Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

views updated May 23 2018

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Born October 18, 1911
Uttar Pradesh, India

Spiritual teacher in Hinduism

"Through transcendental meditation, the mind unfolds its potential for unlimited awareness, transcendental awareness, unity consciousness—a lively field of all potential, where every possibility is naturally available to the conscious mind. The conscious mind becomes aware of its own … infinite potential."

—Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had a very successful career following his own spiritual path. His teachings are based on a mixture of Vedic science, the Hindu religion, and the ancient practice of meditation. Vedic science is drawn from ancient Hindu culture. During the 1960s, Maharishi's philosophies spoke of a higher consciousness and daily spiritualism. His teachings attracted many Americans who felt that these aspects were missing from traditional Western religions and lifestyles. Maharishi also supported nonviolence as a means to social unity, a crucial concept for many rebelling groups during the 1960s. As the United States was fighting the unpopular Vietnam War (1954–75), many people called for peace. Transcendental meditation promised a new world order without conflict, based on supposedly scientific theories. Maharishi's transcendental meditation movement gained approximately four million followers from the 1960s through the early 2000s, forming a worldwide organization.

Studying the Vedic texts

He was born Mahad Prasad Varna on October 18, 1911, in northern India's state of Uttar Pradesh. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi grew up surrounded by the Hindu religion. He graduated from Allahabad University with a degree in physics and spent thirteen years being taught by Swami Brahmananda Saraswati Maharij, also known as Guru Dev. His teacher taught him the Vedic science of consciousness, based on the most ancient of Hindu texts. The Vedic hymns are religious songs that describe the various fire sacrifices made to more than thirty-three Hindu gods and the meditations that occur before these ceremonies. Maharishi and his mentor played an important role in restoring these ancient Vedic texts. After Guru Dev's death in 1953, Maharishi took a vow of silence for two years in the Himalayan mountains. During that time, he improved his meditation skills and understanding of transcendental philosophy.

In 1957 Maharishi started his mission in Madras, India. He aimed to create a "Heaven on Earth" by easing human suffering, according to the Maharishi Vedic University Web site. This mission was also called the Spiritual Regeneration Movement. Finding happiness, according to Maharishi, included learning about the seven states of consciousness, which could be found by meditating two times a day, twenty minutes at a time. Meditation allowed people to settle their minds and look inward. While doing so, stress and fatigue faded and were replaced by a feeling of well-being. Maharishi believed that the act of meditation could bring about great healing.

Maharishi explained the power of meditation to interviewer Kathy Juline in Science of Mind. He observed that: "Scientific experiments with people who practice transcendental meditation indicate that it tends to produce normalization in all areas of life. It reduces stress, improves health, enriches mental functioning, enhances personal relationships, and increases job productivity and job satisfaction." He believed that these benefits extend from the body outward to the surrounding community. Meditation could heal social and political rifts and even reduce crime rates, according to Maharishi. It was this community-wide idea that he sought to spread around the world.

Followers in the United States

Maharishi first traveled to the United States on January 29, 1959. He visited San Francisco, California, for two months and shared his philosophy with hundreds of Americans. The San Francisco Chronicle described his visit that winter in the first article on transcendental philosophy published in the United States. Maharishi brought his message to Los Angeles and New York before taking his message to the rest of the world. His second world tour took place in 1967, when he spoke at major American universities such as Yale and the University of California at Berkeley. By the late 1960s Maharishi had gained a large following, including such celebrities as The Beatles, philosopher Marshall McLuhan, actors Jane Fonda and Mia Farrow, and football star Joe Namath. Many of Maharishi's famous and wealthy followers visited him at his ashram, or center for yoga, in Rishikesh, India.

The Beatles and transcendental meditation

George Harrison (1943–2001), guitarist for The Beatles, was especially touched by the ideas of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Already interested in Eastern religions, Harrison had learned how to play a sitar, a stringed instrument native to India, from musician Ravi Shankar. The instrument was first heard in The Beatles' song Norwegian Wood. The sitar sound was soon copied by other popular bands of the 1960s. Harrison's interest in Indian music then opened his mind to the teachings of Maharishi, who played a large role in The Beatles's philosophy from 1967 to 1968. The Beatles even visited Maharishi's ashram in India, but the spiritual link was short lived.

