Flying yogis and ﬂying millions - 2010-05-19
He was the original guru pop star. Made famous by the Beatles in the 1960s, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the godfather of the Transcendental Meditation movement, known as TM. He inspired such acolytes as author Deepak Chopra and filmmaker David Lynch, and remained TM's figurehead until his death in 2008 at the age of 94. The Maharishi was once dubbed "the giggling guru." But now it appears he may have been giggling all the way to the bank. David Wants to Fly, a new documentary shown last week at Toronto's Hot Docs festival, offers compelling evidence that the Maharishi's empire of enlightenment is more devoted to shaking down its followers and amassing wealth than transcending the material world.
The "David" of David Wants to Fly refers to the film's director, a cheeky 32-year-old German named David Sieveking, and to the dubious feat of "yogic flying" or levitation. It could also refer to David Lynch, who has emerged as TM's most prominent spokesman and is the prime target of Sieveking's obsessive investigation. Sieveking embarked on his documentary as an avid Lynch fan dying to meet the genius behind Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. But by the time he'd completed his film, five years later, it had turned into an exposé. Sieveking told Maclean's that Lynch threatened to sue him and tried to block the film's Berlin premiere. No wonder. It depicts TM as a secretive hierarchy with overtones of Scientology, and portrays Lynch as its Tom Cruise.
Sieveking, who makes himself a character in the documentary—a neurotic man on a mission—is like a cross between a young Werner Herzog and a skinny Michael Moore. He first travels to America to interview Lynch as a star-struck fan, then becomes an eager student of TM. As his odyssey takes him from Manhattan to the headwaters of the Ganges, he never loses faith in the power of meditation, but he becomes deeply skeptical about TM's well-heeled leadership.