Inside the ashram
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Rishikesh ashram had six simple stone bungalows, each containing five self-contained rooms with two four-poster beds. There were modern sanitary facilities, although the water supply occasionally broke down during their stay. The cottages were set along an unsurfaced road, with a path led down towards the Ganges.
After alighting from the taxis, we were shown to our living quarters. They consisted of a number of stone-built bungalows, set in groups along a rough road. Flowers and shrubs surrounded them and were carefully tended by an Indian gardener whose work speed was dead slow, and stop.
The ashram had around 40 members of staff, including a construction crew, printing works, cooks, cleaners and a masseuse. A swimming pool was being built next to the main lecture building, and a heated dining room was situated near to the kitchens.
Breakfast was held between 7am and 11am, and consisted of porridge, puffed wheat or cornflakes, fruit juices, tea, coffee, and toast. This was followed by meditation practice, which had no rules.
Lunch and dinner both had the same menu: soup followed by a vegetarian main course, and tomato and lettuce salad, turnips, carrots, rice and potatoes. Most meals were held in an open-roofed, glass-walled dining room, in which The Beatles were often joined by monkeys who attempted to steal their food. The Maharishi always ate alone in his bungalow.
At the time Lennon and Harrison were both vegetarians, but Starr found the spicy food disagreed with his stomach – the legacy of a childhood bout of peritonitis – so Mal Evans arranged eggs which were fried, boiled, scrambled or poached. Starr had also brought along a suitcase of baked beans.
In the evenings we got together, occasionally breaking the no-alcohol rule with a glass of hooch, smuggled in by Alex from the village across the river and tasting remarkably like petrol. Giggling like naughty schoolchildren, we’d pass round the bottle each taking a swig, then conorting as it scorched its way down our throats.
The Beatles were enrolled on a Transcendental Meditation teachers’ course, which consisted of 90-minute lectures from 3.30pm and 8.30pm, with the students describing their meditative experiences and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi answering their questions. Much of the time, however, was spent in a series of meditation sessions which became progressively longer.
The two who were most engrossed in Maharishi’s teachings were John and George. They would meditate for hours, and George was very focused. I loved meditating, but I can’t sustain that sort of intensity for long. Sometimes I would leave George meditating and make a foray to Mussoorie and Dheradun, Tibetan trading posts. At that time China was slowly taking over Tibet, whose people were being pushed out of their country as their culture was destroyed.
Ever keen to put his faith in others, John Lennon proved particularly eager to learn from Maharishi.
One day Maharishi needed to get to New Delhi and back for something, so someone suggested a helicopter. When it arrived we all trooped down, a bouncing line of devotees, coming down a narrow dusty track to the Ganges, singing, being delightful. Very like the Hare Krishnas, marvellous, chatting away. We got down ot the Ganges, the helicopter landed and then they asked, ‘Does anyone want a quick go before Maharishi takes off?’ John jumped up. ‘Yea, yea, yeah, yeah!’ John got there first, and there was only room for one.
So later I asked John, ‘Why were you so keen? You really wanted to get in that helicopter.’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘I thought he might slip me the answer!’ Which is very revealing about John. I suppose everyone is always looking for the Holy Grail. I think John thought he might find it. I think it shows an innocence really, a naivety. It’s quite touching really.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles