Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; Was Meditation Guru to the Beatles
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008; Page B07
The man who introduced transcendental meditation to the West, who
briefly became a guru to the Beatles and other pop musicians and who
built a multimillion-dollar global business based on teaching people
how to pause and close their eyes twice a day, died Feb. 5 at his
home in Vlodrop, Netherlands. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was thought to be 91.
The Maharishi, a Hindi title that means "great seer," had announced
last month that he would withdraw from day-to-day administrative
duties to complete his commentaries on the Veda, the ancient Indian
texts that underpin his movement. No cause of death was reported.
The spare, self-effacing leader, once known as the "Giggling Guru,"
appeared on newsmagazine covers and on Merv Griffin's talk show in
the 1960s and 1970s. In recent years, he had confined himself to two
rooms in his Dutch log house, accessible only to a small group of
aides, and he communicated primarily by videoconference. A bald head
replaced his long hair, although his profuse beard remained.
He still exercised global influence, derived from the 6 million
people his organization said have been trained in transcendental
meditation, a technique of quiet "restful alertness" based on quietly
repeating a Sanskrit word. Advocates say the practice can lead to
clearer thinking, improved health, increased creativity and
ultimately, enlightenment. If enough people practiced it, the
Maharishi said, world peace would follow. His course cost $2,500.
The Maharishi began promoting the technique in the United States in
1959, but it wasn't until the Beatles met him in 1967 that he became
widely known. The four members of the world's best-known band
renounced illicit drugs and, along with singer Mike Love of the Beach
Boys, folk singer Donovan, actress Mia Farrow and her sister
Prudence, moved to his ashram in India the following year to study.
The venture ended badly. None of the Beatles completed the
three-month course, and they circulated unproven allegations of
sexual improprieties by the Maharishi, who said he was celibate.
Others said the Beatles resumed drug use at the ashram. John Lennon
wrote many songs while he was there, but it was his bitter "Sexy
Sadie" that described his ultimate opinion: "Sexy Sadie what have you
done/You made a fool of everyone."
"We made a mistake," Paul McCartney later said. "We thought there was
more to him than there was. He's human. We thought at first that he wasn't."
The exposure brought the Maharishi fame that waned after the 1970s
but never really vanished.
Five years ago, declaring that he was tired of waiting for
governments to bring about peace, he asked his many well-wishers to
take on the task. They were to gather near the trouble spots around
the world and meditate.
"Problems will disappear as darkness disappears with the onset of
light," he promised.
Part of the problem with the long-promised, long-delayed advent of
world peace was that the government capitals were in the wrong
places, he said. For example, the White House should face east for
optimal harmony, and in fact the entire federal government should
move to Smith Center, Kan., near the geographic center of the 48
contiguous states and the nation's center of energy, he said.
That idea rather alarmed the town of 1,800, as did the movement's
purchase of 1,100 acres of prime farmland in 2006 with plans to build
a "World Center of Peace" and import hundreds of residents.
The Maharishi had overcome similar provincial fears in 1974, when he
founded a university in Fairfield, Iowa. His followers later founded
Maharishi Vedic City nearby. There are thousands of his
transcendental meditation teaching centers around the world. His
organization's $3.5 billion in assets include a chain of hotels, a
health food distribution network and a veritable library of
instructional books and videotapes, in addition to real estate
holdings that include a five-story, 20,000-square-foot building near
the New York Stock Exchange.
The Maharishi recently vowed to raise $10 trillion to end poverty by
sponsoring organic farming in the world's poorest countries.
He was born Mahesh Prasad Varma in Uttar Pradesh, India. Much of his
early life, including his birthdate, is in dispute, and the Maharishi
declined to discuss his youth. Some sources say he was born in 1911,
which would have made him 96 or 97, but a spokesman for the
transcendental meditation movement said he was 91.
The Maharishi studied physics at Allahabad University, then became a
secretary and follower of a prominent Hindu sage Swami Brahmananda
Saraswati Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, also known as Guru Dev.
