In her new work, Maharishi and Me (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018), Susan Shumsky gives us a first-person account of what it was like being in his day to day sphere. Her insight helps fans to understand more about the man who was the Beatles temporary ‘guru’ and influence.  As the White album celebrates it’s 50th anniversary, this work couldn’t have come at a better time. Many of the album’s songs were written while the Beatles were deeply involved with this movement, and were influenced by events.

What it was really like in Maharishi’s ashram at Rishikesh?
In the jungle-covered Himalayan foothills, Maharishi’s Meditation Academy was built on a 150-foot cliff overlooking the Ganges River from its eastern bank. Across the river downstream stood the hamlet of Rishikesh, a holy place of pilgrimage and haven of yogis, ascetics, devotees of God, and beggars. Maharishi’s ashram was bordered by a dense, dusty, teak forest interspersed with evergreen rosewood (sheesham) and inhabited by langur monkeys, elephants, tigers, crows, peacocks, parrots, vultures, chipmunks, pythons, and cobras. Further north, jagged Himalayan peaks touched the sky.
Amidst a grove of trees at the edge of the bluff overlooking the Ganges, Maharishi’s cottage comprised a small meeting room, tiny bedroom, bathroom, small kitchen, office, and porch above the kitchen. An outdoor staircase led directly onto the flat roof. Basement walls were tiled with Ganges rocks. Maharishi called it his “cave.” The students were housed in single-story, concrete, U-shaped barracks. A front porch, three steps up from the ground, lined the U. Its roof extended overhead, braced by slender pairs of pillars. A dirt path lined with whitewashed stones or bricks connected the puris. The scantily furnished rooms, about eight by twelve feet, consisted of cinder block walls, cement floor, a wooden plank bed with a thin mattress, shelving, an unusable electric heater that blew fuses, a wooden table, a chair, and small filthy windows covered with cobwebs. There were outdoor toilets and communal washbasin, where we took cold or lukewarm outdoor showers.
Under continual construction, Maharishi’s ashram was a maze of gravel paths, streams, waterfalls, trees, flower gardens, and cement buildings painted in pastel colors. The place buzzed with scrawny men in dust-covered dhotis, and grimy turbans to absorb the sweat. Squeaky, rusty wheelbarrows filled with bricks or cement competed with animals crying in the jungle and the constant commotion of Hindi. Potentate of his motley kingdom, Maharishi held court, sitting cross-legged on his deerskin draped over a chair, one knee propped on an armrest, scrutinizing every brick laid and nail hammered, yelling and gesticulating wildly, overseeing the entire circus—a mad contractor directing his crew of lunatics. Or so it seemed—especially with streams and waterfalls misengineered to flow against gravity and unlevel ponds filled halfway with cockeyed water.

What are the reasons the two remaining Beatles John and George left India in a huff? Was it about Mia Farrow?
Reason 1. A film deal gone south:
Maharishi promised The Beatles’ company, Apple Corps Ltd., exclusive rights to produce a movie about TM and Maharishi’s guru. …But the guru had made the same promise to someone else!
Charlie Lutes (president of Maharishi’s Spiritual Regeneration Movement—SRM) had signed a contract with Four Star Productions of Hollywood. On March 20, 1968, Neil Aspinall (manager, Apple Corps) and Denis O’Dell (producer of A Hard Day’s Night) arrived in Rishikesh to negotiate the Apple Corps film deal with Maharishi. A week later, Neil Aspinall left for London. Not long afterward, John and George cabled Aspinall to return to Rishikesh with a film crew and start shooting the Apple Corps film.
Despite being warned of obvious conflicts of interest, Maharishi paid no mind and declared everyone could “work together for the glory of Guru Dev” (Maharishi’s guru). He seemed undaunted. Charlie Lutes arrived on April 4 with a Four Star Productions lawyer and a signed contract—granting exclusive rights to film Maharishi for the next five years! On April 9, the Four Star movie crew arrived overnight.
At dawn, in the Beatles courtyard, the bed-headed, bleary-eyed, half-asleep John Lennon opened his door to a cameramen and director yelling “Action.” Now John and George were expected to be two-bit players in the Four Star film. John and George became very angry and started to feel Maharishi was using them for publicity. So they avoided the lecture hall, which was installed with lights and cameras. They refused to leave their rooms.

