The Beatles were at the height of rock stardom when they realized they could reach higher states of consciousness. George Harrison learned practice was not limited to performance as he changed the entire approach to making music to merge the spiritual. The lead guitarist of the most popular band in the world added tambura and sitar to his arsenal of stringed instruments, taking lessons from Indian maestro Ravi Shankar himself. But Harrison was searching for “The Inner Light,” which John Lennon assured listeners “Tomorrow Never Knows,” a title suggested by Ringo Starr. The drummer in the greatest show on the earth was also considered the best meditator of the quartet by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This is only one revelation found in Susan Shumsky’s book Maharishi & Me: Seeking Enlightenment with the Beatles’ Guru.
The Beatles had a famous falling out with Maharishi after the group spent time in Rishikesh, India on a meditation retreat. Lennon used his anger for the guru to fuel his song “Sexy Sadie.” He also used the relaxing escape from the pressures of fame to write dozens of other songs. All the Beatles did. Paul McCartney was the first to single out Maharishi in his song “Fool on the Hill” off the Magical Mystery Tour album and film. The song came at the beginning of their relationship with Maharishi, and was filled with the promise of spiritual enlightenment to come. Lennon came to the conclusion the man with his head in the clouds made fools of everyone.
According to most reports, interviews and the Beatles mythology, the band left Maharishi’s camp because the celibate spiritual master might have been trying to turn people on with more than a smile. The line about giving up everything to sit at a table was only an exaggeration, as Mahesh expected The Beatles to tithe their earnings into a Swiss bank account, and the band bristled at being filmed at the ashram. On the other side, Deepak Chopra also claimed the Beatles were asked to leave the ashram because they’d been doing drugs.
Shumsky, who has been teaching meditation for 50 years, served on Maharishi’s personal staff for six years. While the 22 years she spent with the giggling guru weren’t all laughs, the author of Divine Revelation, published by Simon & Schuster, Exploring Meditation, and several other enlightening books, did get to experience the inner knowledge of an inner circle. Besides the controversial parting of ways, she also sheds light on some unexpected musical connections to the mythic mystic. Shumsky gave Den of Geek a magical mystical tour of one of the band’s most creative periods.
Den of Geek: Before we get into the mysticism, I wanted to start with some music. What do you think of “Sexy Sadie” as a song?
Susan Shumsky: Okay. Let me just think of it in my mind. I think it’s a great song. Of course, I’m a big Beatles fan. I love almost every one of their songs. The only one I don’t love is that stupid one that didn’t get on the White Album, “Mary Jane had a pain at the party.” Yeah. I love “Sexy Sadie” as a song, but I’m not a musicologist.
Lennon also used his anger at Paul McCartney in his solo song “How Do You Sleep,” referencing “Yesterday” and “Another Day.” Do you think the line, “Made a fool of everyone,” was a reference to the song “Fool on the Hill,” which was written before the Beatles left for the ashram and saw nothing but possibilities?
Well, I never thought of that. “Made a fool of everyone.” I mean, yeah. It could be, because “Fool on the Hill” is definitely about Maharishi. It was written by Paul. Yes, but they were angry at Maharishi, because they felt that he had made a fool out of them. They felt he had used them for publicity. It wasn’t just the Apple Corps film deal that went south, but it also the fact Maharishi several times had told ABC that he would do a special with the Beatles, and in fact Peter Brown flew to Stockholm with Paul and George for the express purpose of telling him to stop talking to the TV stations, and stop promising that they would do a special for ABC. They were really angry, and very disillusioned by Maharishi.
What form of yoga is TM based on? Is it Kriya Yoga?
I believe it’s based on Raja Yoga. But also, the mantras that are taught in TM, those are tantric mantras. There’s a little tantra thrown in there, too. Kriya Yoga is a type of yoga that uses a specific focus in the chakras and along a kind of a circuit. It’s similar in a way to the Taoist method of meditation called the Microcosmic Orbit, and it has nothing to do with TM. Kriya Yoga was very much promoted by and taught by Paramahansa Yogananda. There is a connection to Kriya Yoga with George Harrison, because of the book Autobiography of a Yogi, that he gave out to people. He would give that book to people because it was his favorite book. It’s one of my favorite books as well. It was definitely the first spiritual book I ever read about Indian meditation, and gurus, and yogis, and all of that.