After claims surfaced in 1968 that Maharishi had molested a female student, The Beatles distanced themselves from the guru. Only Harrison remained interested in his teachings. According to Beatle Paul McCartney, quoted by Paul Saltzman in The Beatles in Rishikesh: "We made a mistake. We thought there was more to him than there was. He's human. We thought at first that he wasn't." Maharishi's alleged sexual misconduct, and the hint that he expected monetary compensation from The Beatles, soured the relationship. Yet Harrison, ever a believer in transcendental meditation, produced a record by the Hari Krishna Temple group of London and donated a mansion in England for use by followers of the Hindu religion. He also gave many concerts to benefit the Natural Law party, which followed Vedic science, and to support survivors of the 1971 Bangladesh flood.

The Beatles, one of the most influential bands of the 1960s, gained inspiration from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and transcendental philosophy. At the same time, Maharishi's theories of transcendental meditation gained increased publicity through his association with the band. However, Maharishi's popularity in mainstream culture waned shortly after The Beatles lost interest in his teachings. He moved back to India in 1970.

Scientific studies support
transcendental meditation

The first scientific study of transcendental meditation took place in 1968 at the University of California at Los Angeles. It was conducted by physiology graduate student Robert Keith Wallace. The findings of his doctoral study, titled "The Physiological Effects of Transcendental Meditation: A Proposed Fourth Major State of Consciousness," were published in Science magazine and Scientific American in 1970 and 1972, respectively. Wallace's study supported the theories that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had been teaching for more than a decade. Wallace found that daily meditation created a positive physical effect on the human body.

Eastern Religion in American Thought during the 1960s

During the 1960s many youths turned from mainstream Protestant or Catholic religions to Eastern mystic religions such as Zen Buddhism and the practice of transcendental meditation. San Francisco and its Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was a hotbed of social and religious change and was also Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's starting point in the United States.

Most of Maharishi's followers in the United States could be characterized as hip-pies. They were mostly young adults who rebelled against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, authority figures, blindly accepting traditional values, and greed and materialism. They embraced new lifestyles that were very different than those of their parents. This included living in communes, places where groups of young people attempted to live together and be self-sufficient through farming the land and sharing worldly goods. Whole communities, especially of hippie students, organized around the practice of the Hindu religion, such as the Hari Krishna groups. Vegetarianism, environmentalism, incense (especially patchouli), and meditation meetings also became popular, as did the use of mind-altering psychedelic drugs.

Some believed that the use of drugs helped them experience a form of religious enlightenment, especially when the drugs were used in combination with transcendental meditation techniques. But many felt that Eastern religions were very powerful without drugs. Some elements of Eastern religions persisted into the early 2000s in American culture. These included the popular practice of yoga, holistic medicine, and the idea of a living world, or "Gaia," that needs environmental stewardship.

Maharishi was looking for a more effective way to get his message to people during the 1970s. Thus, he created a new philosophy called the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI). He trained teachers to spread his views of the world. SCI classes were provided at major universities around the United States beginning in 1971. Maharishi International University opened its doors in 1974 in Fairfield, Iowa, its sole aim being to teach the Science of Creative Intelligence.

The 1970s saw several advances in Maharishi's plan for worldwide enlightenment. In 1976 he created the World Government for the Age of Enlightenment. He also introduced the concept of Yogic Flying. According to believers, Yogic Flying occurs when a person meditates and achieves a certain level of consciousness that allows the body to lift briefly off the ground. This intense form of meditation supposedly provided a positive influence on society as a whole. Called the Maharishi Effect, it was supposed to decrease the severity of conflict worldwide. In 1984 a group of seven thousand Yogic Flyers gathered in Fairfield, Iowa, to test the Maharishi Effect. Seven thousand was symbolic as it was the square root of 1 percent of the world's population at that time. The amount was supposedly the mathematical number needed to have an effect. Believers reported that their group activity significantly decreased the number of international conflicts. However, critics disagreed.

Maharishi's activities continued into the twenty-first century. On July 21, 2001, he incorporated his own city near Fairfield, Iowa, called Maharishi Vedic City. On February 24, 2002, he released his own currency, the Raam Mudra, for use in his city and universities. Institutions supported by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi included Maharishi International University, Maharishi University of Management, Maharishi Global Construction Company, Maharishi Global Development Fund, The Maharishi Channel, Maharishi Open University, and Maharishi Vedic University. On his Web site, he addresses issues such as global terrorism and war.

For More Information


Campbell, Anthony. Seven States of Consciousness: A Vision of Possibilities Suggested by the Teaching of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. London: Gollancz, 1973.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Science of Being and Art of Living. New York: Allied Publishers, 1963.

Nidich, Sanford I., and Randi Jeanne. Growing Up Enlightened: How Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment Is Awakening the Creative Geniusof Students and Creating Heaven on Earth. Fairfield, IA: Maharishi International University Press, 1990.

