INTERVIEW: Dr Jaan Suurküla, Estonia
June 17, 2013
Transcendental Meditation teacher Dr Jaan Suurküla from Estonia has seen a few things in life.
Leaving his home country as a child, then finding his way back to it. Leaving behind the Western medicine to embrace the wisdom of the integral approach offered by Ayurveda. Searching for true spirituality, and then helping to teach Transcendental Meditation to thousands and thousands of people. Meeting presidents and being persecuted by the authorities.
We visited Dr Suurküla him at his present home in Tallinn, Estonia to share some of these wonderful stories with you.
EMIGRATION: LIFE IN SWEDEN
Dr Jaan Suurküla emigrated from Estonia in 1944 as a 3-year old boy. „My parents decided – no more of the Soviet Union. It was very hard time, “ he recalls. The whole family got on a boat and landed on the other shore of the Baltic Sea, in Sweden. The peaceful kingdom which had managed to stay neutral and unoccupied during the Second World War, offered kind refuge to many people uprooted by war.
Jaan studied at the University of Göteborg, and chose human ageing as his area of research. However, true knowledge always contains the risk of upheaval – truth tends to shatter views and beliefs and life plans. Jaan, a doctor’s son and himself firmly integrated into the system of medicine, suddenly found himself deeply disappointed by it.
„My research into ageing led to the insight – which, by the way, I was already suspecting – that, very clearly, there is no hope in the modern Western medicine when it comes to developing cures for diseases. I come from a doctor’s family and it’s in my soul to cure people – not just eliminate symptoms. That only makes people to neglect their health because they can go on living in a harmful way. They can go on eating wrongly, living wrongly – it is no wonder that chronic diseases are such a huge problem these days, almost catastrophically overburdening the whole system. It is absurd. You go to a doctor and get alleviation for your symptoms, and at the same time the disease progresses and progresses. After realizing that in 1970s I left the modern medicine.“
Dr Suurküla then worked for several big companies and organizations – as a company doctor for the multinational ABB, working with occupational disorders; as a medical expert witness in court cases for the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO), doing about 300 cases in court.
But that was mainly material sustenance, he admits: „That way I got the money to start with Ayurveda – it was completely unknown at that time in Sweden. I was practicing Ayurveda in the 1990s, but then the laws were changed – prohibiting doctors to use alternative medicine. Yet I was curing people, you know… So Maharishi asked me to set up an Ayurvedic clinic – to prepare for this I worked at a private Ayurvedic clinic in Germany, Bad Ems.“
MEETING MAHARISHI MAHESH YOGI
In his search for the right philosophical and spiritual way in the 1960s, Dr Suurküla came to the practice of Transcendental Meditation taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Convinced in the value of the Vedic technique, Dr Suurküla travelled in vain through Europe in search of a Transcendental Meditation course. Finally times caught up with his intuition, the technique became hugely popular and spread across the Western world. In 1971, Dr Suurküla could take the Transcendental Meditation training course right at home in Sweden.
Seeing the benefits of Transcendental Meditation practice in his personal life, the next logical step for Dr Suurküla was to help other people by becoming a TM teacher. And that’s how he met Maharishi.
„The first time I met him was when I was doing my Transcendental Meditation teacher training course in 1973, in southern Spain. I presented my ageing theory before the training course, in front of 2000 people gathered in a huge tent. Maharishi liked the presentation and wanted to meet me in person. After that I had contacts with him every now and then, sometimes him asking me over to Switzerland, sometimes just calling over phone.“
And then came the tumultuous political years at the end of the 1980s.
RETURNING TO ESTONIA,
WITH TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION
„In 1988 I saw that things were changing in Estonia,“ says Dr Jaan Suurküla. „I saw that something good was happening. I came back to visit.“
From there, things started to move at the speed of lightning.
