Officials here are grappling with many of the same problems that have afflicted much of the nation. Rhode Island's cities and towns are racked with the problems of inflation, deteriorating older neighborhoods, a nearly 7 percen unemployment rate, crime and a shrinking tax base.

Dramatic salvation, however, purportedly is descending on Providence and, it is claimed, by the end of the summer the nation's smallest state will be racked and grappled no more.

Speaking through the miracle of Bell Telephone from his International headquarters in Seelisberg, Switzerland, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi recently told his followers here that the state has been pegged for an intensive three-month campaign to make Rhode Island a "model of an ideal state . . . a problem-free society."

"We plan to get about 36,000 people, or 4 percent of the population, meditating," said Rick Archer, minister of communication and inspiration for the Maharishi's North and South American headquarters in Livingston Manor, N.Y.

"The effects on the rest of the population's quality of life will be so dramatic that there will be a noticeable decrease in crime, hospital admissions, unemployment, accidents . . . even the weather will get better," he said, noting Rhode Island's large tourist trade.

The Transcendental Meditation (TM) campaign rivals any political drive here in this election year - which according to the Maharishi's followers, also happens to be the fourth year of the Age of Enlightenment - with nearly every state and mayoral office in contention. Local political leaders contacted by the maharishi's followers have tenuously embraced the campaign, with most commenting, "It couldn't hurt."

"If it's gonna do all those things they say it is, how can you be against it?" remarked Rhode Island Republican Party Chairman Americo Campanella, whose dwindling number of colleagues in this heavily Democratic state could admittedly use some help.

"These changes will be spontaneous," said Peter Lamoureux, a TM instructor from Cranston, R.I. "We won't actually go out and apprehend criminals to solve the crime problem. But there will be a change in the trend of time from disorder to more positivity and harmony."

Asked whether he thinks TM is the answer to the state's crime problem, reputed New England underworld crime boss Raymond Patriarca commented from his National Cigarette Co. here, "Hey, whatta ya askin' me for? I don't know nothin' about it," and hung up.

Providence Mayor Vincent Ciancci quipped, "I think we're gonna see more levity than levitation."

A small, two-story gray house on Hope Street in Providence, used as the city's TM center, is a grouping and deployment center for the army of TM teachers - or governors of the Age of Enlightenment, as they like to be called - who have traveled here, on the maharishi's orders, from all over the eastern half of the country.

About 400 teachers have already poured in from 17 states and the District of Columbia, with another 150 expected. A similar campaign is being staged in Washington state as well as Hamburg, West Germany, Kent, England, the provinces of British Columbia and Quebec in Canada, Canton Uri, Switzerland, Madhyarpradesh, India, and provinces in Australia and Brazil.

"We chose this state because of it's small size and because the maharishi told us, 'Providence has brought us to Rhode Island,'" Archer said. "He loves puns like that."

Transcendental Meditation is a technique developed by the maharishi about 20 years go. It is designed to ease tension through deep relaxation and achieve "inner peace and enlightenment." The technique, simply, involves meditation twice a day for 20 minutes at a time.

The physiological benefits of the technique have been touted from Harvard to Stanford. However, detractors criticize the nonprofit organization's fees for its course, which run $300 for a couple, $200 for a single adult, $150 for a college student and $100 for a high school student. The fees are split between the instructor and the organization.

Here is Rhode Island, the organization says it plans to seek research assistance from area scientists to measure the effects produced by an increased number of meditators on various "social indicators."

Massachusetts and Connecticut are, to be used as control groups in the sociological experiment - "the most massive and exciting ever done," said Dr. Lawrence Domash, president of Maharish International University in Fairfield, Iowa, and former assistant professor of physics at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.

"Our purpose is to make sure no government can ever deny that this is really a practical method to change the atmosphere of the world," Domash said.

Apparently "unenlightened" government leaders here, however, have not yet picked up the zealous enthusiasm of the mediatators who have sought their endorsements. Most broached the subject with characteristic political aplomb.

Gov. J. Joseph Garraky said he is still studying the matter.

Mayor Dennis Lynch of Pwtucket reserved judgement, noting that the TM organizers are "like politicians running for office; we have to see what they do on their campaign." He added, "We don't really need their help; the state is almost all Democrats, so we've already gone through salvation."

Cranston Mayor Joseph Taft, a Republican facing a tough fight in November, said, "I'm not a believer.They want to make this a happy state? I want to be happy.I want to be reelected.

"Maybe if all the Democrats are meditating on election day, things, would improve for me here."