Olson, Helena, and Ronald Olson. His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: A Living Saint for the New Millennium: Stories of His First Visit to the USA. Herndon, VA: Samhita Publications, 2001.

Saltzman, Paul. The Beatles in Rishikesh. New York: Viking Press, 2000.


Wallace, R. K. "Physiological Effects of Transcendental Meditation." Science 167 (1970): pp. 1751–54.

Wallace, R. K., et al. "The Physiology of Meditation." Scientific American 226 (1972): pp. 84–90.

Web Sites

Creating Heaven on Earth: Reviewed Links Promoting the Knowledge of His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. (accessed August 2004).

Juline, Kathy. "Settled Mind, Silent Mind: An Interview with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi." Science of Mind: The Transcendental Meditation Program. (accessed August 2004).

Maharishi Vedic University. (accessed August 2004).

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

views updated May 23 2018

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

The Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (born ca. 1911) came to the West as a missionary of traditional Indian thought in popular form and founded the Transcendental Meditation Movement, which reached its height of popularity in the 1960s and 1970s.

Indian sources say Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was born Mahad Prasad Varma on October 18, 1911, the son of a local income tax official in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India. His official biography says he graduated from Allahabad University in 1942 with a degree in physics. After working in a factory, he turned to an Indian guru of the Jyotir Math, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati Shankaracharya (1869-1953), whom he would call Guru Dev, "divine teacher." Brahmananda was of the Indian school of religious thought known as Advaita Vedanta, whose major exponent was the eighth century thinker Shankara. Maharishi received the Guru's training for 13 years and as a result of Brahmananda's encouragement dedicated his life to spreading his master's teachings.

After what is officially called a period of meditation in the Himalayas, he decided to develop a popular form of traditional Advaita Vedanta and yogic practices. His first mission to Madras in southern India met with little success, so he decided to bring it to Americans, "the people who are in a habit of adopting things quickly." He arrived in the United States in 1959, after settling first in London where he founded the Spiritual Regeneration Movement, whose goal was to change the world through the practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM).

At first the movement met with little success, but when the British rock group The Beatles announced in 1967 that they had spent some months at his International Academy of Meditation at Rishikesh in the Himalayan foothills, a decade of growth followed. Other actors, actresses, athletes, and politicians began TM in the hope of benefiting from its claims for a life of "success without stress." The early scientific claims, later mostly discounted as based on poorly controlled experiments, were presented to high school and college students through the Students' International Meditation Society, founded in 1966, with phenomenal success.

In 1968 Maharishi announced that his ten-year period of public activity had ended, and the training of meditators was entrusted to a staff of advanced teachers. After tax problems with the Indian government the movement shifted its international headquarters from India, where it was never as popular as it was abroad. After locating in a number of countries, its international headquarters was firmly established in Seelisberg, Switzerland. In 1971 Maharishi International University opened in Los Angeles, and in 1974 it moved to the site of the former Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa.

In the mid 1970s interest among professionals replaced dwindling campus attraction. TM promised "increased creativity and flexibility, increased productivity, improved job satisfaction, improved relations with supervisors and coworkers." At the same time the movement was organized on multinational corporate lines, and Maharishi began to adopt the life of a corporate executive with conferences, foreign travel, and chauffeured limousines. The movement announced a "World Plan" to change the world through the propagation and practice of TM, and in 1975 Maharishi announced that the "Age of Science" had risen to "The Age of Enlightenment." Thus began the demonstration of the "full significance" of TM.

Though it often denied that it was yoga, "The Age of Enlightenment Course" promised that its students, through untapped abilities, could experience the "siddhis," supernormal powers traditionally identified with yogis in India. TM claimed that its meditators could have "the ability to perceive things which are beyond the reach of the senses, the development of profound intimacy and support from one's physical environment, and even such abilities as disappearing and rising up or levitating at will."

Accepting the movement's claims that TM was non-religious and beneficial for reducing crime and drug use, a number of government agencies began efforts to involve TM. The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare awarded the World Plan Council of the United States a $40,000 grant. TM's theoretical foundation, called "The Science of Being" and later "The Science of Creative Intelligence" (SCI), was adopted in 1975-1976 as the basis for an elective course in five New Jersey public high schools taught by World Plan trained teachers. But in 1977 a U.S. District Court declared TM/SCI religious, and an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1978-1979 upheld that decision.

