Nov 9, 2009

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Rs 60,000 crore fortune faces battle between two groups of followers

Mahesh Yogi (left) with the Beatles in 1967.Mahesh Yogi (left) with the Beatles in 1967.
Mahesh Yogi (left) with the Beatles in 1967.
Shantanu Guha Ray

India Today

July 2, 2012

November 30, 2009
Transcendental Meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's vast fortune in India, mostly land, estimated to be worth Rs 60,000 crore, has sparked a bitter conflict between his heirs and followers. There are allegations of illegal land deals and formation of fake trusts to take over the properties.

The godman, famous for introducing the legendary Beatles to India, died in February 2008, leaving behind more than 12,000 acres of land across India. This includes prime locations in Delhi, Noida, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Goa, all vested with the Spiritual Regeneration Movement (SRM) Foundation, set up by the guru in 1959. The guru established several societies with the SRM Foundation and Maharishi Global University based in Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh at the top of the list. The other four educational institutions are Maharishi Shiksha Sansthan, Maharishi Ved Vigyan Vidyapeeth, Maharishi Gandharva Ved Vidyapeeth and Mahila Dhyan Vidyapeeth that run 148 schools in 16 states across India.

Immediately after the Maharishi's death in Vlodrop, Netherlands, tensions started between members of the societies and followers for control of the assets. Two groups, each claiming to be his real inheritors, accuse each other of 'impersonation' to gain control of the land-rich societies. On one side are the guru's nephews Anand Prakash Srivastava, 51, chairman of SRM Foundation India and Ajay Prakash Srivastava, 43, secretary, SRM Foundation India, and Brahmachari Girish Chandra Verma, 55, chairman of the educational trusts. They are pitted against G. Ram Chandramohan, 61, a member of the 12-member SRM Foundation. He is supported by Vijay Dhavale, 51, a Chhattisgarh-based real estate agent and disciple of the guru as well as Opender Kalsi, 55, who heads International Human Rights Organisation, a Jalandhar-based NGO.

The maharishi's global headquarters in Vlodrop, Netherlands.
The maharishi's global headquarters in Vlodrop, Netherlands.

In January, the Srivastava brothers petitioned the Delhi High Court to win a stay on sales of land owned by various societies formed by the Maharishi Group. They accused Chandramohan and his associates of trying to illegally acquire society land through forged documents. Chandramohan claims instead that the Srivastavas were selling the guru's land without the sanction of all SRM Foundation board members.

In a complaint to the it Department in March, Chandramohan blamed Ajay Srivastava of taking into his possession books for accounts and details of all land from the offices of the srm Foundation for "personal gains". Chandramohan submitted what he claimed was proof of some land deals executed by the Srivastava brothers without informing the srm Foundation board. He said it was illegal because land owned by the foundation was meant only for religious, educational and philanthropy purposes.

Chandramohan submitted as evidence to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the it Department in March that Ambati Krishnamurthy, president of Ajay Bharat Trust, a wing of the srm Foundation, and Ajay Srivastava had formed a fake srm Foundation of India in Hyderabad. The duo opened an account (09540100014312) with Bank of Baroda in Hyderabad in 2010 to encash two demand drafts for Rs 22 lakh from the sale of foundation land in Chhattisgarh. Once the cash was withdrawn, the account was closed in July 2011. Ajay insists it was Chandramohan who forged papers to acquire land. "They got 30 acres of the 175-acre plot in Chhattisgarh by forging papers. We filed a counter in December 2011 in court and got a stay.? india today has a copy of the fir Ajay filed on December 16 at Bilaspur police station, which he later submitted to court, accusing Chandramohan of forging documents for the sale.

In his counter in March 2012, Chandramohan has offered it officials evidence of other "illegal" land deals by the Srivastavas:

A residential property in Golf Links, Delhi, was sold by Ajay without a valid resolution passed by SRM board members, some of whom then lodged a criminal complaint against Ajay with the Economic Offences Wing of Delhi Police, alleging the Rs 50-crore sale was at one-third of the market price for 2,000 sq ft. "We had an agreement-vetted by the court-signed more than 11 years ago to sell it for less than the current amount. I got the best deal possible," says Ajay.

Chandramohan claims 50 acres close to the Greater Noida Expressway was sold by Ajay three months ago for an undisclosed amount without authorisation by the SRM Managing Committee. Ajay claims he has the power of attorney to sell the land.

Chandramohan says Ajay sold four acres of land in Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh in 2011. The sale was cancelled after it was proved that board members of SRM Foundation were not consulted. Ajay says the charges are false. He claims Chandramohan and his men sold without permission of srm board 56 acres of land in Takhatpur tehsil of Bilaspur district for over Rs 25 crore. "A case is pending in the district court of Takhatpur against the sale deed," says Ajay.

