My three weeks with The Beatles, Mia, the Maharishi and Transcendental

June 1 1968

My three weeks with The Beatles, Mia, the Maharishi and Transcendental

June 1 1968

My three weeks with The Beatles, Mia, the Maharishi and Transcendental


Paul Saltzman, at right, a young Canadian on a footloose tour of India, visited the secluded retreat of today’s most publicized guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Here is his story

GEORGE HARRTSON repeated the words to the Maharishi as his new song swam up from the cassette tape recorder on the floor. The Maharishi was rolling his prayer beads between his fingers and he laughed approvingly. Harrison smiled shyly like a new father.

Without going out of my door I can know all things on earth.

Without looking out of my window I can know the ways of heaven.

The farther one travels

The less one knows.

The less one really knows.*

To each of us in that small room — The Beatles, their wives, Jane Asher, Mia Farrow, the Maharishi, and myself — Harrison’s song, The Inner Light, spoke of the knowledge that is to be found within us. For each of us the song suggested different paths to travel in our minds. It suggested keys to search for: keys to the doors within our heads that lead to greater self-knowledge. /continued overleaf

*See copyright © notice page 48

“Transcending is like watering the root oi a tree and thereby making all aspects of it fresh and green and more fruitful. It takes the mind behind and beyond fears and anxieties ”

With the exception of the Maharishi, we shared a common search: the search for what lies inside, for life, for existence, for peace and happiness.

It was beautiful sitting there, but it was strange. Two and a half months before, when I arrived in India, I couldn’t have imagined being at the Maharishi’s ashram in the soft foothills of the Himalayas. I didn’t know anything about the Maharishi except that he was the Beatles’ guru, or spiritual teacher; and I knew nothing about “transcendental meditation.”

I had left Canada to see the world, on a trip without time limit, itinerary, or much money. India was first simply because it was so different from North America. Besides wanting to experience different cultures. I felt that cutting myself off from the environment I was so much a product of would bring greater selfknowledge. I would learn more about who I was and what I wanted in living. Although I was 23, had been to university and had worked two years in the public-affairs end of television, I really knew little about the world or myself. I wanted to find the keys to some of those doors in my head and by opening them up get rid of some of my hang-ups. I guess I knew what the hang-ups were though I didn’t know what to do about them. I thought the keys would be difficult to find and I avoided looking too hard for them because I knew that getting rid of hang-ups was at times a painful process.

There were two main problems that bothered me. I had strong defenses against opening up completely in the relationship with my girlfriend, in loving her completely, for fear of the hurt that sometimes comes with being vulnerable, with opening up. I wanted to, and although I knew, deep down, that lowering the defenses and letting the involvement come was the only way, I couldn’t do that. I told myself that the key lay in being alone in strange environments that I wasn’t warm and secure in, and solving the problem by myself, instead of with her help.

The other one was an ego hang-up. 1 found that I had two main motivating forces when deciding what I wanted to do, whether in my work or in human relationships. One was the desire to be constructive in society, to do good, and the other was my ego — what others thought of what I was doing. I thought that ego was basically a bad thing and the result of the conflict between a “bad” and a “good” motivating force was a lack of direction. I felt that being alone, and learning more about what I wanted, would help resolve this hassle.

In early February I was in New Delhi and heard that the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was going to speak that day at the university. I went to hear him. mostly because I valued The Beatles as artists and people and their involvement with the Maharishi made me curious to see what it was all about. I also heard that The Beatles might be going to Rishikesh, to the ashram, and I wanted to find out if I could go there for a day or two. For a long time I’d

wanted to talk with John Lennon about that ego hang-up. I was sure he had gone through it at some stage and that talking with him might help.

The auditorium was overflowing with about 300 people as the Maharishi walked down the centre aisle to the stage. He was smaller than I had expected and, like most Indians, fairly slight. He held flowers in his hands, and as he moved to the centre of the stage his eyes welcomed the audience. He sat down, crosslegged on a low dais, while behind him 20 young Westerners, each of them wearing a colorful garland of red, white and orange flowers, seated themselves in a semicircle. These people, we were told, were part of a group of 60 “meditators” from Europe and North America who were in India to take a three-month course from the Maharishi. They were to learn more about meditation and some of them would then be taught to “initiate” or instruct others in transcendental meditation. The rest would learn how to “check” new meditators to make sure they were using the method properly.

