The venerable Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has passed away. During the political primary frenzy on the major US media, I found this important article on the BBC News online. It is one of many important stories that has been thus far virtually ignored in the United States.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was much beloved and he is largely responsible for introducing transcendental meditation to the English speaking world during the late 1960’s and 1970’s. He will be greatly missed.
The Maharishi became well-known in the 1960s
The most flamboyant of the self-styled Indian gurus to emerge from the Woodstock era, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a man of charisma, energy and untold riches, credited with setting the Beatles and other stars on the path to spiritual enlightenment. The roots of the Maharishi’s life remain shrouded in mystery. He said himself that “monks are not expected to speak about themselves; the message is important, not the person.” It seems likely he was born sometime between 1911 and 1918.
The son of a government revenue inspector, Mahesh trained as a physicist and worked in a factory, before devoting his life to the study of the Vedic science of consciousness.
His spiritual mentor Jagadguru Shankaracharya, bequeathed to Mahesh the task of keeping the tradition of Transcendental Meditation alive, and the young Maharishi retreated to prepare.
During two years of Himalayan silence, the precocious sage honed his thoughts on TM, what he called “a spontaneous, effortless march to one’s own unbound essence.”
By 1959, his “technique” – that of unfolding the potential of Natural Law to improve all areas of life – was complete, and he set off on his first international mission of peace.
The Maharishi’s commercial mantras drew criticism from stricter Hindus, but his promises of better health, stress relief and spiritual enlightenment drew devotees from all over the world.
Celebrity neophytes included the Rolling Stones, Shirley MacLaine and Mia Farrow.
With the Beatles in 1967
The Beatles were spending a weekend with Mahesh Yogi in Bangor, Wales, when their manager, Brian Epstein, committed suicide in August, 1967. Their enlightened teacher told them to “forget it, be happy”.
The mesmerised band planned a three month retreat to the Maharishi’s Rishikesh ashram, but the trip descended into farce. Ringo Starr went home after 10 days “for egg and chips”, and the others soon followed.
John Lennon admitted to “an error of judgement”, writing the scathing “Sexy Sadie” about him. George Harrison defected to the Hare Krishna movement, though he continued supporting the Maharishi’s Natural Law party in Britain which stood in general elections between 1992 and 2001.
Despite these setbacks, by 1972, the glamorous guru had attracted 100,000 members to his Academy, set up Institutes of Meditation across the world and made the cover of Time magazine.
This self-accredited international peace keeper claimed credit for keeping peace in the Lebanon and Mozambique, and for reducing crime on the streets of Washington, through his power over the collective consciousness.
Western students funded his Academy of Spiritual Enlightenment with a tithe of one week’s wages, and the Maharishi’s business empire spread from the poverty-stricken streets of Delhi, to his American business branch in Iowa.
From his corporate headquarters in the Netherlands, viewers could receive his mantras on a 24-hour television cable channel.
Yogic flying is practised by the Maharishi’s devotees
The Rasputinesque figure, usually associated with flower children and bouncing mantras, tried to influence the global economy with his own brand of positive thinking, including one particularly physical levitation session at the World Bank.
At his Universities of Management, advanced students were offered courses in levitation, but the majority of study was aimed at “improving managerial consciousness.”
The man who brought the powers of eastern meditation to the west, took a Wall Street methodology back with him to the banks of the Ganges.
In 1997, he founded India’s new Institute of Technology, a 500-acre educational kingdom, and two years later, courted controversy with plans for urban improvement in San Paulo, Brazil.
The Maharishi’s principles of Natural Law allowed him to ally such profit-making schemes with his undaunted spirituality. He said himself, “Managers are the most creative people in the world.”
His own managerial consciousness permitted him to inhabit a 200-room mansion, with a fleet of cars, helicopters and a hundred security guards, described as a cross between “Blackpool and Lourdes”.
In January 2008, he announced his retirement and retreat into silence at his home in Vlodrop, saying his work was done and that he wanted to dedicate his remaining days to studying ancient Indian texts.
He died peacefully in his sleep the following month, reportedly of natural causes.
With his strong personality, beatific smile and high-pitched giggle, Mahesh Yogi was no holy hermit. He managed the contradictions of his lifestyle with the simple command to “Just be yourself”.
The greatest exponent of his own technique, the Maharishi accredited all his successes, spiritual and secular, to the singular “power of om”.