It's 6 a.m., and I am sitting on a mauve-cushioned bench in a darkened 12-sided temple, which, although I can't see them now, has banana-size crystals suspended in copper wire in every corner. About two dozen of us are meditating, though not in silence. We are wearing headphones, tapping the same source of God Consciousness -- a stereo at the back of the room that is generating the sounds of wind and surf. By "synchronizing" my brain waves, the tape is supposed to enable me, a novice enlightenment seeker, to attain in short order the ultimate bliss traditional saffron-robed Buddhists seek for a lifetime.

This morning, however, I feel more sleepy than blissful. The day started at 5:30 a.m. with toe touches, jumping jacks and a two-mile run around a rocky path on BC's mountain. BC? That's what Brother Charles is called around here. I am spending a day at the headquarters of his organization, known as Multidimensional Synchronicity Through Holodynamics -- Synchronicity for short -- which is located in the Virginia countryside, three hours south of Washington near Charlottesville.

I haven't seen Brother Charles yet this morning, though he would be hard to miss. His boot-black hair pulled back in a ponytail, BC is martyrly thin and wears long purple robes. I understand that he is a highly evolved being, and therefore spends much time meditating in seclusion.

Here in the dark temple I see only the silhouette of a giant head on the ceiling, a light flickering behind it. And, yes, the head is wearing headphones -- it's Synchronicity's emblem, a Buddha wearing a Walkman. As I shift in my seat, wondering whether I can turn down the volume of the whooshing of wind and surf, I notice that the Buddha silhouette shifts. I fidget deliberately. The Buddha fidgets. I look behind me and see the gas flame from a space heater.

Wow: I am Buddha. Maybe there's something to this after all. I FIRST BECAME INTERESTED IN BROTHER CHARLES, WHO coined the phrase "high-tech meditation," because of his promise of instant spiritual truth. Synchronicity seemed the perfect metaphor for the New Age. "After all, we are Americans," Brother Charles likes to say. "We have created McDonald's. If we have created fast food, can we not also create fast enlightenment?"

In the beginning, Synchronicity's pamphlets and magazine ads focused on the organization's slickly packaged audio tapes (videotapes are now available too). Gradually, however, the emphasis shifted to Brother Charles himself. His sales pitch: Science has rendered old religions such as Christianity and Judaism empirically invalid. Stepping into the metaphysical breach is BC, who sees himself as a messiah for a technological age. And why shouldn't he? After all, this is America -- anybody can grow up to be a messiah.

Brother Charles's kingdom is less auspicious than the man himself. After turning onto a stretch of state road populated by chickens, dogs and mountain folk, you can hear the place before you see it. From dawn to dusk, calm-inducing oooooooooooms and shhhhhhhhhhhs are broadcast across Synchronicity's 130 Blue Ridge acres. Architecturally, Synchronicity consists of half a dozen mobile homes congregated on a mud flat. The only building of permanence seems to be "The Environment," which is what BC calls the temple where we are meditating this morning. The interior of the Environment, like that of most of the other buildings at Synchronicity, is done in shades of purple -- purple walls, purple carpet, even ultraviolet, or "black," lighting -- since BC believes the purple end of the color spectrum is most conducive to a meditative state.

At breakfast time we move to a small dining hall with a plum interior. The kitchen is serving just- pressed, room-temperature carrot juice to Synchronicity staff members and Core participants. The Core consists of 16 ultra-dedicated, high-tech meditators who spend one week of every month -- at a cost of $750 -- here at Synchronicity. The 10-person staff works for free, in exchange for food, a trailer-house bunk bed and proximity to Brother Charles. When the Core group is not in residence, Brother Charles travels and lectures, develops new meditation techniques and sponsors the occasional meditation retreat, and the staff fills orders for tapes.

Steve Pauley, the president of Synchronicity, is shepherding me through a day of Core Week. I am staying at the Acorn Inn, a bed and breakfast up the road, because quarters at Synchronicity are too crowded. But from predawn to late evening, I am attempting to do everything the Coregoers do. Today is the second day of a carrot juice fast, following a three-day brown rice fast.

As we sit and drink our carrot juice, Steve introduces me to a Houston woman wearing orange pants and orange glitter lipstick. Her name is Carol Wise, and she tells me that she sells crystal bowls that, when played with a wand, have magical healing properties. She also tells me that New Age musician Steve Halpern has written her that her bowls are better than any others he has used.

A big, earnest Swede in his mid-thirties sits down across from me. His name is J. Robert Magnusson, and he says he has a PhD in physics. J. Robert flies in from Sweden once a month for these Core sessions, and he tells me about a life-changing plane ride. Another guru, not BC, happened to be traveling on the same plane. Suddenly, J. Robert was overcome with the sensation that "I was everything. I was the plane. I was all the passengers. I was the air."

When the sensation ceased, he says, he was exhausted. Then he picked up an airplane magazine, started flipping through the pages and saw an ad for Synchronicity. For J. Robert, this was a clear message. As soon as his plane landed, he called Synchronicity to say he was coming out immediately.

Steve Pauley helps explain J. Robert's paranormal experience: "It's like all the molecules are merged."

Steve begins telling me about BC's tapes, which apparently are not all bliss. "We cut back on the meditation when the catharting gets, you know, intense," he says. The Synchronicity community has a special lexicon full of gerund byways on the road to enlightenment: journaling, sourcing, illuming, datalyzing, impacting, journeying, mirroring, catharting.

Steve explains that "The Council" -- four seasoned staffers who act as intermediaries between BC and the Coregoers -- offers guidance to catharters. "In the Spectrum Sessions," he says, "we are able to point out suppressed emotions and stuff like that."

J. Robert interrupts: "I didn't know you called them Spectrum Sessions," he says.

"We just started," says Steve.

We retreat to the Environment for the Spectrum Session. Coregoers are instructed to discuss what has happened to them in the last 24 hours. The Council, equipped with notepads, sits on one side. On the other side is a microphone.

A woman named Mari Iizuka steps up to the microphone and bows. She is Japanese and lives in Washington but is about to move to the Philippines.

Her consciousness streams: "Yesterday I start to wonder why I have so much energy. And then at night I was maybe surprise I would like to have enlightenment . . . Since then I contemplate about tired versus energy . . . What I want to do is lose a lot of weight and get exercise . . . The window of enlightenment opened, and I see, oh, it's beautiful, but then it closes."

"One question," says Hira Khetia, one of the Council members. Born to Indian parents in South Africa, Hira is an accountant by profession. "Who closes the window?"

he asks.

"Oh, I do," says Mari.

The other three Council members are Steve Pauley, Linda Burns and Eileen Kilgallon. Before he became president of Synchronicity, Steve taught business and technical writing at Purdue University for 17 years. Linda, a biochemist, first met BC a decade ago in Houston, when he was known as Swami Vivekananda. Eileen, once the owner of a successful plant maintenance business in Southern California, came permanently to Synchronicity three years ago. Within three weeks of attending a Synchronicity retreat, she had sold her business, rented out her house and moved to Virginia. "I majored in transpersonal transformational psychology in college," says Eileen. "So I knew. This was exactly what I had been looking for."

Next in line at the Spectrum Session is a tall, soft-spoken man with glasses whose Synchronicity nickname, I later learn, is Major Suppression. "I was amazed at what went on this morning between Teresa and Carol and Steve Pauley," he says. "I felt Carol was boldly selling her bowls and products. I was amazed that Steve was participating in that."

After a couple more people, Carol, the crystal bowl lady, steps up to the microphone.

"I have to address this," she says. "I've been told not to sell here. But I'm so excited! I feel very strongly that I'm on the verge of a great, huge success. I'm so happy to be in my very large office in my very large store with Brother Charles playing in auto reverse 24 hours a day. Whereas before we were selling groceries, which were very gross, now we are selling ecstatic items. Now I'm his boss -- my husband Cedric's boss."

A few Coregoers snigger.

"Did this happen in the last 24 hours?" Hira asks.

"Well, a package came today with our new literature -- that happened in the last 24 hours," she says. "I realized I was out of line this morning . . . I'm sorry. I'm like a mother with a new baby. I just want to show it off."

About 45 minutes into the session: click-click. A man named Robert, who serves as Synchronicity's sound engineer, sends New Age flute Muzak fluttering through the violet air. Everyone stands and faces the door. Enter Brother Charles, resplendent in purple wool-jersey robes color-coor- dinated with the Environment.

