Global Hit

The World
The World

The Indian mystic known as the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi died this week in Holland. His exact age is unknown. But he was thought to be about 91. The World’s Marco Werman takes us back 40 years… to a time when the Maharishi welcomed celebrities like the Beatles to his compound in northern India.

In the heady wake of the 1967 summer of love, the Maharishi had a plan to keep the love going. It involved a spiritual technique known as transcendental meditation. The Maharishi believed that TM could lead to clear thinking and inner fulfillment.

�I preach a simple system of trans mediation, which gives the people the insight into life. And they begin to enjoy all peace and happiness. And because this has been the message of all the saints in the past, they call me saint.�

For a few weeks all was idyllic at Rishikesh. The Maharishi and his message of peace, love and inner harmony influenced the Beatles in song. British singer-songwriter Donovan came away inspired too.

But things soured at the ashram. There were concerns among some of the guests that the Maharishi was hitting on some of his female acolytes, including Mia Farrow. When John Lennon heard this, he wrote this sardonic tune about the yogi.

The relationship between the Beatles and the Maharishi fizzled. But it wasn’t only because the Beatles were upset a holy man had become a lothario before their eyes.

�He found them doing drugs in his ashram which was completely forbidden.�

Hitesh Hathi is a commentator and radio producer.

�And he was very angry with them, so there had been a kind of falling out on both sides. The Beatles thought that he was ONLY a holy man, and they forgot he was a man, and they were probably extremely disappointed. He probably thought here are these servile western acolytes who also happen to be world famous and will make my cause in the world, but he found them to be flawed too.�

For Indians at the time, none of this really came as a surprise. Yogis go back thousands of years in India. And Indians know that these holy men are MEN first and foremost.

�Yogis from ancient times to modern times, caught up in financial scandals and sexual scandals. They’re a little bit like evangelical preachers, you know. There’s a reverend Billy Graham who’s advised every president for generations. And then there are people you might say are the Jim Bakkers who get caught up in all sorts of scandals.�

On the ethics meter, the Maharishi probably fell somewhere between Graham and Bakker. Hitesh Hathi thinks that Indians today are more proud exporting more high tech savvy as opposed to yogis like the Maharishi. But that doesn’t negate for them — or for anyone — the core message of the Maharishi, which still holds water today.

�You know he famously said “don’t fight the darkness, just admit light into your heart, and the darkness will flee.” and if you think about him saying it, he was saying it, you know, within a decade after Mahatma Gandhi’s death, and that was essentially importing into the spiritual realm Mahatma Gandhi’s political message which is “don’t fight your enemy, allow love for your enemy to come into your heart.”

And that, Hitesh Hathi says, is still relevant. It may not be evident around the planet today. But at least in the music of the Beatles, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s message lives on.

For The World, I’m Marco Werman.

The World Listener Survey 2024

We’d love to hear your thoughts on The World. Please take our 5-min. survey.