Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an iconic figure of the 20th century, was a spiritual luminary whose teachings reverberated far beyond the borders of his native India. As the founder of Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi introduced a simple yet profound technique of meditation that has been embraced by millions of people worldwide.
Who is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, born Mahesh Prasad Varma (1918–2008), was a renowned Indian spiritual leader and the founder of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique, a form of silent mantra meditation. The Maharishi, a title meaning ‘great seer’, is known for popularizing meditation in the West and for his efforts to bring science and spirituality closer together.
Born in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the Maharishi graduated from Allahabad University with a degree in physics before dedicating his life to the spiritual realm. He was a disciple of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, also known as Guru Dev, the Shankaracharya (spiritual leader) of Jyotirmath in the Indian Himalayas. After Guru Dev’s death in 1953, Maharishi embarked on a series of world tours promoting TM, which he described as a simple and effective method of promoting personal development, health and well-being.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Maharishi began to garner international attention. His fame reached a new zenith when the Beatles attended one of his lectures in 1967, sparking a surge of interest in TM. This encounter precipitated a shift in popular culture, infusing Eastern spirituality into the West’s collective consciousness.
Maharishi’s teachings were not confined to spirituality. He made significant contributions to the understanding of consciousness and its practical application in various fields. He introduced the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI), which he described as a science linking the abstract field of pure consciousness with day-to-day life. In addition, he founded several educational institutions around the world, including Maharishi International University in the United States.
In 1990, Maharishi introduced the Maharishi Effect, proposing that if one percent of a population practiced TM, a coherence would be created that could reduce societal stress and conflict. Though this idea was met with skepticism by some in the scientific community, a number of studies have reported statistical support for the Maharishi Effect, fostering an ongoing discussion on the societal impact of collective meditation practices.
In the latter part of his life, Maharishi turned his focus towards the establishment of what he referred to as invincibility for every nation. This concept was based on the idea that a group of individuals practicing the TM-Sidhi program, including Yogic Flying, a technique Maharishi introduced in the 1970s, could generate a field effect of harmony and coherence, which he believed could influence societal trends.
Throughout his life, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi demonstrated an unwavering commitment to creating a profound impact on individual and collective consciousness. His initiatives in education, health, and world peace were aimed at actualizing a high quality of life for all individuals, regardless of their cultural or geographical backgrounds. Maharishi’s teachings continue to have a significant influence, with millions of individuals practicing Transcendental Meditation globally. His work has made a notable contribution to bridging the gap between the tangible and intangible, the scientific and spiritual, and continues to inspire research into consciousness and human potential.
Teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s teachings have had an immense global impact, contributing to the popular understanding of meditation and Eastern spirituality. His core teachings encompass several key principles and practices:
- Transcendental Meditation: This is Maharishi’s foundational practice, a simple, non-religious meditation technique practiced for 20 minutes twice daily. TM is said to promote a state of relaxed awareness, where the mind can transcend busy thought activity and experience the silent, peaceful level of consciousness.
- The Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI): Maharishi developed this principle to elucidate the orderly, systematic laws that govern the universe, both in the macrocosm and the microcosm. SCI posits that there is a fundamental field of pure, creative intelligence underlying and permeating all aspects of life.
- Maharishi Effect: Maharishi proposed that collective practice of TM and the TM-Sidhi program (including Yogic Flying) could create a field effect of harmony and coherence in collective consciousness, leading to reduced societal stress, conflict, and negativity, a phenomenon named the “Maharishi Effect.”
- Vedic Science and Technology: Maharishi advocated for the practical applications of Vedic Science and knowledge, including Ayurveda (traditional Indian system of medicine), Vastu (Vedic architecture), Jyotish (Vedic astrology), and Yogic Flying, among others.
- Development of Full Human Potential: Maharishi emphasized that the goal of life is the full development of human consciousness, stating that everyone has the potential to live life in enlightenment, characterized by perpetual peace, happiness, creativity and universal love.
- World Peace through Inner Peace: Maharishi maintained that world peace could be achieved by a significant number of individuals experiencing inner peace through TM, thus influencing the collective consciousness of society.