BC sits down on a small, cream couch that looks as if it were a sensible buy from Ikea. The couch is perched on a proscenium, around which the congregation is concentrically spaced on the mauve-cushioned benches. BC flips up his petite, leather-slippered feet, revealing black socks and two slender white shins, and tucks himself into a lotus position, waving his hand with a benevolent impatience, as if it were nonsense for us to rise to greet him.

BC has attached a tiny microphone to his robes, the kind people wear on TV talk shows. His head wobbles the way an Indian guru's might. He addresses the gathering.

"Why do you suppose it is you are here, hmmm?" BC asks. "Reading aloud from your journals, so to speak, hmmm?"

"To become more conscious," someone answers.

BC nods. "And what is the purpose?"

"That you are the creator of your reality."

"Those of you who don't know this should write it down in your baby books," BC admonishes. "This is transformational kindergarten." Vigorous pencil scratching ensues.

"If someone is screaming at you, how is it you created this? If someone is throwing flowers on you, how is it you created this? . . . So far as you are nonillumed and confined by the dualistic mind process-eeze, it comes back upon you." He elucidates further: "What goes around comes around."

Brother Charles continues to speak for about 15 minutes, offering a series of New Age aphorisms. Then he sums up:

"Only you know whether you are enlightened. Only you can journey the journey. Some of you have toxicity, but it is not the same as imbalance. Now the augmentation can shift to the multidimensionalities and the dimensionalities of your own experience. Look about you: You have heightened aura. Meditation is nothing more than recognizing that God is present -- in you. Hmmm? Hmmm? If some of you experience extreme toxicity, then let Council know. For your fasting shall end on the morrow. So much is enough for now. Robert? Play the flute music." We stand as BC unclips his microphone and exits. AS WITH MANY MYSTICS, BROTHER CHARLES'S PAST IS MYTH- ic. "Did you know he played Ernie in 'My Three Sons'?" a local psychic asks me. Actually, I'd heard a similar rumor from a couple of Coregoers, only

they'd said he played the eldest son on the TV series.

Back in Washington, I consult The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows at the Library of Congress. I don't see anybody named Charles Cannon, which BC says is his real name, nor is he mentioned in The Complete Directory to Prime Time TV Stars 1946-Present. The only actor close to BC's age, 45, is Don Grady, who played heartthrob Robbie Douglas and became the de facto eldest son when Tim Considine quit and the scriptwriters married Mike Douglas off.

Susan Brandt of the Lynchburg News & Daily Advance says that BC told her several years ago that he also per- formed on the TV soap opera "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" and played the apostle Andrew in the Broadway production of "Jesus Christ, Superstar." After much legwork, she was unable to confirm that he played any of those roles. She says Brother Charles maintained he had playbills and memorabilia from the production but declined to show them to her.

Brother Charles has also told the press that at age 9 and 10 he was a musical prodigy, touring the country with the famous jazz drummer Gene Krupa. When Brother Charles gives me a private audience, however, he doesn't mention Krupa or "My Three Sons." He says only that he did work in the theater before following the swami Muktananda to India. Later I ask Eileen Kilgallon, who serves as a spokesman for Synchronicity, about "My Three Sons" and the soap opera and theatrical roles as well as his tour with Krupa. "I don't know where that got started," she says of the Ernie rumor, "but it's not true." She also reports that Brother Charles says he never played in "Jesus Christ, Superstar." "The Gene Krupa thing, though, that happened," she says and adds that Brother Charles has played in many TV soap operas, including "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing."

Brother Charles says that he grew up with a strong Catholic upbringing in Syracuse, N.Y., and then West Palm Beach, Fla. And that he attended the University of Florida and the Pasadena Playhouse College in California -- although neither place has transcript information on a Charles Cannon who would be 45 years old now. When asked about the lack of transcripts, Brother Charles says he attended both those schools but under a different name, which he does not want to disclose.

One thing is for certain, BC was a longtime devotee of Swami Muktananda, an Indian mystic who in the 1970s enjoyed diverse admirers across the United States, including former California governor Jerry Brown, Allen Ginsberg, Marsha Mason, Carly Simon, Ram Dass and John Denver. BC was an advance man of sorts for Muktananda, and he helped set up several of the swami's 31 ashrams worldwide, logging considerable time at the Houston ashram. It was as a Muktananda disciple that BC became a Vedic monk and took his vows of poverty and celibacy. He also took the new name of Swami Vivekananda.

