Stripping the Gurus:
Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment*
by Geoffrey D. Falk
Physicist John S. Hagelin … has predicted that Maharishi’s influence on history “will be far greater than that of Einstein or Gandhi” (Gardner, 1996).
You could not meet with Maharishi without recognizing instantly his integrity. You look in his eyes and there it is (Buckminster Fuller, in [Forem, 1973]).
Maharishi’s entire movement revolves around … faith in his supposed omniscience (Scott, 1978).
BORN IN 1918, THE MAHARISHI MAHESH YOGI graduated with a physics degree from the University of Allahabad. Soon thereafter, he received the system of Transcendental Meditation® (TM®) from his “Guru Dev,” Swami Brahmanand Saraswati, who occupied the “northern seat” of yoga in India, as one of four yogic “popes” in the country. He practiced yoga for thirteen years under Guru Dev, until the latter’s death in 1953. The Maharishi (“Great Sage”) then traveled to London in 1959 to set up what was to become a branch of the International Meditation Society there, with the mission of spreading the teachings of TM.
Transcendental Meditation itself is an instance of mantra yoga. The student mentally repeats a series of Sanskrit words for a minimum of twenty minutes every morning and evening. (Such mantras are reportedly selected on the basis of the student’s age. And they don’t come cheaply.)
Maharishi was quick to discourage other disciplines. “All these systems have been misinterpreted for the last hundreds of years,” he said. “Don’t waste time with them. If you are interested in hatha yoga, wait until I have time to re-interpret it. There is no match for Transcendental Meditation either in principles or in practice in any field of knowledge”(Ebon, 1968; italics added).
The [TM] movement taught that the enlightened man does not have to use critical thought, he lives in tune with the “unbounded universal consciousness.” He makes no mistakes, his life is error free (Patrick L. Ryan, in [Langone, 1995]).
The Maharishi held high hopes, not merely for the spread of TM, but for its effects on the world in general:
He told the New York audience, as he had told innumerable others before in several around-the-world tours, that adoption of his teachings by 10% or even 1% of the world’s population would “be enough to neutralize the power of war for thousands of years” (Ebon, 1968).
In the autumn of 1967, His Holiness gave a lecture in London, which was attended by the Beatles. Following that talk, the Fab Four—along with Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull—accompanied the yogi on a train up to Bangor, North Wales, at his invitation. Reaching the train platform in Bangor, they were mobbed by hundreds of screaming fans, whom the Maharishi charmingly assumed were there to see him.
Like Ravi Shankar before him, [the Maharishi had] been unaware of the group’s stature, but, armed with the relevant records, he underwent a crash-course in their music and began to illustrate his talks with quotes from their lyrics. Flattered though they were, the Beatles were unconvinced by his argument that, if they were sincere about meditation, they ought to tithe a percentage of their income into his Swiss bank account. Because they hadn’t actually said no, the Maharishi assured American investors that the four would be co-starring in a TV documentary about him (Clayson, 1996).
It was reported that Maharishi’s fee for initiating the Beatles was one week’s salary from each of them—a formidable sum (Klein and Klein, 1979).
In the middle of February, 1968, John, Paul, George and Ringo, with their respective wives and girlfriends, arrived at the Maharishi’s Rishikesh meditation retreat in India. They were joined there by Mike Love of the Beach Boys and “Mellow Yellow” Donovan, as well as by the newly Sinatra-less Mia Farrow and her younger sister, Prudence. (The Doors and Bob Weir, guitarist for the Grateful Dead, were also enthusiastic about TM, but did not participate in the Rishikesh trip. More contemporary followers of the Maharishi have included actress Heather Graham and the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Brian Josephson. Plus Deepak Chopra [see TranceNet, 2004], whose best-selling book Quantum Healing was dedicated to the Maharishi. Also, at one time, Clint Eastwood and quarterback Joe Namath.)
As Ringo himself put it:
The four of us have had the most hectic lives. We’ve got almost everything money can buy, but of course that just means nothing after a time. But we’ve found something now that really fills the gap, and that is the Lord (in Giuliano, 1986).
The Beatles’ 1968 stay in Rishikesh was originally scheduled to last for three months.
Predictably, Ringo and his wife Maureen were the first to leave, after ten days, citing the “holiday camp” atmosphere, the spiciness of the food, the excessive insects and the stifling midday temperatures. Well, it was India, after all—what exactly did they expect, if not deathly spicy cuisine, mosquitos, bedbugs and interminable heat? If they wanted bland food and cool weather, they should have stayed in Liverpool, awash in bangers and mash to “fill the gap.”