TM claimed that one does not have to understand the theories behind the practice in order to benefit from it, but as one progresses beyond the introductory level, the metaphysical basis becomes more important. Central to this theory is the traditional Advaita Vedanta (from Shankara) doctrine that the true self is the highest and ultimately the only Reality. Sometimes this Reality is called "God," though it is not a personal being but an unchanging Absolute, an impersonal state of consciousness. The meditational technique is meant to put one in touch with the essential Self, the eternal Being within, by moving one's attention away from the surface consciousness of change, suffering, and stress. One then becomes one with the Absolute Being, an experience which Maharishi calls "God-consciousness."

Introductory sessions which present the "benefits" of TM are followed for the inquirer by a mandated puja or service of offering. The student brings a small offering to a room prepared with a table with candles; dishes for water, rice, and sandalpaste; incense; and camphor. On the table is a picture of Guru Dev. The offerings are placed on the table while the student stands before it and the teacher sings a chant in Sanskrit which expresses thanks to the authorized line of teachers and to some of the gods of Hinduism. At the conclusion of the chant, the student is given a secret mantra or syllable for the mind and instructed in the technique for using it. Meditators are instructed to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day. Further education may follow and is encouraged, for changing the world requires the spiritual influence of a large number of meditators.

The Maharishi's followers established the Maharishi International University in 1974 in Fairfield, Iowa, where they mixed courses in TM and academic curriculum. The next several years resulted in difficulties for Maharishi and the TM movement. In 1986 the University was sued for $9 million by a former student, Robert Kropinski, and six other people on the grounds of "fraud, neglect, and intentionally inflicting emotional damage." Kropinski charged that although he had taken the course, none of the promised benefits had resulted, and that when he tried to discontinue the university, Maharishi had used "fear and intimidation" to prevent him from leaving. Maharishi was not a defendant because he could not be found to be served with the papers. Kropinski was eventually awarded $138,000 by a Washington D.C. jury.

In 1992 Maharishi and magician Doug Henning (a follower of TM) announced plans for establishing Maharishi Veda Land, by Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. This would have been a $1.5 billion theme park which would combine recreation with "spiritual enlightenment," including a thousand residential units in a "Heaven on Earth" housing development, a Tower of World Peace, and an International Summit Conferance Center in addition to 33 rides and attractions and an indoor water park. However, the park never materialized. In 1995 another college, the former Nathaniel Hawthorne College in Antrim, New Hampshire, was purchased by the Maharishi's followers, who said they intended to make it the eastern headquarters for the TM movement. In the 1990s the TM movement turned to politics, forming a new political party, the Natural Law Party. Sponsoring candidates in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia, the party sought to combine practical politics with Transcendental Meditiation. However, they experienced little success electorally.

Further Reading

The TM movement has produced a large body of literature, but Maharishi's writings are found in only three books: an introductory text called Transcendental Meditation: Serenity Without Drugs (1968), which was previously published as The Science of Being and Art of Living (1963); a commentary on a popular Indian scripture, On the Bhagavad-Gita: A New Translation and Commentary: Chapters 1-6 (1967); and a collection of the Meditations of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1968).

Most introductions to the TM movement are either the uncritical approach of believers or the critical and often inaccurate approaches of other religious perspectives. For a scientific perspective on these movements see David G. Bromley and Anson D. Schupe, Strange Gods (1981); on TM in particular, see William S. Bainbridge and Daniel H. Jackson, "The Rise and Decline of Transcendental Meditation" in Bryan Wilson, editor, The Social Impact of New Religious Movements (1981); an example of a highly critical look at TM is a chapter in James Randi's Flim-Flam: The Truth About Unicorns, Parapsychology and Other Delusions (New York, Lippincott & Crowell, 1980); Celebrating the Dawn-Maharishi Yogi and the TM Movement by Robert Oates Jr. (Putnam, 1976) is a sympathetic look at the Maharishi and his Activities; articles dealing with the TM movement and its activities in recent years are "University'd Degree Comes with Heavy Dose of Meditation" by Anthony DePalma, New York Times (April 26th, 1983); "Trial Under Way for Lawsuit Brought by Maharashi Follower," New York Times (December 14th, 1986); "Veda Land-Theme Park for Ontario," New York Times (March 22nd, 1992); "Antrim Resets Its Sights for Future from Prison Cells to Free Spirits," by Ralph Jimenez, Boston Globe (February 12th, 1995); "Perot's Party Is Not Alone," New York Times (June 2nd, 1996). □

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (ca. 1911-)

views updated May 29 2018

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (ca. 1911-)

A modern Hindu guru who began a worldwide Spiritual Regeneration Movement in the late 1950s. The movement, now led by the World Plan Executive Council, is best known for promoting the technique of Transcendental Meditation (TM).