Why would rock stars find solace in TM?
Well, like anyone would look to TM: Because it’s a very simple, easy to practice form of meditation. It works. It does produce the results promised, and it became popular because of the Beatles, so that’s why other rock stars wanted to get on the bandwagon, because of the Beatles getting into it.
Okay. What were the Beatles looking for, do you think?
Well, you know, they were looking, just like the rest of us. In that counterculture movement, we were all seeking nirvana through LSD. We thought that LSD was the way to get there, because we read The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. I went to a live talk that they did, and they referred to the Tibetan Book of the Dead in their book, and they talked about, “Turn off your mind, relax, and flow downstream.” That’s a lyric that John Lennon used in one of his songs.
“Tomorrow Never Knows.”
It was specifically about the Tibetan Book of the Dead, about The Psychedelic Experience. We were all seeking nirvana, or satori, or samadhi, whichever culture you come from. Nirvana would be Buddhist, satori would be Zen Buddhist, samadhi would be from India, Hindu. We were looking for that state. Those are just three words that describe the same state of what’s called turiya, which the fourth state of consciousness, beyond waking, dreaming, and sleeping. The fourth state would be turiya, which is samadhi, and that state is beyond duality. It’s a state of deep relaxation and peace, and wholeness, and oneness, a state of unbounded awareness, limitlessness. We were all seeking that. We thought we would get it through LSD, but I certainly didn’t. As a matter of fact, I had a horrible, terrifying experience the first time I took LSD. I didn’t come down from the drug for months. I was having terrifying LSD flashbacks for months.
The Beatles, when they first met Maharishi on August 24 of 1967, they expressed to Maharishi that they had tried to reach these higher states of consciousness through drugs, but it didn’t work. It didn’t work for them. Maharishi, at one point, said it was very laudable that the youth of today are trying to achieve higher states of consciousness, but drugs are not the way to do that. Meditation is the way to do that.
Let’s get into the Sexy Sadie, the different versions, and why the Beatles left. The book Lennon Remembers and Peter Brown’s book The Love You Make both point to the actress Mia Farrow as the object of the guru’s attention. Now, it’s been denied, but she herself, and in your book, you quote her as saying she could tell a pass from a Puja. Why has it been denied, and what’s the background to that?
It was on her birthday, February 9, 1968, and Maharishi would always do puja for people that were close to him. Puja is a ceremony that is done when you learn transcendental meditation. It’s an invocation of the masters of the holy tradition that are behind transcendental meditation. It’s a ceremony done in all the Hindu temples. They do it to deities in the Hindu temple. They do it to what they call murtis, which are the deities in the temple. But in Maharishi’s case, the puja is done to Guru Dev, Maharishi’s guru. His name was Brahmananda Saraswati. Maharishi was doing the puja in celebration of Mia’s birthday, and he used to do that. I was on his staff for six years, and every birthday, he would invite me to come to his room, and we did the puja ceremony.
He did this for Mia on her birthday, and then after the puja, he stroked her hair. That same night, she reported it to a group of people who were at a party. Later in her autobiography, she said he wasn’t just stroking her hair. Also, he put his “hairy arms” around her, and was trying to hug her. My friend Ned Wynn, who was the son of Keenan Wynn and grandson of Ed Wynn, famous actors from the 20th century, Mia Farrow told him personally that Maharishi definitely tried to get her to lie down with him.
That night at the party, when people objected to er claim that he was making a pass at her, she said, “Look, I’m no fucking dumbbell. I know a pass when I see one.” When people told her she misconstrued Maharishi’s intentions, she insisted, “Listen, I know a pass from a puja.”
And you believe that happened?
Yes, I believe it happened. Three decades later she said in her autobiography that, because of her state of mind at the time, even if Jesus Christ tried to hug her, she would have misinterpreted it. She kind of backpedaled on that, and George Harrison also backpedaled on it. In 1970 George said, “It’s probably in the history books that Maharishi ‘tried to attack Mia Farrow’—but it’s total bullshit. There were a lot of flakes there; the whole place was full of flaky people. Some of them were us.” So George backpedaled totally. Actually, John Lennon never backpedaled, but the other Beatles did.
