Each man has within himself a great storehouse of
creative energy, peace and happiness ... In order to
feel the benefit of this storehouse, however, a man
must have access to it; he must know that it is there,
know how to reach it ...
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Towards World Peace
PAUL: Looking back I feel that the Maharishi experience was worthwhile. For me, then, it was the sixties, I'd been doing a bunch of drugs, I wasn't in love with anyone, I hadn't settled down. I think maybe I was looking for something to fill some sort of hole. I remember at the time feeling a little bit empty. I don't know whether it was spiritual or what, it was probably just staying up all night and doing too many drugs. I was probably just physically tired.
The whole meditation experience was very good and I still use the mantra. I don't really practise it massively but it's always in the back of my mind if I ever want to. For instance, when I was in jail in Japan it came in very handy; I meditated a lot there and it was very good. I wasn't allowed to write and I didn't want to just sit there and do nothing. My brain was racing, as you can imagine, so meditation was great. I found it very useful and still do. I find it soothing and I can imagine that the more you were to get into it, the more interesting it would get.
Whatever the ultimate value of the meditation experience for the Beatles, the trip to visit the Maharishi in India in 1968 was an extraordinary period of creativity for them. Almost all the songs that would appear on the White Album and Abbey Road were composed in those few productive weeks. Even Ringo wrote a song - 'Don't Pass Me By'.
They collaborated with each other and jammed with other musicians who were there. They were for once without their usual protective Liverpool bubble; when they were touring, the only people the Beatles usually dealt with were their manager, their two road managers and their press officer, all from Liverpool. In India the company included musicians and celebrities as diverse as Donovan and his friend Gypsy Dave, Mike Love of the Beach Boys and the American flautist Paul Horn, Mia Farrow and her sister, and assorted meditators from all nations. Wives and girlfriends were also there, the womenfolk who were usually barred from touring and recording sessions. After six frenetic years as the four mop tops and Lords of Psychedelia, the Beatles sat in their brightly coloured Indian cotton shirts, quietly meditating or strumming guitars, surrounded everywhere by hibiscus and frangipani, black crows napping in the treetops and squealing monkeys tumbling through the branches of the surrounding jungle.
Of all the Beatles, George Harrison had always been the one most attracted to Eastern ideas, both musically and philosophically. His introduction to the sitar came unexpectedly during the making of the film Help! The director Dick Lester and the screenwriter Charles Wood set up a scene in which a trio of Indian musicians play a selection of Beatles hits while the group are eating in an Indian restaurant. An arranger did his best to transcribe English music notation for tabla, flute and sitar, and as the musicians were making their first hilarious attempt to sight-read 'A Hard Day's Night', George appeared, intrigued by the unusual sound. He began fiddling with the sitar and soon learned the rudiments. A few months later, in October 1965, he played sitar on 'Norwegian Wood', released on Rubber Soul. His sensitive, haunting playing intrigued Brian Jones, who quickly learned enough to play the sitar on 'Paint It Black', one of his triumphs with the Stones. Sales of sitars soared. That same year, 1965, George met Ravi Shankar, the greatest of Indian sitar virtuosos, at dinner in the home of Mr Anghadi, who ran the Asian Music Circle in London. Not long afterwards, Ravi visited George in Esher and gave him a quick sitar lesson with John and Ringo looking on.
In July 1966, on their way back to Britain after their tour of Hong Kong and Japan, the Beatles stopped off briefly in New Delhi, hoping to get away from Beatlemania. George had originally planned to stop over in India for a few days to buy a sitar, and, as he didn't want to go alone, had asked along their road manager Neil Aspinall. However, by the time the Beatles tour got to Japan, the other Beatles decided that they wanted to stop over in India too. But in Manila, they had inadvertently caused offence by not attending a reception given by Imelda Marcos, the wife of the Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos. They had to struggle on to their plane through crowds of jeering Filipinos, carrying all their equipment. Their concert fees were confiscated and their chauffeur, Alf, was beaten up.
In George's autobiography I Me Mine, he recalls:
By the time we had got through the Manila experience, nobody wanted to get off the plane when it arrived in Delhi, they thought 'no thanks, no more changes, let's get home!' They didn't want to go through some other strange country and so I said to Neil, 'Are you still coming?' and he said 'Yes,' so we got our hand baggage and prepared for Delhi and then a steward or stewardess came down the plane and said: 'Sorry, we've already sold your seats to London, so you'll have to get off' and so they all got off. We all did.
As crowds of Indian fans tried to get past the two massive turbaned Sikhs guarding suite 448 of the Oberoi Hotel, the Beatles slipped out of the back door and over to the premises of Rikhi Ram and Sons, sitar makers, on Connaught Circle, where they all ordered sitars from the overwhelmed and delighted proprietor, Mr B. D. Sharma.