Maharishi was born Mahesh Brasad Warma, around the year 1911. Originally a physics graduate of Allahabad University, India, he worked for a time in a factory, then studied spiritual science for some years under Swami Brahmananda Saraswati Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, a teacher of traditional Hindu transcendentalism. After the death of his teacher in 1953, the Maharishi spent some time trying to develop his own simplified version of traditional Hindu meditation.

In 1958 he designed the Science of Creative Intelligence for "the regeneration of the whole world through meditation," known widely as Transcendental Meditation. In a simple initiation ceremony, the guru bestowed a mantra (or word of power), which the pupil repeated during a meditation period each day. In this easy technique, the pupil could, it has been claimed, bypass normal intellectual activity and tap a limitless reservoir of energy and creative intelligence.

The system spread around the world through the 1960s but was given a boost in 1967, when the rock music group the Beatles showed interest in the movement. Publicity concerning their relation to the Maharishi made TM seem a viable alternative to psychedelic drugs. The Beatles defected some months later, but by then other celebrities were traveling to the Maharishi's ashram at Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas. The Students' International Meditation Society, which was founded in Los Angeles, California, in 1966, received many of the young adults attracted to TM by its celebrity followers. Since the 1970s, the movement has been boosted by the well-publicized scientific findings that TM produces beneficial results. Various studies, most flawed by the lack of investigation of similar mediative techniques, suggest that TM aids individuals in various manners. The sociological studies, suggesting that a representative number of TM meditators in an area can change its social climate (lower the crime rate, promote peace, etc.), are less conclusive.

The movement adopted a "world plan" to develop the full potential of the individual, to improve governmental achievements, to realize the highest ideal of education, to solve the problems of crime and all behavior that brings unhappiness to the human family, to maximize the intelligent use of the environment, to bring fulfillment to the economic aspirations of individuals and society, and to achieve the spiritual goals of the human race in this generation. The World Plan Executive Council has founded in many countries its own political party, the Natural Law Party, and it runs candidates for public office in order to achieve the goals of the world plan.

In the 1970s, as the number of new people coming into TM dropped, the movement unveiled a "Siddhi" program (siddhis are special paranormal powers) based on the claims of the ancient yoga treatise The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The program claimed that students of this special course have successfully achieved the paranormal feat of levitation. Photographs of students show them hovering a few feet in the air, but critics (and former students) have stated that the "levitators" merely bounce in the air cross-legged and do not float. To date, no irrefutable evidence of levitation by the Maharishi's students has yet been produced, and several ex-students of the Siddhi program have successfully sued the organization.

In 1968, the council moved its headquarters to Seelisberg, Switzerland, and in 1979 established Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, where they mix courses in TM and academic curriculum. They plan to open an eastern campus in Antrim, New Hampshire. The Maharish was worth $3.5 billion in 1998 and oversaw nearly 1,000 TM centers around the world.


Bainbridge, William Sims, and Daniel H. Jackson. "The Rise and Fall of Transcendental Meditation." In The Future of Religion. Edited by Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Jefferson, William. The Story of Maharishi. New York: Pocket Books, 1976.

Mahesh Yogi, Maharishi. The Science of Being and Art of Living. London: International SRM Publications, 1966.

Mason, Paul. The Maharishi: The Biography of the Man Who Gave Transendental Meditation to the West. Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element Books, 1994.

Orme-Johnson, David W., and John T. Farrows, eds. Scientific Research on the Transcendental Meditation Program: Collected Papers, I. Seelisberg, Switzerland: Maharishi European Research University Press, 1977.

White, John. Everything You Want to Know about TM, Including How to Do It. New York: Pocket Books, 1976.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

views updated May 23 2018

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Proponent of Transcendental Meditation. A disciple of Guru Dev, he held the office of Shankarcharya of Jyotir Math in Badarinath in the Himalayas, 1941–53. After leaving his place of seclusion in 1955, Maharishi began to tour India, Burma, Singapore, N. America, and Europe giving lectures on Transcendental Meditation, maintaining that both the ideas about and the practice of this ancient meditative technique, based on Vedic wisdom, had become confused.

According to Maharishi, the correct practice of Transcendental Meditation can only be taught by a qualified teacher, and to this end he established teacher-training centres in many parts of the world (e.g. Maharishi International University in Iowa, USA; Maharishi Univ. of Natural Law at Mentmore, UK). In Jan. 1975 Maharishi, from on board the flagship Gotthard on Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, inaugurated the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment, followed in Jan. 1976 by the inauguration of the World Government of the Age of Enlightenment.