Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was born as Mahesh Prasad Varma on 12 January 1917 in Jabalpur, Central Provinces and Berar, British India & died on 5 February 2008 in Vlodrop, The Netherlands, developed the Transcendental Meditation technique and was the leader and guru of the TM movement, characterised as a new religious movement and also as non-religious. His given name was Mahesh; Maharishi and Yogi are honorifics.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi became a disciple and assistant of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, the Shankaracharya (spiritual leader) of Jyotirmath in the Indian Himalayas. The Maharishi credits Brahmananda Saraswati with inspiring his teachings. By 1955, the Maharishi had introduced the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique and other related programmes and initiatives to the world. His first global tour began in 1958.
He began to be known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi around the year 1955. His devotees referred to him as His Holiness, and because he often laughed in TV interviews he publicly became known as the giggling guru.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Maharishi achieved fame as the guru to The Beatles and other celebrities. He started the TM-Sidhi programme, in the late 1970s that claimed to offer practitioners the ability to levitate and to create world peace. The Maharishi’s Natural Law Party was founded in 1992, and ran campaigns in dozens of countries. He moved to MERU, Holland, near Vlodrop, the Netherlands, in the same year. In 2000, he created the Global Country of World Peace, a country without borders, and appointed its leaders. In 2008, the Maharishi announced his retirement from all administrative activities and went into mauna (spiritual silence) until his death three weeks later.
The Maharishi is reported to have trained more than 40,000 TM teachers, taught the Transcendental Meditation technique to “more than five million people” and founded thousands of teaching centers and hundreds of colleges, universities and schools, while TM websites report tens of thousands learned his advanced meditation techniques. His initiatives include schools and universities with campuses in several countries including India, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. The Maharishi, his family and close associates created charitable organisations and for-profit businesses including health clinics, mail-order health supplements and organic farms. The reported value of the Maharishi’s empire has ranged from the millions to billions of dollars and in 2008, the organization placed the value of their United States assets at about $300 million.
The birth name, birth date, and caste of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi are not known with certainty, in part because of the tradition of ascetics and monks to renounce family connections.
Many accounts say he was born Mahesh Prasad Varma into a family living in the Central Provinces of British India. A different name appears in the Allahabad University list of distinguished alumni, where he is listed as M.C. Srivastava. Srivastava is the name of his nephews and cousins, and an obituary says his name was “Mahesh Srivastava”.
Mahesh’s father is identified as a local tax official in the civil service. One source says he worked in the department of forestry.
Various accounts give the year of his birth as 1911, 1917 or 1918. Biographies by Paul Mason and William Jefferson say that he was born 12 January, 1917 in Jabalpur, Central Provinces. The place of birth given in his passport is “Pounalulla”, India and his birth date as 12 January 1918.
While a few sources say Mahesh came from a lower-caste family, the predominant view is that he was a member of the Kayastha caste, a high-status caste whose traditional profession is writing.
Mahesh studied physics at Allahabad University and earned a degree in 1942. Some accounts say that he worked in a factory following graduation. In 1941, he became a secretary to the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, and took a new name, Bal Brahmachari Mahesh. Coplin refers to bala brahmachari as both a title and a name, and considers that it “identified him as a fully dedicated student of spiritual knowledge and life-long celibate ascetic”. Brahmachari Mahesh remained with Swami Brahmananda Saraswati until the latter died in 1953, when he moved to Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand in the Himalayas. He was trusted to take care of the bulk of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati’s correspondence without direction, and was also sent out to give public speeches on Vedic (scriptural) themes. Although Brahmachari Mahesh was a close disciple, he could not be the Shankaracharya’s spiritual successor because he was not of the Brahmin caste. The Shankaracharya, at the end of his life, charged Brahmachari Mahesh with the responsibility of travelling and teaching meditation to the masses, and named Swami Shantananda Saraswati as his successor.
Honored with “Proud Past Alumni” in the list of 42 members, from “Allahabad University Alumni Association”, NCR, Ghaziabad (Greater Noida) Chapter 2007-2008 registered under society act 1860 with registration no. 407/2000.
