In the spring of 1959, the Indian meditation teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi set off around the globe to bring the Transcendental Meditation technique to those willing to learn.
He was about to change the cultural history of the Western world.
A sage in sandals
Most sources, though not all, agree that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was born 12th of January 1917 in India. He studied Physics at Allahabad University and received his Master’s degree in 1940. After finishing his academic studies, however, he decided to look for deeper meaning in life — he started rigorous yoga and meditation practice as a disciple of a highly revered yogi, Guru Dev.
After his teacher’s death, Maharishi began his first teaching tour in the Far East, then crossed the ocean in 1958 – taking the knowledge about Transcendental Meditation to the USA and Europe.
He declared 1959 ’the year of global awakening’.
Arrival in Los Angeles
“My mother went to hear Maharishi’s lecture in Los Angeles, in 1959,” recalls Theresa Olson who was a 10-year-old at the time.
“So here was a man with long black hair, and long black beard, dressed in white silks and … sandals! Maharishi sat cross-legged, and instead of looking at the audience, he closed his eyes.
Silence descended in the room.
After a few minutes, Maharishi opened his eyes, extended his hand, open-palm, to everyone. My mom said her heart fell into his palm… Then he began speaking: “Mankind was not born to suffer, mankind was born to enjoy. The purpose of life is to expand happiness.“
My mother, as a philosophy major, was enraptured. She learned after the lecture that Maharishi needed a house to stay in – so my mother didn’t hesitate for a second and invited him over to our place.“
Family home turned into a lecture hall
Maharishi continued with his lectures on meditation, usually using a local Presbyterian church as his venue. Then, one day, he opted for something cozier.
Theresa Olson says, “My mom came home from work one day, and asked where the lecture was going to be that day. Maharishi replied, “Come, I thought of something better for today!”, and he took us to our living room. The heavy furniture – the sofas, the piano – had been pushed back against the walls and rows of folding chairs set up instead.”
That was going to be an established configuration in the Olsons’ living room for many years to come.
The audience kept growing, comprising people from all walks of life – merchants, teachers, artists, full-time spiritual seekers…
The house at 433, Harvard Boulevard turned into Maharishi’s US headquarters. It was from this middle-class, clean-cut American entry gate that the ancient wisdom of meditation became available, eventually, to millions of people seeking enlightenment or proven health benefits.
Teaching the Beatles
One of the great milestones on this road was Maharishi’s encounter with The Beatles in 1967.
By that time, Maharishi was already a famous and renowned teacher; and the Fab Four, at the height of their creative powers, had established themselves as one of the cultural icons of the 20th century.
The Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi while he was on a lecture tour in London, UK. After visiting one of Maharishi’s lectures, the Beatles 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.
Here’s a good collection of original materials on what the Beatles themselves have said about their relationship with Maharishi, and with the TM technique.
It is beyond reasonable doubt, however, that the interest the Beatles showed for TM helped to make ‘meditation’ a household term everywhere across the globe.
Setting up a global organization
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi kept working tirelessly – touring the world, writing books, certifying over 40 000 meditation teachers, setting up TM centres, schools and universities (the most famous of which is Maharishi University of Management in the U.S.).
“Maharishi was one of the first meditation teachers to encourage modern scientific research to study the impact of meditation on our mind and body,” says Mario Orsatti, a TM teacher and student of Maharishi.
In India, there is a lot of deep cultural context and tradition for thinking about meditation. But in the West, things were very different in this respect.
“Here, people are interested in new, useful, practical things — and that’s why, already from his very first lectures at UCLA and Harvard in the late 1960s, Maharishi encouraged scientists to take a close, scientific look at TM meditation,” explains Orsatti.
“That was a really revolutionary approach, and we probably wouldn’t be talking about meditation today if Maharishi had not involved research in this way.”
Maharishi died on February 5, 2008, having made the teachings on Transcendental Meditation available in almost every corner of the world and having touched the lives of millions of people.
Books by and on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Science of Being and Art of Living: Transcendental Meditation by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. 432 pages, 1963.
In his very first book, Maharishi dealt systematically with vitally important philosophical, scientific and practical questions to unfold his vision of “a new humanity developed in all life’s values”.
The book has by now seen several reprints and reached millions of readers world over. — Read excerpts
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the Bhagavad-Gita: A new translation and commentary, chapters 1-6 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. 494 pages, 1967.
One of the foremost talents of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was his ability to speak to people using simple metaphors and everyday language.
If, however, you would like to experience the real depths of his knowledge, read his translation and commentaries on this ancient Vedic scripture. — Read full review
His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: A living saint for the new millennium: Stories of his first visit to the USA by Roland and Helena Olson. 307 pages, 2001.
Simply out of curiosity, Helen and Roland Olson went to see a lecture by an Indian guru advertised in the Los Angeles Times.
Following the lecture, they invited the speaker – a certain Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – to live and carry out his teaching at their home. — Read full review
Video lectures and speeches
Maharishi’s lecture on stress and infinite awareness:
Documentary about his life and teachings by History Channel:
Watch more Maharishi Mahesh Yogi videos
Some telling quotes by Maharishi
“Success in anything is through happiness.”
“We must take situations as they are. We must only change our mental attitudes towards them.”
“The important thing is this: to be able, at any moment, to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”
“Life finds its purpose and fulfillment in the expansion of happiness.”
“Whatever we put our attention on, will grow stronger in our life.”
“Transcendental Meditation opens the awareness to the infinite reservoir of energy, creativity, and intelligence that lies deep within everyone.“
“By enlivening this most basic level of life, Transcendental Meditation is that one simple procedure which can raise the life of every individual and every society to its full dignity, in which problems are absent and perfect health, happiness, and a rapid pace of progress are the natural features of life.”
“The golden gate to peace in life is the experience of bliss, and it is easy for everyone to acquire this great glory and live it throughout life.”
“You are the master of all the laws of nature if you know the transcendental field.”
“It is the purity of man’s heart and mind, and his innocent and faithful approach to action with the purpose of all good to everyone, which really succeeds in yielding maximum results with minimum effort.”
“What makes one luckier is the good that he has done to others. It comes back to him.”
“Responsibility can never be given. It can only be taken.”
“Don’t go for what you know you can get. Go for what you really want.”
READ MORE: Collection of Maharishi’s most memorable quotes