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CREATING A CITY OF JOY: Heaven on Earth Finds Its Way to Houston
"Failure. Total failure," he says of the American health-care system. "And it has spread out to all over the world and everyone is copying it. They must think of prevention. They must go a few steps deeper than that reality of physical health, because they have proved it doesn't work. They must give us a chance to prove that our method, our approach will work."
The speaker is Buddha Charan, seated in his silk robe among lunchtime diners at Heaven on Earth Restaurant. His voice is soft and melodic; his Thai accent--clipping the s off plurals, leaning heavily on present tense, ignoring articles--is somehow appropriate, even perfect, for the subject matter.
The method and approach to which he refers is Transcendental Meditation (TM) and the ancient Vedic sciences. "Life in nature is bliss," he states softly. His gentle conviction is the mark of a man who has found his truth. "Bliss is not being seen today in this society," he states earnestly, "so that means some knowledge of life is lacking. Education is not fulfilled."
There is no hint of reproach in his statement. He seems to have analyzed the condition of humanity in much the same way he analyzed day-to-day problems in the business world that he left behind 15 years ago: problem--solution--action.
"Education means to bring a man to the level that he does not make mistakes in life," he states, "and that has not been accomplished. Education today only focuses on the objective approach, studying what is outside of the person. What it needs is to incorporate the study of the student's life itself--his mind, his consciousness, his own being, his subjective experience."
Buddha Charan does not speak of good and evil; he speaks of knowledge and ignorance. "The present knowledge today is total knowledge in the library. Pure knowledge means the knower, knowing and known in one brain, and that is experience. So we say the student is experiencing the fruit of knowledge."
Four months ago, Buddha Charan came to Houston to open the Heaven On Earth Restaurant, located on the first floor of the Heaven On Earth Inn at 801 Calhoun. The menu states: "The purpose of Heaven on Earth Restaurant is to support the creation of Heaven on Earth through perfect health by providing food that delights the senses and nourishes the body."
The TM movement, through its organization, Heaven on Earth Inns Corp., has purchased 16 high-rise hotels in major cities throughout the country. Though the primary purpose is to make available to city dwellers studies in meditation and a healthy lifestyle, hotel rooms may be rented by any traveler seeking an entirely smoke-free environment, as well as other advantages that may accrue to those staying in a hotel owned and operated by an organization dedicated to health and happiness.
"No smoking, no meat eating in the whole building," Buddha Charan emphasizes.
The hotel was opened in September of 1993, and the Heaven On Earth Restaurant on January 12 of this year. Astrologers say that January 12, 1994 was an astrologically propitious day for commencing a new business venture, with most of the planets in the down-to-earth, big-business sign of Capricorn--an event that they say only occurs every few thousand years or so.
There was no mention of the stars in the heavens at the Grand Opening, however. The date was chosen, it was explained to those in attendance, because January 12 is the birthday of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who founded the TM program nearly 30 years ago. It is also the day when the TM founder announces the goals and plans for the coming year.
"We need a group to provide this coherence in society, to provide an atmosphere which is conducive to life in the city," Buddha Charan states. And that is how the idea of hotels evolved--600 rooms where 600 people study and learn to be happy and healthy.
"We do not belong to any religion," he says. "We are not religious preaching. We are not teaching religion. What we do is give. The most basic need in life is to be happy."
Buddha Charan believes that poor physical health manifests ills in society. "When we see society today," he says, "it is not well. Health is not good. Society is disintegrating. Everyone is for himself. It shows that mental health and physical health is imbalanced. That means life is not in accord with the laws of nature. This is shown in society when we have so many health problems, so many crime problems, even economy problems, unemployment problems. All these things are because man is not properly educated as to how to live his life properly according to the laws of nature."
He stops a moment to sip from his drink. It is Sweet Lasi (pronounced lah-see), a blended concoction of yogurt, mineral water and mango--the color, like his robe, a rich yellow.
"See, what you are is what you eat," he continues. "So whatever you eat, you see in the society today. It's not healthy. Only a few things are needed to incorporate into the present dietary situation--just to know a few things--and then prevention is accomplished. In the 20 approaches of Maharishi Ayur-Ved, all is prevention oriented. This restaurant is part of the whole approach."
He lists the causes of disease and sickness: imbalanced diet, imbalanced lifestyle, lack of knowledge about living. "The main cause is not knowing--ignorance. That's the main cause," he states.
Lunch arrives--a richly flavored vegetarian wanton soup, sweet curry with tofu and vegetables, and surprisingly flavorful and fluffy white rice.
