Who Was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?
Born around 1917, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was famous for developing the Transcendental Meditation technique and making it available to the world. He legitimized the practice of meditation as a viable health treatment, elevating it from a practice of mystics to a scientifically supported health program. Starting in the late 1960s his fame soared to international heights when he became spiritual guru to the Beatles, as well as many other celebrities.
Maharishi and the Beatles
The tabloid headlines seemed to be circling in alternative universes. The Beatles, a British rock band spearheading the counter-culture revolution of the 1960s, was said to be studying with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru spreading an ethereal philosophy of love and peace. Members of the band heard the Maharishi speak during his tour of London, in 1967. The band members were experiencing a transformation in their music, their career and their lives. In their own individual ways, they were looking for answers to life’s bigger questions. Answers they weren’t getting from their fame, money, or drugs. Fascinated by the Maharishi’s presentation, the Beatles and an entourage of other celebrities including Donovan Leitch, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and actress Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence, traveled to the Maharishi’s spiritual center in Rishikesh, India, in February 1968. The experience is said to have pulled the Beatles out of a musical rut and inspired their next groundbreaking album, The Beatles (also known as the White Album).
The visit was cut short with many of the Beatles leaving the center for different reasons. Ringo Starr left after a few days, experiencing indigestion from the spicy Indian food. John Lennon and Paul McCartney left after three weeks, disillusioned with the Maharishi over allegations he had displayed prurient interest in one of the female guests and a feeling that the Yogi was more focused on seeking their investment in his organization. George Harrison remained at the center for several weeks before returning to England. Years later, the allegations against the Maharishi were proven false and the Beatles apologized. The Maharishi graciously accepted their apology.
The Beatles relationship with the Maharishi brought on a surge of interest from many other celebrities seeking enlightenment including Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, actor Clint Eastwood, comedian Andy Kaufman, director David Lynch, and magician Doug Henning.
Maharishi and Transcendental Meditation
The Maharishi’s teachings gave the western world a simple technique in Transcendental Meditation (TM). Conducted twice a day in short 20 minute sessions, practitioners recite a special mantra (sacred sound or phrase) during their meditation. The process reduces distracting mental activity resulting in a higher state of consciousness. The goal is to attain deep relaxation, eliminate stress, promote clear thinking, and attain inner fulfillment and good health.
The TM-Sidhi program, which the Maharishi developed in the mid-1970s, emphasized the accumulated benefits of groups of people meditating at the same time. Dubbed the “Maharishi Effect,” the program claimed to create a collective consciousness that would suppress some of society’s major problems of crime, violence, and accidents.
As the development of TM progressed, the Maharishi adopted the ancient Vedic Texts, teachings he learned from his master, Brahmananda Saraswati, to form a program called Maharishi Vedic Science (MVS). MVS includes the training techniques of TM and TM-Sidhi integrating their techniques into everyday life. The teachings were applied to areas of health, mathematics, engineering, classical forms of Indian music, and methods for producing fresh, organic food.
The Maharishi was as much a businessman as he was a spiritual leader. He developed a multibillion dollar self-help industry with satellite campuses across the globe. As his popularity rose, so did his critics, who dismissed him as a hippie mystic. He was mocked as the “Giggling Guru” due to many photos and videos capturing him laughing as he sat in a lotus position wearing white silk garments and flowers in his hair. However, many scientists found physical and mental benefits from Transcendental Meditation, especially in reducing stress-related illnesses.
Details of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s early life are not well known. It is believed he was born Mahesh Prasad Varma, between 1911 and 1918, though most official sources site his birthdate as January 12, 1917. His family was Hindu, of the Kshetriva caste class from the small village of Chichi, near Jabalpur in central India.
In his youth, the Maharishi worked in factories and manual labor jobs. He received a Master’s Degree in Physics at the University of Allahabad in 1942. Always a spiritual person, he traveled to the Himalayas and became a disciple of Swani Brahamanada Saraswati, founder of Transcendental Meditation. It was Brahamanada who gave him his title “Maharishi”, meaning “great seer” (Maharishi would call Brahamanada “Guru Dev”).
After Brahamanada died in 1952, the Maharishi wanted to spread the teachings of his mentor. In 1955, he organized the Spiritual Regeneration movement and took his first tour of the world in 1959. At first, interest in the meditation technique grew slowly, but after a widely publicized visit by the British rock group The Beatles to the training center in Rishikesh, India, the movement took off. The Maharishi’s teachings especially appealed to Americans, presumably providing some respite from a tumultuous 1960s decade of social and political upheaval.
In 1968, Maharishi announced an end to his public activity and left the center’s operation to his staff. After tax problems with the Indian government, he moved his headquarters to Seelisberg, Switzerland. From there, he expanded operations to the United States establishing the Maharishi International University in Los Angeles, in 1971, later moving it to Fairfield, Iowa.
According to the organization’s promotional materials, the Spiritual Regeneration movement has trained more than 40,000 teachers, taught more than 5 million people, opened thousands of teaching centers and founded or associated itself with hundreds of schools, colleges, and universities. In the mid-1970s, the movement evolved from counter-culture novelty to corporate training requirement. Professional organizations and businesses began to adopt TM training methods and provide training for their employees. The Maharishi and his organization’s instructors developed innovative applications of the meditation technique crafted and packaged for the corporate customer. Scientific studies provided proof of meditation’s positive results in people’s mental health and productivity.
In the 1990s, the Maharishi relocated his international headquarters to a former Franciscan monastary in Vlodrop, Netherlands. There he established the Maharishi European Research University (MERU) and the movement transitioned into the new millennia spreading its teachings via a satellite television channel and the Internet in 22 languages and 144 countries.
In 1991, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi began suffering from kidney and pancreas failure, though this was kept secret for a time from his closest disciples. Over the next two decades, his health continued to deteriorate. By 2005, he had secluded himself in a small portion of his residence at Vlodrop. On January 12, 2008, his ninetieth birthday, Maharishi stepped down from his official duties in the movement. He said he planned to spend the rest of his life studying the ancient Indian texts, meditating and resting. On February 5, 2008, he died peacefully in his sleep of natural causes. Through his work, India’s ancient tradition of spiritual meditation was made available to the world. He legitimized the practice of meditation as a viable health treatment, elevating it from a practice of mystics to a scientifically supported health program.
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