In 1955, Brahmachari Mahesh left Uttarkashi and began publicly teaching what he stated was a traditional meditation technique that he learned from his master Brahmananda Saraswati, which he called Transcendental Deep Meditation and later renamed Transcendental Meditation. He travelled around India for two years. At that time, he called his movement the Spiritual Development Movement, but renamed it the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in 1957, in Madras, India, on the concluding day of the Seminar of Spiritual Luminaries. According to J. Lynwood King, in his dissertation Fundamentals of Maharishi Vedic Science, the feedback Brahmachari Mahesh received from the diverse population that learned his technique suggested to him that it could be of wide benefit. In his visits to southern India, he spoke in English rather than the Hindi spoken in his home area to avoid provoking resistance among those seeking linguistic self-determination and to appeal to the “learned classes”, according to Coplin.
In 1959, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi began his first world tour, writing: “I had one thing in mind, that I know something which is useful to every man”.
The Maharishi’s 1986 book, Thirty Years Around the World, gives a detailed account of his world tours, as does a later biography, The Maharishi by Paul Mason. The first world tour began in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar) and included the countries of Thailand, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and Hawaii. The Honolulu Star Bulletin reported: “He has no money, he asks for nothing. His worldly possessions can be carried in one hand. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is on a world odyssey. He carries a message that he says will rid the world of all unhappiness and discontent.” In 1959, the Maharishi lectured and taught the Transcendental Meditation technique in Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, New York and London.
When the Maharishi came to the U.S. in 1959, his movement was renamed Transcendental Meditation. That same year he began the International Meditation Society with centres in San Francisco and London. Maharishi was a frequent guest at the Los Angeles home of Roland and Helena Olson and their daughter Theresa, who wrote several books about their experiences. He continued to visit the Olsons’ home over the next few years.
In 1960, the Maharishi travelled to many cities in India, France, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. He lectured, taught the Transcendental Meditation technique, and established administrative centres where practitioners could gather for meetings in his absence.
While in Manchester, England, the Maharishi gave a television interview and was featured in many English newspapers such as the Birmingham Post, the Oxford Mail and the Cambridge Daily News. This was also the year in which the Maharishi trained Henry Nyburg to be the first Transcendental Meditation teacher in Europe.
In 1961, the Maharishi visited Austria, Sweden, France, Italy, Greece, India, Kenya, England, USA and Canada. While in England, the Maharishi appeared on BBC television and gave a lecture to 5,000 people at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In April 1961, the Maharishi conducted his first Transcendental Meditation Teacher Training Course in Rishikesh, India with sixty participants from various countries. Teachers continued to be trained as time progressed. During the course, Maharishi began to introduce additional knowledge regarding the development of human potential, and began writing his translation and commentary on the first six chapters of the ancient Vedic text, the Bhagavad Gita.
At this time, the Maharishi began to recommend the daily practice of yoga exercises or asanas to accelerate growth through meditation. “For good health it is necessary for everyone to do something with the body so that it remain flexible and normal,” Maharishi said. “The advantage of YOGA ASANAS over other eastern and western systems of physical posture is that they do not consume energy. They help restore life force, promote health and maintain normal conditions in the body.” His organisation produced an introductory publication on yoga asanas in cooperation with a professor of yoga at the University of Travancore, India, K.B. Hari Krishna.
His 1962 world tour included visits to Europe, India, Australia and New Zealand. The year concluded in California where the Maharishi began dictating his book The Science of Being and Art of Living. In Rishikesh, India, beginning on 20 April 1962, a forty-day course was held for “sadhus, sanyasis, and brahmacharis” to introduce TM to “religious preachers and spiritual masters in India”.
The Maharishi toured cities in Europe, Asia, North America and India in 1963, and also addressed ministers of the Indian Parliament. According to his memoirs, twenty-one members of parliament then issued a public statement endorsing the Maharishi’s goals and meditation technique. His Canadian tour generated news articles in the magazine Enjoy and in the Daily Colonist, Calgary Herald and The Albertan.