Reason 2. A pass that Maharishi made towards a female course participant from Brooklyn:
Johan Alexis Mardas (a so-called “inventor” but in reality a TV repairman) was dubbed by John “my new guru ‘Magic Alex.” Cynthia Lennon, alarmed at his Svengali-like influence over her husband, declared Alexis “made her skin crawl.” Alexis arrived in Rishikesh near the end of March, 1968. No one ever saw him meditating. Alexis told Charlie Lutes his real intention was to split the Beatles from Maharishi. Alexis described the ashram students as “second-rate American actresses,” “mentally ill old ladies, and a bunch of lost, pretty girls.” Yet he had no compunction about practicing the Kama Sutra with one—a shorthaired blond schoolteacher from Brooklyn, Rosalyn Bonas.
Through the thin walls, Rosalyn’s next-door neighbor Mike Dolan overheard Alexis and Rosalyn nightly in flagrante delicto. Marijuana and alcoholic beverages came and went. One of Maharishi’s personal assistants informed Mike that Rosalyn would be expelled from the ashram. Alexis and Rosalyn had been spreading rumors that Maharishi made sexual advances toward Rosalyn. Alexis claimed he hid in the undergrowth and spied Maharishi trying to hug Rosalyn (both fully clothed) in his bungalow. Whether Alexis actually saw the purported “hug” is immaterial. What is real—Rosalyn reported to Alexis, Cynthia, Pattie, and Tom Simcox (a Hollywood actor) that Maharishi made a pass at her. Her accusation exacerbated John and George’s disillusion about Maharishi’s exploitation of them—a wound still bleeding fresh blood.
Hypersensitive and suggestible after two months of constant meditation, the Beatles and wives stayed up all night debating the allegation. Alexis warned the evil Maharishi might hex them with black magic and they should leave immediately. Finally, George and John started to believe the rumor. Early morning April 10, John and George appeared at Maharishi’s bungalow and took them into his bedroom. Twenty minutes later, the Beatles announced they were leaving. No one knows what happened during that meeting other than John, George, and Maharishi. Alexis claimed he was in the room, but he wasn’t. John Lennon returned to his bungalow, ripped up his poster of Maharishi, and tossed it, face down, onto the cement floor. Alexis scrambled to find taxis to speed the group to the airport, before anyone changed their mind.
Alexis got what he wanted—his Beatles back and a job at Apple Corps. And Rosalyn left the ashram one day after she became disillusioned with her guru.

Reason 3. See point below about George apologizing to Maharishi.
The Beatles’ departure was not about Mia Farrow because she had left India for London on March 7 to make a film, Secret Ceremony, in England with Elizabeth Taylor.

Which Beatle did Maharishi think was the best meditator?
Surprisingly, it was not George. Maharishi said all the Beatles had too much brain in the way except for Ringo, who followed his heart and feelings.

Why were John Lennon and Yoko Ono arrested in Mallorca, Spain in 1971 (when you were there)?
On April 23, 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono suddenly appeared in Mallorca, Spain at the Samoa Hotel desk to “collect” Yoko’s seven-year-old daughter Kyoko Chan Cox. The child’s father Anthony Cox and his wife Melinda Kendall were meditating on the Teacher Training Course that Maharishi was teaching there. I was also on the course. Cox had custody of Kyoko, but a battle raged over visitation rights.Though John and Yoko wore dumb disguises, everyone recognized them immediately—including the Spanish hotel manager, whom we dubbed “Señor Bullfrog” (due to his constant croak of “Hola! Hola! Dígame! Dígame!” at peak pitch when answering the phone). Señor Bullfrog called Maharishi’s secretary Gregory to the desk to meet “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” When faced with John and Yoko, a gobsmacked, speechless Gregory was incapable of uttering a word.
Yet someone pointed the Lennons in the right direction, because they kidnapped Kyoko from daycare at 1:00 p.m. Cox reported the abduction to the Guardia Civil. By 5:00 p.m. John and Yoko were arrested in Palma at Hotel Melia Mallorca. By 8:00 p.m., Kyoko was returned to her father. The Lennons received a conditional discharge and flew to Paris.
What are some predictions Maharishi made about the Beatles, and about John Lennon in particular?
Maharishi said, “Of all the Beatles, George is the most advanced, and this is his last life. John has many more to go and must not give in to his weakness for women or it will ruin him.” While the Beatles were in India, Maharishi prophetically warned them: “If you don’t continue your meditation practice, your singing group will break up.”

What devastating remark did Maharishi make when Lennon tried to return to the ashram?
In December 1969, eight months after John Lennon left India in a tizzy, a handful of students met Maharishi in his simple brick, concrete, and stone bungalow in Rishikesh—far from the “villa” or “air-conditioned mansion” described by the media, or “million-dollar” “very rich-looking” house professed by John Lennon, though he’d visited the modest quarters numerous times.
A USA map was propped against the wall. Maharishi was discussing a place to hold a Teacher Training Course for at least a thousand students, since the ashram was too small. Suddenly Kathleen Chambers, serving as Maharishi’s secretary, burst into the room and announced there was an important telegram. Maharishi asked, “Yes, who it is from?” Kathleen said, “It’s from John Lennon. He’s in New Delhi, and he’s asking if he can come and see you.” Maharishi looked at her with a blank expression. His response was “Who?” Kathleen replied, “John Lennon, Maharishi, who was one of the Beatles who were here.” Again Maharishi asked, “Who?” Kathleen replied, “Maharishi, it’s John Lennon from the Beatles. He flew into Delhi, by himself, and he very much wants to come and see you.”Maharishi turned from her, and declared, with disgust: “I do not know a John Lennon.”