In April, it Department and the Ministry of Home Affairs initiated investigations into such "illegal" sale of land and also into the functioning of the SRM Foundation following complaints from Harshvardhan, MP from Maharajgunj, Uttar Pradesh. A Maharishi devotee, he wants the Government to seize control of assets owned by all Maharishi societies pending the investigations into "illegal" sale of land and donations to the societies. The MP claims he has evidence that the Maharishi Vidya Mandirs are in a mess; barely 20 per cent of the schools have students and lack even basic amenities. "Someone needs to take notice," says Harshvardhan. "Just four years after his death, the group is in total disarray," he told India Today.

Harshvardhan has shared with it officials details of the SRM Foundation's financial transactions for the last two years that he claims show almost 90 per cent of society revenues from donations were used to acquire properties. The MP said the Maharishi Nagar Colony in Sector 39 of Noida, which the guru's followers built in the late 1970s, is in a state of neglect. "Those who live there lack basic civic amenities. On inquiry, those working there told us they are being underpaid for years," said Harshvardhan. Ajay says a religious trust cannot give "corporate salaries" to its people. He says the group only has an annual turnover of Rs 25-30 crore. "We have huge tracts of land but do not have loads of cash," he said.

The colony, spread over more than 900 acres, currently houses four buildings, each with more than 800 rooms. Most rooms lie in total neglect. A helipad once used by the guru is now dedicated to grazing cattle. Local real estate agents peg the worth of the land at Rs 15,000 crore. "The global university no longer operates from here. The Transcendental Meditation yoga classes are rare because there are very few students," says Ashok, a resident. He says 500-odd devotees of the guru stay in the colony, doing odd jobs to run the ashram. Ajay argues that if portions of the building are in a dilapidated condition, there is little he can do because "you need huge donations for the upkeep of the complex".

Large donations have dried up, so have the hordes of people who once filled the compound to hear the "giggling guru". A mere four years after his death, the Maharishi's legacy in India is in tatters.

Oct 11, 2009

Police Investigate Sweat Lodge Deaths

Washington Post, Nation Digest, 
October 11, 2009

Sedona, AZ (AP) - A sauna-like sweat lodge at an Arizona resort meant to provide spiritual cleansing has become the focus of a police investigation after two people died during a retreat hosted by a self-help expert.

James Shore of Wisconsin and Kirby Brown of New York died Thursday night after being overcome during a two-hour session in the sweat lodge. Nineteen others were taken to area hospitals. One remained in critical condition on Saturday.

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said Saturday his detectives are focusing on James Arthur Ray, a self-help expert and author, and his staff as they try to determine if criminal negligence played a role in the deaths. No charges have been filed.

Ray's spokesman expressed condolences Friday but would not talk specifically about the deaths.

Authorities have not determined the cause of the deaths and illnesses but have ruled out carbon monoxide poisoning. The incident happened at the Angel Valley Retreat Center, just outside Sedona.

Ray rented the facility as part of a five-day retreat that promised to "absolutely change your life."

Sep 22, 2009

Guru Dev Shankaracharya Brahmananda Saraswati जय गुरुदेव Jai Guru Deva

Movie footage of Guru Dev, Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, believed to have been filmed in Lucknow, India, circa April 1952. Visible in certain frames is a young man later to become world famous for introducing millions to the practice of transcendental meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Beatles practiced this meditation and staying with Maharishi at his ashram near Rishikesh in 1968.

Aug 1, 2009

42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns: My lost weekend with the trademark happy, bathroom-break hating, slightly spooky inheritors of est

Laura McClure
Mother Jones
Volume 34/August 2009

After nearly 40 hours inside the basement of Landmark Education's world headquarters, I have not Transformed. Nor have I "popped" like microwave popcorn, as the Forum Leader striding back and forth at the front of the windowless gray room has promised. In fact, by the time he starts yelling and stabbing the board with a piece of chalk around hour 36, it's become clear that I'll be the hard kernel left at the bottom of this three-and-a-half-day Landmark Forum. I have, however, Invented the Possibility of a Future in which I get a big, fat raise, a Future I'll Choose to Powerfully Enroll my bosses in, now that I am open to Miracles Around Money.

My reluctance to achieve Breakthrough Results is clearly not shared by many of my fellow Forum attendees. Even on day one, most seem positively elated to have plunked down 500 bucks for a more efficient, passionate, powerful life. "Hey, it's cheaper than therapy," a therapist-turned-real estate agent tells me. He ponders how to persuade one of his employees to pony up for the Forum. She's going through a rough patch, he explains - the recession, her marriage.

Not that being broke or brokenhearted would make her a minority in this room; several attendees talk about being between jobs, and one woman says she's on welfare. In the scribbled shorthand of my furtive notes, PW stands for "incidents of public weeping." I lose track after the PW count hits 65. Landmark Education, a for-profit "employee-owned" private company, took in $89 million last year offering leadership and development seminars (and cruises, and dating services, and courses for kids and teens). It claims that more than 1 million seekers have sat through its basic training, which is offered in seven languages in 20 countries. Its consulting firm, the Vanto Group, has coached employees from Apple, ExxonMobil, JPMorgan Chase, and the Pentagon.

Though it's hardly a secret, Landmark does not advertise that it is the buttoned-down reincarnation of the ultimate '70's self-actualization philosophy, est. Erhard Seminars Training was founded by Werner Erhard, a former used car salesman who'd changed his name from Jack Rosenberg, moved to Northern California, and dabbled in Dale Carnegie, Zen, and Scientology before seizing upon the idea that you, and only you, are responsible for your own happiness or unhappiness, success or failure. Est's marathon Transformation sessions were legendary for their confrontational tactics (Erhard calling his students "assholes"), inscrutable platitudes ("What is, is, and what ain't, aint"), and the pressure put on participants to bring in new recruits for the next cycle of events.

In 1985, Erhard changed est's name to the innocuous-sounding The Forum. Amid controversy over his convoluted tax records, he left the country in 1991 and slid into obscurity. But before he did, he sold the company's "technology" to his former employees, who used it to create The Landmark Forum. Erhard's brother, Harry Rosenberg, is Landmark's CEO.

Like a successful grad of its own program, Landmark has shed its past hang-ups and realized Breakthrough Results. "We are on the list of offerings in the human-resources departments in hundreds of companies around the world," boasts PR director Deborah Beroset. The company's language of personal productivity, confidence, and communication (much of it trademarked) has become white noise in corporate America - and possibly in your personal circle, too. "Authentic life," anyone? Landmark's corporate clients bring not just respectability but more warm bodies bearing checks. (Landmark relies entirely on word-of-mouth advertising.) The yoga apparel chain Lululemon pays for its employees to enroll in Landmark. Other firms have been sued by employees claiming they were pressured to attend the Forum: In 2007, a Virginia man accused his former employer of firing him for his "refusal to embrace Landmark religious beliefs." Not that Landmark itself condones such arm twisting. At the start of my session, we were asked to affirm that we were attending of our own free will. A couple of people who confessed otherwise were asked to leave. Still, I talked with several who'd been sent by their employers.

The profitable field Landmark helped pioneer is now crowded with life coaches, time-management gurus, and productivity bloggers. Like David Allen's Getting Things Done or Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Landmark is just one of dozes of quasi-philosophies that promise to empty your inbox and fulfill your personal goals. And maybe survive the recession. Since the Great Depression, when Dale Carnegie's seminars on how to win friends and influence people became popular, the personal development industry has bloomed under darkening economic skies. Forget work/ life balance; that's so 2008. How to do more in less time is today's hot productivity trend. (Landmark's website touts a survey in which one-third of Forum grads reported that their incomes rose at lest 25 percent after participating; 954 percent of those attributed it to the program.) Yet if Landmark is just another outpost in lifehacking country, why does it seem so insidious?

Part of it is the in-your-face, hard-sell ethos embedded in the corporate DNA it inherited from est. Forum grads are urged to stay involved and "invite" friends and family. After finishing the Forum, I received calls asking me to volunteer at the Landmark call center and come in for one-on-one coaching. The company also vigorously guards its reputation from critics. After I told Beroset I'd be writing an article on my mixed feelings about the Forum, she called several times and sent me an email that might be described as threatening - but in the most benign, centered kind of way.

I first heard about Landmark while working as a Peace Corps recruiter. Every now and again I'd see it listed at the end of someone's resume, occupying the same spot as, say, a Kiwanis leadership award, or a pastime like water polo. Applicants described it as a professional development seminar - most had been signed up by employers - and gave glowing reports. "You should try it," they invariably added. I forgot about the whole thing until a generally sane, well-meaning friend called me one weekend with a frog in his throat. He was at some time-management seminar, he'd really gotten a lot out of this thing, and would I want to come by and learn more next Tuesday night? It was hard to say no. But then I googled Landmark.

Eventually, as part of an ongoing attempt to hack my own overscheduled life, I did sign up for the Landmark Forum. I vowed to go in with an open mind and to follow the rules, no matter how restrictive. That meant taking just one meal break per 13-hour session, no Advil or other over-the-counter drugs, no speaking out unless called to the microphone by the Leader, and wearing my name tag at all times. I signed a six-page disclaimer in which I declared that I understood that after attending the Forum, people with no history of mental or emotional problems had experienced "brief, temporary episodes of emotional upset ranging from heightened activity ... to mild psychotic-like behavior."