The Maharishi’s fifth world tour, in 1964, consisted of visits to many cities in North America, Europe and India. During his visit to England, he appeared with the Abbot of Downside, Abbot Butler, on a BBC television show called “The Viewpoint”. In October of that year, in California, the Maharishi began teaching the first Advanced Technique of Transcendental Meditation to some experienced meditators. While travelling in America, the Maharishi met with Robert Maynard Hutchins, the head of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and U Thant, the Secretary General of the United Nations. During this same year, the Maharishi finished his book The Science of Being and Art of Living, which sold more than a million copies and was published in fifteen languages.
In 1966, the Maharishi founded the Students’ International Meditation Society, which The Los Angeles Times later characterised as a “phenomenal success”.
In 1967, the Maharishi gave a lecture at Caxton Hall in London which was attended by Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife, as well as Leon MacLaren, the founder and leader of the School of Economic Science (SES). That same year, an article in Time magazine called the Maharishi the “soothsayer for everyman” and reported that he “has been sharply criticised by other Indian sages, who complain that his program for spiritual peace without either penance or asceticism contravenes every traditional Hindu belief”. Religion and culture scholar Sean McCloud says that Newsweek reported that “many Indian sages contend that his rather simplified system of meditation is without basis in the Bhagavad-Gita—the epic poem that is Hinduism’s most exalted scripture”. McCloud also writes that Look magazine “asserted that tradition-minded gurus, angrily citing the Bhagavad Gita, say that self-abnegation and suffering along with rigid concentration are the prescribed pathway to Enlightenment”, in contrast to the Maharishi’s “belief that Enlightenment was compatible with active living and easily available to everyone.”
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, concerned about his health, became increasingly secluded in two rooms of his residence. He communicated with even his closest advisors by closed-circuit television.
On January 12, 2008, the Maharishi declared: “It has been my pleasure at the feet of Guru Dev (Brahmananda Saraswati), to take the light of Guru Dev and pass it on in my environment. Now today, I am closing my designed duty to Guru Dev. And I can only say, ‘Live long the world in peace, happiness, prosperity, and freedom from suffering.’”
A week before his death, the Maharishi said that he was “stepping down as leader of the TM movement” and “retreating into silence” and that he planned to spend his remaining time studying “the ancient Indian texts”. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi died peacefully in his sleep of natural causes on February 5, 2008 at his residence in Vlodrop, Netherlands. The cremation and funeral rites were conducted at the Maharishi’s Allahabad ashram in India, overlooking the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. The funeral, with state honours, was carried by Sadhana TV station and was presided over by one of the claimants to the seat of Shankaracharya of the North, Swami Vasudevananda Saraswati Maharaj. Also in attendance were state and local officials, thirty-five Rajas of the Global Country of World Peace, one-time disciple Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and David Lynch. A troop of uniformed policemen lowered their arms in salute. A memorial building, the Maharishi Smarak, is now under construction near the same site. With a projected height of about 80 feet (24 m) and a golden roof topped with kalashas, it is expected to be “visible everywhere from the city of Prayag (Allahabad)”.
The Maharishi was survived by a number of nephews and nieces. One nephew, Brahmachari Girish Chandra Varma, is chairman of the Maharishi Vidya Mandir Schools Group, president of Maharishi Institute of Management, chancellor of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Vedic University and chancellor of Maharishi University of Management and Technology in India. Varma is also Director General of Maharishi World Centre of Gandharva Ved and Maharishi World Capital of Peace, Brahmasthan of India. Other nephews include Anand Shrivastava, chairman of the Maharishi Group, and Ajay Prakash Shrivastava, president of Maharishi Vidya Mandir Schools.
After his death, Indian spiritual guru and former disciple Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, said “Maharishi laid the foundation for a new world based on the knowledge of Vedas and spirituality” and that “there was none like him and none shall ever be again.” Paul McCartney also commented saying that “Whilst I am deeply saddened by his passing, my memories of him will only be joyful ones. He was a great man who worked tirelessly for the people of the world and the cause of unity.”