This is the story of a boy born in India in the early 1900’s (the place of birth given in his passport is “Pounallua”, India with a birth date of January 12, 1918). Not a lot is known about his childhood but he was born to an upper caste family, the Kayastha caste, though not of the Brahmin Caste from which the priests and spiritual leaders came. It is known that he studied physics at Allahabad University and earned a degree in 1942. In the Allahabad University list of distinguished alumni his name is listed as M.C. Srivastava. He would later take the name of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi after finding the person that would become his mentor and Spiritual teacher.
Maharishi actually means a great Hindu sage or spiritual leader but Maharishi Mahesh Yogi became such a well-known figure he has come to embody the word. Around the time he was completing his formal education in physics he would become acquainted with a man who had been pursuing his own life adventure for many years. This was Swami Brahmananda Saraswati. Saraswati had begun his Spiritual quest at the age of 9 when he left home and journeyed on foot to northern India in search of a suitable Spiritual teacher. He traveled to the foothills of the Himalayas where he met many possible teachers but it was five years before he would find his chosen master and become a disciple of Swami Krishnānanda Saraswati. He would spend the next 20 years in study and solitude until he was named into the order of “Sanyas” by his master at the age of 34. He returned to a life of solitude living in a cave in central India until close to his 70th birthday when he was coaxed into becoming the Shankaracharya (Spiritual master) of the Jyotir Math monastery. It was at this time that he met the young man still known by the name of Mahesh Srivastava who would become his assistant and student as they rebuilt the monastery and reestablished the Jyotir Math as an important center of traditional Advaita teaching in northern India.
Maharishi would spend close to 12 years studying with and serving Saraswati until his teacher’s death in 1951. 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 Maharishi was a favorite student, he could not be named as the successor to Saraswati because he was not of the Brahmin Caste. Therefore, in 1955 Maharishi left the monastery in Uttarkashi and began publicly teaching a traditional meditation technique he had learned from his master teacher who he would begin to refer to as Guru Dev to more adequately respect his enlightened state and divine Spirit. The meditation technique was initially referred to as “Transcendental Deep Meditation” but it would soon come to be known simply as TM.
According to one biographer of the Maharishi’s life, William Jefferson, in 1958 Maharishi went to Madras to address a large crowd of people who had gathered to celebrate the memory of Guru Dev. It was there that he spontaneously announced that he planned to spread the teaching of TM throughout the world. 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”. This path would soon lead him to the West where cultural icons like The Beatles and Beach Boys would step away from their place in the spotlight of world consciousness to focus attention on the development of their inner peace and consciousness. This served to elevate Maharishi’s TM movement quickly to the global stage he sought.
I find it amazing how the tapestry of all of our lives comes together – all of us interacting and affecting each other in what is all really part of an ongoing evolution of consciousness. The real catalyst for much of my personal Spiritual journey started with a Comparative Religions class I took at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. It was right after finishing the final work of the class that I had one of those moments you might call an epiphany. What hit me was this sense of unity and oneness with everything that came with a realization that the central messages of all of the religious we had studied were the same. In a world where religion still so often divides us the thought of that reality was a revelation.
I had be brought up as a Presbyterian which meant, at least in the church I grew up going to, that you basically should try and be a nice person and enjoy life. We got all the basic Christian tenets but you did not need to be too rigid about things. We were big on tolerance and open mindedness. In our Sunday School Class during my High School years we studied Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Philosophy for discussions on contemporary social values. Heffner’s beliefs were inclusive and he promoted respect for all people regardless of color, religion or sexual preferences. These ideas – these ideas along with a magazine full of things promoting freedom of expression – definitely rung true with the developing values of the young mostly white affluent suburban teenagers who were my peers. So while I had knowledge of the tenets of the Christian Religion, my church experience had been primarily social.
Shortly after my epiphany about religious thinking and the realization I had experienced with what you could call a momentary awareness of a unified field of all possibilities, I came across a flyer that there was going to be a series of free lectures on Transcendental Meditation. Now, the word was out that this was a great way to get high without taking any drugs. I was very big into the concept of altered states of mind at the time. I already accepted that REALITY was a fluid thing that was really no more than a state of mind – a perception in the mind’s eye so to speak. I was reading a lot of science fiction stuff – Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein – that filled my mind with far reaching possibilities. I had also gotten in to the stories of Carlos Castaneda and his encounters in Mexico with a Native American sorcerer or shaman known by the name of Don Juan. Traveling a much different path than Maharishi, Don Juan had also found enlightenment and a mastery of the physical world transcending what he would call ordinary reality. For him psychoactive substances were the magic carpet allowing him to move between various dimensions. His use of these substances and the ways he inducted Castaneda into his world were very formally structured around the step by step learning to use the powers that were revealed. While I enjoyed the experience of smoking marijuana and even trying LSD a couple of times I had no interest in jumping into what could easily be a very dangerous world that Carlos Castaneda was exploring. TM sounded like the right path for me.
A series of free introductory classes was being offered at Rutgers over the course of a few days. These were actually classes where I learned all about what can be best described as the science of meditation. We went through how meditation affects the body-mind system from brain functioning to physiology. We discussed the damaging effects of stress and anxiety. We discussed the benefits of TM as part of an overall program of good diet and moderate exercise. We learned that meditation took no effort and could be done by anyone. We learned what to expect as we began our practice. I believe we had three sessions of a couple of hours each before we were invited to have a final session where we would get our mantra to use for meditating. We were told the mantras were drawn from ancient Indian texts and were sound patterns “whose effect was known”. While these mantras were from religious texts, there was no religious context given to TM – if there was a religion associated with it, it was Science.
