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Govind Sharma, former inmate of the ashram, speaks to Anuradha Dutt

Dr Govind Sharma joined the NOIDA ashram on April 1, 1984 as an ayurvedic physician. He spent almost three years there before quitting it on September 11, 1987. As a former inmate of the complex he recounts what goes on in the heavily guarded haven of the Maharishi, from his own experience.

"I saw that a great many illegal and anti-social activities went on there. I'll give you a small example of this. They make many ayurvedic drugs without licences and sell them abroad. They don't sell these here. They do have licences for some of the drugs but use these for exporting other drugs too. Chyavanprash [Amrit Kalash], which is a popular preparation, is sold in large quantities. All these are made at the prasayanshala in the complex. There was a pharmacy as well but the government cancelled the licence over six months ago. They do not bother to get licences renewed for years.

"Before June this year, there were about 5000 people there. Labourers, daily wage workers, Sanskrit, Veda and meditation teachers. After the Maharishi came here they brought many people from the other centres. When Mrs Gandhi was alive, he could not come to India since they did not get along. Twelve or 13 days after her death he entered the country.

"In August this year. after the strike by the workers' union began, most of the foreigners fled the ashram. Earlier there were about 1500 of them. There are only some vaids there now. But their activities are suspended. The union was formed because the workers were disgruntled. There were no uniform working conditions. Those who kow-towed got more.

"The strike began at the end of June. The reason was that in June and the month before, some of the children at the ashram had died because of neglect. While the officials and their wives always have cars at their disposal, to go wherever they wanted, there were never any cars available for sick children or workers, As a result, every year there were four to six deaths. One boy died in June. Earlier, Bharat Chandra Panda of Orissa died due to severe dehydration. The newspapers publicised the fact. The boy who died in June was Kumar Chaubey. He hailed from Ballia district. He was under treatment by an unqualified vaid. When the other boys insisted that he should be sent to Delhi, when his condition continued to deteriorate, the vaid was of the view that he would recover and that he should remain here. He died because of sheer callousness.

"The children used to suffer from malnutrition. The food was cooked in unhygienic conditions and it was so bad that even animals would not have been able to eat it. When people went to complain to the Mahesh Yogi, even showing him the bugs in the rice and roti, he would get agitated and say that this was being done deliberately, to defame him and that some disruptive elements had entered his ashram. He disliked hearing complaints of any kind.

"The strike did not have a successful outcome. The workers did not have the capacity for rebellion. What could they do? They needed a salary if they were not to starve. The Maharishi transferred the teachers to other centres and then terminated their services after a month or two. There were about 150-200 teachers on the whole. The teachers were appointed on the condition that each of them should recruit 35 students. While leaving, some of the teachers took their recruits along with them. Others were told to reach the students home and given their fare.

"In certain cases the boys never went back. Till today their parents are searching for them. Some of the children were taken to New Delhi and Old Delhi stations, given their fare and told to go home. And what happened subsequently was that a few of them fell into the hands of anti-social elements."

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Creation has two sides: intelligence, which is the cause of everything, and the manifestations of intelligence, which are the physical and psychological features of the everyday world. Because Transcendental Meditation directly approaches intelligence, rather than the manifestations of intelligence, it solves problems by introducing harmony and well-being at the most basic level, and not by dealing with problems themselves. That's why it is so effective.

Consider this example: The gardener supplies water to the root of a tree. That water, that nourishment, then reaches all parts of the tree - leaves, branches, flowers, fruit - through the sap. We can think of the sap as analogous to intelligence and the green leaves or yellow flowers as analogous to the manifestations of the intelligence. The leaves and flowers are the intelligence of the sap, after it has been transformed. So intelligence - like the leaves and flowers of a tree - appears as the many different forms of manifest life. Those manifestations include every aspect of existence, from the material and physiological, through the psychological, intellectual, and spiritual. All of those features of life come from transformations of intelligence. In meditation, we directly meet this essential intelligence. Therefore, we have the possibility of nourishing all of its other levels, and thus all levels of manifestation, in a way that is harmoniously related to the whole universe.

How is Transcendental Meditation different from the various other forms of meditation?

Maharishi: The basic difference is that Transcendental Meditation, in addition to its simplicity, concerns itself only with the mind. Other systems often involve some additional aspects with which the mind is associated, such as breathing or physical exercises. They can be a little complicated because they deal with so many things. But with Transcendental Meditation there is no possibility of any interference. So we say this is the all-simple program, enabling the conscious mind to fathom the whole range of its existence.

Transcendental Meditation ranges from active mind - or performing mind - to quiet mind - or resting mind. In this resting mind, one has purity and simplicity, uninvolved with anything other than the mind, uninvolved with any other practice. In Transcendental Meditation, because we deal only with the mind, we nourish all expressions of intelligence.

The mind meditates, gains Transcendental Consciousness and brings about transformation in different fields of manifestation. All fields of life, which are the expression of intelligence, are nourished or transformed and made better through experiencing Transcendental Consciousness.

The mind, of course, is always concerned with other aspects, such as the physiology of the body, the environment, and the whole universe for that matter. But since Transcendental Meditation deals only with the performance of the mind, from its active states to its settled state, it remains unconcerned with those other aspects, though it deals with them all, because intelligence deals with them all. -- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, unknown interview, copyright presumablyheld by Maharishi Vedic University, The Maharishi Foundation, or another group within the TM family.

Cults come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Categories of cults that are recruiting successfully today include:

Eastern meditation: characterized by belief in God-consciousness, becoming one with God. The leader usually distorts and Eastern-based philosophy or religion. Members sometimes learn to disregard worldly possessions and may take on an ascetic lifestyle. Techniques used: meditation, repeated mantras, altered states of consciousness, trance states.

Religious: marked by belief in salvation, afterlife, sometimes combined with an apocalyptic view. The leader reinterprets the Scriptures and often claims to be a prophet if not the messiah. Often the group is strict, sometimes using physical punishments such as paddling and birching, especially on children. Members are encouraged to spend a great deal of time proselytizing. (Note: included here are Bible-based neo-Christian and other religious cults, many considered syncretic since they combine beliefs and practices). Techniques used: speaking in tongues, chanting, praying, isolation, lengthy study sessions, many hours spent evangelizing, "struggle" (or criticism) and confession sessions.

Political, racist, terrorist: fueled by belief in changing society, revolution, overthrowing the "enemy" or getting rid of evil forces. The leader professes to be all-knowing and all-powerful. Often the group is armed and meets in secret with coded language, handshakes, and other ritualized practices. Members consider themselves an elite cadre ready to go to battle. Techniques used: paramilitary training, reporting on one another, guilt, fear, struggle sessions, instilled paranoia, long hours of indoctrination. -- Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, Lalich and Tobias, Hunter House, 1993.