Two months later, George returned to India with Patti, checked into the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay and spent six weeks studying sitar with Ravi Shankar. Shankar himself claimed that after seven and a half years of study with his teacher Ustad Alludin Khan, he had not yet fully mastered the nineteen-stringed instrument; however, after six weeks, he pronounced George 'an apt pupil'. But George was not intending to play classical Indian ragas, he just wanted to be proficient enough to play on Beatles songs, and told the press, 'I've got no illusions about being a sitar player ...' When Shankar arrived in London that October, George was at the airport to meet him wearing Indian clothes. Shankar, who had been educated in Paris, was wearing a smart European suit. George told Miles in 1967:
Ravi's my musical guru... But then later I realised that this wasn't the real thing, this was only a little stepping stone for me to see, because through the music, you reach the spiritual part... My stepping stones have led me to become a Hindu... It's a good vibration which makes you feel good. Those vibrations that you get through yoga, cosmic chants, it's such a buzz. It buzzes you out of everywhere. It's nothing to do with pills or anything like that. It's just in your own head. It buzzes you right into the astral plane.
As yet, George had taken no personal guru, though he was very influenced by the work of Vivekananda. The other Beatles were intrigued and showed great sympathy and respect for his interest and commitment to Hinduism, but Indian philosophy remained primarily George's interest. Paul told NME in August 1967: 'In some ways I envy George because he now has a great faith. He seems to have found what he's been searching for.'
George and Patti attended Ravi Shankar's concert at the Hollywood Bowl on 4 August 1967, and the day before George gave a press conference with Ravi to help promote the event. It was during this trip that George wrote 'Blue Jay Way', another song in which he used the sitar to particularly good effect. The sound of the instrument was becoming a profound element in the Beatles' work.
While in California, encouraged by Patti Boyd's sister Jenny, who was living in Haight-Ashbury, George and Patti visited San Francisco to see the hippie scene for themselves. George had read about it, but was expecting something like the King's Road, Chelsea, with small shops and artisans. He was very disappointed:
San Francisco is great, there are so many great people there. But there are so many, you know, bums, too, spoiling a great idea. It's lovely but it's going bad because a lot of people there believe the answer is to take drugs and drop out. And they drop out on to the pavement, hoping God's going to manifest himself and take them off with him. Well, he's not. That's not being hip. Anything further from hip, in fact, I've never seen, because they're just fooling themselves. I mean, even if they just worked chopping wood, they're nearer to God than by dropping on to the pavement. You don't need drugs, you see. The first trip you see that you don't need acid. At least, that's how it was with me. There's high, and there's high, and to get really high - I mean, so high that you can walk on the water, that high - that's where I'm going. The answer isn't pot and it isn't acid. It's yoga and meditation and working and discipline, working out your karma.
Patti Boyd's interest in Eastern philosophy and meditation had been stimulated by the six weeks they spent in Bombay, so when a friend asked her to go with her to a lecture on Transcendental Meditation at Caxton Hall, she was very keen. Even though the lecture wasn't very stimulating, she asked to be put on the mailing list. When she saw that the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was giving a series of talks in the ballroom of the London Hilton, she enthused about him to George. George told the other Beatles, and so 24 August 1967 found George and Patti, John, Paul and Jane all sitting in a row near the front. Others were rather put off by the fact that tough-looking bodyguards in expensive business suits stood guarding each side of the stage, in great contrast to the Maharishi himself, who was surrounded only by flowers. For the Beatles, security guards were of course a familiar part of the landscape.
PAUL: We saw that Maharishi was on one of his voyages round the world. We'd seen him years before on a Granada TV current-affairs programme. There he was, just a giggling little swami who was going around the world to promote peace. So when he came around again and somebody said there was a meeting, we all went, 'Oh, that's that giggly little guy. We've seen him. He's great.' We wanted to try and expand spiritually, or at least find some sort of format for all the various things we were interested in: Indian music, Allen Ginsberg, poetry, mantras, mandalas, tantra, all the stuff we'd seen. It made us in a mood to inquire.
I think there was a little bit of emptiness in our souls, a lack of spiritual fulfilment. We were seeing all this stuff on acid, what I still think were DNA wheels: great big multicoloured chains of things. When you see the pictures of DNA, it looks remarkably like what I used to see in my head. So that made sense to me, that you can actually perceive your own DNA. We were glimpsing bits of bliss and we wanted to know, and I guess I still do, how best to approach that.
So Maharishi came to a hall in London and we all got tickets and sat down near the front row. There were a lot of flowers on the stage and he came on and sat cross-legged. And he looked great and he talked very well and started to explain, and I still think his idea is fine.
