Mahirishi Mahesh Yogi Dies

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, born as Mahesh Prasad Varma in Jabalpur, India more than 90 years ago, has died of natural causes in his home in Vlodrop, in the Netherlands. This unique individual built an astonishingly popular and enduring worldwide organization out of a simple Hindu practice: meditation.

Mahesh’s innovation was to translate the Hindu religious rite of Yogic meditation into a minimal format that could easily fit into the busy lives of 20th Century humans around the world. Transcendental Meditation, which became the brand name for his particular approach, involved no spiritual mysticism, and was compatible with any religious or even non-religious viewpoint. Each person was given a “mantra”, a secret word, which they would focus their minds upon for 20 minutes at a time, approximately twice a day. This practice became popular around the world in the 1960’s, especially in late 1967 and early 1968 when the Beatles briefly declared themselves members of the Mahirishi’s movement.

Whether following the “TM” technique or not, meditation has become a part of American culture, and Mahirishi Mahesh Yogi is largely to thank for this undeniably positive development. People meditate in many different ways, but Mahesh’s organization is still highly active. The great film director David Lynch wrote a book two years ago called Catching the Big Fish that explains how the practice of TM has made his career possible. Here he talks about his first experience with the technique:

So in July 1973 I went to the TM center in Los Angeles and met an instructor, and I liked her. She looked like Doris Day. And she taught me this technique. She gave me a mantra, which is a sound-vibration-thought. You don’t meditate on he meaning of it, but it’s a very specific sound-vibration-thought.

She took me into a little room to have my first meditation. I sat down, closed my eyes, started this mantra, and it was as if I were in an elevator and the cable had been cut. Boom! I fell into bliss — pure bliss.

According to Jonathan Gould in Can’t Buy Me Love, the Beatles had a more complex ongoing relationship with the Mahirishi’s philosophy than is commonly known. John Lennon and George Harrison were the two who took it seriously, and according to Gould the song “Across the Universe” was originally written as a description of the experience of meditation:

Thoughts meander like a
restless wind inside a letter box
they tumble blindly as
they make their way across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

I am not a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation or any other specific approach, but I have been very influenced by this practice because I was introduced to it by my grandparents many years ago. My grandmother Jeannette Schwartz had attended one of the Mahirishi’s introductions to meditation in the early 1970’s, and became a lifelong convert. My grandfather Sidney enjoyed meditating too, and all of us grandchildren were given mantras and instructed to do our twenty minutes at a time together, twice a day, whenever we visited. I wrote some more about this when Grandma Jeannette died on Valentine’s Day, 2002.

My grandparents never stopped meditating, and I have occasionally kept up the practice myself, though truly I’m a mediocre meditator at best. It seems to me that David Lynch or other enthusiastic followers of TM may alienate people with this “elevator drop pure bliss” stuff, since I’ve meditated a lot and find that it’s usually nowhere near that exciting. Still, meditation does feel good, and it does help you expand the way you are thinking about the things in your life.

The Mahirishi has taken much criticism for his sometimes simplistic teachings, not to mention his often outrageous style. He giggles a lot and has been criticized for avoiding serious real-world politics and basking in luxury while the world suffers. He has generally worked as a peace activist, and as a sardonic, good-natured critic of Western materialism. Unlike other “modern mystics”, there is nothing remotely cultish or megalomaniacal about the Mahirishi, or about his Transcendental Meditation movement.

It’s too simple to be a cult. TM is all about this: 20 minutes at a time, twice a day. That’s the whole thing. That’s what the Mahirishi says you should do, and who thinks it’s not worth a try?

Here are some other articles worth a look.

12 Responses

  1. I am intrigued. I want a
    I am intrigued. I want a mantra. That would be easier than going to the Tower of Terror at Disney World. Talk about an elevator with the cable cut – spontaneous mantras flew willy-nilly that day!

    No, but seriously, I do want a secret word to meditate on. Because I’ve heard about it for so long, I think there must be something to it.

  2. Hey Bill — you can make up
    Hey Bill — you can make up your own mantra. Just pick a “sound-vibration-thought” that you like enough to stick with. I also forgot to mention the importance of careful breathing. I’m hardly the expert, but I hope it works for you …

  3. Unfortunately, I cannot agree
    Unfortunately, I cannot agree with your assessment of the man nor the business (which is, after all, essentially what this is). While I have no doubts that meditation is a more or less beneficial technique, let’s not kid ourselves about the $2500 required to get authorised training in TM. Nor the Maharishi’s ‘luxury’ you speak of. Of course such a good-natured and spiritual man was against ‘Western materialism’, no doubt.

