The Hague, Netherlands – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the high-profile guru who founded the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement and popularized Indian spirituality among jet-setting celebrities, passed away on Tuesday, February 5, at his home in the Dutch town of Vlodrop, a TM spokesman told the Associated Press.
Unconfirmed reports state that the spiritual teacher was 91 years old and died of natural causes.
The subject of both praise and criticism, the Maharishi’s teachings promoted the chanting of mantras and introspection to help practitioners control their minds. Maharishi began teaching his meditation techniques – rooted in the Advaita school of Hinduism – in 1955, and brought them west in 1959. Although some initially dismissed his movement as a counterculture fad, Transcendental Meditation gradually grew to be accepted, and even respected, in the mainstream.
Celebrity TM practitioners include Academy Award winning director David Lynch, Beach Boy Mike Love, singer-songwriter Donovan, and Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood.
Perhaps the most famous celebrities to learn from the Maharishi, however, were the Beatles, who visited his Rishikesh ashram in 1968. That visit ended abruptly, with the Fab Four returning to England amidst rumors that Maharishi had made advances towards female students. The episode reportedly inspired John Lennon to pen the Beatles song “Sexy Sadie” (originally titled “Maharishi”) about his sense of disillusionment. Interestingly, several of the individuals there – including Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison – later discounted the accusations as “completely untrue,” asserting that the rumors were deliberately started by controversial Beatles entourage member “Magic Alex” Mardis to undermine Maharishi’s influence.
George Harrison, who would go on to embrace the teachings of the Hare Krishna movement, maintained a sense of respect and gratitude towards Maharishi.
“George credited the Maharishi with orchestrating one of the greatest experiences of his life,” said Harrison biographer and ISKCON devotee Joshua Greene (Yogesvara Dasa). Greene recounts that George visited Maharishi in the 1990s and asked that the guru forgive him and his friends for how they behaved in Rishikesh; the spiritual teacher told the musician that he considered the Beatles “angels in disguise” and that there was nothing to forgive.
Since Transcendental Meditation and Krishna Consciousness both gained popularity among western seekers of the 1960s counterculture, the two movements were often confused or conflated. While they share certain general practices, such as the chanting of mantras, the two movements are at philosophical loggerheads: TM promotes an impersonal conception of divinity while the Hare Krishna movement represents the devotional monotheism of the Vaishnava tradition.