After his teacher died in 1953, the young man retreated into the
Himalayas for two years of meditation. When he emerged, he devoted
himself to popularizing his master's form of meditation, which was
derived from the Hindu belief of Vedanta. The belief holds that God
is to be found in every creature and object, that the purpose of
human life is to realize the godliness in oneself and that religious
truths are universal.
In 1963, he finished his first major book, "The Science of Being and
Art of Living," and in 1965 he completed his commentary on the
Bhagavad-Gita, a sacred Sanskrit text.
He encouraged scientific investigation of his claims, and a number of
studies found beneficial physical and mental effects for people who
regularly practiced transcendental meditation.
The Maharishi moved to the Netherlands in 1990, drawn to the tolerant
nature of its people. Few saw him, as he emerged only a few times
each year for fresh air on a chauffeured drive, the New York Times
reported in 2006.
His introduction of "yogic flying" as an advanced meditation
technique, which he had described as levitation, brought scorn from
critics who said it was nothing more than cross-legged hopping. They
called him a fraud. But when it is performed by a critical mass of
people, the Maharishi said, it would lead to peace.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Beatles' spiritual guru
By Lily Koppel
Published: February 6, 2008
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced transcendental meditation to
the West and gained fame in the 1960s as the spiritual guru to the
Beatles, died Tuesday at his home and headquarters in Vlodrop, the
Netherlands. He is believed to have been in his 90s. Steven Yellin, a
spokesman for the Maharishi's organization, confirmed the death but
did not give a cause.
On Jan. 11, the Maharishi announced that his public work was finished
and that he would use his remaining time to complete a long-running
series of published commentaries on the Vedas, the oldest sacred Hindu texts.
The Maharishi was both an entrepreneur and a monk, a spiritual man
who sought a world stage from which to espouse the joys of inner
happiness. His critics called his organization a cult business
enterprise. And in the press, in the 1960s and '70s, he was often
dismissed as a hippie mystic, the "Giggling Guru," recognizable in
the familiar image of him laughing, sitting cross-legged in a lotus
position on a deerskin, wearing a white silk dhoti with a garland of
flowers around his neck beneath an oily, scraggly beard.
In Hindi, "maha" means great, and "rishi" means seer.
"Maharishi" is a title traditionally bestowed on Brahmins. Critics of
the yogi say he presented himself with the name, which he was
ineligible for because he was from a lower caste.
The Maharishi originated the transcendental meditation movement in
1957 and brought it to the United States in 1959. Known as TM, a
trademarked name, the technique consists of closing one's eyes twice
a day for 20 minutes while silently repeating a mantra to gain deep
relaxation, eliminate stress, promote good health and attain clear
thinking and inner fulfillment. Classes today cost $2,500 for a
The TM movement was a founding influence on what has grown into a
multibillion-dollar self-help industry, and many people practice
similar forms of meditation that have no connection to the
Since the technique's inception in 1955, the organization says, it
has trained more than 40,000 teachers, taught more than five million
people, opened thousands of teaching centers and founded hundreds of
schools, colleges and universities.
In the United States, the organization values its assets at about
$300 million, with its base in Fairfield, Iowa, where it operates a
university, the Maharishi University of Management. In 2001,
disciples of the movement incorporated their own town, Maharishi
Vedic City, a few miles north of Fairfield.
Last March, a branch of the organization, Global Financial Capital of
New York, moved into new headquarters it bought in Lower Manhattan.
The visibility and popularity of the organization can largely be
attributed to the Beatles. In 1968, the band, with great publicity,
began studying with the Maharishi at his Himalayan retreat, or
ashram, in Rishikesh, in northern India. They came with their wives,
the folk singer Donovan, the singer Mike Love of the Beach Boys, the
actress Mia Farrow and Farrow's sister Prudence.
They left in the wake of rumors of sexual improprieties by the
Maharishi, an avowed celibate, though no sexual-misconduct suits were
filed and some of the participants later denied that anything
untoward had occurred. Nevertheless, public interest in the movement
had been aroused in the West, and it continued to grow in the 1970s
as the Maharishi took his movement around the world and as its
techniques gained respectability in the medical world.
Later in life, the Maharishi refused to discuss the Beatles.
