The Beatles, the Maharishi, Sex, and Money

Much has been written about the Beatles dumping the Maharishi, particularly the precipitating event of John’s coming to believe that the Maharishi’s claim to celibacy was a lie.

Suffice it to say, John felt deeply let down and wounded by the Maharishi, hastily split from the ashram with George, Pattie, Cynthia and Mal, and wrote the song “Sexy Sadie”, originally titled “Maharishi”.

Later, Paul said, “We made a mistake. We thought there was more to him than there was. He’s human. We thought at first that he wasn’t.”* Years later, John said, “There is no guru. You have to believe in yourself. You’ve got to get down to your own God in your own temple. It’s all down to you, mate.”

To the Beatles, the Maharishi’s rumoured sexuality was the heavy straw that broke the camel’s back. They had earlier been concerned about two things: the Maharishi using them to promote himself, and what seemed to be his focus on money, unexpected by them in a spiritual teacher or holy man.

Soon after they had been given their mantras, as Apple insider Peter Brown recounts in his book The Love You Make, the Maharishi began to use the Beatles, without their permission, to promote himself and his work. He released a record album of his lectures, promoting himself as ‘Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ Spiritual Teacher’. Then, before the Beatles went to Rishikesh, the Maharishi told the American Broadcasting Corporation that they would be appearing with him on an ABC television special that he was scheduled to do. Peter Brown informed ABC lawyers that this was not the case, but the Maharishi persisted in telling the Network that it was. Brown then flew to Sweden, where the Maharishi was, to inform him directly that the Beatles would not be appearing on his show. Still, the Maharishi re-confirmed to ABC that, in fact, they would be appearing with him. It wasn’t until Paul and George flew to Sweden themselves, with Peter Brown, and told the Maharishi to his face, that he finally backed off. He just giggled when they insisted he not use them for his own self-promotion.

In addition, the Beatles were surprised and upset when they learned the Maharishi expected between ten and twenty-five percent of their annual income, deposited to a Swiss bank account in his name. John spoke for the group, saying that this would never happen. Bill Harry wrote, in his The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, that although the Maharishi said he dealt in wisdom, not money, “He seemed to act as if he didn’t understand business affairs, and always had an accountant present at his meetings. When travelling he stayed at the best hotels.”* He went on to say that when Neil Aspinall and Peter Brown came from the Beatles’ company, Apple, to arrange for a film to be made of the Beatles and the Maharishi in Rishikesh, to promote the Maharishi’s work, the Maharishi haggled with them over an extra two and a half percentage points of the film’s profits.

Lewis Lapham confirmed the Maharishi’s focus on money in his 1968, two-part Saturday Evening Post articles. He reported that the Maharishi’s Spiritual Regeneration Movement in India, being a foundation, was restricted in its ability to send money out of India. So in 1965, with his following growing on American college campuses, the Maharishi set up the Student International Meditation Society as a corporation that could then send money to a third subsidiary in Switzerland. Mr. Lapham then went on to say that he asked one of the Maharishi’s senior American aides: who manages the organization’s complicated financial affairs? To which the aide answered, “The Maharishi has a head for just about anything he needs a head for.”

The Beatles understood their power and influence with young people and before they split from the Maharishi they had wanted to help him spread the teaching of meditation. Ironically, because of the Beatles, and despite their traumatic split from him, the Maharishi’s face appeared on the covers of numerous magazines including Life, Time, Newsweek, Esquire, and Look. He also appeared at Madison Square Garden and on The Johnny Carson Show.

Bill Harry concludes, “Despite the fact that the Beatles’ association with him had been brief, the Maharishi’s cause had blossomed with the international publicity. The money poured in as the converts grew and the Maharishi immediately began to buy property. In England alone he bought Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire, Roydon Hall in Maidstone, Swythamley Park in the Peak District and a Georgian rectory in Suffolk. He set up his headquarters in Switzerland and at one time he was reported to have an income of six million pounds (twelve million U.S. dollars) per month, with two million followers worldwide.”*

In 1968, in Rishikesh, I had personally received what I was searching for when I went to the Maharishi’s ashram. I imagine the Beatles received something valuable, as well, in the meditation. Obviously, it was easier for me, having come for the very narrow reason of learning meditation to heal a broken heart, than for George and John who had come hoping for revelatory answers to the major questions of life and death.

Finally, I would like to add that my belief and understanding is that the Maharishi was an enlightened being, with a strong commitment to the science of being and how to use the science of meditation to bring more peace and more love into our world. I think he was a pure soul in a rather impure world, and that the talk of his being sexual and eating meat, contrary to his monastic vows, was simply not true.

* Quotes from The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia.