Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the Indian guru who first met The Beatles in 1967. They became fascinated by his techniques of Transcendental Meditation, and in 1968 visited the Maharishi’s spiritual training camp in Rishikesh, India.
He was born Mahesh Prasad Varma on 12 January 1918, in the Panduka area of Raipur, India. He studied physics at Allahabad University, and in around 1939 became a disciple of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, who from 1941 was the Shankaracharya (spiritual leader) of the Indian city of Jyotir Math.
In 1941 Maharishi became a personal assistant to Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, whom he knew as Guru Deva. Maharishi was given the name Bal Brahmachari Mahesh by him.
Maharishi remained with Brahmananda Saraswati until he died in 1953. Afterwards Maharishi moved to Uttarkashi in the Valley of the Saints, in the Himalayasm before leaving in 1955 to teach a meditation technique he called Transcendental Deep Meditation, later renamed Transcendental Meditation.
He began the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in 1957 in Madras, India, and the following year began the first of many worldwide tours to bring his techniques to a wider audience.
We’d seen Maharishi up north when we were kids. He was on the telly every few years on Granada’s People And Places programme, the local current affairs show. We’d all say, ‘Hey, did you see that crazy guy last night?’ So we knew all about him: he was the giggly little guy going round the globe seven times to heal the world.
George Harrison’s wife Pattie had become interested in Eastern philosophy and religion following a holiday in Bombay towards the end of 1966. The following year a friend invited her to a lecture on Transcendental Meditation at London’s Caxton Hall.
When Pattie heard that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was giving a series of talks at the London Hilton, she persuaded George to come along. On 24 August 1967 the couple, plus John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Jane Asher were in front row seats, listening to the Maharishi speak.
I got the tickets. I was actually after a mantra. I had got to the point where I thought I would like to meditate; I’d read about it and I knew I needed a mantra – a password to get through to the other world. And, as we always seemed to do everything together, John and Paul came with me.
I came home and put on the answerphone, and there was a message from John: ‘Oh, man, we’ve seen this guy, and we’re all going to Wales. You’ve got to come.’ The next message from from George, saying, ‘Wow, man – we’ve seen him. Maharishi’s great! We’re all going to Wales on Saturday, and you’ve got to come.’
After the event The Beatles were granted a 90-minute private audience with Maharishi. He impressed them with his philosophy; the next day they traveled to Bangor, north Wales, to attend a Transcendental Meditation seminar.
I think he realised that these boys could get his message across real fast. And so after we met him, he brought up the idea of us going on tour again and opening up a place in every city. But we didn’t do that, because things began to change.
The train left London’s Euston Station on 25 August. All four Beatles were on it, along with Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull and Donovan. However, John Lennon’s wife Cynthia missed the train after being mistaken for a fan and held back by a security guard.
I remember Cynthia not making the train, which was terrible and very symbolic. She was the only one of our party not to get there. There’s a bit of film of her not making it. That was the end of her and John, really, weirdly enough. There was a big crowd at the train station, and there was another to meet us in Bangor. We all wandered through in our psychedelic gear. It was like a summer camp.
The Beatles spent two nights in Bangor. Due to the last-minute decision to attend, they had to sleep in a rented schoolroom along with the other students of Maharishi. In Bangor they were each given personal mantras.
The Beatles’ encounter with the Maharishi coincided with their realisation that LSD didn’t hold the answers they were hoping for. They held a press conference to reveal their new passion for meditation, and announced that they had given up drugs.
They came backstage after one of my lectures, and they said to me: ‘Even from an early age we have been seeking a highly spiritual existence. We tried drugs and that didn’t work.’ They are such practical and intelligent young boys that it took them only two days to find that Transcendental Meditation is the answer.
The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein had been due to join them in Bangor after the August Bank Holiday. However, he never made it: his body was discovered at his London home on 27 August 1967. He had died of an overdose of barbiturates mixed with alcohol.
The Beatles’ confidant Peter Brown telephoned Bangor with the news. Their reaction to the press revealed how far The Beatles – Lennon and Harrison in particular – had embraced Maharishi’s teachings.
We loved him and he was one of us. Maharishi’s meditation gives you confidence enough to withstand something like this, even after the short amount we’ve had.
We all feel it, but these talks on Transcendental Meditation have helped us to stand up to it so much better. You don’t get upset when a young kid becomes a teenager, or a teenager becomes an adult, or when an adult gets old. Well, Brian is just passing into the next phase.