Another one of his disciples was the Indian spiritualist Deepak
Chopra, who was a friend of the former Beatle George Harrison and who
now promotes his own teachings based on traditional Indian ayurvedic
medicine and meditation.
The Maharishi's movement began losing followers in the late 1970s, as
people were put off by the organization's promotion of a more
advanced form of TM called yogic flying, in which practitioners try
to summon a surge of energy to physically lift themselves off the
ground. They have never gone beyond the initial stage of flying,
described as "frog hops."
Mahesh Prasad Varma was born in northern India into a family of
scribes. Called Mahesh, he studied physics at Allahabad University,
and for the next 13 years, became a student and secretary to a holy
man, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, who the young disciple Mahesh
called Guru Dev.
"Right from the beginning the whole purpose was to breathe in his
breath," the Maharishi wrote in his "Thirty Years Around the World:
Dawn of the Age of Enlightenment," published in 1986. "This was my
ideal. The whole purpose was just to assume myself with Guru Dev."
After the death of his master in 1953, Mahesh went into seclusion in
the Himalayan foothills. He emerged two years later and began
teaching a system of belief, which grew into the worldwide TM movement.
"It would appear that Maharishi cobbled together his teaching after
his master died, when he found himself unemployed and out-of-grace
with the ashram he had worked so long," said Paul Mason, a critic of
the Maharishi and the author of a biography, "The Maharishi: The
Biography of the Man Who Gave Transcendental Meditation to the World."
"He reinvented himself and became a 'maharishi' and wanted to be seen
as a messiah."
Since 1990, the Maharishi had lived in Vlodrop with about 50 of his
adherents, including his "minister of science and technology," John
Hagelin, a Harvard-educated physicist, who is expected to oversee the
organization in the United States.
Late in life, the Maharishi tried to breathe new life into TM,
establishing in 2000 his "Global Country of World Peace," with the
goals of preventing war, eradicating poverty and promoting
environmental sustainability. One effort tried to reach young people
across the United States with the support of celebrities like Donovan
and the filmmaker David Lynch, who went on a speaking tour of
colleges to promote the cause.
The Maharishi also sought to rebuild the world according to Vedic
principals. He called for the demolition of all toxic buildings and
unhealthy urban environments, even the demolition of historic
landmarks, if they were not built according to "Vedic architecture in
harmony with Natural Law."
The Maharishi believed that the White House was wrongly situated. He
believed that a more suitable location for the capital of the United
States was the small town of Smith Center, Kansas.
In the last years of his life he rarely met with anyone, even his
ministers, face-to-face, preferring to speak with followers almost
exclusively by closed-circuit television.
Ernesto Illy, who as chairman of Illycaffè, maker of an expensive
brand of coffee, was renowned as a scientific perfectionist of coffee
and especially as an evangelist of espresso, died Sunday in Trieste,
Italy. He was 82.
His death was confirmed by Jessica Aptman, a spokeswoman for the
company, who said the family did not want to disclose the cause of death.
"Our coffee is twice as expensive as the run-of-the-mill stuff, at
least," Illy told The New York Times in 2001. "Our goal is perfect
beans, zero defects, and we think we get close to that."
Illy, a chemist, was chairman of the company from 1963 to 2004. It
had been founded in 1933 by his father, Francesco, a chocolate maker
from Hungary who had moved to Trieste after World War I. By then,
Trieste, a port city on the Adriatic, had become a coffee hub, the
most convenient place to receive beans from Africa and South America
and ship them to caffeine-craving European cities.
Largely under Ernesto Illy's direction, the company built a
laboratory equipped with sophisticated instruments like gas
chromatographs, infrared emission pyrometers and flame ionization
detectors. There, coffee beans are cut into slices 8 microns thick
for analysis in an electron microscope. Every step of the
manufacturing process is monitored by computers. There are 114
quality-control checks between the time bags of raw beans arrive on
the loading docks to the time roasted beans are shipped in sealed cans.
The company started packaging coffee for home consumption in 1965,
and in 1972 was the first to sell it in teabaglike pods for making
single cups. Illy entered the North American market in 1975.