- Natural Law Party and Ideal Society: Maharishi founded the Natural Law Party to bring the principles of SCI into politics, aiming to create an ideal society governed by Natural Law, where everyone could enjoy happiness, prosperity and fulfillment.
- Global Country of World Peace: To realize his vision of global peace and enlightenment, Maharishi established the Global Country of World Peace as a non-political, non-religious global organization.
These teachings represent Maharishi’s comprehensive approach to individual and collective well-being, encompassing not just meditation but a holistic perspective on health, education, society and governance. His teachings reflect an ambitious vision of human potential and societal evolution, seeking to harmonize modern life with timeless wisdom from the Vedic tradition.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Politics
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was not only a profound spiritual leader but also ventured quite extensively into the realm of politics. His contributions spanned beyond meditation and spiritual teachings to include initiatives designed to influence political systems and advocate for global peace.
In 1992, Maharishi established the Natural Law Party (NLP), a political faction that eventually gained support in 42 countries. This party was a key part of his broader peace plan. However, its inception and operations were not without controversy. Critics often viewed the NLP as a platform intended to facilitate recruitment into Transcendental Meditation.
Deepak Chopra, one of Maharishi’s most prominent disciples, found himself at odds with his mentor. As Chopra’s fame and influence grew, he was accused of trying to rival Maharishi, leading to his departure from the movement in 1994.
Maharishi wasn’t content with merely dabbling in politics; he took the plunge wholeheartedly. He frequently spoke about the nexus between political governance and the societal values of happiness and peace.
His political and spiritual aspirations converged in the founding of the Global Country of World Peace (GCWP) in 2000. This unique entity was designed with the grand vision of unifying all nations through happiness, prosperity, and perfect health, all while preserving and celebrating the world’s diverse cultures. He envisioned a world where nations weren’t just co-existing but were working together in harmony, invincibility and prosperity.
In the realm of international politics, Maharishi wasn’t afraid to make bold statements. For instance, in response to then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support of the Iraq War, Maharishi ordered the suspension of all Transcendental Meditation training in Britain during Blair’s tenure. This action underscored his commitment to peace and his willingness to use his spiritual influence to make political statements.
Maharishi passed away in the Netherlands in 2008. As per his wishes, he was cremated in India with his funeral taking place at the Allahabad ashram, reflecting his enduring connection to his native land.
Counterculture and The Beatles
The 1960s and 1970s were a time of significant social and cultural upheaval in the West, characterized by a countercultural movement that was in many ways a rebellion against mainstream societal norms. During this period, interest in Eastern philosophy, yoga and meditation grew exponentially. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s visit to the UK coincided with this wave of change and the “Summer of Love,” positioning him to become an influential figure within this countercultural milieu.
The allure of Maharishi’s teachings attracted several high-profile celebrities of the era. These included The Beach Boys, renowned filmmaker David Lynch, and perhaps most famously, The Beatles. The association with The Beatles, who referred to Maharishi as their “spiritual advisor,” was instrumental in both increasing Maharishi’s popularity and influencing the band’s spiritual journey and artistic output, particularly their acclaimed album, The White Album.
The Beatles’ interest in Maharishi’s teachings was piqued after attending one of his lectures in London. Eager to delve deeper, they sought a personal audience with Maharishi and subsequently accompanied him to Bangor to participate in their first Transcendental Meditation course. This was a pivotal moment that sparked the band’s journey into meditation.
In 1968, their spiritual quest led The Beatles to spend almost three months at Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India. It was here that they immersed themselves in intensive meditation and songwriting, penning numerous songs that would feature on The White Album and Abbey Road. John Lennon, in particular, found Transcendental Meditation to be a catalyst in his quest for sobriety.
However, Maharishi’s association with high-profile celebrities was met with cynicism by the press, who often portrayed him as a charlatan exploiting these connections for publicity and financial gain. Over time, the relationship between Maharishi and The Beatles grew strained, leading to their eventual parting of ways.