Now, Paul and Ringo weren’t even there. Ringo left Rishikesh after 10 days, and Paul left after five weeks. By the way, Mia wasn’t there when they left India. She left on March 7. The Beatles left on April 10. She had nothing to do with the Beatles leaving. The Beatles left because of Rosalyn Bonas. That was one of the reasons they left. They left, number one, because of the film deal gone south. Number two, because of Rosalyn Bonas, and number three, if you believe Deepak Chopra, in his report, in the Times of India, 2006 was George Harrison claimed that Maharishi asked them to leave.
He asked them to leave because some people in their party were taking drugs and alcohol. I believe that because it was verified by Mike Dolan as well. Mike Dolan was living in the room right next to Rosalyn, and every night he would listen to Magic Alex and Rosalyn having sex, and apparently Magic Alex smuggled alcohol into the ashram. I don’t know about hashish. The only hashish stories I know about are the one about Donovan, where he threw into the Ganges the hashish Mia’s brother John Farrow offered him, and the one where Wonderwall film director Joe Massot smuggled in hashish and imbibed with John Lennon. I don’t know if they were smoking hashish aside from those two people. But what we do know is that Rosalyn and Magic Alex told the people at the ashram that Maharishi had made a pass at her, and I believe it’s true. The reason I believe it’s true is because I know eight women personally who Maharishi made a pass at, and either had sex with or were bidden to have sex with.
I actually want to clear this up. There’s two different questions that come out here that are separate issues of this. One, do you think the Maharishi would have asked the Beatles, would have traded the potential fame he could have gotten from them, and kicked them out over drugs?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t think it was the Beatles that they were kicking out. I actually didn’t finish the story about Mike Dolan.
Mike Dolan was living next door to Rosalyn at the ashram, and one night, Rhaghvendra, who was one of Maharishi’s brahmacharyas, in other words, personal assistants, and who was close to Mike Dolan, came to Mike and said, “Maharishi’s going to ask Rosalyn to leave.” I believe that it wasn’t John and George that were being asked to leave. I believe it was Rosalyn and Alexis that were asked to leave. I believe what happened was, once the Beatles found out that Ros and Alex were asked to leave, they all got in a big huff over it, because Maharishi had made a pass at Rosalyn, and they decided that everybody should just leave. That’s what I think happened.
Do you think he actually made a pass at Rosalyn?
Yes. Yes, I do. I’ve even spoken to Rosalyn, but she would not confirm, but another woman who had an affair with Maharishi for over a year confirmed that definitely he made a pass at Rosalyn. She’s very close friends with Rosalyn, and I believe it. But I wasn’t there, you know? He never made a pass at me.
Now, this is “making a pass.” He was never accused of actually forcing himself, was he?
Okay. He’s never forced himself on anyone. He has, in a couple of cases that I’m aware of, he has exposed himself.
That’s new to me.
I didn’t put it in my book because I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to make my book all about Maharishi’s sexual affairs, so I did not put that in my book, but it is true. He has exposed himself on a few occasions that women told me about. One of those occasions, according to my very reputable source, was Rosalyn.
Okay. Now, to the things that we’ve known, that Lennon was upset about, if the ’60s were such a swinging generation, why would the Maharishi making a pass at someone upset people so much?
Because of the fact that Maharishi claimed to be Bal Brahmachari, which means “life celibate.” He claimed to be, in fact, even signed his name as Bal Brahmachari Mahesh Yogi. He was supposedly a life celibate, but he wasn’t. Also, he encouraged his disciples to be celibate. He told his personal attendants to be celibate. He even told married people that they should have celibate marriages. I mean, he was really strong on advocating celibacy, and so people got angry because they thought that he was a hypocrite.