At 9 a.m. on a Friday I find myself sardined into a basement room with 129 other people, listening to David Cunningham,j a boomer in a dark suit and bright purple shirt, whose first language seems to be Tent-Revival Baptist Preacher. (I later learn that he was raised a fundamentalist in Florida.) He informs us that he has personally led more than 50,000 people to Transformation. He's here to tell us that "anything you want for yourself and your life is available from being here this weekend." He starts by taking a few questions from the floor. A querulous man observes that the phrases carefully ruler-lined on the chalkboard seem like poor English. ("In the Landmark Forum you will bring forth the presence of a New Realm of Possibility for yourself and your life.") David agrees. "It's very poor English. You know why? Because the usual confines of language would not allow your Transformation this weekend."

Another man is called to the mic. He wants to know how Landmark is different from est. David sighs. "If I had to sum it up, here's what I'd say: They're both about Transformation, but est was very experiential. It was the '70s, okay? Your access was an experience. Your access this weekend is going to be just through conversation. We realized we could do it just through conversation." And that's the last we hear of that.

A slight, blond woman sitting next to me confides that she's here only because her boyfriend paid her way - with the subtext that this was an offer she couldn't refuse. She shows me a packet of notes tied with a bow. They're from a friend who attended a Forum and thought it was brainwashing. In the corner of the top sheet is written, "To be opened on 'breaks.'" Why "breaks" in quotes, I wonder?

I soon find out. "Break" is a misleading term at an all-day workshop that offers no snacks, no drinks other than Dixie cups of water, a single mealtime, and only loosely scheduled pauses to use the bathroom. Also, every break has a corresponding assignment. The first one: Call someone who'd like to hear from you and tell them where you are. I call my brother. "So, it's like the Hare Krishnas of time management," he says slowly. On the next break, I hid in a bathroom stall and read a Landmark flyer seemingly translated from Martian: "What would it be like if the San Francisco center was your center of being, and reflected in this, you were being your center? ... What if your way of being in the center gives the center its being and you are given your being from the space created in the center?"

By ten o'clock Friday night, 13 hours in, David is curing headaches with visualization techniques (an old Erhard trick) and redefining basic math. "How many items am I holding up?" he asks, holding up a Kleenex box and a chalkboard eraser. "Two," we say in unison. He puts the eraser down. "Now how many am I holding up?" he asks. One? "Two," he says. "The box and everything else." We repeat this until it makes sense - kind of. David promises that tomorrow, people will start to pop.

Indeed, some attendees have popped even before they return to the basement at nine the next morning. Others pop while tearfully offering "shares" about being molested or abandoned, about illnesses and divorces, their suicidal parents. There is applause for stories of calling loved ones and offering forgiveness, and David gently prods the storytellers to invite their family members to attend a Forum - or even pay for them to attend. A woman re-creates a beautiful conversation she had with her mother this morning and ends by singing "Wind Beneath My Wings."

Next, David calls up a woman - I'll call her Rose - who is estranged from her siblings. She reports that when she called her sister this morning, it did not go well. "I'm going to get a little intense now," David warns us with a smile, which he drops as soon as he turns to Rose. "You know the mod of celebration after the last share?" She nods. "What's the room in now?" David shakes his head ruefully. "You were 'screamed at' by your sister? There's no such thing as screaming." People start fidgeting and making for the door; there hasn't been a bathroom break in three hours. "You see, people are leaving," David says. "This is why people don't want to be around you, why your siblings don't want to be around you. You're too dead to feel," he says.

By now, tears are streaming down Rose's face. She asks to sit down; he says nothing. Finally, she thanks David, and he gives her a long hug before she takes a seat. Later, I walk over to tell her that I didn't like how David treated her. To my surprise, she disagrees. After being publicly humiliated, she phoned her sister again, and this time her sister listened. "I guess this is what I needed to hear," Rose tells me, smiling.

By Sunday, I'm in open rebellion. I come bearing contraband- a newspaper, coffee, snacks, and Advil. "How are you?" I ask the minder at the door as I slap on my name tag. "I'm truthful," he says, giving me the stink-eye. I Invent the Possibility of staying far away from Landmark seminars in the future. We get Monday off. When I take a hard seat in the basement for Tuesday's final Special Evening, I'm surprised to find I almost - almost - start crying. It's like seeing a room of beloved camp friends after a year apart. The air is festive and buzzing with chatter about our day and a half away from each other. I think, This is great! No wonder people have brought along dozens of friends to sign up.