Before the Maharishi spoke he looked slowly and gently at us and I got the feeling that he was sensing our presence. He talked quietly, gesturing occasionally with a flower-filled hand. At times his voice rose as he made a point and he giggled with enthusiasm. What he talked about sounded great, but I doubted whether it was possible.

He explained: “Transcendental meditation naturally takes the mind beyond the present level of experience to the finer stages of experience, and eventually takes it beyond the finest state of experience and leaves it in a state of pure awareness. This is called ‘transcending’ normal consciousness to reach inner fields of pure consciousness, of bliss consciousness.” Twirling a marigold in his hand he continued: “Transcending is like watering the root of a tree and thereby making all aspects of it fresh and green and more fruitful. It takes the mind behind and beyond the fears and anxieties that trouble us. Reaching those fields of pure consciousness, of pure being, we tap the very source of bliss and energy. We come back with increased happiness and energy. Tension is lessened and our health improves.”

The Beaties were late on the Maharishi scene. Canadians—some 15,000 of them now—have been happily meditating since 1961

THE MAHARISHI MAHESH YOGI was making converts in Canada long before The Beatles left Liverpool and when Mia Farrow was still a teenybopper playing Frank Sinatra records. He made his first trip here in 1961 and this year's three-week tour, which begins late in May. will be his sixth and last visit. After this he will spend his days in retirement at his ashram in Rishikesh. He believes his mission to the world is over. With followers in 50 countries, the movement is strong enough to carry on by itself.

There are more than 15,000 people in Canada alone now' practising the Maharishi’s transcendental - meditation techniques. The bulk of the followers are found on university campuses. The Maharishi's claim to be able to provide spiritual insight and tranquility without the use of drugs has a wide appeal for students. But the International Meditation Society in Canada says its members also include loggers on Vancouver Island, geophysicists and ranchers in Calgary, fishermen and architects in Vancouver, businessmen in Winnipeg, publishers in Toronto, millionaires and lawyers in Montreal and librarians in Halifax.

Meditators find it almost impossible to describe the experience of meditation. “All I can say is that the world, myself and my relations with people were entirely new, bright and irrevocably changed,” says Eileen Learoyd. a Victoria, BC, journalist who was one of the earliest of the Maharishi's Canadian followers. Nor will meditators tell much about the techniques involved. The mantra or private key w'ord that each convert is given in order to reach a transcendental state remains a personal secret.

The only way. it seems, to discover what meditation really means is to start meditating oneself. There are now 14 Maharishi instructors or initiators operating in various Canadian centres. Most of them have taken courses from the Maharishi in India, as did the two Vancouverites shown above.

Initiations, which follow a week or more of instruction, take place in private homes, hotel rooms or offices of the International Meditation Society. The initiation fees vary: for high-school students it’s $15; for university students, $25; for housewives, $35; and for ail working people the fee is the equivalent of three days of their net salary. The initiators themselves are not paid. The money pays for offices, publicity and such undertakings as the Maharishi’s five-day seminar at Alberta’s Chateau Lake Louise June 9-14. Prospective meditators should write to: IMS Canadian Headquarters, Sub Post Office 36, Calgary, Alta.

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The Maharishi laughed and went on to answer questions. All this, he said, could begin quickly and easily without struggles of the mind and without giving up any of life’s pleasures. I couldn’t quite buy this. 1 guess I had picked up the idea somewhere in my background that the road to inner peace and happiness was strewn with unsuccessful souls. I knew such a thing existed for man but I had the idea that getting there required excruciating suffering, the renunciation of worldly goods and pleasures, and the subverting of one’s ego, to reach a Gandhian state of desirelessness. Although I didn't know how one meditated “transcendentally.” I simply didn't believe it could be that easy to find the keys I wanted to find, to open the doors I wanted to open. But 1 was interested.

The following two days I spent at the YMCA hostel talking with some of the people going to Rishikesh. They were really a very mixed bag: a sweet little old British lady; a middleaged American physicist; Benjamin Lange, a Canadian student: Benita Glössner, a lovely 25-year-old multilingual translator from Sweden; Kieran Kilroy, a young Irish poet; and Abe Jeha. a boutique owner from Vancouver. Each of them told me they’d begun to attain what the Maharishi promised through meditation. Decision-making and problem-solving were easier. Frustrations were lessened and they became happier and more energetic.