Vivekananda became Brother Charles in 1983, breaking away from Muk- tananda's Siddha organization after the mystic had "left his body," as his followers put it. Some felt that Muktananda had left his body at an opportune time. A magazine called the CoEvolution Quarterly

printed a story in the winter of 1983 that said the Siddha organization had impressive secret Swiss bank accounts and accused the celibate Muktananda of having forced himself sexually upon young ashram girls.

Soon after BC broke with Siddha and moved to Virginia, he opened a vegetarian restaurant in meat-and-potatoes Lovingston -- the now defunct Mother's Cafe and Sweet Shoppe in the old Lovingston Hotel. This was always meant to be a transition phase, BC says, until he founded Synchronicity, which he was then calling the Mother Shrine of the Heart monastery.

At about this time, BC started experimenting with meditation technology. Coincidentally, down the state road from Synchronicity is the Monroe Institute, a New Age community and research center, which since the 1960s has been a pioneer in "brain synchronization." The marketing director for the Monroe Institute pooh-poohs Brother Charles as one of the many Johnny-come-latelys in the field of high-tech meditation. Officially, Monroe's public relations coordinator says "there is no professional connection at all" between the two organizations, though the institute finds BC "likable and charismatic."

The question of originality aside, Synchronicity is doing a healthy mail-order tape business through its advertising in publications like Omni and New Age. Eileen Kilgallon tells me that Synchronicity has sold about 36,000 tapes worldwide, several thousand of those in the Washington area. WE TAKE OUR SECOND RUN OF THE DAY up and around the mountain. I am out of shape and soon slow down to a walk. I find myself abreast of Fred Fischer, a sixtyish man who turns out to be a retired police captain from New York City. I say I am surprised by Synchronicity's rigorous diet and exercise schedule. "Oh, yeah," says Fred, "you can get the same thing other places. But the Hippocrates Institute, for instance, they charge you a thousand bucks a week. Of course, they have a big swimming pool, nice place to stay -- real cushy, see? Here it's more Spartan. But you get the cleansing thing plus the spiritual stuff." The Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla., says it charges $1,500 to $2,000 for a week-long retreat.

Fred considers Synchronicity's Core sessions a bargain, even compared to other metaphysical programs. He tells me about somebody in Oregon named Mafu.

"That's a different class of people," Fred says. "He demands that they be there two weeks a month, and it's a thousand a week. You take into account getting there -- that's $2,500, $3,000 a month. You figure that comes to, what, $30,000 a year?" Penny Torres Rubin, who runs the Foundation for Self Realization Beyond Human Potential, a nonprofit retreat center in Oregon, is the "channel" for the male spirit Mafu. She says the fee paid by those who meet to study with Mafu every month is "confidential," and that $1,000 for two weeks is "not accurate but close to accurate." She adds, however, that the fee helps pay for others who come "on scholarship," and that there are some seminars available for $75 to $125 a day, including room and board.

I remark that what with travel expenses plus the $750-a-week minimum contribution that BC requires every month, Synchronicity, which is nonprofit, could still be considered prohibitive. You figure that comes to, what, $10,000 a year? "Here it's a certain class of people too," he concedes. "You gotta be able to afford to take a week off work plus a day each way travel."

Several weeks after my day at Synchronicity, I have lunch at Food for Thought with Paul Shannon, a Washington defense consultant and Core member on a leave of absence from the group. "A lot of people cathart over the money," he says. "This is all a very expensive experience, because Synchronicity doesn't have any other source of income except for the tapes. Some people are of independent means, so it's not an issue. Some have worked out doing work in exchange for participating. The idea is that if it doesn't cost you anything, it has no value."

Paul's wife, Sarah, is still in the Core program. Their 33-year-old son, Paul Jr., is on the Synchronicity staff. I asked Paul Sr. why he has pulled out of the Core group. "Basically," he says, "I catharted myself out of existence." continued on page 36 BROTHER CHARLES continued from page 24 AFTER THE RUN, I GO TO THE DINING room for lunch: another generous cupful of room-temperature carrot juice. Mi- chelle the cook pours. Her small fingers are themselves beginning to look like spring carrots.