Currently, with annual sales of about $350 million in 140 countries,
it is dwarfed by international giants like Kraft and Nestlé, but it
remains a prestigious brand.
The Maharishi Maheshi Yogi
The Maharishi Maheshi Yogi, who died on Tuesday, probably aged 91,
had a profound influence on the Beatles' late career, and repackaged
ancient Hindu methods of transcendental meditation; TM, as it was
known, was aimed at enabling western disciples to achieve a blissful
oneness with the infinite in the still depths of the self - at the
cost of minimum inconvenience.
It was in 1967 that the Beatles boarded the "Mystical Express" at
Paddington station and headed off to Bangor, north Wales, for a
meeting with a diminutive, giggling Indian guru with a shaggy white beard.
The spectacle of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi dispensing flowers to the
"Fab Four" became one of the defining images of the 1960s.
The following year the Beatles travelled to meet the guru at his
spiritual retreat in Rishikesh, India, with Jane Asher, Mia Farrow
and Donovan in tow.
Suddenly a whole generation of western youth was lighting joss sticks
and willing calm on the world while sitting cross-legged and
muttering mumbo-jumbo in Sanskrit.
People talked about achieving "cosmic consciousness" and feeling
Initiates were given a secret "mantra", a word whose vibrations would
harmonise with those of the person himself.
By concentrating on it in twice daily sessions of half an hour, the
practitioner would be able to dispel "gross" thoughts while achieving
oneness with the infinite.
A week's salary was the suggested initiation fee.
TM became big business and the Maharishi's Spiritual Regeneration
Movement (SRM) marketed the product with all the zeal of a
multinational corporation - which is, effectively, what it became.
The Maharishi's empire grew to include a 24-hour global satellite
television channel pumping out TM courses - on a subscription basis -
in 22 languages to 144 countries.
A complex network of companies sold such merchandise as massage oils,
books, CDs, courses and spiritual consultations.
There were also new-age health centres patronised by the rich (a
fortnight's all-inclusive stay at the Ayurvedic clinic in Valkenburg,
Holland, with a full course of therapy, cost £6,000 in 2001), along
with universities, charitable trusts and headquarters in each of five
continents, not to mention the Heaven on Earth property company and a
business which advised architects and home owners on how to build
according to Vedic principles.
It would be easy to poke fun at the Maharishi and his teachings - and many did.
But almost alone among the cults of the 1960s, TM survived in the
less congenial atmosphere of the succeeding decades.
In Britain general elections of the 1990s were enlivened by the yogic
flying of the Natural Law Party, which was closely allied to the TM
movement and promised Heaven on Earth, lower taxes and a herb village
in every town.
But after his brief moment of stardom in the 1960s, the guru himself
Mahesh Prasad Varma was born, probably on January 12 1917, into the
Ksatriya caste of writers and administrators (his father was a
revenue inspector), and studied physics and mathematics at Allahabad
University before being initiated in yogic practices by a wandering holy man.
After the obligatory lengthy retreat in the Himalayas, he emerged as
the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with an interesting new take on the
traditional Hindu pursuit of Samadhi – spiritual enlightenment.
The Maharishi pursued his mission in India until 1958 when he
"conceived the idea of the regeneration of the whole world through
If one per cent of the world's community practised it, he reasoned,
the flow of good vibrations would overwhelm mankind's natural urge to
His claim that it was not necessary to pursue a life of monastic
asceticism to attain enlightenment, and that, through TM,
practitioners could enjoy "the positive experience of Heavenly Bliss"
during their lifetime, proved immediately attractive to westerners.
In 1959 the Maharishi established a base in Hollywood where he
founded the Spiritual Regeneration Movement and set about marketing
TM worldwide as the "Science of Creative Intelligence".
From there, beginning in 1960, he launched an annual world-wide tour
during the Indian monsoon season.
The interest of the Beatles was a godsend. Their conversion
instigated an influx of celebrities, including the Beach Boys and the
Rolling Stones, Shirley MacLaine, Kurt Vonnegut and even
Major-General Franklin M Davis, head of the United States Army's War College.