    I think it’s lovely that the Beatles and David Lynch enjoyed TM, no doubt the old appeal to authority still works for many people. However, a closer look at what the Beatles actually thought about the Maharishi reveals something other than endorsement. Try the White Album, a track called ‘Sexy Sadie’. This was Lennon’s response to the Beatles’ eventual falling out with the Maharishi, due to allegations of sexual misconduct (sound megalomaniacal yet?). The original lyrics, were in fact:

    Maharishi, you fucking cunt
    Who the fuck do you think you are?

    Additionally, I suggest you to take a good look at the skeptic’s dictionary site on TM:

    Yet another conman ‘guru’.

  4. Coolazice, I’m definitely
    Coolazice, I’m definitely aware that a lot of people consider the Mahirishi a fake. In fact, one of the articles I link to above is Allen Ginsberg completely trashing the Mahirishi as a politically complacent tool of the system. The guy had a lot of detractors.

    I don’t think John Lennon ever really turned against Mahesh — he just didn’t like being used in the publicity machine. Hindu thought permeates his songs — think of “Watching the Wheels Go Round” from “Double Fantasy”. That originated, with him as with many others, with the Mahirishi.

  5. I also meant to mention —
    I also meant to mention — it’s ironic that Allen Ginsberg harshly criticized the Mahirishi Mahesh Yogi, since the two men followed the same dress code.

  6. When I first started to do
    When I first started to do yoga, I noticed that I got off on the deep breathing, so that it almost like a tiny high sans the two-toke. When I used to run, I enjoyed that runner’s high that seemed to kick in after 20 minutes or the fourth kilometer.

    Thinking of positive affirmations to repeat to yourself certainly isn’t mentally unhealthy, unless, of course you do become delusional.

    Is it wrong to ask what is the neo-beat literary connection?

  7. The Maharishi was accused of
    The Maharishi was accused of making sexual advances to Mia Farrow.

    Not that Wikipedia is the final authority on anything, but for what it’s worth:

    “Mia Farrow’s autobiography does not draw a definite conclusion: she describes “panicking” and fleeing after he put his arms around her in a dark cave, immediately after a private meditation session.[44] According to several authors, (Brown and Gaines, 1983[45]; Miles, 1998[46]; Spitz, 2005[47]; Cynthia Lennon, 1978 [48]) Alexis Mardas deliberately spread rumors about the Farrow incident because he was bent on undermining the Maharishi’s influence on the Beatles. George Harrison’s statement, “Now, historically, there’s the story that something went on that shouldn’t have done

  8. This was interesting. Thanks
    This was interesting. Thanks Levi for giving a synopsis on this guy and TM.

    I practice meditation, but in a different way. My meditation is connected to my reading. Whatever time I spend reading, I try and spend the same amount of time meditating on what I’ve read – 50/50. And by meditating, I don’t mean chanting, but rather thinking deeply on what I’ve just fed my brain on. Kind of like a cow chewing it’s cud.

    I usually do this type of reading/meditating with the Bible. I figure it’s a win/win if you know what I mean.

  9. The Maharishi was a great
    The Maharishi was a great innovative dude. I still use a form of his meditation today. Part of it involves clearing your head. Your blood pressure decreases and your heart rate calms. The Bible verses definitely help with that. I use the phrase “AMEN and AMEN”. Hey, and Jesus is all right by me. The “Old Yogi” was smarter than the average bear and he is already missed.
    His sense of humor would “grok” on that. He was a stranger in a strange land. Maharishi’s TM center, last I heard, was still in Iowa, of all places.
    It’s all good. Flow with your go…

  10. “Mia Farrow’s autobiography
    “Mia Farrow’s autobiography does not draw a definite conclusion: she describes “panicking” and fleeing after he put his arms around her in a dark cave, immediately after a private meditation session.[44]

    Being a Hindu and having seen my share of fake “gurus” i am usually skeptical of such people, however, i would like to mention that, in Indian culture, physical contact is not considered as sexual as it is in Western culture. When i first came to America i would put my arms around my friends shoulder’s at public places and later learned that this act led lot’s of people to believe i was gay. Putting your hands around someone, hugging and even kissing(yes guys too)is just a sign of affection and friendship.
    I have always thought that Indian men are kinda gay cos of that but that’s another story.

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