The Beatles and the Guru

By Shumsky, Susan | USA TODAY, January 2018 | Go to article overview

The Beatles and the Guru


Shumsky, Susan, USA TODAY


MAHARISHI Mahesh Yogi (1918-2008) was the mentor of megastars like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Deepak Chopra, Clint Eastwood, David Lynch, George Lucas, Tom Hanks, Howard Stern, Jerry Seinfeld, and more. This extraordinary spiritual master first stepped onto America's shores in 1959. Dubbed by the press "The Giggling Guru," within 10 years Maharishi made "meditation" a household word. His brush with celebrities put him into the spotlight, but his true legacy is his gift of Transcendental Meditation (TM).

George Harrison's wife Pattie Boyd began practicing TM in February 1967. Feeling more alert and energetic, she believed it changed her life. So, the Beatles, with their significant others, attended an Aug. 24 Maharishi lecture at the London Hilton on Park Lane. Ringo Starr missed the lecture to be at hospital with his wife Maureen, who recently had given birth.

Afterwards, the Beatles met Maharishi backstage. They expressed that they had been seeking a highly spiritual experience, which the recreational drugs they took failed to deliver. The guru invited them to a retreat in North Wales, starting the next day. Attendees included the Beatles, Boyd, Cynthia Lennon, Jane Asher, so-called inventor Alexis Mardas, and the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and his girlfriend, singer Marianne Faithfull.

Three-hundred course participants shared bunk beds in dorms at University College in Bangor and ate canteen food. There the Beatles learned TM. Since drug abstinence was a prerequisite to starting the practice, the musicians stopped using drugs--for the first five minutes, anyway.

The Beatles expressed enthusiasm about TM--and defended it to skeptics--in multiple interviews, including on "The Frost Report." In fact, the band indicated they would set up a London meditation academy. John Lennon suggested to his co-Beatles a world tour to turn on millions of people to the practice. His song, "Across the Universe," cowritten with Paul McCartney, is an anthem to TM, and included the appellation "jai guru deva" ("hail to the divine guru").

Once the Beatles became public advocates, Maharishi found himself all over the press, on magazine covers, and a recurring guest on "The Tonight Show." Despite host Johnny Carson's derisive treatment of Maharishi, the shows resulted in thousands of eager students queuing around blocks to learn TM.

In February 1968, the shock waves hitting Rishikesh, India, reverberated around the world. When the Beatles, Donovan, Mia Farrow, and other celebrities attended a meditation course with Maharishi, the planet figuratively paused for a moment, then changed orbit. Though struggling to keep his sparsely constructed ashram solvent, Maharishi provided his famous guests double beds with mosquito netting, sit-down toilets, and bathtubs.

The Beatles received private lessons on Maharishi's bungalow roof or inside his meeting room. John Lennon and George Harrison embraced the teachings enthusiastically. Ringo's allergies and peritonitis caused problems with ashram food. He brought one suitcase stuffed with Heinz beans. Terrified of insects, his wife demanded "Ritchie" kill them all and remove the carcasses. On one occasion, a single fly held Maureen hostage until Ringo returned hours later.

Eggs and meat were (still are) banned in Rishikesh, but Beatles road manager Mal Evans smuggled in contraband eggs. When the staff was caught burying eggshells, Ringo asked, "Can't God see that, too?" He and Maureen returned home after two weeks.

When "Wonderwall" film director Joe Massot smuggled in hashish, John Lennon did not hesitate to imbibe, as they played Otis Redding's "The Dock of the Bay" 20 times. John asked Massot to keep it secret from George.

Ravindra Damodara Swami, one of Maharishi's brahmacharyas (monk disciples), noted in his diary that Maharishi said the Beatles had too much brain in the way, except for Ringo, who followed his heart and feelings. …

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