Why did George Harrison apologize to Maharishi in 1991?
On February 15, 2006 and again right after Maharishi’s death on February 6, 2008, Deepak Chopra reported to the Times of India that in September 1991, George Harrison asked him to arrange a private meeting with Maharishi in Vlodrop, Netherlands. Deepak was in attendance. As the meeting began, George presented Maharishi with a rose, followed by a long silence.

Then Maharishi asked, “How have you been?”
George replied, “Some good things [have happened], some bad things.” He added, “You must know about John being assassinated.”Maharishi replied, “I was very sorry to hear about it.” After some time, George said, “I came to apologize.” “For what?” Maharishi asked.“You know for what,” replied George.“Tell Deepak the real story,” Maharishi said.George replied, “I don’t know about it 100 percent, but here’s what I know transpired.” George told Deepak that Maharishi asked the Beatles to leave Rishikesh because they were using drugs during the meditation course. But Maharishi refused to come out publicly to humiliate the band members.
The topic turned to the Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, when it was reported there was no crime in the USA during that hour. Maharishi said, “When I heard this, I knew the Beatles were angels on earth. They created such beautiful music for the world. It doesn’t matter what John said or did, I could never be upset with angels.”On hearing that, George broke down and wept. There was another long silence.Then George told Maharishi, “I love you” and Maharishi responded, “I love you too.” Later George phoned Deepak and told him, “A huge karmic baggage has been lifted from me, because I didn’t want to lie.”

Why did the Beatles make a pact never to reveal why they left India?
Peter Brown reported in The Love You Make that the Beatles decided “if they told the story, it would reflect poorly on them.” If what Deepak said to the Times of India is true, then the Beatles would not want to reveal that they had been ousted from India by Maharishi. So it would make sense that this was why they decided not to tell anyone the real reason they left India.

Who was “Sexy Sadie”?
As John and George were leaving the ashram in Rishikesh in a huff,  John took out vengeance on Maharishi, writing a song with lyrics: “Maharishi, you little twat. Who the fuck do you think you are? Oh, you cunt.” When George objected, “You can’t say that. It’s ridiculous,” John changed the lyrics. “Sexy Sadie” became the seductress in his song that appeared on The Beatles (White Album).

Who was “Dear Prudence”?
Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence Farrow had abused drugs and alcohol as a teenager, resulting in a stint at a psychiatric hospital. In Rishikesh, she spent nearly all her time in meditation. She abhorred the Beatles’ celebrity circus and endless banging music. Maharishi placed her in a discussion group with Beatles John and George, and asked them to check on her. One day they burst into her room, singing “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band,” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Though she was grateful, she just wanted them to disappear.Prudence suffered a terrifying psychotic episode at the ashram. A course attendee trained to handle brain disorders volunteered to stay next door, and two nurses from Delhi took turns sleeping inside her room. Prudence was ushered to Maharishi’s bungalow daily, where he directed her to practice yoga postures in the corner of his meeting room. If her mind wandered, he tapped on his coffee table with a pen to get her attention and said, “Continue, continue.” Within three weeks of daily massages and visits with Maharishi, Prudence returned from the abyss and became responsive and happy. Just before leaving Rishikesh, George sent Prudence a message that John had written a song for her—”Dear Prudence.”

Who was “Bungalow Bill”?
Richard A. Cooke III (Rik) dressed and looked like a textbook Anglo-Saxon Ivy Leaguer. His mother Nancy Jackson was taking the course in Rishikesh, and they took a tiger hunt together. After riding one of eight elephants that drove tigers into a kill zone, Nancy spotted the tiger from a high platform in a tree, and Rik shot it in the head. John, Paul, George, and Jane Asher happened to be in Maharishi’s bungalow when the hunters returned to describe their tiger kill, while Maharishi glared silently at Nancy. Rik said it was the only time he ever saw him angry. What’s bizarre is the hunters expected the vegetarian Hindu yogi would react differently.
When Maharishi asked Rik whether he no longer had the desire to kill animals, the collegiate answered he would never kill again. When Rik asked whether he was just an agent of change, John Lennon piped in with, “Don’t you call that slightly life-destructive?” Nancy retorted, in defense, “Well, John, it was either the tiger or us.” Maharishi responded, “Life destruction is life destruction. End of story!” Thus was born the “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” which John described as “written about a guy in Maharishi’s meditation camp who took a short break to shoot a few poor tigers, and then came back to commune with God.”