Paul McCartney and Jane Asher bailed out a month later, pleading homesickness.
John and Cynthia and George and Patti, however, persevered, with John and George writing many songs which would later appear on the White Album. Indeed, most of the thirty-plus songs on that disc were composed in the Maharishi’s ashram. “Dear Prudence,” for one, was written for Mia Farrow’s sister, who was so intent on spiritual advancement that it was delegated to John and George to get her to “come out to play” after her three weeks of meditative seclusion in her chalet.
The overall calm there, however, was soon shattered by various suspicions:
[A]ccurately or not, they became convinced that the Maharishi had distinctly worldly designs on one of their illustrious fellow students, actress Mia Farrow. They confronted him, in an oblique way, with this accusation, and when he was unable to answer it, or even figure out precisely what it was, they headed back to London (Giuliano, 1986).
By Farrow’s own (1997) recounting, that may have been just a simple misunderstanding based on the Maharishi’s unsolicited hugging of her after a private meditation session in his cave/cellar. Less explicable, though, are reports of the same sage’s offering of chicken to at least one female student within his otherwise-vegetarian ashram, in alleged attempts to curry her favor (Clayson, 1996).
The Beatles’ disillusionment with the Maharishi during their stay with him in India in 1968 involved allegations that Maharishi had sex with a visiting American student (Anthony, et al., 1987).
“Sexy Sadie” was later composed in honor of those believed foibles on the part of His Holiness.
In any case, within a week Mia Farrow, too, had left the ashram on a tiger hunt, never to return (to Rishikesh).
[T]he Maharishi burst into the Beatles’ lives, offering salvation with a price tag of only fifteen [sic] minutes of devotion a day. “It seemed too good to be true,” Paul McCartney later quipped. “I guess it was” (Giuliano, 1989).
The Beatles … parted with Maharishi in 1969 with the public comment that he was “addicted to cash” (Klein and Klein, 1979).
John and Yoko, interestingly, later came to believe that they were the reincarnations of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, respectively. (One of Yoko’s songs on their joint album Milk and Honey is titled, “Let Me Count the Ways.”)
No word on who Ringo might have been.
George soon became heavily involved with the Hare Krishnas—as one might have gathered from the chorus to his “My Sweet Lord” single—although ultimately leaving them completely out of his will. Indeed, at one point members of Hare Krishna were signed to Apple Records as the “Radha Krishna Temple.” They released at least one chanted single on that label, which made it into the “Top 20” in September of 1969. The Krishnas’ Bhaktivedanta Manor headquarters in London, too, was actually a gift from Harrison—which he at one point threatened to transfer to Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship instead, when the Krishnas were not maintaining the grounds to his satisfaction (Giuliano, 1989).
The devotional/mantra yoga-based Hare Krishna movement itself is rooted in the extremely patriarchal Vedic culture. It was brought to the United States in the mid-1960s by the now-late Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada—who soon starred in a San Francisco rock concert featuring the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. Prabhupada’s own guru was claimed to be an avatar. (George, John and Yoko participated in an extended interview with Prabhupada in 1969, which was kept in print in booklet form by the Krishna organization for many years afterwards. Harrison also wrote the foreword for Prabhupada’s book, Krishna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead.)
Details along the following lines as to the alleged horrendous goings-on within the Hare Krishna community, including widespread claims of child sexual abuse, drug dealing and weapons stockpiling, have long existed:
The founder of the institution, the late Prabhupada, was allegedly told about the physical and sexual abuse of minors in 1972, a time when he totally controlled the institution. The victims allege he and others conspired to suppress the alleged crimes, fearful that the public exposure would threaten the viability of the movement (S. Das, 2003).
[After Prabhupada’s death] the Hare Krishna movement degenerated into a number of competing [so-called] cults that have known murder, the abuse of women and children, drug dealing, and swindles that would impress a Mafia don (Hubner and Gruson, 1990).
The movement’s [post-Prabhupada] leadership was first forced to confront the victims of abuse at a meeting in May 1996, when a panel of ten former Krishna pupils testified that they had been regularly beaten and caned at school, denied medical care and sexually molested and raped homosexually at knife point (Goodstein, 1998).
