How The Beatles learned Transcendental Meditation — and what they thought about it
December 10, 2014
The Beatles first met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967, while the famed Transcendental Meditation teacher was on a lecture tour in England.
The Fab Four decided, on the spot, to learn to meditate. They then spent several weeks studying with Maharishi in a retreat in Rishikesh, India.
As with almost anything concerning the legendary band, the Beatles’ connection with TM has become shrouded in rumours, folklore and urban myth.
It’s therefore best to turn back to the original source: to what the Beatles themselves have said..
The Beatles’ first meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
GEORGE HARRISON: On August 24th, all of us, except Ringo, attended the lecture given by Maharishi at the Hilton Hotel. 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 into the other world. And, as we always seemed to do everything together, John and Paul came with me.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: It was George’s idea to go. /—/
I remember Peregrine Worsthorne being there, and I read his article the next day to see what he thought. He was a little bit sceptical. But we were looking for something; we’d been into drugs, and the next step was to try to find a meaning for it all.
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 (and this was his third spin).
GEORGE HARRISON: I thought he made a lot of sense; I think we all did. He said that with a simple system of meditation – twenty minutes in the morning, twenty minutes in the evening – you could improve your quality of life and find some sort of meaning in doing so.
JOHN LENNON: We thought, ‘What a nice man,’ and we were looking for that. I mean, everyone’s looking for it, but we were all looking for it that day. We met him and saw a good thing and went along with it. Nice trip, thank you very much.
The youth of today are really looking for some answers — for proper answers the established church can’t give them, their parents can’t give them, material things can’t give them.
RINGO STARR: At that time Maureen was in hospital having Jason, and I was visiting. 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 was 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.’
GEORGE HARRISON: Maharishi happened to be having a seminar in Bangor and had said, ‘Come tomorrow and I’ll show you how to meditate.’ So, the next day we jumped on a train and went.
Interview with John Lennon and George Harrison
On October 4, 1967, the popular British TV talk show The Frost Programme featured a 58-minute interview with The Beatles members John Lennon and George Harrison.
At that point, the Beatles members had already met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and were about six weeks into daily practice of Transcendental Meditation.
Despite their relatively short experience with meditation, John Lennon and George Harrison gave wonderfully clear and poignant answers to the host’s inquiries. To witness this immensely interesting dialogue, you can either listen to the recording online (with unfortunately quite poor sound quality), or read a transcript of the questions and answers here below.
Host David Frost: There were two things that Maharishi said this morning were the result for people meditating, following his system of meditation. The two things he claimed were serenity and energy. Have you found them?
JOHN LENNON: I’ve got a lot more energy. It’s the same energy but I don’t have to tap it, you know.
How do you mean exactly?
JOHN LENNON: The energy that I’ve found doing meditation, you know, has been there before – only that I could access it only during good days when everything was going well. With meditation I find that it could well be pouring down rain; it is still the same amount.
Is it true that any day of meditation then is equally good?
JOHN LENNON: The worst days of meditation I have are better than the worst days I had before.
George, is it true for you as well?
GEORGE HARRISON: The energy is latently there every day, anyways. So meditation is just a natural process of contacting it. So by doing it each day you give yourself a chance of contacting this energy and giving it to yourself a little more. Consequently you’re able to do whatever you normally do – just with a little bit more happiness, maybe.
How do you reach this state in meditation? Maharishi was very clear about how he – or some teacher – gave everyone a specific sound and how each person had a sound that was trying to be in rhythm with that person.
GEORGE HARRISON: Each individual life state has its own rhythm. So they give you a word or sound – mantra – and by using this the whole idea is to transcend to the subtlest level of thought. And the mantra becomes more subtle and more subtle until finally you transcend even the mantra. Then you find yourself at this level of pure consciousness.
Is there actually anything you use to get back to the subject if you find earthly or irrelevant thoughts intruding?
JOHN LENNON: Yes, you just sort of sit there and you let your mind go wherever it goes. Whatever you’re thinking about, you just let it go.
At the moment you realize you’ve been thinking, you introduce the mantra or the vibration again, just to take over from the thought. You don’t limit it or use your willpower; you replace the thought with the mantra.
GEORGE HARRISON: Sometimes you can go on and find that you even haven’t had the mantra any more. When you reach that point, it’s deep down there beyond normal experience and that level is timeless, spaceless, without identity. So you even don’t know how long you have been there. You just have the contact and then you go back up to the gross level, to this level. That is it.
So the aim, as opposed to just sitting and thinking, is to reach a state where you have no thought?
JOHN LENNON: You are not even conscious of that sometimes. The only time you’re conscious of being awake is when you have been asleep before. So sometimes you come out and it’s been 20 minutes sitting there. Now at other times you come out and it seems like no time has gone by at all.
And can you look back at the end of that period of meditation and see what happened during the last 20 minutes?
JOHN LENNON: It’s different for different people.
