Centre of Silence is golden at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s home

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s house and headquarters in the Netherlands, 7 Feb. 2008/Michael KoorenThe late Indian mystic Maharishi Mahesh Yogi lived out his final years in a golden yellow wooden residence on a secluded site of a former monastery. His house was surrounded by a well-tended garden dotted with animal figures that lit up at night. Two blue elephant statues with raised trunks flanked the front gate.

Visitors removed their shoes when entering the building constructed in a traditional Vedic architectural style in harmony with natural law patterns of orientation, placement, proportion and materials. Nearby was a tent decorated with pots of roses, daffodils and orchids. Rajas in white robes and golden crowns sat on red velvet seats, sometimes drifting off into deep contemplation.

India? Nepal? No, the Netherlands. The former Beatles guru, the man who brought Indian mysticism to the West and attracted westerners to his ashram in India, lived his last years in the Dutch countryside, close to the small town of Vlodrop near the German border.

The most interesting part of the house was the “Centre of Silence” right in the middle. It sounds like it might be their main meditation room, but it turned out to be a meeting room for the Maharishi’s Global Country of World Peace movement.

The room was full of flowers and pictures of Indian saints hung on the walls, but my eyes were immediately drawn to the table in the middle of the room, which was covered in trays overflowing with glistening golden coins.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi steps down as head of meditation empire

British stamp of “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” 2006Now here’s a flash from the past — news about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The guru, who became internationally known when the Beatles journeyed to India to learn meditation from him during their psychedelic rock phase in the late 1960s, is now 91. He has just stepped down as head of his worldwide organisation promoting Transcendental Meditation.

His work is done and now he’ll be concentrating on the field of silence and dedicating himself more to pure knowledge rather than administrative matters,” said Benjamin Feldman, a close aide.

Read all about it in this report by Emma Thomasson, our chief correspondent in the Netherlands, where he now lives.

Anti-Koran film keeps the Dutch holding their breath

Geert Wilders speaks during an interview with Reuters Television, 3 March 2005/Jerry LampenThis is getting to look like a striptease…

The far-right politician Geert Wilders, whose planned anti-Koran film has the Netherlands holding its breath, has revealed that his long-awaited opus will be delayed by two months. There had been speculation he might show it in his party’s broadcasting slot on Dutch television on Friday evening. Viewers instead got shots of Wilders walking along a beach repeating his complaints about Muslims (shown a few minutes into this Dutch TV interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali). For more on his views, he’s here and here spelling them out in English.

The 10-minute movie is now due out in March, Wilders said in an interview in Saturday’s De Telegraaf. This comes after a rising chorus of concern about possible protests against the film and a call from Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende for restraint and reports that Dutch embassies were preparing to evacuate Dutch citizens abroad if things got out of hand.

LoudspeakerThe Rotterdam daily NRC Handelsblad smelt a rat. “Geert Wilders says he’s making a film. Nobody has seen it yet. But his plan has kept the media and politicians in its grip for two months now,” it commented. “In terms of political PR, Geert Wilders is putting on a great showWilders can dominate the news because journalists and politicians are sytematically allowing themselves to be taken hostage by him. Without a loudspeaker, there is no platform. Without political reactions, there is no series to watch.”

Dominicans warn Dutch brothers against Catholic schism

Windmills at Kinderdijk, Netherlands, Jasper JuinenThe Order of Preachers, better known as the Dominicans, is warning its Dutch province against sliding into schism by pressing its proposal to allow lay Catholics to say mass if they have no priest available to do so. The Dutch Dominicans have proposed that because the worsening priest shortage means many congregations there don’t have anyone to celebrate the eucharist.

The Dutch Dominicans caused an uproar last autumn when they mailed a booklet called “Church and Ministry” (“Kerk en Ambt“) to parishes across the Netherlands without informing the country’s bishops beforehand. In it, they said a congregation should be allowed to appoint any devout Catholic as a lay minister — “Whether they be men or women, homosexual or heterosexual, married or unmarried is irrelevant” — and did not need the local bishop’s approval. The bishops promptly denounced the booklet and the order’s Rome headquarters distanced itself from it.