The media attention that Maharishi gained from his association with The Beatles proved to be a double-edged sword. While it attracted criticism, it also significantly amplified his visibility and influence, both bolstering the popularity of Transcendental Meditation and cementing Maharishi’s place as a leading figure in the global spread of yoga and meditation during the 20th century.
How popular is Transcendental Meditation?
Transcendental Meditation (TM) has gained remarkable popularity worldwide. While the exact number of practitioners is hard to determine, it is estimated that over 5 million people had learned TM, and the numbers continue to grow.
What makes TM so popular? Well, it’s partly due to its simplicity and universal appeal. TM can be practiced by anyone, regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs. It doesn’t require complex postures or concentration, making it accessible to people of all ages and physical abilities. Additionally, it’s a quick practice, typically done for 20 minutes twice a day, which fits into the busy lives of modern individuals.
TM’s popularity also hinges on its wide range of reported benefits. Numerous studies have pointed to potential positive impacts on stress, anxiety, cognitive function, cardiovascular health, and overall well-being. Because of these benefits, TM has attracted interest from diverse groups, from students to business executives, from athletes to artists, and from wellness enthusiasts to those seeking mental health support.
Transcendental Meditation has been endorsed by various high-profile figures, including celebrities, musicians, and business leaders, further contributing to its widespread popularity. The Beatles, Oprah Winfrey, David Lynch, and Hugh Jackman, among others, have publicly spoken about their practice of TM, inspiring many of their fans to explore this meditation technique.
Moreover, the TM organization has established a robust global network with centers in many cities around the world. The organization’s efforts in education, research, and public service, alongside initiatives like the David Lynch Foundation’s work to bring TM to underserved populations, have played significant roles in promoting and sustaining the popularity of TM.
Controversies surrounding Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
While Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s teachings and practices have had a profound impact on millions of people worldwide, his life and work have not been without controversy.
- Commercialization of spirituality: Critics have taken issue with the commercial aspects of Maharishi’s teachings. They argue that charging fees for learning Transcendental Meditation, particularly high costs for advanced courses, conflicts with the traditional model of freely disseminating spiritual wisdom.
- The Natural Law Party and Politics: Maharishi’s foray into politics, particularly the creation of the Natural Law Party, has been a contentious point. Critics have suggested that the party was an attempt to promote Transcendental Meditation and recruit new practitioners, rather than a sincere effort to bring about political change.
- Claims of benefits of Transcendental Meditation: Some have contested the benefits attributed to Transcendental Meditation. Critics argue that the research conducted and promoted by the Transcendental Meditation organization often lacks methodological rigor and may be biased. They contend that the health and psychological benefits are often overstated or not sufficiently substantiated by independent scientific research.
- The Maharishi effect: Maharishi’s claim that group practice of Transcendental Meditation and the TM-Sidhi program can lead to positive social, political, and economic changes (known as the Maharishi Effect) has also been met with skepticism. Critics have questioned the scientific validity of this assertion and the studies supporting it.
- Relationship with prominent figures: Maharishi’s relationship with high-profile figures, most notably the Beatles, has been a subject of controversy. The nature of the Beatles’ departure from Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh and their subsequent comments about him have fueled speculation and criticism.
- Cult accusations: Detractors have sometimes labeled the Transcendental Meditation movement as a cult. They argue that Maharishi created an organization that fostered an undue level of devotion and conformity among its followers.
- Land and wealth accumulation: Maharishi’s accumulation of considerable land and wealth through the Transcendental Meditation organization has attracted criticism. Critics have questioned the use of these resources and suggested that they reflect a misalignment between Maharishi’s professed spiritual goals and his organizational practices.
LotusBuddhas must note that while these controversies have colored perceptions of Maharishi and his work, they don’t diminish the fact that his teachings have resonated with many people worldwide and have made significant contributions to the popular understanding and practice of meditation.
- Biography & Teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: https://yogajala.com/maharishi-mahesh-yogi/
- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – The spiritual Guru of The Beatles: https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/who-was-maharishi-mahesh-yogi-the-spiritual-guru-of-the-beatles-know-about-his-journey-and-lifestyle/3131753/