GEORGE HARRISON: It’s difficult to tell anyone what is happening because the teaching is based on the individual experience.
You’re doing very well in experiencing something which probably is inexpressible. But the thing is, I mean, at the end of it – do you feel more relaxed, do you know more about yourself? Do you feel you know something more about something else?
GEORGE HARRISON: You don’t feel like you have more knowledge or anything. You might, but it doesn’t feel that way exactly. You just feel more energetic. You just come out of it and it’s been refreshing.
JOHN LENNON: It takes a lot of practice to remain in this state. We’ve been doing meditation for a matter of about six weeks, maybe. I definitely feel that it takes a long practice to be able to hold that level of consciousness, to be able to bring that level of consciousness into this grosser level.
So the aim is to carry on the state you are in during meditation when you’re here?
JOHN LENNON: In fact, Maharishi said that one of the analogies, you know, is that meditation is like dipping a cloth into gold. So you dip it in and you bring it out. If you leave it in, then it gets soggy. If you sit in a cave for the whole of your life, then you’ll get a bit soggy. So meditation is like going in and coming out, in and out – for however many years.
One of you – I think Paul McCartney – said that, in fact, this feeling that meditation gives is what drugs can give temporarily. Is that so?
GEORGE HARRISON: With drugs, you are still on the relative level. Just waiting and dreaming – all this is relative, only on this grosser level. Whereas when you meditate, it is all on a subtler level. So really you cannot compare them. With drugs you do have a glimpse of a few things, they heighten your experience. But if you take a drug and hope that it will bring the subtlety out of this grosser level – well, it will never work.
You’ve experimented with drugs, right?
JOHN LENNON: It was long ago. There was no going further. What it does is mainly finding out about your self, your ego. With acid it is all about yourself. /—/ The thing is that your true self is at a deeper level. And the way to approach it is through meditation or some other form of yoga – I’m not saying that this form of meditation is the only form that is out there. It is obviously not; yoga incorporates many different techniques. But the whole point is that each soul is divine and meditation is the technique of manifesting this, of arriving at that state which is divine.
You have had six weeks of this and it obviously has already had a tremendous impact on you. Do you find that this concern with meditation is now starting to impose – perhaps not necessarily rules but a sort of conduct for the rest of your day?
JOHN LENNON: It is just added to your routine. You are still the same. You don’t have to change your religion or anything, you know. Whatever you are, you just carry on with it.
GEORGE HARRISON: If we had Maharishi as the model to live by, it would be the same thing as Christianity. It is the answer as well, to the same thing, you know. /—/
The words – like ’God’, for instance – do they mean anything different to you now than it did before you met Maharishi?
GEORGE HARRISON: It means all kinds of things to me – the first context was ’a man in the stars’. And I’ve gone back to it now. I think it is a man in the stars as well, if you like! Divine is in everything. Every aspect of creation is a part of God, an expression of it.
I’m still concerned with the outgoing part. Is meditation solely concerned about the self or does it in any way make one more responsible for other people?
GEORGE HARRISON: Your actions – whatever they are – are your actions. It’s all about your attitude toward other people. If you treat them good, they’ll do the same; if you hit them in the face, they’ll probably do the same thing. And that’s not much to do with religion. Action and reaction, that’s the thing Christ was saying. Whatever you do, you get it back.
JOHN LENNON: It’s the same in the whole universe, in all religions. It’s just opening your mind to see that. Buddha was groovy, you know. And Jesus was all right. It’s exactly the same thing.
What differences were there, would you say, between Jesus and Maharishi, for instance?
JOHN LENNON: Well, Maharishi didn’t do miracles, you know. The giggle – I can’t say how divine or superhuman that is.
GEORGE HARRISON: Jesus was one of the divine incarnations. You know, some people like Jesus or Krishna because they were the divine the moment they were born. They chose to reincarnate, to come back in order to try to save a few more people. Whereas others manage to be born just ordinary and attain divinity in that particular incarnation.
JOHN LENNON: So Maharishi is probably one of them, you know. He is quite ordinary, but working at it. (laughter from audience)
How do you think Maharishi, his meditation could help solve the worlds problems?
JOHN LENNON: It’s only by doing it – going home and realizing the deeper levels of consciousness. The real problem is lack of wisdom in the world. So each person, each individual has something to do.
So as each person goes deeper and deeper within themselves, is each person going to find good thoughts?
JOHN LENNON: You’ll find all kinds of thoughts. The point, however, is not to think anything, but to get down there. We don’t know what would happen to a killer who did it – maybe meditation would change his mind, you know. We don’t know about that, you should ask Maharishi about that. But it’s the proper good. And it’s simple.
The Beatles. (2000.) The Beatles Anthology. Chronicle Books. 320 pages.
Kozinn, A. (2008.) “Meditation on The Man Who Saved the Beatles”. The New York Times.
Frost, D. (1967.) Interview with John Lennon and George Harrison. Audio recording from The Frost Show.