But yeah, swinging ’60s, I mean, for example, when John Lennon got back to England after they had left the ashram, Paul asked what happened. John said Maharishi made a pass at the blonde American who looked like Mia Farrow. Paul asked, “Yes? What’s wrong with that?” Feeling duped, used, and angry as hell, John answered, “Well, you know, he’s just a bloody old letch just like everybody else. What the fuck, we can’t go following that!” Paul said, “But he never said he was a god. In fact very much the opposite, he said, ‘Don’t treat me like a god, I’m just a meditation teacher.’” Paul, who believed this was just John’s excuse to leave the ashram, commented: “It’s really funny, John’s reaction to this sexual thing. It seemed a little prudish to me. It became public that we didn’t like Maharishi but I never felt that way.”
It’s true. Maharishi was always that way. He never placed himself up as some kind of special guru that people should bow to. In fact, he would never allow anyone to touch his feet, which is standard in India. When you go to a guru, you touch their feet, or even prostrate to them, you know? He Maharishi would never let anyone do that. He always said, “I’m just an ordinary person. I’m just a meditation teacher.” And that’s how Paul McCartney answered Lennon, according to Paul’s biography written by Barry Miles.
What energy does celibacy bring up?
That same kundalini energy that Kriya Yoga and Kundalini Yoga increases. That is the spiritual energy in the body, you’re supposed to keep it flowing upwards all the time, and never let it go down. In other words, never ejaculate. Never have an orgasm, because that brings that spiritual energy down. When you ejaculate, the spiritual energy gets lost. That’s traditional. I mean, that’s the reason people are celibate. That’s the reason even monks and nuns are celibate, and why people in India become celibate sadhus and sanyasins, who are spiritual seekers. They keep the energy flowing upwards as much as possible, and try not to even have night ejaculations. That’s the reason why they wear the loincloth. In the book, I explain about how the loincloth is wrapped so that you don’t have, don’t lose the energy at night. Remember that, in the book?
Yes. Yes, I do. Actually, there was something else in the book that you pointed out. Tell me about the opposite of that. Krishna had a large sexual appetite. Tell me a little bit about the magic of that.
Well, Krishna, I think that’s not supposed to be taken literally as him having sex with a million Gopis. Krishna is supposed to represent the absolute, and the dancing Gopis are supposed to represent the play of the absolute. In other words, we have the absolute pure consciousness, which is the basis of everything in the universe, and then we have the relative, dualistic creation, which is like a play or drama, or a dance that’s going on all the time. It’s supposed to be an analogy, I think, more than an actual thing, but yes. Some people take it literally, and they think that since Krishna was having sex with all these women, and Maharishi was having sex with a lot of women, it means Maharishi is Krishna. It’s a crazy idea that I just think is silly, but some people actually believe that. I’ve heard it from some people who practice TM, believe it or not.
Okay. You also, in the book, include a quote from Lennon saying that he felt a kind of magnetism pulling him. Is this paranoia, or are such things possible for someone who practices this sort of thing?
Yes. Maharishi was incredibly magnetic, incredibly charismatic. He was the most powerful, magnetically charismatic person I’ve ever met. He was also the happiest person I ever met, and he was filled with this energy that you wanted to be near him all the time. All of us who were on his staff, we fought each other to get in the room with him. We were continually competing to get close to him, to get near him, and the reason for that is because when you were close to him, you would feel these waves of bliss coming from him, especially from his eyes. If he looked at you, there was a transference of energy, which is traditional in India, by the way. That transfer of energy, you get it by osmosis, just by sitting close to him, but if he looks at you and puts his attention on you, it’s amplified tremendously. You’re feeling these waves of bliss and waves of love, this unconditional love like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. That’s why so many people were attracted to Maharishi. He had this charisma, this Shakti that he transmitted to people around him. Yeah. It was very competitive.
Okay. Is that the same as Shaktipat?
When people go to the Hugging Saints or Mother Meera, it is the same?
They transfer their energy that way. Maharishi transfers it through his eyes. Some people transfer through their touch. Jesus was said to transfer it through his touch, like the story about the woman touching the hem of his garment and Jesus felt the energy leaving him. It’s talked about in the Bible as well. Yeah.
After Harrison left, the Maharishi became a disciple of Bhaktivedanta?
Right. He was involved with Bhaktivedanta. He was involved with ISKCON, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and he did leave some money to them. I’m told he left some money to TM in his will, as well.