Next on our itinerary is what BC calls "selfless labor." Today's selfless labor is building a road up to Synchronicity's mountaintop. Some Coregoers are dig- ging a ditch; the rest are grading with the leftover dirt. I am handed a shovel. Shortly, Brother Charles arrives, walking uphill with two disciples. Everyone stops work and faces him.

BC is an authority not only on mysticism but on road building as well. He tells the crew to dig the drainage ditch wider and to level the road so water will drain off easily. He continues his walk with the two Coregoers. One of them is Bill the architect. They are discussing plans for BC's parsonage to be built at the top of the mountain.

Not long after my day with the Core group, I drive down for a personal interview with Brother Charles. The interior of his quarters is tastefully done -- mauve walls, mauve carpet, but it's a little cramped. There is an altar beneath poster-size, framed photographs of Muk- tananda. On it sit all manner of Hindu and Buddhist icons, a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, several large crystals, even a toothpick holder and a pink angel. Flanking the altar are a large TV set and VCR (one can see BC's satellite dish from the road) and an elaborate cat castle, carpeted in silver gray, which I suppose is for the Bluepoint Himalayan that wanders in midway through our conversation.

Kevin, BC's manservant, offers me water in a violet glass. While BC and I chat, a gentle surf crashes in the background, and an atomizer sprays one of BC's special fragrances -- he has three: Tranquility, Transcendence and Quiescence. The room is dense with the scent of lilac and lavender and fuchsia. Steve Pauley is present, but his eyelids are pulled down like window shades.

Brother Charles starts to explain his work. "Perhaps where my genius is . . . ," he begins. "What I'm known for," he begins again, "{is} the relating of brain-wave frequencies and brain data banks' conscious, subconscious and unconscious, and how they correspond, and that when you use a certain frequency of brain wave . . . you correspondingly hold the access to the subconscious and unconscious and conscious by maintaining that frequency. Therefore you now have a precision access to the data banks of the brain/mind complex."

Brother Charles tells me that he doesn't see things the way average humans do; he sees things as energy. "Everything is in the vibratory flux," he says. "Everything is moving, slightly hallucinogenic. Everything is bathed in this pinkish blue light, and in it are little glistening particles of light, like little diamonds that are dancing."

BC is a strict vegetarian and eats mostly uncooked foods. "I eat where I vibrate," he says.

In his advanced stage of enlightenment, BC is "always somewhat euphoric, intoxicated -- but experientially, not by taking drugs."

The euphoria tends to rub off. Steve Pauley turns to me as we leave BC's trailer: "God, I get such a hit just being in the same room with him -- don't you?" AT THE FINAL, 8 P.M. SESSION, IN THE Environment, Carol Wise, the crystal bowl woman, scurries toward me. She is dressed in her third outfit of the day, a flowery confection. She looks distraught and tightly cups her hand over my ear. "Listen, I got in major big trouble today, so I'm begging you, please, please don't use my name in your article. I'm a compulsive salesperson. I love to sell. But they slapped me down -- I needed to be slapped down. I'm here for enlightenment, not to be selling crystal bowls."

I am sorry when Carol tells me later that she was temporarily excommunicated from Core. Another Core member says that Carol had been trying to organize the group into an international selling team. But I am also surprised that she would have been kicked out. On a brochure she is listed, right under Steve Pauley, as the vice president of Synchronicity.

After we meditate, Brother Charles makes his ritualistic entrance and singles me out. "Teresa," he says, making the "s" a "z" and using a Latinate inflection. "Just so Tereza has an idea of what is going on, we shall e-lu-ci-date a little, hmmm? Everyone here has his little act, hmmm? And I have given a name to each of their acts, and you will see why they are called these names. For example, this young man here" -- pointing to a startlingly hand- some, brooding man in a cable-knit sweater -- "we call him the Cardiologist, because his issue is a broken heart."

Brother Charles continues to introduce me to Coregoers' various nicknames: "Major Suppression," "Rising Sun," "Baby Grandpa," "The Philosopher," "Angry Woman." And then he segues into a sermon. While he speaks, the ocean/wind tape is crashing in the background, except when, click-click, Robert flips the tape over.