All the introductory classes were free but you had to pay for the actual instruction to begin your practice of TM. It was $250 at the time which was a lot of money for me to spend on an experiment – and ounce of good pot was only $35. I really didn’t know for sure at the time but the $250 was one of the best investments I have ever made. It was somehow connected like a next step to the revelation that had come at the end of my comparative religions class and I “knew” this was something I was supposed to do. So I came up with the money and made an appointment for my private “initiation”. We had been told to avoid all non prescription drugs and alcohol for a few days before the initiation which I had adhered to. The classes had created a great sense of importance for the big day. I totally anticipated a life changing event. We were told to bring with us a clean handkerchief and I believe some fresh fruit and a few grains of rice. We were told to wear lose, comfortable clothing. I was a bit nervous.
I guess the session lasted about an hour. We reviewed some of the ideas from the introductory classes and then the teacher conducted a ceremony involving the handkerchief, flower and rice of which I have no memory. I was then given my mantra which I gather was chosen based on my date and time of birth which I had provided to the teacher when I registered for the final session. It was a sound that I was to only say in my mind and keep secret. Each step along the way the process was imbued with importance and power. And so I did my first session with TM.
It really is a very simple process. I was told to sit in a relaxed position in a comfortable chair with my feet on the floor and my back straight. I was told to then take a few slow deep breaths and try and let all my muscles relax. Then came the big moment – I was to “gently” begin saying my mantra to myself – just in my mind not out loud. My instructor whispered it into my ear a couple of times. In a quiet voice the teacher told me to just keep repeating it slowly over and over in my mind. If I noticed I had lost the mantra and was thinking about what I needed to pick up at the store later I was just to gently shift my focus back to repeating the mantra in my mind. I believe there was some sandalwood incense burning somewhere nearby and some soft music playing in the background. With TM you meditate ideally twice per day for 20 minutes each. Sometimes that 20 minutes can take forever and other times it goes by in a flash. For me on that first day it was almost timeless. I kind of remember having an out of body experience of sorts – I definitely had a very clear sense of an expanded consciousness. Sometime later I was signaled that the session was over by the instructor quietly saying “Jai Guru Dev”. This was basically a praise and thank you to Maharishi’s teacher. With that I was given back my handkerchief in which was wrapped the rice and flower I had brought. Over 40 years later I still have that handkerchief, a now well dried flower and the few kernels of rice. I have never told my mantra to anyone and I have not missed more than a dozen days of meditating in all of those years.
Daily meditation – whether TM or most any of many forms of meditation – is really what I would call an “essential” practice to assure an ever more happy and healthy life. I believe we all owe great appreciation to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for bringing this awareness to so many people and I believe the positive effects will only continue to increase and benefit the planet. The book (Karuna Hum – A Reality Design Handbook) is about the evolution of consciousness and meditation is both one of the simplest and most potent tools you have access to for your personal development of consciousness.
I would meet Maharishi in Asbury Park, NJ of all places at what was called a residence course. I had been to one before. The TM organization would take over an entire hotel where all the TM practitioners would sleep, eat and meditate for usually three to five days. During this time you would really do some deep dive meditation. The shared energy and intent of the attendees amplified the energy of the whole experience and instead of just two twenty minute meditation sessions, one morning and one night, at the retreats they would do what is called rounding. You would start your day with your regular meditation session of 20 minutes then have a light breakfast. This would be followed with either a short talk or the viewing of one of Maharishi’s many video lectures. It was all very light hearted – Maharishi was full of fun and loved to laugh during his talks as he did often amusing things with his words. Then we would do a round or two. Here’s how it went. You would start with some very basic yoga asanas which are fairly simple stretches. Then we would do 3-5 minutes of Pranayama which is a simple alternate nostril breathing technique used to relax the body. There is a description of these yoga postures and the breathing technique at the end of this book. This would be followed by twenty minutes of mediation and then we would repeat the whole process again. The meditation sessions would alternate with light physical activity and some form of mental stimulation in the form of lectures or videos. The impact of doing this for a few days and then gradually returning to a regular schedule had a very noticeable effect on me. I kind of had an “afterglow” for a week or so upon my return home.
However the stresses of being the adventurers that most of us are in the world quickly bring us back to whatever reality we left behind. Unlike Maharishi’s teacher who spent most of his life off on his own in a cave somewhere in India, Maharishi wanted TM specifically to be for regular people living their lives. It was really about helping normal people wake up and begin to explore their full potential. Maharishi knew that with one or two twenty minute sessions of meditating a day, one would find a few moments of higher consciousness and the sense of infinite possibility that would open the channel to one’s true creative power. Besides the meditation to the max at residence courses, Maharishi also developed advanced courses for developing mastery of the Siddhis. Siddhis are spiritual, paranormal, supernatural, or otherwise magical powers and abilities that Maharishi taught could be attained through deep meditation and yoga. With this he was really getting into Carlos Castaneda Don Juan territory and I had a life to live so I decided to stick with the basic TM of twenty minutes twice a day.
There is hopefully one message very loud and clear here. That is this, if you are not meditating consistently for 15-20 minutes as you start your day, you should start meditating regularly today. There is nothing simpler or more useful that you can do to enhance your life.