Now, the order has produced its own report (here in French under “lire le rapport“). It is — not surprisingly — highly critical of the radical proposals. It says they “risk not only worsening the polarisation within the Dutch Church but also encouraging schism.” The The Dutch Dominican booklet Kerk en Ambtauthor of the report, French Dominican Father Hervé Legrand, said the Dutch must know “the concrete results of the ordination of a gay bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States: nationally, the creation of new schismatic and competing dioceses, internationally, the split in the Anglican Communion.” Any congregation acting on these proposals would “dissolve into a sect,” he wrote.

Concern mounts as Netherlands readies for anti-Islam film

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, 23 June 2007/Yves HermanConcern is mounting in the Netherlands as the country prepares for a film about the Koran by a far-right populist known for his hostility to Islam. It reached the point last Friday that Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende publicly appealed for restraint. A former Malaysian ambassador in The Hague has said the reaction could make the 2006 Danish cartoon controversy look like “a picnic.”

Geert Wilders, who wants to ban the Koran as a “fascist” book and has warned of a “tsunami of Islamisation” in the Netherlands, has proceeded with the film despite warnings from the Dutch justice and foreign ministers. (We blogged on this last November when the warnings came). It’s not clear when it will be broadcast, but it is expected soon. Wilders has denied reports that it will be shown on Friday Jan. 25. There is already a spoof on YouTube.

The last Dutchman who made a film critical of Islam, Theo van Gogh, was murdered by an Islamist radical in 2004. That unleashed a violent anti-Muslim backlash in the Netherlands. Caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish daily sparked off violent protests in the Muslim world.

Rotterdam to mark Holocaust Day with local survivor’s book

OnbestelbaarResidents of Rotterdam will find something unusual in their mailboxes next week — a book by a local Dutch Holocaust survivor recalling the wartime Nazi occupation of their city. Isaac Lipschits wrote it as a letter to his mother and entitled it Onbestelbaar (Undeliverable). That’s the “return-to-sender” message the Dutch Post Office stamps on letters whose recipients cannot be found. The author’s mother is untraceable because she was murdered in Auschwitz on January 15, 1943.

The publisher Uitgeverij Verbum plans to send 250,000 free copies of the book to all Rotterdam households — and make it available as a PDF download on its website — on January 24, three days before the international Holocaust Day marking the liberation of the death camp on January 27, 1945. It took the initiative with three Dutch groups devoted to honouring Holocaust victims and opposing racism — the Loods 24 Committee, the Netherlands Auschwitz Committee and the Holocaust Memorial Foundation.

With this free distribution of the Holocaust book, the sponsors want to encourage Rotterdamers to read the 76-page book and think about anti-Semitism and discrimination,” the Dutch news agency ANP wrote. “Rotterdam Mayor Ivo Opstelten will hand over the first copy of the book at City Hall to the author during the Auschwitz Memorial 2008 ceremony on January 23. Opstelten has also written the foreword to Onbestelbaar.”

Church protest chases Donald Duck from Noah’s Ark

Donald DuckDonald Duck has been expelled from Noah’s Ark.

To be more precise, a Donald Duck film clip has been removed from a replica of Noah’s Ark in the Netherlands. That came after a local church protested that the film being shown to children visiting the ark strayed too far from the Bible story.

Some background first — a Dutch evangelical named Johan Huibers has built a 50-meter (164-feet) long replica of Noah’s Ark to teach children the Bible story that most didn’t know anymore. Finished last spring, it is about one-fifth of the size mentioned in the Bible but looks like the ship portrayed in religious art. Huibers and his staff have been docking it in Dutch port cities and towns including Amsterdam and Rotterdam for several weeks at a time so local children can visit it.

One of his teaching methods was a clip from the Walt Disney film Fantasia 2000 showing the Ark story. Donald Duck appears in it as Noah’s hapless helper, herding the animals onto the ship and busying himself with odd jobs during the voyage. In another non-Biblical twist, Daisy Duck also appears, but neither she nor Donald knows the other made it aboard before the Deluge struck. Their reunion on dry land is a classic Disney happy end.