Who was “Jojo”?
Terry Gustafson, originally from Tucson, AZ, was a Ranger in Sequoia National Park. A bitter divorce and tough years drove him to LSD, which he took weekly for six months—enough to realize drugs weren’t the answer. In January 1967, he learned TM, and at the end of 1967, he quit the Park Service and flew to Rishikesh.
Terry, dressed in short hair and khakis, came across John Lennon outside the lecture hall one night. John wore a flowing paisley cape, red sash, white bell-bottom pants, and green Egyptian slippers with curled-up toes. His hair was dyed five different colors. Strobe lights built into his eyeglasses flashed on and off. “Look at you!” “Look at me!” John exclaimed. “One of us don’t belong ‘ere. Get back to the forest! Get back to Tucson Arizona! Get back where you belong!” After that, John often told Terry to “Get back!” when their paths crossed. This was how the song “Get Back” was conceived.

Who was the real Jean Simmon’s look-alike in “The Maharishi Song” by John and Yoko?
It was Nadine Lewy, wife of Henry Lewy: sound engineer and record producer for Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Nadine was in India with the Beatles in 1968, and a photo of her is in my book Maharishi & Me on page 36, and she’s also in the Paul Saltzman’s Rishikesh course photo from 1968.

Hidden meanings behind several songs:
“Revolution” originated from “The Maharishi Effect,”—the guru’s theory about world peace. He often said, “For the forest to be green, the trees must be green; for the world to be at peace, the people must be at peace.” He believed peace could never be achieved through politics or treaties, but it could be attained with a large percentage of the population meditating. He demonstrated this theory through scientific studies.

“Get Back”

Terry Gustafson, originally from Tucson, AZ, was a Ranger in Sequoia National Park. A bitter divorce and tough years drove him to LSD, which he took weekly for six months—enough to realize drugs weren’t the answer. In January 1967, he learned TM, and at the end of 1967, he quit the Park Service and flew to Rishikesh.
Terry, dressed in short hair and khakis, came across John Lennon outside the lecture hall one night. John wore a flowing paisley cape, red sash, white bell-bottom pants, and green Egyptian slippers with curled-up toes. His hair was dyed five different colors. Strobe lights built into his eyeglasses flashed on and off. “Look at you!” “Look at me!” John exclaimed. “One of us don’t belong ‘ere. Get back to the forest! Get back to Tucson Arizona! Get back where you belong!” After that, John often told Terry to “Get back!” when their paths crossed. According to Terry, this was how the song “Get Back” was conceived.

At first Paul reported that he was inspired to write “Blackbird” when he heard loud crowing in the early morning at the ashram. However, years later he ascribed deeper significance to it, paralleling the lyrics to the Civil Rights Movement.

“Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”
The lyrics of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” consisted of Maharishi’s favorite expressions and portrayed meditation experiences. Frequently, Maharishi used to say “Take it easy; take it as it comes,” and “it’s such a joy!” Whenever he beckoned anyone to meet with him, Maharishi would always say, “Come, come,” or “Come on.” John revealed the “monkey” was Yoko Ono.

“Long, Long, Long”
George’s “Long, Long, Long” was about tears shed in losing and finding God.

“Mother Nature’s Son,” “Child of Nature”
One of Maharishi’s lectures about the unity of nature and mankind touched the Beatles deeply, inspiring “Mother Nature’s Son” by Paul, and “Child of Nature” by John, which mentioned Rishikesh in the lyrics (its melody was later released as “Jealous Guy”).

“Across the Universe”
“Across the Universe” included the term Jai Guru Deva (“Hail to the divine teacher”). Instead of “hello,” Maharishi greeted everyone with this salutation, recognizing his own guru.

“My Sweet Lord”
In “My Sweet Lord,” George Harrison sang words from the puja ceremony chanted by every Transcendental Meditation teacher when they initiate new students. Here’s the translation of the Sanskrit words Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo, Maheshwara, Gurur Sakshaat, Parabrahma, Tasmayi Shree, Guruve Namah, which originated from the ancient Guru Gita (Song of the Guru): “The guru is Brahma, Vishnu, and the great Lord Shiva. The guru is the eternal Brahman, the transcendental absolute. I bow to the supreme guru, adorned with glory.”

“Dehra Dun”
George’s “Dehra Dun” criticized students running off to buy ashram-forbidden meat and eggs in the town Dehra Dun, 28 miles away—far from the spiritual riches of Rishikesh.

Susan Shumsky is a rare insider who spent 22 years in the ashrams and six years on the personal staff of Beatles’ guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of TM (Transcendental Meditation). Her memoir, Maharishi & Me: Seeking Enlightenment with the Beatles’ Guru, illuminates the behind-the-scenes story of Maharishi’s influence on the Beatles and his other celebrity disciples. The book’s website is

Words by Bob Wilson

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