Or, as Hubner and Gruson (1990) alleged:
[B]oys were ordered to come to the front of the class and sit on [their teacher] Sri Galima’s lap. Sri Galima then anally raped them, right in front of the class. Other boys were ordered to stay after class. Sri Galima tied their hands to their desks with duct tape and then assaulted them in the same way.
At night, Fredrick DeFrancisco, Sri Galima’s assistant, crept into the boys’ sleeping bags and performed oral sex on them.
George Harrison was of course stabbed in his London home at the end of 1999 by a man who believed that the Beatles were “witches.” Interestingly, one of the reasons given by his attacker for continuing that attempt at murder was that Harrison kept chanting the protective mantra, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna”—interpreted by his disturbed assailant as a curse from Satan.
In any case, returning to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s mission: The number of people practicing TM grew nearly exponentially from 1967 through 1974. By 1975 there were more than half a million people in America who had learned the technique, over a million worldwide, and the Maharishi had been featured on the cover of Timemagazine. Were that exponential growth to have continued, the entire United States would have been doing TM by 1979. As it stands, with the law of diminishing returns and otherwise, there are currently four million practitioners of Transcendental Meditation worldwide.
In 1973, Maharishi International University (MIU) was established in Santa Barbara, California, moving a year later to its permanent location in Fairfield, Iowa. Interestingly, when the Maharishi first touched down in the latter location in his pink airplane, perhaps influenced by his contact with the Beatles (“How do you find American taste?/We don’t know, we haven’t bitten any yet,” etc.), he quaintly announced: “We are in Fairfield, and what we find is a fair field.”
Approximately one thousand students currently practice TM and study Vedic theory in that “fair field,” particularly as the latter theory relates to accepted academic disciplines, including the hard sciences. MIU has since been re-christened as the Maharishi University of Management (MUM). Presently, one-quarter of the town’s 10,000 residents are meditators.
* * *In 1976, the Maharishi discovered the principles which were to lead to the TM Sidhi [sic] Program—based on the siddhis or powers outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.Those include the technique of Yogic Flying, or levitation … or “hopping down the yogi trail”:
During the first stage of Yogic Flying, the body—motivated only by the effortless mental impulse of the Sidhi technique—rises up in the air in a series of blissful hops (Maharishi, 1995).
“It’s a form of levitation, you’re actually lifted one or two feet by the exhilaration” that some describe as “bubbling bliss,” explained Transcendental Meditation spokesman Joseph Boxerman (Associated Press, 2003).
[Taxi’s Andy Kaufman had a] consuming devotion to Transcendental Meditation … he believed it had taught him to levitate (Blanco, 2000).
[T]he guru himself announced in 1978 on TV (“The Merv Griffin Show”) that he had enrolled some forty thousand students in this [Sidhi] course! Griffin then asked the obvious question: How many had learned to levitate? Declared the Great Guru: “Thousands!” (Randi, 1982).
Repeated attempts by the skeptical Mr. Randi to secure documented and believable evidence of that levitation were unsuccessful. He did, however, report (1982) receiving the following admission, from one Mr. Orme-Johnson, director of TM’s International Center for Scientific Research:
“We do not claim,” he said, “that anyone is hovering in the air.”
Nevertheless, hovering or not, the possible effects of one’s missed practice on the world were apparently not to be taken lightly:
At MIU and throughout the [TM] movement, guilt was used to manipulate students into never missing a flying session. When the Iranians seized the American Embassy, a MIU student friend who had missed a flying session was called into the dean’s office and blamed for the hostage-taking in Iran (Patrick L. Ryan, in [Langone, 1995]).
All of that notwithstanding, by 1994 the technique of “Yogic Flying” had been taught to more than 100,000 people worldwide.
The Maharishi has also claimed that advanced practitioners can develop powers of invisibility, mind-reading, perfect health and immortality (Epstein, 1995).
His Holiness further asserted a “Maharishi Effect,” whereby relatively small numbers of meditators are claimed to be able to positively and measurably influence world events. That phenomenon has even been alleged to measurably lower crime rates in regions such as Washington, DC, and Kosovo (in August of 1999), via the “accumulated good energy” of the practitioners.
As a press release on the website states, “When the group reached about 350 Yogic Flyers, the [Kosovo] destruction ended” (Kraus, 2000).
In the early ’90s, four thousand of the Maharishi’s followers spent eight weeks in Washington holding large-scale group meditations. They claimed they helped reduce crime during that time. But the District’s police department was unconvinced (Perez-Rivas, 2000).
In a more detailed analysis of relevant data, Randi (1982) has presented many additional, quantitative reasons to deeply question the reality of the so-called Maharishi Effect.
