Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced transcendental meditation to the West and gained fame in the 1960s as the spiritual guru to the Beatles, died Tuesday at his home and headquarters in Vlodrop, the Netherlands. He is believed to have been in his 90s.
The story of the Maharishi, who was born in Jabalpur, India, remains shrouded in mystery. He always refused to talk about his early life or confirm his age or birth date.
His critics called his organization a cult business enterprise. And in the press, in the 1960s and ’70s, he was often dismissed as a hippie mystic, the “Giggling Guru,” recognizable in the familiar image of him laughing, sitting cross-legged in a lotus position on a deerskin, wearing a white silk dhoti with a garland of flowers around his neck beneath an oily, scraggly beard.
In Hindi, “maha” means great, and “rishi” means seer. “Maharishi” is a title traditionally bestowed on Brahmins. Critics of the yogi say he presented himself with the name, which he was ineligible for because he was from a lower caste.
The Maharishi originated the transcendental meditation movement in 1957 and brought it to the United States in 1959. But the movement really took off after the Beatles attended one of his lectures in 1967. Known as TM, a trademark, it has been labeled a cult and Maharishi was accused of fraud by former pupils who claim he failed to teach them to fly. "Yogic flying," showcased as the ultimate level of transcendence, was never witnessed as anything more than TM followers sitting in the cross-legged lotus position and bouncing across spongy mats.
Although learning TM is said to be very simple, it is also very expensive. The current list price is $2.500 for a five-day session.
"In its advertising, TM emphasizes the practical benefits of meditation - particularly the reduction of stress. TM promoters show videos of members from all walks of life testifying to its benefits. TM sales pitches are full of blood pressure charts, heart-rate graphs, and other clinical evidence of TM's effectiveness. Not mentioned is the fact that scientific tests show similar benefits can be obtained by listening to soothing music, or by performing basic relaxation exercises available in books costing a couple of dollars. After a TM student pays up to $400 and receives his own personal mantra to chant, he is told never to reveal it to another. Why? Because the same "unique" mantra has been given - on the basis of age - to thousands of people." – Patrick Ryan, former TM cult member.