Maharishi Mahesh Yoga Ashram

I am indebted to Maharishi, not so much for inspiring the Beatles (although in high school in Memphis, one of my favorite late-night spots was a coffee shop where we could drink iced mocha lattes and play Let It Be on the jukebox) but for inspiring a type of meditation that is gentle and comforting.

Here is Uncle Greg, trying to bond with my beloved dog Watson.

One Thanksgiving after dinner I mentioned to my Uncle Greg that I found meditating difficult.  “I am a yoga teacher,” I told him, “and I intensely dislike trying to meditate.”  At which point Uncle Greg mentioned casually, “I am a meditation teacher.”

What?  I have been traveling to New Zealand and all over the country trying to find a meditation guru, and there he is, sitting across the table at Thanksgiving dinner!  Sometimes life surprises you by revealing what you already have.  I was cautiously optimistic, and told him I would be glad to come over to his house the next day for a lesson.

Uncle Greg spent some time at UC Davis studying with Mararishi, and then traveled to take the TM Meditation Teacher course with the guru.  While there, chanting holy mantra, practicing yoga asanas and meditating, he experienced something profound.  All around him, people were chanting and the sound went from being sound to being something (I won’t say transcendent) but, yes, kind of transcendent.  It sounded like the source of sound, like what sound would have been when it was first invented.

He walked out from Maharishi’s presence to the beach and the sand beneath his feet, the gentle whooshing of the waves and the light on the water all felt like they were a part of him.  That is to say, he was as much a part of everything as everything else was.  Where he ended and the universe began was the same; all the lines were dissolved.

He felt love and compassion.  He always wanted it to be that way.

(Uncle Greg, please add to this if you like!  This is just what I remember from your story.)

The feeling of union with the cosmos dissolved, and later he was the same person surrounded by the same everyday sounds and movements.  But he meditates twice a day, every day, because of the memory of those moments of time in the Maharishi’s presence.

Here are the Beatles with Maharishi in 1968 at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram in Rishikesh, India.

Did I mention?  Uncle Greg is a VERY big fan of the Beatles.  And so, in honor of my meditation teacher, I visited the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram in Rishikesh, India.

Transcendental meditation is gentle, because you don’t need to worry about a straight spine, or what your breath is doing.  Your teacher gives you a mantra and you sit still and repeat the mantra.  After a while, the sound dissolves and travels into various parts of the body like warm breath.

Signpost marking the way to "The Beatles Ashram"

I loved my TM mantra, but Shanti, my yoga teacher, said because of the gentle tones, it would take a while to go deep into the practice.  So I’ve replaced the soothing TM mantra with a tantric mantra, with a much more jarring, abrasive effect on the mind.  I also now combine this mantra with breath awareness, a straight spine and visualizations.  I miss the old days of TM meditation, but I am committed to furthering my practice and the experience of peace that it promises.

Entrance to Maharishi Mahesh Yoga Ashram, guarded by two Indian men with a lock, who charged us 50INR ($1) to tour the ruins.

Here is a beginning meditation technique you can practice even without a mantra, called Antar Mouna (Inner Silence).

1.  Sit with a straight spine, in a comfortable posture you can hold for 25-30 minutes.

2.  Close your eyes.  Imagine the outline of the body in its seated position.  Feel sensations on the skin.

3.  Listen to sounds.  Send your awareness far out in search of sounds.  Right now, there is no need to identify sounds, just hear them, sending your awareness farther and farther out.

Little hobbit-type cottage; maybe George Harrison stayed here?

4.  Begin to identify sounds.  Identify the source of a sound; hear the sound and be aware of the process.  Keep doing this. Then focus on sounds nearest to you.  Indentify the source of sound, hear the sound, and be aware of the process.

5.  Release awareness of sounds.  Now bring to mind a negative thought.  It may take a while to locate a negative thought.  Just calmly wait until one arises.

The ashram was abandoned in 1997, but its state of disrepair recalls a much more ancient time. Very weird...

6.  When you have found a negative thought, hold onto it.  Expand it.  See it grow larger; fill it out.  When you have finished, wipe your mind clean like you are wiping off a blackboard.

7.  Keep finding a negative thought, expanding it and wiping it away.

8.  Release this process and let your thoughts flow.  Then pick any thought.  Pick one isolated thought and expand it; ask where it came from; where is it going?  Then wipe it away.  Pick 3 or 4 more random thoughts, expand them and wipe them away.

9.  Release this practice and stare into the dark, infinite space of the mind.  Try to

Beatles devotee grafitti

keep this space free of thoughts.  Keep watching the mind space and if a thought or image arises, dissolve it and gently watch the mind space again.

10.  Now allow thoughts to flow.  Allow any thoughts or images to enter the mind space.  Watch as if you are an observer of the thoughts and images.  Try not to become attached.  If you do become attached, just gently

My favorite grafitti

release the attachment when you realize it and go back to watching the thoughts as an observer.

11.  Now become aware of the breath at the nostrils.  Become aware of the body and its seated outline.  Meditation is now complete.

Let me know if you have questions about this practice, and how it works for you.  Often, we suppress

Maybe this led to the schism between the Beatles and their guru.

negative thoughts so that they act on our unconscious mind.  When we let them arise fully, we can release the emotional tension surrounding them.  This frees us to live, ultimately, in a more positive way!

Back to the Ashram.  Not being a huge follower of the comings and goings of Beatles, I did not realize that they split with their guru and wrote songs on the White Album about their disillusionment with his character.  (They neither confirmed nor denied that he was sleeping around and that he tried to grope Mia Farrow in a cave.)

Shivalingam at a central temple-ish place

The yoga teachers I was traveling with had just read Patti Boyd’s biography, which included details of her marriage to Beatle George Harrison.  She referred to him being “on TM” just like she referred to him being “on acid”.  It’s as if he temporarily replaced one drug with another.  Maharishi is credited with weaning the Beatles off drugs, but there are rumors that they split over the Beatles’ continued drug use.  Maybe the Beatles tried to replace drugs with meditation, but weren’t successful.  I prefer to believe this rumor, than the one completely discrediting the Maharishi.

Whatever else is true, the estate of Maharishi is loaded, his US assets alone worth $300 million.  He made some serious money.  So it’s hard to imagine why this ashram is abandoned – it’s one of the most beautiful places in India, with incredible jungle views, shivalingham–shaped meditation halls and dormitories with great balcony spaces.  With its history, it would be an amazing destination spot.

Business idea…anyone?

Top of the Lingham!

Some of the most interesting ruins in India are less than 20 years old...

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