"This restaurant, Heaven on Earth Restaurant, is one aspect to bring people here," he says. "It is not just serving food and charging money. There is so much more we have--experience through the senses: sense of taste, sense of sight, sense of smell, sense of touch, sense of hearing--through which one can bring balance to the nervous system. That means we give them a new experience. So this is what this establishment is for--to give a new experience, because life is through experience."
Buddha Charan is more interested in talking about his work than about himself, but humors the more personal questions, replying with disarming candor.
"I was brought up with parents who were very much material oriented," he says. "They taught their children how to be successful by material gain, successful by being powerful, being a leader in society. We worked very hard, we studied hard, we gained a lot of stress. We found that at every level of success we felt satisfied for a while, and then we would look for a new avenue to be more and more successful. So the question that came was, What is real? What is life? If life means to be successful, you gain that and yet you lose it again. So there's no end to it.
"I was 23 when I started to do meditation. I didn't understand what this meditation really could bring up until now. I only knew that I wanted to be more happy. I wanted to be more relaxed. I wanted to understand things more. And that's what it helped. And then just through faith, I just continued meditating. Every day seemed to have new experience, new life."
Buddha Charan did not leave the everyday world to seek his happiness as soon as he began meditating. He continued to strive and achieve in accord with his family's teaching. "I wanted to be ahead, wanted to gain all the material life," he says.
"There's nothing wrong with that," he adds earnestly, agreeing that it is easier to pursue enlightenment when material concerns have been taken care of.
"In society today, they look up to you if you are successful. No one wants to follow the poor guy," he says laughing. "Life wants to be lived with fullness. One is material fullness. You know, you can get what you want and be comfortable, but the other is that you want also spiritual fullness. You want to have bliss in your life."
Trained as a hotel manager, Buddha Charan made his "material fullness" in the service industry--hotels, night clubs, restaurants. "I still think to have a few millions in the bank is good--even now," he declares. "But I spend part of my time in the pursuit to gain enlightenment, which is still very small. That's the highest goal, highest inspiration, so that I can do good things for others."
In response to a question concerning his official capacity with the TM organization, he smiles as he replies: "I'm part of the whole. The moment I started to meditate, I'm part of the whole that created Heaven On Earth, no matter where I go, what I do. Because if I spend morning and evening to myself meditating, I'm contributing something to the world. So on that level, I'm very official." His soft, easy laughter punctuates the end of his statement. "But on the other level," he says, "I'm here just to help. I'm on my own volunteer time. I come here because I want to do good to the country, to the society. That's all. And I wanted to do it, and I have the time to do it."
Buddha Charan may have his head in heaven, but his feet are firmly planted on earth. When he speaks of success, he is not speaking of theory he read in a book. "There's three things in life which are very important," he states. "First is health. You must have balanced health, because on that basis you live your life. Success or failure depends on how the health is. If you have balanced health, then your thinking is positive; you envision good thoughts. And then after you have balanced health, then wealth is easy to gain. Wealth is very easy to gain, because you have a clear mind, clear thinking, positive thinking, evolutionary thinking. Then the decision you make is right. Always right. And when you have both health and wealth, then wisdom is automatic. Wisdom is based on perfect health. But health is gained; wisdom is within."
"If you are clear," he continues, "you are awake. I mean you are within the infinite creativity. You will be successful no matter what you do. Your goal will be easily accomplished, whether that goal is to be enlightened or to be a millionaire or billionaire, or to be an author, or to be an actor--whatever. Because, from that level of thinking, you decide. So the basis of success in life is to go within. When people say that they don't have time to sit and close their eyes for 20 minutes, that means they're missing out on something. That 20 minutes will make the remainder of the 24 hours successful. Meditation is a necessity; it's part of life. It's the whole purpose of life, to go within before you go out."
Buddha Charan says he found his teacher 22 years ago. "But teacher doesn't mean a person in the human being form," he explains. "A teacher is that infinite silence. Nature itself is a teacher. But that nature could be expressed by some human being. When you find him, you know. And by knowing, you put him in your heart, and that's all it takes. Communication is so vague, and words don't mean anything on that level. You don't learn by just talking to him."
He describes that period in his life between his withdrawal from the business world and the volunteer work he is now doing. "This is a beautiful thing," he states with obvious pleasure, as he remembers that time in his life. "We just spend more time to ourself. Ourself means silent values of life--spend time to ourself and do long meditation and live very simple, easy life. No pressure, no stress, no tension--just live life. That's all."
Before coming to Houston, Buddha Charan spent some time in Holland at the Maharishi Ayurvedic University and, before that, traveling in Laos, Burma and Cambodia. "I spent a year and a half in Cambodia. This knowledge of Maharishi Ved has really saved that country," he states.
