The Maharishi Makes the Scene
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: The Politics of Salvation
by Richard Goldstein
The question of the hour is: can an honest man still be a fraud?
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi arrived in New York last Thursday, fresh from triumphs in all the pop capitals of the West. The Beatles sent pink tulips and carnations to his suite at the Plaza. The Beach Boys -- long fascinated by mystic meditation -- accompanied him from Los Angeles. And the New York press establishment greeted him with equal measures of suspicion and relief. They were, after all, tired of the hippies.
On Friday morning, he received reporters in the Plaza's State Suite, a generous room decorated in Versailles Nouveau. It smelled of flowers and cologne. Chic ladies and gentlemen from the fashion slicks scurried around television cables for a glimpse of the guru's smile. Hippies with credentials formed a breaded wedge along the gold draperies. The ballsier reporters squatted around a white satin couch on which the Maharishi was sitting. His reflection filled every piece of crystal in the chandelier.
The Maharishi is a practical man. That is the only defense he offers for his particular meditative technique. "Maybe, it works," he shrugs at the end of a lecture, leaving his audience to ponder their needs and alternatives. And in organizing his Spiritual Regeneration Movement, he has shown the same sense of transcendent pragmatism. While his eventual plans call for universal participation, he extends an immediate invitation to the "fortunate possessors of resources." He wants to train one teacher for every population of 100,000. This network of sub-gurus would be composed almost entirely of people who are powerful, important, or rich.
The Maharishi makes no attempt to disguise his elitism. He considers wealth and achievement important signs of spiritual advancement. Success, he reasons, is the logical result of inner peace, and failure cannot occur except through inner strife. Thus, he who is wealthy is usually healthy and potentially wise.
Wherever he has gone, the Maharishi has taken his movement to the taste-makers. In London, he fond the Beatles; in San Francisco, the Grateful Dead; in Hollywood, a bevy of searching starlets. When he brought his technique to Germany, der guru approached factory bosses; after they discovered that transcendental meditation could increase production, they embraced the movement as a national asset.
In New York, the Maharishi wanted to meet the media. A large theatrical agency, which also handles public relations for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus, arranged his press conference, circulated in the audience with flowers in their stiff lapels, and surrounded their client like steel-gray columns.
"Jesus didn't have any public relations men around him," noted one reporter. "That is why he took so many hundreds of years to be known," the Maharishi replied in a small, tinkling voice. He cradled a hyacinth bud in one hand and gestured with the other. His eyes shone under the klieg lights like sunny water.
"Your Holiness, do you ever suffer?"
"I don't remember the last time I was depressed."
"Your Holiness, nine years ago you left your hermit's cave in the Himalayas. Why did you leave?"
"To come out."
"Your Majesty, how old are you?"
"As you look at me."
"What do your beads symbolize...what didi you do for the Beatles...Was your father a wise man?"
"He must have been."
"What did he do?"
"Work...as all men."
"Ahh, he's not gonna tell you."
The Maharishi does not enjoy talking about himself. When a personal question arises, his smile dims to a perplexed frown. He usually circumvents his own history, but he is reported to be about 56 years old, the son of a government revenue collector named Mahesh (Maharishi means great sage, an a yogi is a teacher). He is a university graduate who worked in a factory before he became a holy man. In recent days, his cave has been replaced by a palatial ashram with soundproof walls and indirect lighting.
...This country is facing its most impolite summer in more than 100 years. Are we to teach the National Guard bliss consciousness so they can perform their duties with inner peace? Are we to meditate between strafings? Can we ever transcend America?
That is the solution this year's guru offers. He belongs on the cover of Life-Look. His message is one we are desperate to believe: that guilt is a futile emotion. "My heart is bouncing with bliss," he said last Sunday, to a capacity crowd at the Felt Forum of the new Madison Square Garden. "It is this afternoon that I am to announce that without a doubt, transendental meditation, if carried throughout the world, will create peace for generations to come."
His audience of teenyboppers who had heard him on the Gary Stevens Show, and matrons who had seen him on Johnny Carson, sighed and smiled at the small man amid the chrysanthemums. A middle-aged lady in a see-through dress anwhite go-go boots folded her hands in gratitude.
Can an honest man still be a fraud? If he allows himself to be thrust into a fraudulent role -- yes.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]