The Maharishi was clearly mortified when the Beatles left his Indian
ashram, amid allegations that he had seduced a female acolyte
(nothing was ever proved, though John Lennon wrote the song Sexy
Sadie about him).
But their departure did little harm to turnover.
In 1970, after a little trouble with the Indian tax authorities, the
Maharishi moved his headquarters to the Italian resort of Fuggi
Fonte. Later it relocated to Austria and finally, in 1990, to
Vlodorp, Holland. In Britain his group was known for its ownership of
Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire.
Early on in his mission the Maharishi began to show messianic
tendencies, dismissing as obsolete virtually every other means of
developing self-awareness, and claiming that all the wisdom of the
ages was distilled in TM. During the 1970s he came up with yogic
flying, the ultimate transcendental bliss that causes men and women
Mass meditation by yogic flyers would produce the "Maharishi Effect",
a cosmic boost for goodness. During the 1980s Washington's crime rate
was said to have fallen after a concentrated dose of yogic flying.
In 1988 the Maharishi formulated a " Master Plan to Create Heaven on
Earth for the reconstruction of the whole world, inner and outer", a
blueprint for an evolution to utopia where crime ceased, people lived
longer and everyone was prosperous and happy.
To give the plan a boost he inaugurated the Natural Law Party to lead
the formation of a "natural government" as political differences
disappeared in one great orgy of TM.
In the 1992 British general election, the Maharishi's party fielded
300 candidates; George Harrison agreed to stage a benefit concert at
the Royal Albert Hall to launch the campaign, but not one Natural Law
candidate held on to his deposit. Undeterred, the Maharishi began
sending "yogic flyers" to America, India, China and Brazil in an
attempt to foster global peace by building a "coherent world consciouness".
In 2004, disgusted at Tony Blair's support for the United States in
the Iraq war, he ordered his followers at Skelmersdale, Lancashire –
the site of an ideal Maharishi village complete with a gold
meditation dome - to beam peace-loving thoughts to the British
electorate with the aim of overturning the Labour government.
When the British electorate proved resilient, he announced that there
was no point in continuing to waste the "beautiful nectar" of TM on a
"scorpion" nation such as Britain; he ordered his followers to
withdraw their meditative services since they served only to "feed
the destroyer of the world".
Some of his British followers were said to be upset at his decision
not to impose a similar boycott on America, particularly as he had
initiated a thought experiment to defeat George Bush - with similar results.
The Maharishi lived out his twilight years in an ashram on the
Dutch-German border, heavily protected by a high mesh fence ringed
with barbed wire.
He kept such a low profile that there were several premature reports
of his demise.
As the Maharishi often claimed to be immortal, his followers were
reluctant to discuss even the possibility that he might die.
Ex-Beatles pay tribute to Maharishi
Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr paid tribute to the late Maharishi
Mahesh Yogi, the Indian guru who famously set the Beatles on the path
to spiritual enlightenment.
The Maharishi died at his home in the Netherlands on Tuesday. He was
thought to be 91.
Sir Paul said: "I was asked for my thoughts on the passing of
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and I can only say that whilst I am deeply
saddened by his passing, my memories of him will only be joyful ones."
He added: "He was a great man who worked tirelessly for the people of
the world and the cause of unity. I will never forget the dedication
that he wrote inside a book he once gave me, which read 'radiate,
bliss, consciousness', and that to me says it all. I will miss him
but will always think of him with a smile."
Starr also released a statement paying his respects. He said: "One of
the wise men I met in my life was the Maharishi. I always was
impressed by his joy and I truly believe he knows where he is going."
The Maharishi became famous in the 1960s through his relationship
with the Beatles.
The group visited his ashram in India in 1968, where they studied his
transcendental meditation techniques.
Starr went home after 10 days, complaining that he missed egg and
chips. The others stayed, joined by other celebrities including Mick
Jagger, Donovan and Mia Farrow.
But the rock stars fell out with the Maharishi over rumours that he
had made inappropriate sexual advances towards Farrow.
The Maharishi went on to build a multimillion-pound global empire and
moved his headquarters to a former Franciscan monastery in the Dutch
town of Vlodrop.