But I tell you, George Harrison was extremely disillusioned. He was so devastated by that split with Maharishi, and people don’t know about that, because the Beatles did not speak about it. When they got back, they made a pact not to speak about the reason they left India. Somebody I interviewed who was very close to George Harrison, in fact, a family member, told me that he was completely devastated by this experience of splitting with Maharishi, because he had put so much faith and trust in Maharishi, and they all did. John and George stayed in Rishikesh two months, so they were very invested, and they got very upset and disillusioned. John was extremely angry. That’s the reason he wrote “Sexy Sadie.” He was so mad. George wasn’t angry like that, but he was just sad, and upset, and devastated.
Was it the business, the film or the sex scandal that actually caused them to leave? Because all three seem to have equal weight.
I think that first of all, there was the film. I mean, just imagine this contract being signed behind your back, and you don’t even know about it. Early in the morning, bed-headed, bleary-eyed John Lennon opens the door to his bungalow, and there’s a cameraman and a director yelling, “Action!” And now you’re supposed to be a two-bit player in someone else’s film, and meanwhile, your crew is sitting in Delhi waiting to come to Rishikesh to do your film, and there’s another crew that shows up, “Lights, camera, action,” you know. So John and George refused to leave their room, and they wouldn’t go to the lecture hall where the lights and camera were set up. They got very angry, obviously.
Then there’s the added thing about Rosalyn. I don’t think that probably had as much weight as the film deal because I think they really felt they were being used. Listen to the lyrics of the song. “You made a fool of everyone.” They felt that Maharishi had been using them for publicity all along. Even though, by the way, they never paid Maharishi one dime to take the course, anything. Maharishi always treated them like royalty, like guests, and that was true of Mia Farrow, too. Never paid a dime to Maharishi.
But still, they felt they were being used. Absolutely. Maharishi did use them, because he became very popular as a result of his association with a little help from his friends, the Beatles. But Maharishi became massively more famous in the 1970s, years after the Beatles walked out on him.
Tony Cox, Yoko Ono’s ex-husband, what was his connection to TM?
Tony Cox was a TM practitioner, and he became a TM teacher. He was meditating on the course in Mallorca Spain with his new wife, Melinda Kendall, who wasn’t Yoko Ono. He had custody of Kyoko, the daughter, and then John Lennon and Yoko showed up in Mallorca to “collect” the child. So they found out where child care was and kidnapped the child at 1:00 PM, and by 5:00 they were arrested, and then that night, by 8:00, they had returned the child to her rightful guardian, which was the father, Tony. Then John and Yoko were given conditional release that they could leave Mallorca. And they wouldn’t be jailed as long as they left the country and flew back to Paris. Meanwhile, they made friends with the constable over there, and they were having tea with him. He got to hang out with some celebrities, so he let them go.
Everyone knows Prudence Farrow is “Dear Prudence,” but you had a different take on it. First of all, does she still teach TM?
She certainly does, and she teaches yoga as well. I mean, yoga exercises. She also teaches Sanskrit.
Tell me about the distraction that she found in the ashram that led to “Dear Prudence.”
There were, let’s see, probably seven puris, puri meaning the barracks. Each person had their own separate room. There were these U-shaped barracks , and Prudence was housed in the same barracks with the Beatles. She hated that, because she wanted to have silent meditation. She was really into meditations. Very, very much wanted to spend all her time with her eyes closed. She was like me, just obsessed with meditation. Didn’t want to come out. She wanted to stay in silence, and she didn’t like the fact that the Beatles were making all this noise, and Maharishi asked John and George to look in on her. Paul and Ringo were already gone by this time. John and George were just kind of looking in on her, and one day they burst into her room singing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and singing “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” She was nice to them, and she thought it was sweet that they cared about her and sang to her, but she just wanted them to go away so she could have silent meditation. They never sang “Dear Prudence” to her, actually.
But at the end of their stay, when George was leaving, he told her that John Lennon had written a song for her. Now, she was worried that that song would make fun of her. She had terrifying LSD flashbacks on the course, and had a very serious psychotic episode, which she overcame with Maharishi’s guidance. In any case, George Harrison sent a note to Prudence saying that John Lennon had written a song about her. Then she didn’t hear the song until the White Album came out and when she heard, she was so happy, because it was such a sweet song, and she was so glad they weren’t making fun of her. She was afraid they would make fun of her because of the horrible things she went through there.
