50 Years Ago: The Beatles Meet the Maharishi
By the second half of 1967, the Beatles were searching for answers to some of life’s larger questions. This search would lead them to meditation, Eastern philosophy and, eventually, to Rishikesh, India, where, on Feb. 15, 1968, they began a period of study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
“We’d been into drugs. The next step is you’ve got to try and find a meaning then,” said Paul McCartney in the Anthology documentary. It was George Harrison, already a casual student of Eastern ways, who got the ball rolling. He, McCartney and John Lennon went to see a lecture given by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in London in the summer of 1967. “That’s where I really went for the meditation,” said Harrison in Anthology. “There’s this thing called a mantra. Through the mantra you can follow a technique that helps you to transcend, that is, to go beyond the waking-sleeping-dreaming state.”
Following the lecture, the three met Maharishi. “I said to him, ‘got any mantras?” said George. The band were enamored with the mystic one, and the feeling appeared to be mutual. “They are the ideal of energy and intelligence in the younger generation,” the Maharishi told a reporter after the lecture.
In February 1968, the Beatles took their interest a large step forward by traveling to the Maharishi’s home base in northern India. Lennon and wife Cynthia, and Harrison and Pattie Boyd arrived first (Ringo Starr and Paul would soon join them) along with other notable friends such as Beach Boy Mike Love, Donovan and actress Mia Farrow.
During their stay, they would learn more about meditation and would also find time to write many of the songs that would ultimately end up on The Beatles (aka the White Album). “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Dear Prudence” (written about Farrow’s sister, also in attendance), “Mother Nature’s Son,” and “Sexy Sadie” were just a few of the songs born out of their experiences there.
“I was really impressed with the Maharishi. I was impressed because he was laughing all the time,” said Ringo. “It was another point of view. It was the first time we’re sort of getting into Eastern philosophies.” McCartney described the stay in India as “very much like a summer camp,” with Starr adding, “It was pretty far out.”
Both McCartney and Starr cut their stay short, while others hung out for close to two months. The harmonious vibes of the trip, however, would soon come to an end when allegations arose about the more earthly interests of the Maharishi in one or more of the females in attendance as well as questions surrounding the Maharishi seeking financial involvement from the Beatles. Upon their return, a reporter asked Lennon if the Maharishi was “on the level.” Lennon quipped, “I don’t know what level he’s on, but we had a nice holiday in India and came back rested.”