Vedic City, Iowa -- Even before terrorist attacks stunned the nation, the people in this town were diligently working for world peace. Here, every new home sprouting from former corn and soybean fields faces east for enlightenment and harmony. Every resident practices transcendental meditation for inner serenity and "unbounded awareness."
Ultimately, the small city's goal is to draw enough people to the area to practice an advanced form of group meditation, known as "yogic flying." If that happens, village leaders say, peace will begin to wash over the planet, preventing further acts of hate and destruction.
"We have the technology [means] to generate a powerful enough influence of peace to stop the violence," said John Revolinski, who has practiced transcendental meditation since the 1970s. "We only need a sufficiently large group to do it."
Revolinski and other supporters of Vedic City, tucked away in southeastern Iowa 60 miles south of Iowa City, know their methodology may sound absurd to outsiders. But in light of recent events, they believe their efforts are needed more than ever to help end the conflict in Afghanistan and to avoid future violence.
"Vedic City was built around a thirst for enlightenment," said Fred Gratzon, a resident and local businessman. "We know how to prevent problems, wars and suffering."
Created by devoted and well-financed followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced transcendental meditation to the Baby Boom generation, Vedic City is the nation's first incorporated city built entirely on Sthapatya Veda, or "natural law" architectural principles.
"Veda" means "body of knowledge," and "vedic" is an adjective pertaining to "veda."
According to this Hindu belief system based on ancient Sanskrit texts, health, happiness and fortune are influenced by the orientation of the buildings and their relationship to the sun, moon, stars and planets. In addition, the placement of the rooms, proportions, slope and shape of the land all play a critical role in a family's prosperity, health and happiness. Natural, non-toxic building materials are used as much as possible.
"Something happens to the physiology of the people who live in these kinds of homes," said architect Carmen Quinton Siemsen, who felt her buildings were somehow hurting people before she discovered Sthapatya Veda. Now she won't design anything else.
The homes "make you feel, well, soft," Susie Averbach, 54, said hours after moving into her Vedic home. "After I started meditating [in the 1970s], I felt friendlier, more fulfilled, so I could give. People didn't present a threat; they weren't mirroring the confusion in me."
According to the Maharishi and his researchers--who frequently cite published scientific studies--the number of meditators needed for peace is the square root of 1 percent of a given population. With a worldwide population of 6 billion, this translates to about 7,750 practitioners. For greater harmony in the U.S. alone, about 1,680 meditating souls need to come together for yogic flying.
After the attacks on the United States, however, the Maharishi raised the number. After Sept. 11, he called for 40,000 "experts trained in Vedic technology" to help fight terrorism through meditation. He also asked wealthy world leaders to create an endowment of $1 billion to help fund those meditators in India.
Ultimately, the meditators are placing their faith in the subtle effects of meditation and yogic flying, which they credit with everything from bringing an end to the Cold War and dissolving severe ethnic and religious tensions to reducing traffic deaths, homicides and suicides.
To the untrained eye it might look like cross-legged hopping, but at advanced stages, it can feel like flying, advocates say.
"It sounds pretty fantastic: People sit around with their eyes closed, practicing an inner technique that could influence the whole country," said Craig Pearson, executive vice president of the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, an Iowa town of 10,000 people that has become the nation's unlikely epicenter of transcendental meditation. "But no man is an island. Every individual adds something positive or negative to the collective consciousness."
"We've seen the result this architecture has on people," said developer Chris Johnson, who assembled the land, buying 50 farms for 3,000 acres. He is also working on Vedic architecture projects in New Mexico, California and Washington. "We want it to be a prototype for others around the country."
Architecturally, the town is a cross between pedestrian-friendly new urbanism--the best of small-town life combined with modern living--and the Maharishi's Vedic principles, which include an inner "core of silence" or a Brahmasthan, a Hershey kiss-shaped cupola on each roof, and rooms oriented with the energy and rhythm of the sun.
Families like longtime meditators Susie and Rick Averbach feel they've finally found their dream home.
"I feel so settled here," Susie Averbach said while watching a classic orange and rose-colored Iowa sunset. "Meditating gives you so much fulfillment inside that you can begin to give."
Her house, she believes, contributes to that feeling and is the first step in restoring peace to the world.