he can be relevant to the diverse community in 
Fairfield. He is focusing on establishing relationships before 
planting a Christian and Missionary Alliance church. He recently 
sponsored a "Jesus I Never Knew" seminar in a downtown hotel 
frequented by meditators, and an international food-and-games 
festival in a city park that drew 130 people.

Crawford opened the tri-level, 24,000-square-foot Jubilee Christian 
Center in October at the most-traveled intersection of Fairfield, 
the junction of state Highway 1 and U.S. 34, one block west of the 
square. The five-year-old congregation had been meeting in a factory-
district warehouse. Jubilee has a Bible school with 15 students, 
which Crawford says may expand to 70 students in time. The move to 
the downtown location has helped the congregation grow to 300, 
including 20 former meditators. The new building was purchased for 
$75,000 from a "hard-core" meditator, according to Crawford. It had 
an appraised value of $500,000.

Crawford credits much of Jubilee's success to 20 members who meet 
for prayer on Friday nights. "There is a time to confront, but 
there's also a time to love people and let God deal with their 
hearts," says Crawford, 41. "We need to show we are more concerned 
with them as people, and not so concerned with their behavior. 
Nevertheless, Crawford has rankled some mum officials because of the 
numbers of meditators he has prompted to leave TM, the acquisition 
of a new building, and by Crawford's sponsoring TM book burnings by 
former followers.

A glimpse of the future?
MUM continues to expand its campus, finishing the first phase of a 
three-phase $50 million rebuilding program on the 280-acre campus. 
Three years from now, a building currently under construction is 
projected to have 1,000 students enrolled solely for a computer-
science program. By the time construction is complete, enrollment is 
projected to increase dramatically.

MUM is fully accredited, offering master's and doctoral programs. 
University courses have such modest titles as "Self-Pulse Reading 
for Perfect Health" and "Yogic Flying: Creating Happiness, Health, 
Enlightenment, and Heaven on Earth." mum has 650 full-time students, 
up 50 percent from 1999. Half the mum student body is from outside 
the United States, representing 50 nations.

But students are not what keeps Fairfield humming. The number of 
meditators is around 2,750, people who have settled in Fairfield to 
be part of the movement. About 400 businesses in and around 
Fairfield are run by meditators, including 50 in the 
telecommunications and software industries (the area is sometimes 
dubbed "Silicorn Valley"). Two multinational telecommunications 
companies, Telegroup Inc. and USA Global Link, have world 
headquarters in Fairfield.

Rather than spend millions to renovate deteriorating Parsons College 
buildings, mum has opted to rebuild. So far, three buildings on the 
National Register of Historic Places have been bulldozed.

The unoccupied chapel may be torn down soon, which could further 
strain tensions between the community and university.

"It has serious structural problems," Pearson says. However, mum has 
offered to give the building to any community group able to raise 
the estimated $1 million needed to move it.

The main challenge for Fairfield Christians is evangelistic, and 
that has required a new attitude. "I've quit looking at them as 
weird people," Cecil says. "They're just a bunch of good people who 
need Christ."

Dave Elmore, 43-year-old Friends Church pastor in Fairfield since 
1999, says, "God has shown us that the only way anything is going to 
happen is if we pray and rely on God's power. We have failed to call 
on God's power to be active in us. Compared to God's power, they are 
very small. It's going to take all of us, not just two or three 
churches, to have an impact on the city."

"Fairfield, Iowa, is just a taste of where we're headed in the U.S. 
if Christians don't evangelize in the next 30 years," Freeman 
says. "People need spiritual nourishment. If it's not from 
Christianity, it will be from some other source."

Related Elsewhere

Be sure to read Christianity Today's related stories "Mere 
Transcendental Meditation | The basic concepts of neo-Vedanta 
philosophy" and "Sometimes It Takes a Miracle | Jim Sieber found 
Christ more sufficient than self-realization."

Maharishi University of Management's claim to "develop the total 
potential of the brain, the cosmic creativity latent within every 
student" is reminiscent of Scientology rhetoric about actualizing 
personal potential.

Read the school's statement from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment 
teaches "Consciousness-Based education" to children from preschool 
to 12th grade in Fairfield.

Visit the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce homepage to learn more about 
the town.

Read about the history of Fairfield in a research project compiled 
by students of Fairfield High School. The project includes the 
history of local churches, the college, and town government.

Previous Christianity Today stories about transcendental meditation 

>From Cult Site to Teen Camp | Anything that can go right will, Young 
Life discovers. (Nov. 22, 1999)

Spiritual Mapping Gains Credibility Among Leaders | (Jan. 2, 1998)

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