1 became even less skeptical after talking with James George, the Canadian High Commissioner in India. A tall, stately man, he exudes a feeling of inner calm and strength; and 1 greatly valued his thoughts. For years he’d been meditating, using an-

other method, and as far as he was concerned it was essentially a way of getting closer to who you really are, of getting to know yourself better. I decided to try it.

It was an overnight train trip from New Delhi to the town of Hardwar and another 40 minutes by taxi to Rishikesh. The town sits by the edge

of the Ganges River and the whole area, extending for miles up the river into the mountains, is considered by Hindus to be sacred ground. As we drove to the river, pilgrims walked in groups down the roadside singing hymns. And hundreds of sadhus, in orange cotton dhotis, each faded to a different shade by the sun, made their

way to the temples and ashrams by the river to speak with their gods, and to bathe in the sacred waters.

At the river bank a motorboat took pilgrims and visitors across to the ashrams on the other side. From there it was a short half-mile walk back down the river and several hundred feet up a narrow path to the Maharishi’s ashram.

I had made very vague arrangements through some of the people I

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talked with in New Delhi, and I arrived not knowing whether I'd be allowed to stay. I was met by Raghvendra. a brahmachari, or novice monk, who was one of the Maharishi’s disciples. After welcoming me with the customary tea and toast, he showed me to a tent 1 could sleep in, just outside the main area where the people on the course stayed, and told me that I could stay several days at least.

During the next few days Raghvendra and I talked often and we became very close. He was a slight young man in his early 30s with a lightbrown complexion. There was always a twinkling joy in his eyes and whenever we looked at each other we couldn't help smiling. Raghvendra had spent many years looking for a guru, and when he finally met the Maharishi. two years ago, he gave up his law studies and became one of the Maharishi’s lifetime students.

Raghvendra was to “initiate" me. to teach me how to meditate; but he wanted me to relax and wait for a few days. The method was simple and innocent, he said, and the best way to approach it was without preconceived ideas of what was supposed to happen. And so 1 spent a long but restful week sitting on the flat rooftop of a guest house at the edge of the ashram.

From where I sat, the trees, in a myriad carpet of greens and yellows, swept slightly down and away and then swooped up the foothills to where they met the purest blue sky I'd seen. A mile away the river came sliding out of the hills a clear turquoise color, and bubbled past below the ashram on the start of its long trek across the plains to the Bay of Bengal. It was almost always sunny and there was a carefree happiness in the air as green parakeets played in the trees and monkeys ventured warily

onto the roof in search of food.

Just sitting there, alone, showed me one of the keys to greater happiness. It was such a simple lesson that I was amazed I hadn’t known it sooner; and I was sure many people had learned it a long time ago. By my not moving as quickly, not physically passing life by as fast, the trees became greener, the sky more open, and the world became prettier and more joyful. But it was more than that. For some reason, moving slowly allowed a happiness

from within to come to the surface. 1 had no tangible reason to feel so happy; but I did, and it was just beautiful.

The initiation took place in Raghvendra’s quarters with only the two of us there. We sat cross-legged on the floor and began with a short puja. a traditional Hindu offering of fruit, flowers, cloth, and prayers. Raghvendra sang the prayers and although 1 didn’t know what they meant I felt the closeness a student sometimes feels

with his teacher. He then told me my mantra, or sound, that I would use in meditating. Mantras can be words, which lose their meaning through repetition. But mine was simply a one-syllable configuration of letters that gave a soft sound when pronounced. He instructed me in how to say the sound silently and just easily follow it, listening to it. I tried it for a few minutes and he asked me to describe what I was experiencing, to make sure I was using the technique

MEDITATION continued

The outside world seemed to recede”

properly. Then after reminding me that the mantra was mine, and secret, he left me alone to meditate for the first time.

I relaxed and shut my eyes and just let thoughts come and go. As I became engrossed in my thoughts the outside world seemed to recede. I no longer noticed the wind in the trees or the sound of far-away talking. 1 was alone with my thoughts. Then I gently replaced my thoughts with my mantra. I silently said my sound and listened to it, followed it. Now only the sound was in my conscious mind. As the sound faded no verbalized thoughts replaced it and I was left in a place without sound and without thought. A second later that faithful little observation voice in my head said, "Hey! that’s it!,’’ which right away took me away from "it” and I was again thinking verbalized thoughts.