David quiets the crowd and sends the friends away with a group of minders. Turning to the rest of us, he says, "You know how I wished you big Problems on Sunday? Well, now I wish you big Breakdowns. Because a Breakdown is nothing more than the gap between your life now and the life you're committed to living. Your job is to step into that gap." He smiles. "When you came in here Friday morning, you were so certain about who you were, weren't you? You walked in certain, and tonight you're walking out uncertain. It could take years to become certain about who you are again. That's what the rest of the Landmark Curriculum for Living is for: to help you resolve that uncertainty."

Suddenly, I want him to love me as his student, to make him smile, to hear him tell me I'm doing a good job in my life. There are more "shares"; David tears up for the third time in two hours. "I love you forever," he tells us. "If you ever wonder if someone loves you, the answer is yes. David loves you."

And then, without warning, he launches into the hard, hard sell. "I am committed to having every one of you register for the Advanced Course tonight," he says. He's no longer smiling. We can demonstrate our commitment to ourselves, to David, to Landmark - all for $650, a $200 discount - but only if we act now.

Before I get up and leave for good, I spot Rose. She's sitting in the front row, gazing expectantly at David, ready to take the next step toward Transformation, Possibility, and EnrollmentTM.

Sidebar Articles

The Hunger Artist

In 1977, est guru Werner Erhard had a vision: He was going to end world hunger by 1997. To that end, he started the Hunger Project, a nonprofit that quickly picked up celebrity sponsors including John Denver, Valerie Harper, and Jimmy Carter's son Chip. But, as Mother Jones reported in December 1978, the group had no intention of actually feeding the starving, just raising "awareness" of hunger - and est. The article also exposed Erhard's complicated web of offshore tax shelters. In response, est threatened to sue. It didn't, but participants in one seminar were instructed to "focus all your negative energy on the people responsible for this terrible slander." Twelve years after it was supposed to become obsolete, the Hunger Project now has only one former Erhard associate on its board and notes it has "no ties to Mr. Erhard or his interests."

Landmark Moments

1971 - Werner Erhard has breakthrough while driving across Golden Gate Bridge; founds est (Erhard Seminars Training)

1973 - Erhard drives a black Mercedes with the vanity plate "SO WUT."

1975 - Est claims to have trained 65,000 people; Erhard dreams of training 40 million.

1975 - John Denver releases "Looking for Space," about his est enlightenment. Later, he asks other est grads to stop sneaking backstage.

1976 - Ex-Yippie Jerry Rubin recounts Erhard's spiel: "He listened to people's miseries ... laughed in their faces and screamed, 'YOU ASSHOLE, YOU CAUSED IT!'"

1977 - Woody Allen encounters a defensive est acolyte in Annie Hall.

1979 - Mork & Mindy features David Letterman playing a guru name Ellsworth, founder of ERK (Ellsworth Revitalization Konditioning).

1985 - Est changes its name to the Forum.

1988 - Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk attends the Forum; later credits it with his "big epiphany moment."

1989 - Nicolas Cage buys Erhard's palatial San Francisco pad, which one boasted a soundproof room, an elaborate security system, and a bedroom painted black.

1991 - Erhard goes into exile. Landmark buys est's "technology" and reportedly promises to pay Erhard a licensing fee for 18 years.

1993 - While in Moscow, Erhard appears on Larry King Liive; claims Scientologists are out to get him.

2002 - Six Feet Under's Ruth Fisher tries the Plan, "One of those '70's self-discovery clubs that yell at you and don't let you go to the bathroom for 12 hours."

2006 - Erhard breaks media silence in Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard, a film co-produced by his lawyer.

2007 - Erhard unveils new management philosophy coauthored with a Harvard Business School professor and the CEO of Landmark's consulting arm. Message: "integrity is the pathway to trust."

2009 - Landmark claims to have trained more than 1 million people. 

May 19, 2009

Father Divine

May 19, 2009

KESQ-TV in Palm Springs, CA interviews a La Quinta man, the adopted son of International Peace Movement founder Father Divine. He's making a bid for the leadership of this controversial church.

Apr 30, 2009

Trance 101

Mel Bezalel
The Jerusalem Post
April 30, 2009

"It's a little bit like when milk is boiling over, you can take a drop of cold water and dip it in, and it all settles down. When stress begins to build up, it erupts into violence."

Perhaps it isn't surprising that when international director and raja ("administrator") of Transcendental Meditation in Israel, Kingsley Brooks, talks about the practice in which he's been involved for 35 years, he speaks using elusive terms and near-constant metaphor. After all, the specifics of the practice are only revealed to those who train in it - which requires three preliminary steps and four sessions spread over four consecutive days, taught only by qualified Transcendental Meditation teachers.

