Americans were introduced to Transcendental Meditation in the 1960's, when the Beatles began to study the ancient Indian practice and to incorporate its principles into their lives and music. Their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, came to the United States and established a university in the small rural community of Fairfield, Iowa in 1974 in the heart of America's farm belt. His followers flocked to the area to study and work, and by 2001, the population had grown so large that they incorporated their own town, Vedic City, on the outskirts of Fairfield. It's continuing to grow as its residents focus on a more peaceful future.
Fairfield would look just like any other small town in Iowa if it wasn't for the twin golden domes shining on its skyline. They mark Fairfield as the home of Maharishi University of Management, which offers what it calls "Consciousness-Based Education". But the principles of the science of consciousness come to life more fully just north of town, in Vedic City.
Deputy Mayor Kent Boyum says although his community is in Iowa, it's part of Maharishi's global country of world peace. "It's not a government in the true sense of the word, it doesn't replace our traditional governments, but it gives people who like to promote peace and think of ways to reduce crime and things like that a place to call home as well," he says.
Mr. Boyum says the city even has its own currency, accepted all around town and by many businesses in Fairfield. "Here is a Raam, it's worth $10, it does not fluctuate. It is an active currency. To me it looks kind of like a travelers' check or something, and since it is backed by a ten dollar US bill that's what it functions as, and whoever will allow you to use it to buy something, then it does! The Raam is actually being used in other countries, as well, as a catalyst for economic development, especially in developing countries, in some agricultural programs," he says. "Farmers need to have some kind of asset to go buy seed, so there are programs in countries such as Brazil and India and European countries where they're actually using Raam as a currency it's almost more of a coupon, or something."
The true uniqueness of the city can be seen in its architecture. Mr. Boyum says the design of the homes here promotes health and happiness. "There are a number of principles in what is called Stapatya Ved, which is the Vedic portion of design of building, and the principles that are most obvious are that all the houses face East; so they are making use of the enlivening and the warming value of the Sun when it rises in the dawn, and the texts says facing East is the most auspicious or most beneficial to the people who live in those buildings," he says.
In addition, the construction of the buildings makes them energy efficient according to U-S Department of Energy standards. In keeping with the movement's emphasis on living in harmony with nature, Vedic City bans the sale of non-organic produce. But agriculture is an important part of the local economy.
Not far from the residential area, Ken Chawkin shows off Vedic City's huge organic greenhouse. "They have a huge crop of cucumbers in there; they have tomatoes there, peppers various types, yellow, orange, green, to be sold to make a profit! That's the automatic adjustment according to the temperature and humidity, the valves will open and close for the circulation of air, maintaining an ambient temperature," he says.
Besides controlled temperature and humidity, Mr. Chawkin says the plants at the greenhouse are nurtured with natural care and ancient Indian music. "They've done all kinds of studies in the past when you play rock and roll, classical music, whatever, and the plants seem to like certain music and dislike others, and as a result they seem to? to grow healthier and provide more nutritional value," he says.
More nutritious foods lead to a healthier population, and Vedic City prides itself on being perhaps the healthiest city in America. It supports the practice of holistic medicine, and attracts visitors interested in natural therapies. Many come to the Raj Ayurvedic spa and hotel, where David Lonsdorf is the marketing director. "We have hundreds of customers from all over America and the world every year. We employ over 70 to 80 people, and it's really because people want something besides drugs for symptoms," he says.
Many followers of Maharishi spend part of each day on the University campus in Fairfield. Inside the golden domes, they meditate and practice the intense form of contemplation known as yogic flying.
One of the regular yogic fliers is David Cynton, a student at the Maharishi University who lives on campus. "Even if you can't live in Vedic City, the joy of Yogic Flying adds so much love and peace in your life that everything else seems small," he says.
Vedic City was founded with an ambitious goal to bring health and harmony to everyone? a goal city officials say is coming closer as more and more Vedic scholars move here from India. Meditating together with local residents, they hope to create what they call a wonderful side effect, world peace.