That place, "it.” was a place of silence and darkness and peace. I didn't notice that while I was there. But right afterward, after my observation voice spoke, I noticed that I had been there and that I felt peaceful and quiet. I realized that I must have transcended. 1 hadn’t fallen asleep but it was a very restful place and I wanted to experience it again. I continued meditating for about three quarters of an hour and transcended once more for a second or two. Most of the time I just thought about things, and my thinking seemed clearer and less cluttered than usual.

When I decided to stop I waited a couple of minutes, slowly opened my eyes, and went outside into the sunshine. I walked slowly back to the

guest house feeling rested and calm. T felt mildly euphoric, turned on at being alive. As I sat down on the rooftop I couldn’t help smiling at the friendly hills and enjoying the vibrations of feeling alive and the oneness with the world that comes with it. I didn’t really know if it was the meditating or just pre-suggestion but I felt just great.

Although I accepted that there really was something to meditating, I didn t think there was anything mystical about the method or the Maharishi. As far as I was concerned the Maharishi had a method I could use to be happier and live better, but he wasn’t a god; and it kind of turned me off seeing some of the people worshipping him. I also doubted some of his claims about meditation — for example, his belief that it would lead to world peace.

f was reminded of these doubts during one of the Maharishi’s press conferences. For about a week after The Beatles arrived, 20 or 30 reporters and photographers came each day to find out what was going on during the course. In the afternoon the Maharishi would come to an open area beside the tent 1 slept in and, seated there in a chair, with one of his disciples holding a large black umbrella above his head to shield him from the sun, and the reporters seated on cushions on the ground, he talked about meditation and answered any questions.

The day I listened in, an American reporter asked, “What success have you had here in India?” The Maharishi answered that in the past they had little success in India but were

now going to increase their efforts. He continued: “The Indian people are poor and they are lazy and meditation will give them the energy and drive to work harder and better themselves.” The reporter tried to suggest that poverty was not a simple matter of laziness. The Maharishi just laughed in his charming but evasive way and said, “With meditation they will overcome their poverty.”

I was disappointed by his political naiveté and his evasiveness. I thought he should have gone into the problem of poverty more deeply.

Meditation seemed good for me, but then I’m a middle - class Westerner who's never really had to worry where his next meal would come from. I could afford to focus on how I related to the world and how it related to me. But how universal were the effects of meditation?

What would it do for those very real starving millions in India, and elsewhere, who spend most of their waking hours trying to stay alive? I was as unsure of the answers after the press conference as I was before it.

One afternoon, Paul McCartney, his girlfriend Jane Asher and I talked about the Maharishi as we sat having tea at one of the long tables overlooking the river. Both of them had been meditating five months and felt it was a valuable thing; that through meditation they were accomplishing good things in their heads and finding great contentment. They liked the Maharishi and respected his intelligence and were enthused by his love for life. But they had a down-to-earth view of him.

Jane Asher was especially put off by his evasiveness; and McCartney was worried that this, and some of his political statements, would be emphasized by the press and people might miss the essential good the Maharishi was trying to pass on. The Beatles, McCartney said, were upset by the comments the Maharishi made about draft dodgers when he was last in the United States. They felt he lost many American young people when he said that young men

should obey the law and not evade the draft. “Any fool can make a law.” McCartney went on; “that doesn’t mean it’s right. The Maharishi doesn’t know much about world affairs and we’ve been telling him about Vietnam, and what’s happening there, so he'd understand why some of the young men won’t fight. The Maharishi just laughs when he can’t answer a question, and it alienates people. He really must learn to just say, T don’t know.’ when he does not. He’ll he more respected for it."

They both spoke warmly about the Maharishi and it was in no way a put-down. They felt, as I did, that the Maharishi was human: that he

couldn’t walk on water. But neither was he a charlatan.

He does have a method which can help people get closer to what they want to be and what they want in life. And the method works. As I kept at it. the meditating seemed at times to be very good, and at times just mediocre. When I was too concerned with what was happening, when my

observation voice was active, I didn’t transcend very often, but I still felt rested and happy afterward. 1 was getting places in my head. I felt much more in tune with myself.

The Maharishi explains that we have fields of peace and happiness within us. and a natural propensity to seek them out, to reach inner peace. Often we are distracted from it, and we look in the wrong direction, searching outside ourselves for peace. I think this is true.

