I went to a garden party—at least, that's what the marquee inside the Hyatt Newporter said on June 8: "An Evening of World Peace . . . Garden Room 1." In Garden Room 1, a banquet hall that borders a patio, I sat down among about 100 adherents and leaders of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement. On the patio, a group of luxury-car executives talked more and more loudly about their golf games while we talked softly and ate vegetarian inside. We had come to learn about meditating for peace. I was thinking what easy pickings this lot was: high-minded, soft-spoken fish in a barrel. Easy pickings, the way of all true believers. When the lady across the table huffed, "How can you eat steak and then talk about peace?" I thought I had hit the cross-legged, sitting-duck jackpot.
There was a problem, though. They were all so rational, so—I'm going to say it—nice. They believed very much in their way, that the mind can not only produce inner peace but, when combined with other like thoughts, also produce a kind of field effect of peace throughout the world—but had nothing ill to say of other ways. The latter being proof of what one speaker after another said: "We are not a religion."
They welcomed all people, they said, though, on this night in Newport Beach, they were especially interested in welcoming people with lots of money.
"World peace comes down to money," said Neil Paterson, director of the Endowment Fund for Perpetual World Peace. He wasn't talking about economic justice; it was strictly cash or check. "If anyone here knows any people of influence or, better, any millionaires or billionaires, we are always eager to talk to them," he said, and then I thought that the TM folks were maybe more of a religion than they knew.
What they want the money for is a noble cause—the noblest. Peace. They want to build TM universities throughout the world, including four in the United States, where students would meditate for and produce peace. What is needed, the speakers said, is a different way. What man has tried to accomplish through smart bombs can only be achieved through a change of mind. Violence produces only more violence. But it won't come cheap, as Paterson said throughout the evening. Each university will cost $15 million to build and $70 million to $80 million to maintain, and the TM people would like to have a $1 billion trust fund for the universities.
When you're talking that kind of money, even in Newport Beach, you had better be able to produce the goods. Your garden-variety millionaires and billionaires are not in the habit of opening their checkbooks without some hard facts and, of course, a floor show. The TMsters brought up two medical doctors and one physicist to talk about the scientific proof of what they were proposing to do.
This was not some New Age shtick; this was proven science! Dr. Volker Schanbacher, whose reedy voice and thick German accent made it appear that he received his degree from central casting, spoke of electromagnetism and gravitation, of the Meissner Effect and the Maharishi Effect, and he did so with examples of boiling pots of water and lasers. He talked about meditation producing the Maharishi Effect for America, a land that would be "invincible to harmful influence from the outside" because of something he called our cultural integrity and internal coherence, which made me wonder if he had ever been to Texas.
He was very convincing in that no one had any idea what he was saying.
"Did any of that make any sense to you?" the man next to me asked.
"Not much. How about you?"
"I understood the part about gravity making the pen fall to the ground. After that . . ."
As the evening drew to a close, Paterson brought up the big attraction: magician Doug Henning, who had given up a successful career on TV and Broadway to hang with the Maharishi in Holland and build a TM theme park called Vedaland.
"What's Vedaland?" I asked the guy next to me.
"It's kind of like an amusement park, except that instead of a lot of rides, you get a good feeling about the way the world could be."
"Kind of what Disneyland was originally intended to be."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. I think Walt Disney must have been very enlightened."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Henning was soon onstage and was very good, very funny. He's a wee man—though, sitting next to him at dinner, I can tell you that he is one voracious Canadian. He ate plate after plate of beans—the magical fruit; there are no accidents, my friend—and then began picking legumes off his Julie Hagerty-sweet, well-toned wife, who began blocking his advances with her fork. But the magic was very good: torn napkins and steel rings employed to show what a mess the world is in, his magic used to show what TM could produce. It was nice.
Everyone clapped, and then Paterson got up to talk again. If anyone had missed his point that evening, he repeated it: they needed money—lots of it. He was not soliciting $10 and $20 chump change. He wanted big dollars. He talked about how easy it would be to accomplish all that had been spoken of this evening if just the top 100 richest families in America would donate 1 percent of their wealth. He said he thought they'd want to do that, since "rich people have the most to gain from peace." Really? I always thought that rich people had the most to gain from wars. I always thought that countries usually go to war for the interests of their richest families, families that level hillsides and draw oil on shorelines, families that grow fat off misery and cheap labor, families that produce weapons to kill the sons of poor families. But maybe that's just me.
As the evening broke up, people gathered into small groups, smiling faces and pleasant talk. Whether they were passing along the names and numbers of billionaire buddies, I can't say. I couldn't hear. I was too busy listening to the fan ask Henning how his new Vedaland park was coming.
"Great," Henning said. "I think we just got financing."