Southeast Iowa may be one of the last places you’d expect to find a Transcendental Meditation-themed town. Yet it is here that the Maharishi Vedic City was established in 2001. Though it is Iowa’s newest town, it is based around the ancient Hindu principles of Veda (“knowledge”), promoting balance, harmony, and natural law.
The idea for the town came from a real estate developer, who took his vision of a meditation-themed community to the late spiritual guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the leader of the international Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement who had established the Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa in the early ‘70s.
Since its inception, daily life in this unusual American town has revolved around Transcendental Meditation, which Maharishi believed was the ultimate meditative practice for finding world peace. Meditation is performed twice a day, including a type of group meditation called Yogic Flying, a mind-body activity akin to hopping while cross-legged. The town is frequented by filmmaker David Lynch, one of the most high profile promoters of TM’s benefits.
The city plan and buildings are based on an ancient Vedic system of architecture and city planning, revived by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Structures are situated and designed to promote happiness, health, and prosperity. The city is just over one square mile in size, made up of a ring of 10 circles in which all the structures face due east toward the rising sun. The buildings are designed with precise Vedic proportions so that the rooms are situated according to the movement of the sun. Each has a silent space in the center called a Brahmasthan and a golden roof ornament called a kalash.
In town is also the Vedic Observatory, made up of ten astrological and astronomical instruments based on ancient designs, arranged in a circle to align with the sun, moon, and stars. Like the rest of Vedic architecture, it is designed to promote inner happiness and balance, and align oneself with the cosmos.
Just as large as its commitment to meditation is the town’s devotion to being at one with the Earth. Pesticides and nonorganic foods are banned, and nearly all of the town’s electricity is generated from renewable sources. It is America’s first all-organic city, with greenhouses and organic farms that produce food for residents.
Maharishi Vedic City’s way of life has attracted lots of positive attention, however there is a more sinister chapter of the town’s story. On the edge of town is a compound where hundreds of “pandits” (a Hindu religious scholar or wise man) live segregated from the rest of the village. They are brought in from India to help reach a spiritual quota—according to the ancient tradition, a certain number of meditators are needed to to generate a ripple effect of peace and cohesion across the country.