"The country was totally disintegrated. There was no hope, no leadership. So when we were there, we created this hope, this confidence. We taught the people to do meditation, and we looked after their health through Maharishi Ayur-Ved system of ancient medicine. We showed the people how to live a happy life," he concludes.
The project in Cambodia was very successful for the group. The Cambodian government donated land and recruited a large group of students to study Vedic science. The Heaven On Earth representatives created a four-year curriculum, and the government is organizing the project.
"Now the country is well taken care of," he states. "Cambodia is one of the very few countries in the world that has this vision."
The popularity and apparent effectiveness of TM has sparked worldwide interest among members of the medical community. Studies have been conducted to investigate the physical body's response to the practice of TM. "Scientists have proved that when that harmony starts, the brain waves start to organize in an orderly and coherent way," Buddha Charan states. "When a few thousand people do that on a daily basis, their behavior, their activity become naturally supportive of the environment. And then they create a new environment for the whole nation.
"Like this building. If you can bring in 500, 600 young ones, elderly, retired ones, or whoever is interested just to be with us, then Houston downtown will be nourished and flourish. This will be the easiest and most cost-effective approach. That's all you have to do. When that happens, nature itself will nourish and assure--will bring whatever man desires. They start thinking bringing a casino here will be good, but it will not only damage life, it will bring a very stressful environment. I'm saying this because I think the mayor is a wise man. He would not do it. But the people might force him to do it, you know. They're not touching at the core of the problem. They create more problems."
Buddha Charan is visibly disturbed by the caning sentence of the young American boy who was convicted in Singapore of vandalizing cars. There is a better way, he says.
"To help him," he states simply, "first thing is to teach him to know himself, to transcend. Put him in an environment where there's some love and care, and that, in itself, will transform him. So many people in this society don't have that anymore--love and care. This is what separates everyone, and everyone just lives for themselves. They are so afraid of everything. Their education trains them to be so dependent. You have to train them to be totally independent. I have seen young boys trained like this. After only four years--you know, he's 12 or 13--he walks on the street or he goes out into the world feeling totally comfortable and free, free from any fear whatsoever. He is so in tune with nature. He knows that nature will provide, when the time comes, for everything that he needs. Everything that is created in this world, in this universe--food, for instance--it's all by nature. It's abundant. Nature always gives you enough, no matter if the population is double in this world. Nature will provide it, because nature is responsible. Very responsible. But because man is not trained to be part of the total with nature, he is trying to gain based on fear. The whole system is based on fear."
Directing our attention, our awareness to negative ideas and events, Buddha Charan says, manifests negative results. "Earthquakes, for instance," he explains, "are how nature is crying or unstressing. Everyone is responsible for that. They live their life, they damage the atmosphere, they ruin the ecology, so nature just transforms; nature just has to move a little bit. I watched at one school in California when they were having an earthquake drill for 600 young kids. One kid said, 'Every time I hear this bell, I feel so scared.' You see, what they are doing is bringing back the earthquake. More fear makes nature shake also. It's a wrong approach. They invite the disaster by doing that, because they bring their awareness to that level.
"First, they have the thing about the heart, and then they go into AIDS, and now for a while they forget about AIDS. Now everyone is talking about earthquakes. And on television every afternoon, on four or five different programs, they go up there and they scream at each other. They get very upset. They put people together to be really upset with each other. What is that going to do to society? To the whole world? The purpose is good, but the approach is so damaging."
The conversation is interrupted for the arrival of dessert, balls of soft cheese delicately draped in a thin, aromatic syrup--looking somewhat like small, perfectly shaped plums. The silence that always follows the arrival of fine food to the plates of willing guests is finally broken as Buddha Charan becomes aware that it is nearly time for him to leave for the airport. He seeks to say a few more sentences--something that will summarize the vast subject that he has attempted to cover in only an hour.
"When we talk about Ayur-Ved," he begins, "We are not talking about just herbs or vegetarian diets or this and that, but the total knowledge of creator and creation together. "The 20 approaches of Maharishi Ayur-Ved is to bring the awareness of a person to that level of transcendental reality, because the knowledge is not on the level of intellect or mind or ego, but it's beyond. What is beyond we call pure knowledge, the Ved, and that is total. When we learn the Ved, then we learn to live the total reality of life, and that's health. But somehow education does not direct us to that. So this is the whole problem in this society, in the whole world--that man does not know his own nature, his own existence, his own totality. So he's hanging somewhere here and there and creating problems for himself--and then he creates problem for others in society.
If we can create only 500 or 600 healthy persons in this downtown area, immediately the whole city is in joy--success on all aspects of life--with the economy, with anything."