Benefits of the practice, based on the constantly quoted "600 research studies," are commonly noted to include a feeling of relaxation and respite from stress and anxiety, memory improvement and enhancing the brain's creativity. The organization's Web site also purports that TM improves the attention span, immune system, academic and job performance, tolerance levels and slows the aging process, reduces blood pressure and mortality rates. On a global level, it's also claimed that TM practiced en masse reduces societal stress and crime rates.

At the most basic level of TM, when members spend 20 minutes meditating twice a day - morning and evening - the practice involves a set of Hindu-inspired meditation techniques which are said to bring practitioners to a higher level of consciousness through reciting a mantra which is secret and unique to each meditator. While members practice it with their eyes closed, their bodies move into a deep rest called "restful alertness." It's described as a unique feeling not experienced during other levels of consciousness - such as being awake, sleeping or dreaming.

During his visit to Israel last month with his wife, Lesley - a "partner" in his work - Brooks dedicated much of his time to promoting TM in schools or "consciousness-based education." One test case is already under way at an Arab school in the North, that cannot currently be named due to the early stages of the program's development. The TM program has been running for 10 months and already the school (comprising 300 pupils) has reported a marked shift in its students' behavior. One teacher who previously worked as the principal reported: "You can say that largely the school had two periods - before the introduction of TM and after it. Before the project, the school was on the verge of a total collapse. We had many problems, a lot of violence, both verbal and physical. Today, the school's climate is better, the atmosphere is more relaxed. There is also improvement in the students' desire for achievements, which is expressed in better grades. There is more optimism... so much so that we received the education award as second in the country for reduction of violence."

Students in the school are not obligated to study TM, says Brooks. Although most do, those who don't wish to have "quiet time" instead - which is simply the observance of silence in the classroom while the other students meditate. One 17-year-old student from the Arab school said the program has made a real difference: "My behavior has changed for the better after learning TM. I am more relaxed and I am feeling that even in moments when I feel down there is an inner happiness that emanates from my body and dominates my behavior. I take things quietly, just the opposite than before when I was very nervous. I feel inner joy that controls my behavior all the time. TM is the best thing that happened to me in my life."

Alex Kutai, National Director of the International Meditation Society of Israel, says he has been approached by three other schools interested in adopting the program - one of which comprises 2,000 students.

The schools program is important to the movement, says Brooks. "We feel that the potential for everyone is great, but particularly for young people. If they have this technology to develop their full potential when they're young," he says, "then when they get older they're already ahead in being as ideal citizens as they can be."

The TM school project began in America and is now also notably popular in South America. Currently, 60,000 high-school students practice TM worldwide. TM views schools as "peace generators" that can be particularly effective in Israel, says Kutai, because of the immense amount of stress caused by the [Israeli-Arab] conflict. "People are feeling they need something to strengthen and relax them - to lose the stress accumulated every day."

Eighteen months ago, renowned film director David Lynch, who established The David Lynch Foundation to raise money for "consciousness-based education and world peace," met with Shimon Peres about the possibility of implementing TM in Israeli schools. "[Lynch] told Peres the only way we can improve the quality of life here [in Israel] is to create more groups in schools," recalls Brooks. "Mr. Peres was very impressed with the idea and said his only request was that it work for both Arab and Israeli kids."

One recent example of academic research that supports the movement's claims is a pilot study carried out by George Washington University in December last year on children with ADHD. Though the sample only included 10 children aged 11-14, findings revealed that after three months, twice-daily meditations produced improvements in attention, working memory, organization and behavior regulation. Co-author of the study, Sarina J. Grosswald, said: "Teachers reported they were able to teach more and students were able to learn more because they were less stressed and anxious."

However, despite the number of research studies conducted on TM, the introduction of the technique in schools is not always welcomed. Just two years ago, parents at the Terra Linda High School in San Rafael, California, protested vehemently upon discovering that the David Lynch Foundation was offering the school a $175,000 grant for teaching TM. One objector, Gina Catina, who grew up in the TM movement and was responsible for bringing the technique to two California schools in the 1970s, wrote a letter to the school board to voice her dismay. She accused the movement of being a cult, describing side-effects suffered by TM practitioners she knew and disputing the movement's identity as "non-religious." The funding was subsequently withdrawn by the foundation. Also on the theme of religion, in 1979, a federal court ruled that a course titled Science of Creative Intelligence/Transcendental Meditation could not be taught in New Jersey public schools because it "had a primary effect of advancing religion and religious concepts" and violated the First Amendment.