Just for fun, I have two movie reference questions I have for you. The movie Yellow Submarine, Jeremy Hillary Boob, do you think he’s the Maharishi?
Wow. That’s an interesting idea. It never occurred to me. The Nowhere Man. Never thought of that, but reality is, the Beatles had nothing to do with the creation of that movie. Absolutely nothing to do with it. It was created by the genius artist Heinz Edelmann with the help of incredibly talented animators and hundreds of unpaid volunteer artists in London who worked on it in the middle of the night.
The Beatles, they would contribute little pieces of whatever, but the people that wrote it, I assume, knew the Beatles mythology and were playing on it.
Well, the Beatles had nothing to do with Yellow Submarine. They hated the idea. They were afraid it was gonna be like the cartoon that had been done in Canada. They detested the little figures that were drawn of them, and they hated that cartoon, and they thought Yellow Submarine was gonna be similar to that. But then when they saw it, and they saw what a masterpiece it was, and how incredible it was, then they wanted to be involved, but it was too late. The only thing they contributed was that little cameo at the very end of the film, and that’s it.
I would say no, it’s not possible for Jeremy Hillary Boob to be Maharishi, because they were not involved with the film. But you know, there’s a lot of very interesting hidden things about Yellow Submarine. I studied it because I was a guest speaker at a showing of Yellow Submarine. I very much studied everything about Yellow Submarine.
The film Help!, this is long before the Maharishi, but it really is where George first picked up a sitar and discovered the East. Now, the people at the heart of Help! are not their thuggees, they are not Kashmir Shaivist, but do you think that there is a direct line from Help! to the Maharishi?
Definitely. Well, they were into Eastern thought from the beginning. Like I said, it was the ’60s. We were flower children. We were so into Eastern wisdom and Eastern philosophy. We were seeking nirvana. We were seeking higher consciousness. We had to look to the East to seek that, because it wasn’t available in the West. We were all looking towards Eastern philosophy for the answers, and I was on the same track as the Beatles were. We thought we would get there through drugs, you know? Because that’s what they told us. People like Timothy Leary. That was the hip thing back then, was to be into Hinduism, Hindu philosophy, tantra, or whatever it is, whichever path it would be, Vedanta, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, all the different paths of yoga. Tantra Yoga is one of those. That’s the worship of Kali. Kali is done in the Tantric Sect, which they call the left-hand path. Yes. There is a direct reference to Eastern wisdom way back in Help!. Yes.
What is a guru?
Okay. The word “guru” comes from two roots, “gu” and “ru,” which mean “light” and “darkness.” You’ve got the guru, who is shedding light upon the darkness, and it literally is translated as “teacher.” A guru is a teacher. One who sheds light upon the darkness.
Are you a guru in the Divine Revelation practice?
I don’t call myself a guru. I’m a meditation teacher.
Is Divine Revelation an extension of what you learned from TM?
It’s not an extension of TM at all. It’s a completely different kind of practice. It does not use a mantra. It’s not based on TM at all. The main tenet of it is, “Ask and it shall be given unto you.” It’s about asking and receiving, and being able to communicate directly with God. Being able to connect directly with your higher self, and to receive wisdom, inspiration, healing, creative ideas, being able to have conversations with your higher self, and get answers to your questions, get guidance, and have direct contact with the divine presence that’s within you. It’s just done simply by asking for it. There’s no mantra involved or anything like that.
In the book, you describe how you actually hear it. Tell me a little bit about that.
Well, there’s three ways that you receive messages from Spirit, with a capital S. It’s either through seeing, which is clairvoyance, or hearing, which is clairaudience, or feeling, which is clairsentience. The hearing would be hearing the inner voice, or the still, small voice within, I like to call it. You’re communicating with that divine presence within you, and you’re receiving the messages in one of those three ways, and through words is one of those ways. You’d be hearing a voice that would speak to you, and it just sounds like your own thoughts, really, but it has a different kind of vibration. It’s a higher vibrational quality. I really love the practice. That’s why I teach it and I’ve written many, many books about it. I prefer it to TM, although I think TM is actually a wonderful meditation practice. I did it for 22 years. I loved it. Even today, I recommend people to do it, especially if they’re extremely stressed or if they’re just a beginner who wants to learn a simple way to meditate that works, I tell them, “Okay, go do TM. Especially if you’re really stressed out, it will help you. It will calm you down. It’ll reduce your blood pressure, and you’ll feel much better physically, and emotionally, and in every way.”