Such critical analyses aside, however, there seems to be little doubt within the ranks as to the beneficial effects of TM on the course of world history:
[A]ll the social good—the move away from potential world-wide disaster toward global enlightenment—that has developed in the last few years I naturally consider to be the result of more people practicing Transcendental Meditation. After all, Maharishi did say that this would happen way back then [i.e., in the late 1950s], and it has (Olson, 1979).
More recently, “the Maharishi said he intends to bring about world peace by establishing huge Transcendental Meditation centers with thousands of full-time practitioners all over the world” (Falsani, 2002).
Maharishi explains that every government, just by creating and maintaining a group of Yogic Flyers, will actualize the ideal of Administration [of the Natural Law “Constitution of the Universe”], the supreme quality of Administration of government in every generation (in Maharishi, 1995).
“Natural Law” is “the orderly principles—the laws of nature—that govern the functioning of nature everywhere, from atoms to ecosystems to galaxies” (Maharishi, in [Kraus, 2000]).
Governmental “administration,” further,
is a matter of expert intelligence. It shouldn’t be exposed to voters on the street [i.e., to democracy] (Maharishi, in [Wettig, 2002]).
Soon every government will maintain its own group of Yogic Flyers as the essential requirement of national administration, and every nation will enjoy the support of Natural Law. All troubles on Earth will fade into distant memories, and life will be lived in perfection and fulfillment by every citizen of every nation, now and for countless generations to come (Maharishi, 1995).
Such anticipated “fading of all troubles into distant memory” will undoubtedly have been aided by the formation, in 1992, of the politically “green” Natural Law Party, on the campus of MIU/MUM. The party has since fielded U.S. presidential candidates, and legislative hopefuls in California. The late magician and disciple Doug Henning, a long-time sincere TM practitioner and attempted “Yogic Flyer,” actually ran for office under the NLP banner in both Britain and Toronto.
In keeping with the hoped-for freedom from our secular troubles, in the wake of September 11, 2001,
the Maharishi announced that if some government gave him a billion dollars, he would end terrorism and create peace by hiring 40,000 Yogic Fliers to start hopping full time. No government took him up on the offer, which clearly irks him (Carlson, 2002).
And yet, the freedom from war and other troubles anticipated by the Great Sage appears to have its cost:
I have heard Maharishi say on occasion that in the society he envisions, if someone is not smiling or happy he would be picked up by a meditation paddy wagon and taken to a checking facility for the proper TM treatment and then released (Scott, 1978).
* * *One of the primary selling points of TM has always been its purported “scientific” nature, and the studies which have been done claiming to corroborate its beneficial effects. However:
One three-year study done by the National Research Council on improving human performance concluded that “TM is ineffectual in improving human performance” and that pro-TM researchers were “deeply flawed in their methodology” (Ross, 2003a).
Consult Holmes (1988) for additional information regarding the reported effects, or lack of same, of TM and other forms of meditation.
* * *
With or without the young Ms. Farrow’s bodacious presence around the Maharishi’s ashrams, controversy continues to haunt the $3.5 billion worldwide enterprise of the yogic “Sixth Beatle.” (The late ex-guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe was known as the “fifth.”)
His compound in India was the focus of allegations [in The Illustrated Weekly of India, July 17, 1988] regarding “child molestation, death from abuse and neglect” (Ross, 2003a).
The [previous media] reports charged that at least five boys had died under mysterious circumstances and that about 8000 of the 10,000 children admitted to the vidya peeth in the past five years had run away from the ashram, allegedly because of the “torture” they had been subjected to inside…. To make matters more difficult for the ashram administration, [local MLA Mahendra Singh] Bhati and an ayurvedic physician, Dr. Govind Sharma, formerly employed at the ashram, charged that some of the boys were also subjected to sexual abuse by the teachers (Dutt, 1988).
The ashram itself has denied all of those allegations, in the same article.
And how have other, past problems within the sphere of influence of the Late Great Sage been handled? It depends on whom you ask; Skolnick (1991), for one, reported:
“I was taught to lie and to get around the petty rules of the ‘unenlightened’ in order to get favorable reports into the media,” says [one former, high-ranking follower]. “We were taught how to exploit the reporters’ gullibility and fascination with the exotic, especially what comes from the East. We thought we weren’t doing anything wrong, because we were told it was often necessary to deceive the unenlightened to advance our guru’s plan to save the world.”