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1968_05_04--023_SP_Guru from Rishikesh

Ringo Starr and his wife, Maureen, left the ashram after a few days. They felt they could meditate as well at home. By Lewis H. Lapham the trees, smiling vaguely hello and sometimes wearing garlands of flowers in their long hair. At the table in the arbor they sat next to each other in a row, and on miscellaneous occasions they mentioned the reasons for their own pilgrimage. "We had all the material things," Harrison once said. "Fame and all that. But there was still something needed, you see. It can't be one hundred percent without the inner life, can it?" He called the Maharishi "the big M," and I remember the intense earnestness in his face, conveying the impression of a man who'd been through a lot of changes, expecting each of them to be the last. Drugs, he said, had filled a gap and showed him many things, but death still remained what he called "a bit of a hang-up," which was where philosophy and religion began to get useful. For more than a year he'd been practicing yoga and playing Indian music, and he'd even read of the Maharishi's technique of meditation. (The technique requires the silent repetition of a single sound or mantra and promises, among other things, peace, happiness and success in business.) "Like, in the beginning was the word," Harrison said, "and I knew the mantras were the words." The difficulty was finding them. In the summer of 1967 the Maharishi arrived in London on one of his annual world tours, and Harrison took John Lennon and Paul McCartney to hear the lecture. "All of a sudden there was this man from India," he said. "Not in a flash of lightning or anything, but there in the Hilton Hotel." The next day they called Ringo, and together with the Maharishi they took a train to Bangor, Wales. There, during a week-long seminar for his British followers, the Maharishi initiated them in a ceremony involving many flowers. Concurring in all that Harrison said, Lennon referred me both to their photographs and to their records as diaries of their developing consciousness. In the recent photographs, he said, he hoped people might notice "something going on behind the eyes other than guitar boogie." Ringo and McCartney didn't talk as much about the meditation. Yes. they'd had results with it, and no, it wasn't a put-on, but beyond that their attitude implied that it was George's thing, and if he wanted to go to India, OK, everybody went to India. Ringo and his wife, Maureen, admitted to a little trouble with meditations longer than a few hours, and McCartney regretted the extravagance of the Maharishi's praise and the grandiose nature of his metaphysics. "I get a bit lost in the upper reaches of it," he complained. Also he wished the Maharishi would avoid talking to them about subjects that he. McCartney, knew something about. In the mornings the Maharishi held private classes for them on the roof of his house, and occasionally he discussed aspects of modern life. McCartney found the Maharishi's support of the draft laws disillusioning, and his girl friend, the British actress. Jane Asher, wondered aloud from time to time what it would be like to see Bombay or the moon on the Taj Mahal. The Maharishi's doting fondness for the Beatles disconcerted a number of the other meditators in residence, some of whom felt themselves too much reminded of headwaiters deferring to show-business personalities in Hollywood. Others, who had followed the Maharishi so faithfully for so many years, at first resented the intrusion of usurpers. Jealousy being so obviously inappropriate to the circumstances, however, most of them managed to stifle it. They argued that the Beatles had attracted wide notice to their movement and had promised, after all, to build a meditation academy in London. The extreme interpretation I remember hearing from Anneliese Braun, a small, elfin woman who, so it was said, could heal people by a laying on of hands. We were standing under a teak tree, looking at the river, Anneliese thoughtfully examining a dahlia she held in her hands. When she heard about the Beatles, she said, she'd assumed they were all wrong for the movement, big-time celebrities opening the Pandora's box of press agents and other evils. But on meeting them in Rishikesh she'd found them simple and good-hearted boys, uncorrupted by the temptations of the world. She looked at me in the sly way she had, her eyes glittering with the opaque brilliance of a cat's eyes. "It wasn't for nothing that Christ's original disciples were simple men," she said. ". .. Carpenters and fishermen, you know." Through Anneliese I met Geoffrey, and it was he who showed me around and introduced me to many of the others. Like Virgil, he said, pointing out the sights to Dante. He enjoyed learned allusions, and on our walks together we talked of such things as the Punic Wars and the quality of the light in Rembrandt's last portraits. Yellow flags drooped from long bamboo poles set at random intervals along the paths; an occasional trellis marked the entrance to a vegetable or flower garden, and on the stone walls of the low bungalows, in letters reminiscent of military installa- tions. appeared the designation: SILENCE ZONE. Geoffrey himself was a painter and a teacher of painting in London. He wore a full beard, and his eyes, which were gray, seemed always to stare into the distance, as if he were estimating remote perspectives. He was anxious that I should know the other meditators as responsible citizens who wouldn't tilt at windmills or trudge after a piper playing a popular dance-hall tune. Thus, when introducing me, he would identify Gunther as the Lufthansa pilot, or Nancy as the wife of a television news analyst, or Tony as the blackjack dealer in a Las Vegas casino. All presumably practical people who knew the odds and were accustomed to hard, technological proofs. Everybody would remain on the ashram for two months, he said, and then they would proceed, by chartered jet, to Kashmir. At Rishikesh they studied to become initiators in their native countries, and at Kashmir, where the Maharishi maintained a second establishment aboard a string of houseboats, they would take written and oral examinations. In the evenings the Maharishi spoke to us in the lecture hall, a damp and hangarlike building with whitewashed walls and a floor of compressed cow dung. Little paper flags fluttered from the beams across the ceiling; near the wide doors charcoal fires burned in tin pots. A display of ferns and palm fronds decorated the wooden stage at the far end of the hall. In the center of the stage, behind an array of microphones attached to tape recorders, stood a modest altar dressed with flowers, Christmas tinsel and a painting of the Maharishi's master, the Guru Dev. The Beatles and their wives occupied places in the front row of wood and wicker chairs; the rest of us sat scattered through the rows in back. Candles on the armrests of the chairs offered a dim and flickering light; the heavy scent of incense and coal smoke drifted on the night air. The Maharishi invariably appeared at least an Photographs by Larry Kurland 29


1968_05_04--023_SP_Guru from Rishikesh
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