I still think TM is great, but I don’t practice it. I practice this other form of meditation that I like better. My form of meditation is much more of a devotional path. It’s much more devotion to God, shall we say.
I understand. You worked and lived in the Maharishi’s ashram for 22 years. How difficult was it for you to get out?
I actually got kicked out. I was blacklisted, so getting out was not hard at all. After so many years in the ashram, and then I was promoting and teaching Divine Revelation, and that didn’t go over too well with the people in charge there, the executive board. They didn’t think it that was too cool, for a TM teacher to be doing anything else. It was extremely strict. By the 1980s, TM was no longer just a meditation technique you did 20 minutes twice a day. It became a cult, basically. It overtook our lives. It wasn’t just about the meditations in morning and evening. Now we had to follow all these practices, all the time, and we couldn’t be off the program. If we were off the program, then we would get kicked out. I was actually teaching another form of meditation. That was way off the program. That was definitely not allowed.
I have to say, the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when I went to the MIU Library in Fairfield, Iowa, the Maharishi International University Library there, and I noticed that all the spiritual books had been purged from the library. Books like Yogananda’s books, Vivekananda’s books, Ramana Maharshi’s books, all the spiritual books, all the new age books had been removed from the library, and people were no longer allowed to read those books. In fact, it was so strict that people weren’t allowed to visit any other spiritual teachers, and they couldn’t even take a vacation to India. It was just so heavy-handed, very strict. And people like John Gray and his wife Barbara DeAngelis, at the time, they were teaching relationship courses. Had nothing to do with meditation, and they got blacklisted for doing that. Crazy.
It just became impossible, and by the way, I was blacklisted and I didn’t care. By that time I was already very much involved with Divine Revelation, but I couldn’t really stay there, because everybody was giving me dirty looks, and I was persona non grata. I had to leave, so I left.
And the Maharishi played psychological games with you as well throughout your entire tenure?
He certainly did, and I have to just say that that’s traditional, though, in India. That’s the way gurus work. If you read about it, for example, in Autobiography of a Yogi, which is the classic book about the guru-disciple relationship, you find that Yogananda’s guru did exactly the same thing.
There are other examples, too. Milarepa was another book about that, and also Irina Tweedie’s books Chasm of Fire and Daughter of Fire. Her books talk about that too. There are few books, a handful of books that talk about what it’s really like to be in an ashram with a spiritual master from the Far East, and it’s rough. It’s like being with a military drill instructor. They break down your ego. That’s what the military does, too. Very similar.
I know how many of the songs are related to the stay at Rishikesh, and some I hadn’t realized. But let’s start with “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” because your book gets into it. Just say that quickly, because then people will read the book for the rest of it. Don’t tell the whole story.
Bungalow Bill was a real person, Rik Cooke, and his mom was Nancy Jackson. They went out on a tiger hunting safari where they rode out on eight elephants that drove tigers into a kill zone, and then Rik killed a tiger. The lyrics of the song tell the entire story, of what happened. The song is a very accurate story of what actually went on in that tiger hunt. Nancy was taking the teacher training course, and her son Rik was visiting her. He was not on the course.
Okay. “Get Back?”
Well, “Get Back,” people don’t know about that, because it’s not written anywhere except in my book and one other book by Paul Mason [The Beatles, Drugs, Mysticism & India], but I’ve known about it since the 60s, because Terry Gustafson was at the Berkeley TM Center. That was my TM center, and so he was a close friend of mine. He was originally from Tucson, Arizona. He was a ranger at the Sequoia National Park, and he had a very bad divorce. He was taking LSD weekly for six months, and then finally gave up on that, and then he learned TM in 1967 from Jerry Jarvis in Berkeley, and then at the end of 1967, he quit his Parks Service job, and he flew to Rishikesh.
