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For Tsunami Survivors, A Touch of Scientology

"They asked for training," says Robert Anderson, the team's operations manager, who hails from Boulder, Colo. "They heard what we were doing and asked us to set it up."

The Scientologists are here and everywhere in this disaster -- in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. They are doing their assists and handing out little blue booklets in local languages, "The Way to Happiness: A Common Sense Guide to Better Living."

Randy Meyers came from Battle Creek, Mich., to southern India to offer Scientology healing techniques, such as "Touch assists," to tsunami survivors. (Peter S. Goodman -- The Washington Post)

The book says nothing about Scientology per se in its 64 pages of moral and medical instruction -- "Don't be Promiscuous . . . Preserve Your Teeth . . . Don't Do Anything Illegal." The ministers stress that they are not here proselytizing and, in fact, are not part of a religion, that their Scientology is compatible with any and all faiths.

"If your car is broken down and you fix it with a spanner, you might also pray," says Cochran. "Scientology is the spanner."

Yet this avoidance of the label of religion might not be necessary here, in a nation that amounts to a rich stew of overlapping faiths spiced up with animism and beliefs in the arcane, the sublime and the bizarre. Every day seems to be a festival for some group of adherents to something. A local Catholic church is thronged as a pilgrimage place for people of every religion, from Muslims to Hindus, because it is said that praying there delivers what one seeks.

Besides, what just unfolded here is a disaster so vast and unthinkable it could give any nonbeliever religion. To absorb the pain and fear inflicted across vast areas is to confront the feeling that somebody or something just smote a whole bunch of people.

So, they are open to it, these people here, open to anything and everything that might work. Chinaachi Ammai has been unable to go near the ocean since it roared across the land and washed away her house. As Meyers and an Indian trainee accompany her down to the water -- sort of a contact assist and sort of a location assist, it is explained -- Ammai bends down, touches the sea and laughs. A small wave hits her, wets the bottom of her sari. She laughs some more. "Now I feel fine," she says as she stands on the beach afterward.

Singaravel Sakuntala pronounces her leg pain diminished after a touch assist from Cochran. She said the same after some doctors came and gave her an injection a few days earlier. She's still willing to try whatever else might be left on the shelf.

"If you give me medicines," she says, "I'll be happy."

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