Yogic flyers raise hopes of business lift-off

Traders near a former US air base in Suffolk expect a windfall from Mah arishi's college, writes Glenda Cooper
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The Independent Online
When yogic flyers bounce into the former US air base at Bentwaters in Suffolk in the early summer, jubilant local traders will be waiting to catch them.

Bentwaters' burghers are also looking forward to taking advantage of the University of Natural Law's facilities, including adult education courses in transcendental meditation (TM) and yogic flying.

Russell Geen, mayor of Woodbridge, could not wait for the Maharishi Foundation to open the university. "It's going to be such an asset and it'll get the place used at last. We miss a lot of trade with the Americans gone," he said.

"I can't see any harm in it. At least they're not New Age travellers, which is a big relief."

The chair of the Woodbridge Chamber of Commerce, Sam Campbell-Barr, agreed: "It'll initially help estate agents and builders setting up accommodation and then Woodbridge'll benefit from students and their parents shopping here."

He felt that locals might be helped by the courses. "People who take it up may feel that their lives are made better. "If you have a place where there's single parent families, there's an unruly element, so all this TM might not be a bad idea."

Paul Hudson, chairman of the Rendlesham Residents' Association, agreed: "We feel it will bring confidence back into the area. And what we've heard of the Natural Law Party makes us think they are good neighbours. They don't go imposing their souls on people."

Even the Church of England was welcoming. Canon David Pitcher, of St Mary's Church, said: "We live in a multicultural age. Gone are the days of the crusades. Practices like meditation are found across all traditions of spirituality and the Christian tradition has nothing to fear or criticise ."

But, he thought it unlikely 4,000 people would change the community by getting up early to meditate in the morning: "Knowing the way young people work, they're not going to knuckle down to that."

A dissenting note came from pub owners, unlikely to profit much from meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's followers who include the former Beatle, George Harrison.

Paul Holyoak, landlord of the Seckford Arms, in Woodbridge, groaned: "They're the ones that bounce around on carpets aren't they? Great. We need them like a bloody hole in the head.

"I think it's ridiculous. They should have sold it to Richard Branson. He'd have expanded the base properly."

Steve Pennington, landlord of the rival King's Head was cautious: "Well, I think it's extremely unlikely it'll turn into another Waco. My main problem is they're bound to be teetotal."

Students at the University of Natural Law will have to attend two sessions of TM a day, the first around 9am.

"From experience, we found that it sharpened the minds of students, prepared them for the day, made them more creative and harmonised the classroom," Dr Geoffrey Clements, the vice-chancellor of the university, said.

"What we're hoping to do is to develop the container of knowledge," he added.

"People choose to go to Bristol or Oxford because of some unique element. We want the same thing to happen here."

Traditional three-year degree programmes will be offered at the university, beginning with science-based subjects like information technology. Fees will be the same as a normal university and Dr Clements hopes that prospective flyers will be able to apply for local education authority grants.

Dr Clements says that the power of so many people meditating and flying together will have a positive effect on health and crime.

"Two thousand people here will produce such coherence that there will be a reduction in crime all over Britain; 7,000 would be enough to produce influence worldwide," he said.

A spokesman for Suffolk Police said that they were not planning to reduce police in the area at the moment, although they would review the situation.

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