Then one night, outside the lecture hall, he came across John Lennon, and Terry was dressed really conservatively in short hair and khakis. I think he might have exaggerated, but he described John as wearing a flowing paisley cape, an Indian shirt, a red sash, white bellbottom pants, and green Egyptian slippers with curled up toes, and his hair was dyed five different colors. I think that part is definitely an exaggeration. He said he was wearing eyeglasses with strobe lights built into the eyeglasses that flashed on and off. I believe that, because we did have those in the ’60s.
John said to Terry, “Look at you. Look at me. One of us don’t belong here. Get back to the forest. Get back to Tucson, Arizona. Get back where you belong.” After that, every time John would see Terry, he would tell him to get back, when their paths crossed. Terry claims this is how the song “Get Back” was conceived, although I have to admit that Paul McCartney’ wrote the song. It wasn’t John.
Harrison said that it referred to “the grief I was catching” from Lennon and McCartney for leading them to Rishikesh, and supposedly hindering the group’s career and the launch of their Apple Records label.” Another quote from George is, “It was me getting pissed off at Lennon and McCartney for the grief I was catching during the making of The White Album. I said I wasn’t guilty of getting in the way of their career. I said I wasn’t guilty of leading them astray, in our going to Rishikesh to see the Maharishi. I was sticking up for myself.”
He said, “Not guilty for leading you astray on the road to Mandalay.” That’s the verse that refers to Maharishi. “I only want what I can get.” Oh, and the lyric also said, “Not guilty for looking like a freak, making friends with every Sikh.” Yeah. He was the one that was leading them into all this spirituality, and India. That’s what he was talking about there.
Why Don’t We Do it in the Road seems counterproductive to the celibacy, so why don’t we?
Oh, yeah. Why Don’t We Do it in the Road is great. Great song. Fun song.
That was because in India Paul McCartney saw two monkeys copulating, and it occurred to him that people’s sexuality should be natural, and simple, and as free as animals, so Why Don’t We Do it in the Road, you know?
I always thought “Blackbird” was written in 1965.
“Blackbird” was written when they were in India, and when it was first written, Paul said it was because he heard a crow early in the morning in Rishikesh, and the crows are very loud in Rishikesh. It was screeching. It wasn’t at all like the little tweeting birds you hear on the song. Nothing like that. He heard the crow, and it inspired him to write the song, but then years later he said that it was about an African American female, which in English slang would be a “black bird,” going through the Civil Rights Movement. But that was not his original thought, and some commentators have said that he changed the song’s meaning later on to ascribe more gravitas to the lyrics. In other words, he wanted to make it mean something. It’s a beautiful song. It’s my favorite song on the album.
Revolution is really important, because people have no idea what that’s about. It’s about the Maharishi effect. The Maharishi effect is this: Maharishi said many times that in order for the forest to be green, all the trees must be green. In order for the world to be at peace, all the people of the world must be at peace. This was the reason, the whole reason for teaching meditation to millions of people. He was trying to get as many people as possible to meditate so that he could change the course of events on the planet from so much war and suffering, and the bloodbath of the 20th century that had gone on, with 41 million people being killed in World War I, and 70 million people being killed in World War II, and all of the other wars that took place in the 20th century, which was just beyond imagination of how many people were killed.
Maharishi wanted to change the world through meditation, and he believed that just a small percentage of the population meditating would create a shift in consciousness and would bring about world peace. He believed that you never could create world peace through revolution or through signing treaties, or certainly not through war, or through any diplomatic approach. He believed the only way to create peace was through deep meditation, because the vibrations of peace would go into the atmosphere. He believed if he could teach a lot of people and have large groups meditating together, especially in war-torn areas or crime-ridden areas, that he would create peace. In fact, he proved it through scientific studies. He would send hundreds of people to a war-torn area in the Middle East, and also to crime-ridden areas, such as Washington DC at the time. Then his scientists would track the statistics, and they would see how when people would meditate in these large groups, that the crime rate would go down, the war would go down, subside, or at least have a vacation from it while the people were meditating there. He proved it, and that was what the song “Revolution” is about, actually, —the Maharishi Effect.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.