Many critics of TM take issue with the movement's supposedly "non-religious" standpoint, taking issue specifically with the allusions to Hindu gods that appear in the TM puja - initiation ceremony. Hindu gods such as Shakti, Krishna and Vishnu are all mentioned in the private ceremony, in Sanskrit, and some say their personal mantras include them, too. Bob Roth, spokesperson for the international TM movement and national director of expansion, states that the Hindu connection is purely "cultural" however: "The culture goes back thousands of years, and it's nonsense to say that mantras are names of gods - 100 percent absolute nonsense. It just creates fear and there is no basis to it whatsoever."

One TM critic is Mitch Kapor, who founded Lotus Software and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the international non-profit advocacy organization. Kapor was involved with TM for seven years until 1976 and trained as a TM teacher. "TM is heavily promoted as a scientifically-validated, secular method of stress reduction," says Kapor, "whereas in fact the TM technique is inextricably bound up in a religious Hindu tradition, as is obvious to anyone who considers the mandatory TM initiation ceremony and the supposedly secret mantras. Proponents of TM twist themselves into pretzels to deny or explain away these inconvenient facts, but the real reason they do such things is as part of a drive to recruit as many people as possible into the TM movement." Kapor has strong objections to the program being taught in schools, despite initially experiencing some relaxation benefits from TM himself. Kapor believes that the twice-daily sessions being introduced in schools are designed to recruit members to the movement, who will then become much more involved.

Those who do immerse themselves in the movement often go on to become TM teachers and many practice an advanced technique known as "rounding" - intensive meditation that can last for several hours at a time. It is with rounding that more issues reportedly surface with regard to physical and mental side-effects, though the movement officially states there are none, pointing again to its store of 600 studies.

Past practitioners of TM have publicly spoken out about the alleged side-effects, including American social worker John Knapp, who joined the TM movement in 1972. Although Knapp speaks with 23 years of his own experience in TM, his role as a social worker specializing in recovery from toxic groups, abusive churches and cults and his website about the alleged problems of TM, mean that he is in frequent contact with those suffering with problems related to their experience with the technique. After signing up for TM to boost his grades at the age of 18, Knapp recalls that he had "a cultic relationship with the organization." Soon, Knapp became more involved with TM and began practicing rounding. "I was spending so much time and money on TM that other very important areas of my life were being completely neglected," he says. "During the time I was most involved, for about 20 years I only saw my family a handful of times." Although he is clear to state that it wasn't a directive from the organization, he says it was "a non-stated judgment."

Knapp says he suffered several side-effects from his intensive meditation practice, such as head-shaking (which he occasionally still experiences), disassociation or "spacing out," problems with his memory and a movement where his head would rapidly flip left and he'd feel an energy surge in his spine. On visiting the doctor, it was suggested that he'd developed a kind of Tourette 's syndrome. Knapp says that past TM practitioners contacting him have also reported involuntary twitching, grimacing, shouting and other tick-like behavior.

Mentioning difficulties with the meditation was difficult in the movement, explains Knapp, because "to bring up any, what they called 'negativity,' meant that you were likely to be ostracized from the group. If you had any problems with the meditation, and people did, it was the kind of thing you did behind closed doors."

In Knapp's experience, many of the problems experienced by meditators were explained away by teachers with a concept known as 'stressing,' 'stress release' or 'body purification,' where the body experiences temporary ticks as part of the body's healing process.

TM spokesperson Roth acknowledges that this process can occur, but stresses that its occurrence is rare. "Just like if a person has a weak heart, they have to modify their exercise program. It has happened from rounding and that is why we are careful about who gets the additional practice." However, he denies that TM has any sustained adverse effects and responded, in reference to Knapp's experience, that complainants practicing TM in the 1970s are an exceptional case because of the popular use of drugs at that time: "People who have trouble with rounding are those who in the 1970s... many of whom had a history of taking hallucinogenic drugs. Since then, there have been thousands of people who have gone on to teach TM with no problems whatsoever. Now, to go on a teacher training course, one has to be shown to be healthy with no drugs in their past." However, Knapp asserts he's been in contact with those experiencing problems who learned the meditation after that period.

Despite the anecdotal discussion, Roth maintains that there is no scientific evidence to give any cause for concern: "There has never, ever, ever been a published study with a control group published in a [peer-reviewed] journal in America that has ever shown any negative side effects of TM. And that is unequivocally the case."

Part of the problem with determining the legitimate benefits and problems of TM is the conflicts within the scientific community. As with many areas of research, some of the studies offer contradictions. Although the movement quotes the "600 studies" in its favor, some have been criticized for bias and a lack of scientific evidence. For example, a research paper published in June 2007 by the University of Alberta Evidence-based Practice Center for the US Department of Health and Human Services, stated about meditation research (TM included): "We found the methodological quality of meditation research to be poor, with significant threats to validity in every major category of quality measured, regardless of study design."

