1968_05_18--030_SP - Page 1

1968_05_04--023_SP_Guru from Rishikesh

The Maharishi doted on the Beatles, to whom he attributed the great popular success of his movement. Paul McCartney (above) felt that the Maharishi's praise was excessive, but said he had gotten results with the meditation. John Lennon (below) referred to the Beatles' photographs and records as diaries of their developing consciousness, saying he hoped that people might notice, in their recent photographs, "something going on behind the eyes other than guitar boogie." hour late, his hands folded in a pious gesture, nodding and murmuring praises to the Guru Dev as he walked softly down the center aisle. An almost coquettish smile straying across his face, he sat cross-legged on his antelope skin, often toying with a flower or a strand of beads. When he spoke to us, his voice remained gentle and soothing, as if he were speaking from someplace far away, where everything, somehow, was much simpler. Always he began by asking how long everybody had managed to meditate since he'd last seen them, and I remember a night when a Swedish woman impatiently raised her hand. The Maharishi nodded to her with an encouraging smile. "Yes?" he said. "How long, please?" "Forty-two hours, Maharishi," she said. She wore a dull-colored robe and spoke with the flat satisfaction of somebody announcing a record. The others turned to notice her, visibly impressed by her accomplishment. The Maharishi clapped his hands together and said, " What joy." He inquired if the woman's meditation had been harmonious. Informed that it was, he asked if she remembered anything. The lady thought for an awkward few minutes, and then said, apologetically, "No, Maharishi." He smiled with the same encouragement as before, assuring her that she had made no mistake, and then he asked if anybody could report 41 hours. Nobody could. He inquired about 40 and 39 hours, and encountering no response then proceeded downwards hour by hour. At 30 hours an Englishwoman raised her hand and admitted she hadn't managed it all at once, like the Swedish lady, but rather in 10-hour segments interrupted by 15-minute breaks for warm milk and honey sandwiches. "And you felt what, please?" the Maharishi inquired. In a precise, clinical voice the woman reported " the usual disassociation from my body" in the first segment, followed, in the second segment, by a sensation of intense and pleasurable warmth. During the third segment she'd begun to sing old music-hall songs, the words to which she thought she'd forgotten. The Maharishi nodded approvingly and continued his counting. At 23 hours Gunther, the Lufthansa pilot, announced that his friend, George, wanted to say something. George didn't understand English, and they whispered together for a moment. Gunther then said that George had experienced a feeling much like fainting, which depressed and alarmed him. The Maharishi gave way to a fit of high and infectious laughter, in the midst of which he said, "In hospitals they call it fainting. . . . We call it transcending." For meditations of less than seven hours (periods that didn't warrant discussion), the Maharishi asked only for a show of hands. When he finished his review, he answered questions, most of which dealt with matters of considerable substance. People asked for a more exact distinction between "God-consciousness" and "supreme knowledge," or whether "rapturous joy" always accompanied the descent into "pure being." The Maharishi considered carefully before giving his long and discursive answers, and in that pose, in that flickering light and aromatic haze, I could imagine him weighing the destiny of nations. (Geoffrey later explained that all the Maharishi's answers took place on at least two levels of meaning, corresponding to the levels of " gross or subtle consciousness"; to make himself clearer, Geoffrey employed the metaphor of a tree, the profound levels of meaning being analogous to the sap. the superficial to the level of the leaf.) When all the questions had been answered, the Maharishi rose and turned toward the altar. There, assisted by his monks, he performed a ceremony involving the burning of sandalwood, the chanting of a Vedic hymn and the ringing of tiny bells. Although this constituted a simple offer of thanksgiving to the Guru Dev, many of those past the age of 40 chose to endow it with a larger significance. They groped hesitantly with the unfamiliar words and rhythms of the hymn, and when they could, or when the ceremony seemed to call for it, they prostrated themselves at full length upon the cold floor. Every now and then John O'Shea wandered up the hill from the town of Swarag Ashram, bringing the news and gossip of the Laksmi Café. The café I'd seen and remembered as a dingy bazaar on a mud street, into which cows often looked in search of sweets and vegetables. A sign on the wall advertised QUALITY FOOD AND TASTY SNACKS; slow fans hung from the ceiling, and the clientele drank tea at stone tables. It was, however, the only place in town, and O'Shea and his friends used to go there in the afternoons. They were all of them very hip, having made the approved scenes in places like the Haight- Ashbury district, and they'd come to India, separately and by different roads, in search of their own guru. Swarag Ashram, on the banks of the Ganges, contained many gurus of various persuasions. and among them O'Shea's friends conducted their haphazard quest. I met him the first day I arrived, on the way up the hill to the Maharishi's ashram, and we used to talk on the lower slopes, on the stony, open ground among the crows and the disenchanted reporters. Dressed in the manner of a sadhu, barefoot and with only a soiled white cloth around his loins, O'Shea often carried a trident symbolic of the Lord Krishna. As yet, he said, they'd found no guru to teach them, but in the evenings they listened to Bob Dylan records and smoked hashish. They did it elaborately, he said, with a lot of Indians sitting around and the ceremonial blowing of a conch horn. This announced the religious significance of the proceeding and therefore exempted them from trouble with the civil authorities. Lately, however, what with the publicity attracted by the Maharishi, they'd felt the tourists moving in on them. As an example of how bad things were getting, O'Shea mentioned an American friend of his who'd been in the Laksmi Café some days before when an Italian photographer showed up. The photographer mistook O'Shea's friend for Steve McQueen, and the friend figured the photographer was George Harrison. Neither could speak the other's language (the friend thinking Harrison was putting him on with the nutty talk), and it took them an hour to straighten the utd. of scene is that, man?" O'Shea said. e, "What koin "I mean, where are we supposed to be?" Sometimes O'Shea stayed long enough to attend one of the Maharishi's press conferences, but of these he remained critical. The Maharishi he thought too commercial, too often answering questions in an equivocal way, as if he had an interest to ,,p L roikteeca t. politician, you dig," he said. "A holy man has got to be set to be crucified, right?" His opinion was shared by a clear majority of the Indian press. When the Maharishi came among them, they listened obediently to the radiant metaphysics, and then, at the end, asked the questions they'd come to ask, about the money and the Beatles and the airstrip the Maharishi was building in another part of the forest. The 30


1968_05_04--023_SP_Guru from Rishikesh
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