Wednesday, February 6, 2008
An Indian guru who taught some of the 20th century’s most famous celebrities and created a multi-billion dollar spiritual empire has died. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement, died at his home in the Netherlands. He is believed to have been 91 years old.
Known for his long white beard and tendency to giggle, he became a well-known counter-culture figure in the 1960’s. Members of the Beatles rock music band made repeated pilgrimages to the Himalayan foothills to study his meditation technique, known as TM.
Little is certain about the yogi’s early life in central India. His given name and birthday are disputed. It is known he studied physics at Allahabad University.
A professor of psychology at the school, Emmanuel Ghosh, says the guru’s academic training, combined with study under a Vedic swami, helped to make him accessible to those in the West seeking alternative answers to life’s questions during the socially tumultuous 1960’s.
“He had a rational approach,” said Ghosh. “He had a scientific background and he could tell the West that ‘You could test my theories through science.’ He was the first one who started this whole system of reducing stress by breath control, by meditation and you could measure it in objective terms.”
Maharishi also tutored other pop musicians, Hollywood actors and film directors. His TM movement attracted millions of followers worldwide who paid hundreds of dollars to receive a personal mantra to recite for 20 minutes, twice a day.
Professor Ghosh at Allahabad University says, despite his fame and success overseas, Maharishi was just one among many gurus in his native India.
“His influence in India has been negligible. Every guru is independent to propagate his own method of salvation or nirvana,” said Ghosh. “So he took off for a while [in India] as long as he was appreciated in the West.”
In later years, some of the guru’s projects and beliefs earned him ridicule, such as hoping to raise $10 trillion to achieve world peace and banish poverty and encouraging followers to learn what he called “yogic flying”. While many adherents praise Maharishi for propagating a scientifically verifiable ancient method to help them deal with the stress of modern life, some disenchanted followers considered TM a quasi-religious cult more interested in raising funds than spirits.