„Already in August 1989 I started the first Transcendental Meditation course in Tallinn. The word spread from person to person. By December 2000, there were 23.000 people in Estonia who had learned Transcendental Meditation. They included university professors, government ministers, even one of Estonia’s presidents. Of course I didn’t do it all alone. I invited teachers from Finland. In 1990 there was such huge demand that I called Maharishi and told him: ’We have 7.000 people signed up for the course.’ So Maharishi sent 20 of his best American Transcendental Meditation teachers to help out. They were really good, TM-Sidhi administrators. Everyone was initiating 100 people a week…“
„Maharishi was closely supervising and in close contact all the time. That was because he saw that I did what he wanted me to do. He could sense what was happening. When I was calling him, often I started to report him something and he said something which made me realize that he already knew what I was about to say. He told me what I had not done or done well. So in time I understood that I don’t report, I just listen! He was very effective, had no time for discussions. But I learned a lot about him and saw what powers a yogi can have.“
FORCES AND COUNTER-FORCES
Nevertheless, the huge success of the Transcendental Meditation in Estonia courted not only positive attention but soon also fear and envy. All of a sudden, a practice of which no one in the country had even heard of before was evolving into a spiritual mass movement. And that could simply not go unnoticed by the regime.
In December 1990, the Soviet powers began to use all the tricks in their book to dampen interest in the Transcendental Meditation. Propaganda was spread (’TM is completely useless yet extremely dangerous,’ so ran a typical claim from the authorities), venues were not available any more for courses… Dr Suurküla was even invited for a rough talk with the leader of the Estonian Communist Party, Mr Vaino Väljas.
„He was a very nice man,“ recalls Dr Suurküla 20 years later. „Very gentle and very civilised. I had only just started with my presentation on Transcendental Meditation when Mr Väljas stopped me. He said, ’There’s no need to say more. I will send you with my personal limousine to my health minister and tell him to support you in every possible way.’ So the movement had incredible support and help as well, but the KGB propaganda campaign was skilled and ruthless.“
One of the most colourful episodes – even funny in hindsight – occurred when Dr Jaan Suurküla had to stand in front of a committee of psychiatrists to answer charges of Transcendental Meditation causing mental illness.
Dr Suurküla and Dr Tony Nader (the present day leader of the global TM organization happened to be visiting Estonia at the behest of Maharishi) were given 15 minutes to defend the meditation technique. „I started by saying: ’I hear that 4 people have reported psychotic incidents in different parts of Estonia.’ The psychiatrists confirmed with angry expressions on their faces: ’Do you realize that these are very serious accusations, Dr Suurküla?’ I said: ’This is very good news, indeed. I’m very happy to hear these numbers!’ They looked at me as if I was one of the crazy people, you know…“ laughs Dr Suurküla.
„But then I asked them: ’Can you tell me what is the percentage of acute mental illness in Estonia? ’ They said, ’5 per cent.’ I said, ’Good. So let’s say, if 20.000 people have learned Transcendental Meditation in Estonia, what would be the number of mentally ill people among them? 1.000, right? Well, you see, 20.000 people have not learned Transcendental Meditation here. There have been 23.000 people.’ I really enjoyed that moment! We finished with a one-hour introductory presentation on Transcendental Meditation!“
A ROLLING STONE GATHERS NO MOSS
Today, these stories might seem incredible. If nothing else, then it is a clear reflection of how far Estonia and the whole sociopolitical environment has come since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is a free country now, independent and democratic; enjoying the age of information and material well-being and limitless entertainment.
Dr Jaan Suurküla sits back in his chair at his home in Tallinn. But only for a brief moment – the new times present new challenges for a man energized by 40 years of daily Transcendental Meditation practice.
„The only technique that has been proven scientifically successful is Transcendental Meditation. Even the American Heart Association is now proclaiming that it can lower blood pressure and recommending to doctors. Transcendental Meditation evolves your ability to deal with life, with different activities – because it really increases your stress tolerance.“
So what are his plans for the years to come?
„I’m presently concentrating on 2 projects,“ he muses, and then adds with a smile, „that is actually already one too many, but anyways… In Estonia, I want to organize a conference for the local business leaders about the benefits of Transcendental Meditation for companies, and introduce consciousness-based education programs to Estonian schools. And then at one point I want to complete the task given to me personally by Maharishi – to open a big, fully professional Ayurvedic clinic. Most probably somewhere in Latin-America. I love Estonia, but it is just such a small country, you know!“
Don’t be surprised to hear from Dr Suurküla soon again!