The wizened sage sits alone upstairs in his secluded wooden house, massaging his temples in fatigue as he speaks to the camera.
It’s late afternoon, and he has been at it since 3 a.m., conducting his business by video linkup around the world: new schools in India, new meditation centers in Europe, a new medical curriculum for his university in Iowa.
At his age -- probably 89 -- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has no interest in dwelling on the halcyon days of the 1960s and ‘70s when he was guru to Beatles and Beach Boys and his Transcendental Meditation movement was the new buzz on college campuses.
Sleeping only two or three hours a day, he is grappling with weightier problems, his aides say -- translating the theory of meditative power into a blueprint for feeding the hungry and bringing peace to the world.
In his metaphysical world, Maharishi -- a Hindi title meaning “great seer” -- believes the unifying field that Albert Einstein sought has been within us all the time, in the “unbounded consciousness” of the mind.
“There is one unity, unified wholeness, total natural law, in the transcendental unified consciousness,” he intones to the camera that broadcasts his image to a reporter downstairs and to his weekly global audience by webcast.
Dressed in white, the elderly man on the screen has lost all but a fringe of the long hair that once flowed over his shoulders. His full beard and mustache are still bushy, but they’ve turned silvery.
Physically isolated from all but a handful of attendants, Maharishi contemplates the lessons of the Vedas, the vast Sanskrit canon compiled some 3,500 years ago. From it, he evolves solutions for today’s troubled world:
* Tear down major structures -- the White House and the United Nations among them -- and rebuild them according to Vedic architectural plans that harmonize construction with nature.
* Send meditation groups to world hot spots as psychic shock troops whose combined positive energy will dispel negativity, reduce crime, ease conflict and promote world peace.
* And his latest project: a $10-trillion plan to eradicate poverty from the planet.
A prominently displayed advertisement has run daily since mid-December in the International Herald Tribune newspaper, seeking investments of a minimum $60,000 for a “world peace bond,” promising a 10% to 15% annual return.
Maharishi’s idea is to buy 5 billion acres in 100 developing countries for labor-intensive farming, providing employment and income for the world’s poorest people by supplying the First World market for organic food.
The ads so far have failed to produce any takers. “We don’t expect anything so soon. Because the project is big, people have to examine it from their different angles,” said project director Benny Feldman, a Mexican economist.
Governments can’t do it, Maharishi believes. Neither can they bring peace. “To resolve problems through negotiation is a very childish approach,” he says.
A few hundred meditators on either side of a conflict is all that’s needed to create an aura of peace. “We create world consciousness and coherence. Therefore, fighting will stop all over,” he says.
“Don’t fight darkness. Bring the light, and darkness will disappear.”
Eliminate poverty? End war and create world peace? One wonders whether an agenda so ambitious can be grounded in reality.
But in Maharishi’s nonlinear world, the scales are cosmic and time frames have little meaning. If it takes 50 or 100 years, so be it.
Yet he operates as if time were running out.
“He runs several shifts of us into the ground,” said American John Hagelin, a physicist who interprets Maharishi’s thoughts into science-based language that falls more easily on a layman’s ears. “He is a fountainhead of innovation and new ideas -- far too many than you can ever follow up.”
In July Maharishi brought 2,000 people from all over the world to his Dutch compound to mark 50 years since he began teaching Transcendental Meditation, a movement that has drawn 6 million practitioners since it was introduced.
“Our time of talking about peace is over. Now it’s time for us to produce the effect,” his aides quote him as telling the group. The first 50 years, instructing people how to meditate, were just a warmup, he said.
Transcendental Meditation, or TM, is a 20-minute twice-daily routine in which the meditator silently focuses on a sound, or mantra, to induce relaxation and “dive into a state of pure consciousness.”
Practitioners say the technique, which anyone can learn for a fee of $2,500, taps into the deepest resources of the brain and intelligence.
“Anger, stress, tension, depression, sorrow, hate, fear -- these things start to retreat,” said director David Lynch of “Twin Peaks” fame, who has practiced TM for 32 years. “And for a filmmaker, having this negativity lift away is money in the bank. When you’re suffering you can’t create,” he told hundreds of students at Amsterdam’s Free University.
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.