Perhaps the last time there was heaven on earth (at least for humankind) was the day before Adam took his infamous bite of fresh, pesticide-free fruit. Since then, there have been varying degrees of sudden conflicts (from schoolyard bullying to tribal territorial disputes), infectious disease and systemic destruction of life and property that such remedies as “peace in our time,” “nirvana” or “national invincibility” have failed to quell. If the human race is the most intelligent species, then why can’t we find a way to all get along?
What’s a disagreeable populace to do? It’s embarrassingly simple: find the knowledge, share it with others and when those universal lessons of love, respect and tolerance have sunk in, the planet will finally be able to produce Garden of Eden II.
But where on earth does that special knowledge come from? Whose “truth” is the magic potion for a pandemic of peace and harmony? God’s (all flavours)? Mohammed’s? Buddha’s? Zen’s? …
According to film director David Lynch, the answer can be found in the East.
Beginning at the icy source of the Ganges River and eventually working its spiritual way into the proper caste of priest, it’s the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s harnessing (then packaging) of Transcendental Meditation where personal devotion to a unique (and secret) mantra coupled with rigorous devotion to his proven techniques that the mind will be opened to possibility and ideas like never before. Better still, “It’s [TM] money in the bank to take that trip,” said the director of Blue Velvet (and unapologetic TM supporter).
This sage revelation was made to first-feature filmmaker David Sieveking during an early interview at the start of his own examination into the incredibly rich inner-revelations along the frequently tortured route to self contentment.
As a début entry into the increasingly crowded arena of vérité docs, Sieveking’s savvy understanding and courageous self-disclosure will be the envy of many, much more established filmmakers—including his sometime idol, Lynch.
This road movie down the rocky trail of belief sees the director/writer embrace the potential of turning his uncertain life around (after paying the required €2,380 and offering fresh cuttings that could have bloomed in Eve’s backyard), only to discover that, after initially feeling better in his own pale skin, the senior members of the movement were showing signs of becoming more like those they disparaged than those they purported to be.
A sea change in attitude from acceptance to scepticism came not soon after the famous guru expired (Would the Beatles have produced more or less hits without the influence of the Indian Christ-figure?).
The funeral sequence was a touching expression of grief and hope by the thousands who paid their respects, showered rose petals (including a torrent from a helicopter on high), then watched respectfully as their spiritual leader’s soul was released to everyone as his earthly remains were publicly cremated. Curious it was (for a Westerner) to observe the Maharishi’s nephews sift through the ashes to fill an urn with the adored body’s residue then return it to the Ganges. (Later, Lynch was positively jubilant in recalling his three dips into the remains-rich water—feeling a stronger-than-ever bond to his spiritual master.) With an estate estimated in the billions, sorting out charred wood from human ash seemed the least the doting relatives could do.
Hoping Sieveking’s film would only further expand TM's membership base, his cameras were offered exclusive, unprecedented coverage of the first meeting of the Rajas after their leader's death where successor Maharaja Adhiraj Rajaraam would test the strength of his tenure amongst his peers.
All went well as the giddy CSO (Chief Spiritual Officer) announced plans to build a “Heaven on Earth” housing project in India. But when one of the assembly began challenging the sole supremacy of the heir apparent, believing he ought to have a share of the throne, his reasoning voice went dead (selective-microphone technology at its best) and the filming was ordered to cease.
All was revealed even as the first voice of dissent was quashed.
Not surprisingly, Sieveking’s production took a U-turn and shifted into the realm of exposé more commonly associated with Michael Moore. But there were key differences: entrapment was not on the menu; the filmmaker’s sense of humour (from self-deprecation to set-up gags gone wrong, only to be funnier than originally imagined—notably the grandma-behind-the-curtain, Candid Camera shot) provided comic relief and balance.
Also at play (literally, in the case of Sieveking’s not inconsiderable harmonica performance—such a welcome respite from the Yogi's preference for never-in-tune bagpipes) is the music. Karl Stirner’s original score—rife with long, dark string lines and detective-at-work, high-hat tinged jazz—would have been equally at home in a Lynch film-noir feature. Subliminal shadings like this show an overall concept that few filmmakers imagine, much less achieve.
Interviews with former TM devotees (especially Judith Bourque and Earl Kaplan) reveal that the loving persona portrayed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was—like every other human purported to put service to the unenlightened masses before personal pleasures or financial reward—celibate on the outside, but voracious away from the public eye; devoted to his closest followers until their cheque books ran dry. Only his legendary modesty kept the "scientist of concsciousness" from demonstrating how belief could lift him off the ground.
Like the child soldiers from Uganda (cross-reference below), it was chilling to see so many young minds being indoctrinated at the Maharishi University of Management (Fairfield, Iowa).
Thanks to Sieveking’s probe into the real truth, one can only hope that further propagation of a faith whose bedrock is commerce, not free will and full disclosure, never sees the light of day in the publicly announced “invincible” Yogic Flyers village at the oh-so-appropriate site of Devil’s Mountain, Germany. World peace may have to wait a bit longer.
His disciples say it all: “All You Need Is Love,” “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” “Maharishi,” (a.k.a “sexy Sadie”) “What Have You Done?/ You’ve made a fool of everyone”. JWR