Man's primary urge is to survive,

and to enjoy surviving: to survive with a maximum of happiness and a minimum of agony. We all have a great capacity to love and to be loved: to be happy and to make others happy. Yet we are constantly pushed and pulled by strong social forces, exerted by others and by ourselves, that tend to make us look outside for contentment. We are taught that peace and happiness come with external things: success, possessions, doing better than others: and these values take us away from an inner peace, and the

feeling of oneness with creation that comes with it. Instead we are made to feel separate and we become alienated. Many of us build shells and defenses and colored filters to protect ourselves from threatening people and emotions and conditions.

It’s hard to avoid this. We can’t just leave the world. But perhaps in looking at the world through these filters and living behind these defenses we lock out more than we lock in. In the rush of trying to survive we lock out the beauty of flowers as much as

the beauty of emotions. We think that the defenses and doors protect us and allow us to be happy, when they really keep us from a greater peace. The result is that conflicts develop between our defenses and our inherent desires to achieve serenity; and this causes hang-ups, and they in turn create a lot of hassle.

I found that meditating was one way to get past these defenses and get closer to where I lived. By momentarily shutting out the external pushes and pulls I could go through the

shells and be alone with myself in a place of existence and calm. Coming back from that place 1 could look more clearly at my hang-ups, and could see where the doors were that lead through them.

The words are nebulous; they must be, because it’s such a personal process. And although it’s an internal thing. 1 don’t think it’s selfish. By knowing ourselves better we can better know others. The fewer filters we look through the more clearly we see. The less tense and hung-up we arc within, the less we project it on others. The more we can feel peace, love and warmth, the more we can give.

One of the reporters who came to the ashram suggested that The Beatles, Mia Farrow, and Donovan, the British pop singer, were really involved for the publicity, for some reason other than the meditation; but it’s not true. Sure. The Beatles seem to have everything a man could want, but they haven’t all that is to be found within themselves. They arc looking for the same inner peace that ail men want, and they said that meditating was helping them.

Donovan, one of the few real poets of the popmusic world, felt the same way. A very soft-spoken and sincere person, he said one day as we sat in the Maharishi’s house that meditating relaxed him and gave him a better outlook on life. He also said it helped him in his work. Last year he did an exhausting 19-city tour of North America and before each concert he meditated

for half an hour and went out on stage relaxed and totally refreshed.

When Mia Farrow left New York for India she was hassled and really uptight. I happened to see her outside her hotel in New Delhi when she got upset at a photographer dogging her heels and ran at him, hitting him with her bag. A second later she stopped and walked away and I could see in her face how upset she was. She was close to tears. In Rishikesh she seemed much happier and less tense. She’s a sweet, gentle young woman;

and when she left the ashram to return to work she said that meditating was really helping her.

In all, I spent two and a half very peaceful weeks at the ashram and then decided to return home. Those few weeks of going slow and meditating, of being more alone with myself, more than ever before, helped me resolve the hang-ups that were bothering me most. By getting closer to who I was, to what I wanted, I found that loving my girlfriend was much more important to me than traveling. I could see the world some other time.

As for the ego hang-up, I talked with John Lennon about it and learned that he had had the same problem. He still had it, he said, but it wasn’t much of a hang-up anymore. Ego was not a bad thing, and the idea was not to get rid of it; that was virtually impossible. He quoted the Maharishi, saying that ego was a good thing. The important question was whether your ego manifestations resulted in good for others, or in hurt for others. Talking with him was one of those little keys. It helped me see the hang-up in a better perspective and now it’s just not so much of a hassle.

This doesn’t mean to say that 1 have realized inner peace and happiness — far from it. I have, however, found a few keys to a few doors in my head. The real battle is in opening the doors and working along the paths that lie behind them; the paths to greater self-knowledge and contentment. Old habits and inertia and the pain in lowering some of the defenses make it a slow, step-by-step struggle. But it’s easier for me, now, to know which is the right direction to move in; and every time I sit quietly, and make a good decision, I get closer to being what I want to be. And it feels good. There’s also that inner happiness at being alive that comes to the surface even without the obvious stimuli of being loved, or doing a good job, or giving someone a flower.

But the answers aren’t necessarily in India: as George Harrison says, the answers lie mostly within us.

* Without going out of your door You can know all things on earth. Without looking out of your window You can know the ways of heaven.

The farther one travels The less one knows.

The less one really knows.

Arrive without traveling.

See all without looking.

Do all without doing.

““Copyright © 1968 Northern Songs Ltd., 71-75 New Oxford Street, London W.C.

1, England. All rights reserved. Used by permission.