The Transcendental Meditation movement of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which gained a measure of respectability and a host of government grants by scientifically documenting the effects of the technique, is now into levitation and disappearing.
The hard-core disciples of the Maharishi - who attracted nearly a million people to their classes on meditation over the past two years - are now speaking excitedly of "supernormal" powers like levitation (lifting one's body into the air), "dematerializing yourself," and even flying through the air "like Peter Pan."
The adherents are unveiling their new phase in press conferences and lectures around the country.
"The new wave is directed at mediators," said John Konhaus, dispatched by the Switzerland-based Maharishi to spread the word across America. "But the press and public should know also. If people are going to be flying and disappearing, this is going to be a breakthrough in human potential to say the least."
The breakthrough, for those who choose it, will require a new series of four to eight one-week "preparatory" courses, which will be given for the first time this summer at a cost of $250 a week with room and board. There is then an "advanced" course which will cost $375 a week under present plans.
At a press conference last week in Baltimore to publicize the new trend, adherents declined to demonstrate their newly acquired skills, such as levitating.
"We don't want to get into a circus, demonstration type environment," said David Sykes, a 28-year-old lawyer and TM teacher. The one exception, he suggested, would be "if a maximum of 10 people, but no more, donate a minimum of $1,000 to the program. Then we'd show them."
The new turn in the multimillion-dollar-a-year TM movement comes at a time when the number of new people learning the age-old technique in official TM classes has dropped dramatically from a monthly peak of more than 40,000 in this country less than two years ago to no more than about 10,000 today.
It also comes shortly after sharp tuition increases this March for all TM courses. "Movements don't run on nothing," Konhaus said.
The fees are used to support the movement's far-flung empire, which includes substantial real estate, a Los Angeles television station and Maharishi International University, formerly Parsons College, in Fairfield, Iowa.
Two years ago, TM teachers boasted of their classes' growth like competing salesmen, and movement literature made much of the ascending curve, each month seemingly breaking last month's record. No longer.
"The movement is at a low level of activity presently," said Allen Kreglow, in charge of TM finances for the Washington area. The television station went on the air last month, far behind schedule. The Washington office no longer has a teletype link to other facilities. "The money has not been there for that kind of activity," Kreglow said.
Konhaus, however, downplays the drop in new meditators, saying the movement is now after "quality" instead of "mass initiations."
The adherents of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the diminutive, robed Indian who introduced TM to this country 20 years ago, say the current publicity blitz is not meant to shore up lagging initiation rates or increase course fee income. Instead, they say, it is meant to emphasize that there are more profound benefits from TM than simple relaxation.
These benefits, bordering on the spiritual and mystical, were purposefully downplayed in the movement's marketing in the United States in favor of scientifically measurable results.
With Madison Avenue-style advertising scientific charts and endorsements from the likes of the Beach Boys, Joe Namath and other, more conservative figures, Tm took off. The movement began to receive federal and state grants to teach TM to prisoners and school children.
"The TM program has always had some kind of profundity to it," said Kreglow. "We haven't done an about-face and started actng crazy" with the new phase.
Scientists inside and outside the movements have said that during mediation - 20 minutes when a person sits with eyes closed mentally repeating a meaningless word or "mantra" - a person's oxygen intake decreases, metabolism slows and brain waves become more synchronous.
"I'll follow (the new phase) with interest," said Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard cardiologist invovled in the research and author of a best-seller, "The Relaxation Response." Benson, who split with the movement over its insistence that TM is the only way, said the new phase "is beyond the realm of my competence."
To deliver the new message to meditators and non-meditators in the United States. "Maharishi" has divided the country into 40 regions and assigned some 250 young men and women to the task.
These so-called "executive governors" were among 1,000 adherents who spent several months with him in Europe learning and, they say, experiencing "the field of all possibilities."
To hear about the movement's new phase, some 175 dedicated meditators came to American University the other week. But a press conference held in Baltimore Thursday drew only one reporter, despite 50 advance notices sent to the local media.
In separate interviews last week, several of Maharishi's disciples sounded the same themes and often used the same phrases in touting the new phase. Deadly serious, they talked about "bodily boundaries dissolving" and "hopping." These experiences, they said, came from new meditating formulars imparted to them by their leader.
David Ginsburg, 25, who dropped out of his father's Baltimore dental lab to be a fulltime TM teacher, said he had experienced a "refinement of (hearing) perception." What did he hear? "I heard bliss," he said, declining to give further details.
Sykes, the Baltimore lawyer, said that people had experienced varying "degrees of mastery" of the new skills. Flying, for example, came in three stages, he said, and most were still on the first - "hopping," or lifting off the ground a foot or two, going forward a few feet, then setting down again.
The other stages, he said, were "flotation" or hovering and, finally, "actual master of the sky, flying at will." "Like Peter Pan," interjected another TM teacher present at the three-story brick Baltimore center.
These new abilities, they all stressed, were merely "natural byproducts of inner growth" gained from the profound practice of meditation. Meditators practicing these skills, they said, would have a salutory effect on the remaining population.