Therefore, either Roth's statement regarding the lack of scientific evidence for TM side-effects is not straightforward, or he is simply uninformed. Such studies do exist, such as Stanford University's Leon Otis's 1984 study which revealed that although 52-64 percent of the subjects who practiced TM in the study did not list a single adverse effect, "adverse effects do occur in a sizeable percentage of those who take up the practice," and "the number and severity of complaints were positively related to duration of meditation. Of considerable interest," states the research, "is the finding that the specific adverse effects reported were remarkably consistent between groups and formed a pattern of people who had become anxious, confused, frustrated, depressed and/or withdrawn since starting TM."

There are additional studies that follow similar veins; however, it seems that for every study published, a counter study is produced to dispute the scientific claims. It is important to highlight that much of the criticism launched at TM is, on the whole, focused on the more intensive practicing of the technique.

If Kapor's suspicions are correct about the TM movement attempting to enlist pupils to the movement so they'll become devout members, should there be some concern about the meditation's introduction in schools, or is it pure conjecture?

Hana Shadmi, director of psychology and counseling services at the Education Ministry, says she is encouraged by the research on TM. "I think overall, based on my familiarity with it [TM], it can help give people tools for focus, calmness and healing, which are positive in a school. I know of work that has been done in schools that people said resulted in calmness and a decrease in violence. People have reported good results in schools."

Speaking about the possible side-effects, Shadmi added: "I cannot say anything bad about this... I am not familiar with enough literature that says it is addictive, but it is possible... anything that you overuse in any excessive way can take something that can be good and make it bad. I believe in Israel there are kids who will find it hard enough to do 20-minute sessions, [let alone] doing it excessively. Who [will take part] and how they will be trained, will it be supervised, who will supervise - all these questions, which I have no answer to, puts hesitation in my responses. There is a lot of uncertainty and lack of knowledge. The question is whether it is appropriate for school."

Aharale Rotshtein, principal of regional high school Shar Ha'Negev, near Sderot, has been practicing TM for around six years. He visited the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment in Iowa, the original TM school, eight years ago to see how the practice is applied in schools. Together with his staff, Rotshtein is currently thinking about introducing the technique into his school. "It's a wonderful way of having a little rest," he says. "During the busy, noisy day, it's 40 minutes you can be with yourself, clearing your head. It makes me think more effectively and physically be more effective."

However, despite practicing TM himself, Rotshtein emphasizes that there are points about the method that he finds problematic: "It becomes religious if you follow it to the end. As a free person I don't like this way; I like to use it as a technical way and not more. It's not ideology, it's only a way to give you rest. If you continue with it and it becomes religious, it becomes very dangerous in my point of view."

Other schools less familiar with TM, such as the Hebrew Reali High School in Haifa, remain open-minded about the technique despite claims from critics. School spokeswoman Galit Diamant commented: "Many educational initiatives were born in our school, later to be adopted by the Education Ministry. Our school has always been open to new and innovative educational concepts and will continue to do so, provided that they are congruent with our fundamental values: love of mankind, love for our country and contribution to society and tolerance."

Despite the issues that exist, the TM movement maintains that intensive "rounding" could hold the solution for wider societal betterment. "Having a group practice meditation in an advanced program of meditation," says Brooks, "creates a peaceful influence that spreads to the whole world. Just like individuals have stress, a country has stress."

According to TM research, when just one percent of the population is practicing TM, it's as if the whole country is practicing it - and crime rates and other social problems spontaneously drop. With the advanced meditation program, known as the TM-Sidhi program, just the square root of one percent of the population is needed in order to effect societal change - known as the "Maharishi Effect." In 1983, a group of Sidhi experts travelled to Israel, which resulted, according to one TM study, in decreases in war deaths, war intensity, crime rates, traffic accidents and fires, as well as increases in measures of well-being such as the stock market.

There are of course papers questioning the validity of the study, such as Barry Markovsky and Evan Fale's 1997 piece, which discusses the occurrence of Jewish holidays, for example, as a significant influencing factor on statistics that was excluded from the study. However, it is with the global effect of TM in mind that the Israeli TM movement hopes to establish, in addition to school programs, a new Center for Israel Peace and Invincibility - "a place where large groups of peace-creating experts can learn and practice the Invincible Defense Technology [in essence, Maharishi Effect]," according to its publicity pamphlet. This new facility will house 500 meditators and cost NIS 100 million. Funding is currently being sought from a single, unnamed donor.