Pandit leader, five others, leave country
Administrators at the pandit campus in Maharishi Vedic City announced that five pandits volunteered to return to their home country after an incident on the morning of March 11 when a group of pandits attacked Jefferson County Sheriff Gregg Morton while he was in his patrol pickup and parked at the campus.
Bill Goldstein, spokesman for the organization that sponsors the pandits, the Global Country of World Peace, said some of the pandits were upset over the administration’s decision to remove the head pandit, Vidya Shankar Mishra. Morton was called that morning to stand guard at the scene.
Mishra was originally going to be taken to O’Hare Airport in Chicago that day but, after the attack on the sheriff, Mishra was brought back to the campus to talk about the incident with the other pandits. Mishra was being sent back to India for disciplinary reasons, the nature of which the pandit administration has not disclosed.
A pandit is a scholar of traditional Indian law, rituals and philosophy. About 350 pandits live at the pandit campus, where they spend much of their day meditating and reciting Sanskrit sounds.
On Saturday, Mishra and five other pandits were taken to O’Hare Airport, where they boarded flights to their native country. Nearly all of the pandits are from India, although some pandits are from Nepal, a country that borders India to the north.
Goldstein wrote via email that the five pandits volunteered to return home with their former leader. He said they might have been involved in the incident March 11, which the pandit administration is still reviewing. He said the decision to discipline the pandits further will be up to the organization in India that handles them.
“Those who we suspect of involvement after our reviews here are being removed from the campus for transport to India,” Goldstein wrote.
The pandit administration also released information Monday about several inquiries it has received since the incident. One of the questions it responded to was, “Is there reason for people in the area to fear for their safety?”
“This unprecedented and short-lived outbreak of rock throwing by a group of approximately 40 pandits of the 350 currently on the campus was the first, and we trust the last such episode in the seven years of the project,” the press release stated.
Morton estimated 70-80 pandits surrounded his vehicle, threw rocks at it, broke out the back window, attempted to break off the mirrors, and rocked it back and forth.
The press release from the pandit administration continued, “[The incident] was not aimed at citizens of Jefferson County and was not based in any animus they feel to anyone here. They were upset that their leader was without notice being removed from their midst in their view by the sheriff, and this upset those in the group who were closest to him and they reacted to the sheriff’s presence for that reason alone.”
The press release stated the pandits are a tightly knit group and consider each other “brothers.” They have lived and studied together for more than 15 years in some cases, dating back to when they began meditating and studying Vedic scriptures in India.
The press release stated the pandit administration does not feel anyone in the area is in danger.
“We are addressing the cause of the reaction and if we need to remove a pandit going forward, as we might on occasion have to do, we will first allow everyone to say their goodbyes to their brother,” the release stated.
Freedom of movement
Another question the press release addressed was the extent of freedom the pandits enjoy while they’re on the campus. The administration responded by writing that, while there is a security fence around the perimeter of the campus with several gates, the pandits come and go for walks outside the perimeter as they please.
“The fence is more intended to keep outsiders out than the insiders in,” the press release stated.
The pandit campus is willing to host visitors on Sunday when the pandits give their Vedic
performances, but visits on other days of the week are discouraged to avoid distracting the pandits from their program. The press release stated the pandits committed to live in the ashrams in India where they engaged in their spiritual vocation. The campus is designed to mirror that experience.
“The pandits understand this and have taken oaths and signed agreements committing themselves to this lifestyle,” the press release stated. “It is different from the lifestyle that most of us are accustomed to, but we seek to respect and support it as best we can with as few distractions as possible.”
The pandits take occasional field trips off the campus. The pandits’ necessities are provided to them on the campus such as lodging, a cafeteria, study halls, an exercise hall, cricket fields and a medical dispensary where two doctors and a nurse take care of their medical needs.
“The pandits understand they have not come here to be tourists, but just to continue to engage in the program they do in India, to help foster world peace,” the press release stated.
The press release responded to a question about whether the pandits were dissatisfied with their compensation, and if this was the reason some of them attacked the sheriff March 11.
The pandits are given $200 per month, of which $150 is sent to their families in India. The press release stated that amount of compensation is higher than what the pandits received when they were in India. However, many of the pandits are worried about their finances, particularly because of inflation in India and the Indian rupee’s decline in value compared to the dollar.
“We are seeking to address this situation by obtaining more support from the donors who entirely support this project and are hoping we can provide for additional increases,” the press release stated. “However, this was not the reason for this incident. It had nothing to do with compensation as noted above and our review of the situation has confirmed this.”