The klieg lights were in place. The microphones stood ready. A spray of flowers decorated the podium. Aides passed out neatly assembled press kits. The trappings were those of a typical, well-prepared Washington press conference.
But the message was different.
Bevan Morris, president of Maharishi International University, announced yesterday that hundreds of experts specially trained in TM--transcendental meditation--are being brought to Washington to exert a calming, harmonizing influence on the nation's lawmakers in Congress.
In addition, he said, a 300-member quick-response team of meditators is being readied to speed to political hot spots anywhere in the world to "eliminate turbulence and resolve crises" by radiating coherence through intensified group meditation.
But yesterday's press conference had another message of perhaps equal importance to its sponsors: Maharishi International University, the unorthodox Iowa-based school whose students and faculty practice TM and follow the teachings of Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, has come to Washington in full force.
MIU and its parent international organization, the World Peace Executive Council, have purchased two buildings here, including the old Annapolis Hotel downtown, for a total of $9.2 million, as a permanent extension of the Iowa campus.
They are refurbishing both buildings for additional hundreds of thousands of dollars and bringing in well-scrubbed, tie-and-coat-clad students to take conventional academic courses as well as MIU's unique classes in TM.
A core group of 100 to 200 trained in an enhanced form of meditation called TM-sidhi already is attending sessions of Congress and the Supreme Court.
"Other people are experts at writing legislation," says TM practitioner Joe Pardo. "We're experts at creating coherence."
In the same spirit, MIU officials claimed at a press conference here last month that 400 experts in TM-sidhi were responsible for reducing crime by 13 percent in the metropolitan area in January compared to January 1981. D.C. police had said earlier that crime dropped because of improved patrol tactics and the unusual cold weather.
The Washington extension of MIU, known formally as the MIU College of Natural Law, is the latest element in the expanding and well-financed international empire of TM institutions. They range from its World Place Executive Council headquarters in Switzerland to hundreds of TM training centers and so-called "forest academies" used as meditative retreats throughout the world.
In the mid-1970s, TM was a $20 million-a-year business in the United States alone, and it is still growing, with funds coming from student tuitions and contributions by individual benefactors.
The organization claims more than 1 million people have studied TM in the United States and 2 1/2 million worldwide. The group, which insists TM is a science and not a religion, has weathered challenges of its academic unorthodoxy and fought to assert scientific proof of the supranormal effects of TM, such as "superradiance" and levitation.
The first wave of MIU executives and staff members arrived here in March 1980, and purchased the abandoned 400-room Annapolis Hotel at 1111 H St. NW for $8 million and the old John Dickson Home for Aged Men at 5000 14th St. NW for another $1.2 million.
Many of the staff now live in the 14th Street home in simply furnished rooms. Low key but friendly, they are largely young, white and middle class, dress conservatively and eschew smoking and drinking. Many are vegetarian.
They plan to repaint and wallpaper all rooms in the downtown hotel, replace the heating and cooling systems and design a complex of fountains and rooftop gardens. Staff members also plan to landscape the 3.7-acre grounds of the 14th Street property and refurbish the old building's 69 rooms.
At the hotel, two large, mattress-covered rooms in the basement--one for women, one for men--are used twice daily for group meditation. Meditators sit cross-legged for 20 minutes in silence. Advanced practitioners claim they "fly," or levitate, briefly during the sessions. MIU officials would not permit a reporter to attend a meditation session.
The D.C. Educational Institution Licensure Commission last November granted approval to MIU to offer a "first-year core course." So far, only two faculty members are on board, and the fare is limited: a writing course and a 33-part videotaped lecture series on the "Science of Creative Intelligence" by Maharishi. More courses are planned soon, officials say.
Course fees range from $90 for each two-week "semester unit" in the academic curriculum to $3,000 for a two-month intensified course in TM-sidhi.
Ultimately, MIU projects an enrollment of 200 students with tuition, room and board revenues of $1.8 million and expenditures of $1,752,000 annually, according to the licensure commission.
In keeping with the curriculum of the main campus in Fairfield, Iowa, even such courses as physics and literature will be interwoven with TM and Maharishi's "science of creative intelligence"--elements that he says enhance the learning process.
The TM technique involves silent reiteration of a meaningless word or "mantra" that helps the practitioner achieve a quiescent state for meditation. Critics say similar states can be attained through specialized relaxation exercises and even prayer, but TMers say they have heightened the process to a science.
Biologists and other scientists at MIU have conducted elaborate tests, which they say show that TM maximizes brain-wave activity, rejuvenates body metabolism and even reverses the aging process.