"It is time now, maestro," BC says to Robert. "Let us hear the Whistler, please. It is time for a little joy, a little happiness."

The tape begins: It is the familiar calypso beat of "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Bobby McFerrin is evidently the Whistler. "Let me see you move around a bit," Brother Charles admonishes. His head is swaying back and forth; the congregation sways too -- everyone but the Cardiologist, who has been bent in the same kick-me position for the past two hours.

"Now let's hear the Whistler again," says BC, raising his hands in a subdued version of a Baptist shout, "and I want you to be dancing in your seats." The Cardiologist is swaying, but almost imperceptibly. "What is wrong, Cardiologist -- you are not getting the attention you deserve? Dance!" The Cardiologist stiffly complies.

"You zee, Tereza," says BC, "this tape has been rigged with Zynchronicity technology. Zo that we can meditate joyfully." For a moment, he looks a little uncomfortable up there. He drops his hands and merely beats them against his thighs, his eyes closed and his head rocking gently.

The Whistler stops. "Now, maestro, let's have some serious music, some music respectful to the Great Mother."

Click-click. BABOOM BABOOM BABOOM. It's the post-disco beat of a generic Top 40 group, and the volume is cranked. Everyone but me and Brother Charles is up and getting down. "Stand! Stand, everyone," says BC. "Stand and dance and be joyful." Major Suppression has taken his sweater off and unbuttoned his button-down. He gyrates toward me. "C'mon! Loosen up and dance!"

This gets me up and grooving. The Environment warms up like a hothouse in summer. Shirts are thrown off, pants rolled up, socks peeled down. I notice Brother Charles is standing on his platform, swaying, his hands in the air. His feet are kicking gently out from his robe. He is a vision in mauve, swaying and shouting: "Dance! Dance! Be joyful. Dance as Krishna danced, dance as Buddha danced, dance as the whirling dervishes of Sufism danced!"

For one brief moment, I see BC's right arm in the air, finger pointing skyward a` la John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever"; he makes a seamless transition into a metaphysical version of the Monkey. The mauve carpet in front of his altar looks like the dance floor of a motel lounge. The crystal bowl lady has grabbed the reluctant Cardiologist. Someone is doing the twist.

And then it is over, as suddenly and unexpectedly as it began. The flute Muzak heralds BC's departure, and soon the rest of us are putting on our shoes and heading out into the ooooooooooom and the shhhhhhhhhhh of the purple Synchronicity night.

Teresa Riordan is a Washington writer.

Channel Hopping In Richmond

Brother Charles is not the only one who dispenses eternal truths at Synchronicity. Sometimes he is joined by an oracle named Jerome, who "channels" through John Oliver, a psychic from Charlottesville. I did not see Jerome during my day with the Core group, but a few weeks later I happened to be in Richmond one Sunday when John Oliver was channeling at the Aquarian Bookstore there.

John, an exquisitely pretty young man who was wearing a turquoise sweat shirt and tan Docksiders, talks like a Valley Boy with a Virginia accent. I asked him later how old he is. "I am as young as the moment and as old as the ages," he said. Still, he looks about 25.

A dozen others and I were guided through a relaxation exercise while John meditated in another room, waiting for Jerome to manifest himself through him. Jerome appeared about 20 minutes later, dressed in white even to his Docksiders. He walked arthritically, favoring his left foot, and spoke in a slow, gravelly voice.

Jerome discoursed on health, arguing that physical ills are really manifestations of spiritual pain. He even commented on baldness. "That which we term baldness," Jerome asked, "why do we call it losing the hair -- instead of finding the head?" Jerome and Brother Charles share certain expressions, the way siblings and married couples sometimes do. Both say "hmmm" a lot, and both tend to roll their eyeballs and purse their lips, flirting with their audience.

Before I left, I got an information packet and discovered that Jerome is actually spelled Jerhoam. "You know, I always spelled it J-e-r-o-m-e," John said, "but then one day he was dictating a program outline . . . and he spelled his name: J-e-r-h-o-a-m." The packet included an order form for Jerhoam's double cassette albums, including "Manifester: With Techniques for Creating Everything You Desire" and "Communicating With Animals."

In his heart of hearts, John said, what he would really like to be is a professional tennis player. But for now he's happy channeling. - T.R.