The lecture was followed by a press conference, after which John, Paul, George and their party were granted a ninety-minute private audience. 'Expansion of happiness is the purpose of life, and evolution is the process through which it is fulfilled,' said the Maharishi. He believed it was the duty of everyone to be happy to serve the purpose of creation. He believed the endless wandering of the mind was a search for happiness among external objects but that only by coming into contact with the source of thought itself could true bliss be achieved.
For the media, the Maharishi was the yogi sent from Central Casting: the liquid eyes, twinkling but inscrutable with the wisdom of the East, the long flowing beard and cascading ringlets. The giggling guru with his huge smile, bunches of flowers and holy-man robes looked like an oriental Santa Claus, later lampooned as Mr Natural by the American cartoonist Robert Crumb. Though they were sceptical of his spiritual message, the media nonetheless seized upon him because of his pro-establishment, anti-drug message, to which young people seemed to be listening.
The Maharishi presented his philosophy to the Beatles using the analogy of a flower with its roots in the earth, a stem and a beautiful head. He told them to think of themselves as the head of the flower, the visible manifestation of creation. Then to consider the sap, the source of the flower's energy. Water and nutrients in the soil are drawn up to make the flower head from a reservoir of goodness in the earth. With humans, the physical body is the flower head but the sap that feeds it is spiritual energy.
PAUL: He said that by meditating, you can go down your stem and, just like the sap, reach the field of nutrients which he called the pool of cosmic consciousness, which was all blissful and all beautiful. The only mistake we make, and he didn't put it quite like this, was we fuck up all the time. We don't reach it. We're all so busy playing guitars, or talking politics or reading other people's words or whatever it is, we don't take time... Maharishi doesn't believe in a creator God. And all of that found a certain sympathy in our minds. We liked him.
The Maharishi's message struck a chord and the Beatles, George in particular, were anxious to learn more. They made arrangements to travel to Bangor, in North Wales, the next day in order to attend the weekend initiation seminar that the Maharishi was holding there. This would give them the mantras they needed to begin his meditation method.
The Maharishi had a degree in physics and studied Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures with Swami Guru Dev, who became his spiritual master. In the early fifties he began working as an employee of Shankararacheraya of Jyotirpeeth, the founder of his order. When Shankararacheraya died, there was an unseemly struggle for leadership between the two senior priests of the order, but while their lawyers argued their grievances in court, the Maharishi surreptitiously took over, adopted the tide of 'Maharishi' and has never looked back.
His teachings are very Westernised versions of ancient Vedic knowledge, simplified so much that they would be derided in Uttar Pradesh. However, it was not his message but his organisation that was most criticised by other Hindu teachers, who felt the Maharishi was violating the most basic principles of the faith. According to Hindu tradition, anyone who presents themselves at an ashram requesting to be taught meditation is given free instruction as well as free food and board. As in any monastery, it is a rigorous life, rising with the dawn and living in spartan conditions.
The Maharishi changed all this: he suggested a one-off payment of one week's earnings from his students. He provided luxurious - by Indian ashram standards - accommodation for his wealthy clients, and turned away poor students if their places were needed for richer ones. He developed close contacts with right-wing Indian politicians, who gave him their approval; the Bhagavad-Gita teaching that it is better to accept than question, better to meditate than act, suited them very well. By the late fifties he was ready to take his message abroad and in 1959 he opened his first centre in Britain. By the time the Beatles went to see him, he had established about 250 meditation centres in about fifty countries. He was an expert at publicity and, knowing that television was crucial, always ensured that he was newsworthy. It was, after all, on television that the Beatles first saw him.
The next day they all went to Bangor by train to attend the Maharishi's meditation seminar: John, Paul, George and Ringo, accompanied by Patti, Jane and Maureen, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull. Cynthia was barred from joining the train by a policeman who thought she was a fan, and so Neil Aspinall had to drive her there. It was really George's idea, though the others were interested enough to get the basic instruction in meditation. Paul told a friend at the time: 'George wants it. What one of us wants, the others go along with.' The Maharishi had not had time to make special arrangements so the Beatles finished up sleeping in a rented schoolroom like everyone else.
PAUL: We went to Bangor for a weekend to learn how to meditate, and we were initiated there. It was a bit funny going to those camps because it was like going back to school. Just the nature of it meant staying in a classroom and we'd been used to our nice comfortable homes or hotels so to be staying in an old school on a camp bed was a little bit disconcerting. Then trying to learn to meditate. It's not that easy, you don't just pick it up like that, it's an effort and you've got to be involved, so it was like going back to school. And of course the food was all canteen food. But we were interested enough to learn the system, which we did.Brian Epstein
The actual ceremony in Bangor when we got given the mantra was nice. You had to wait outside his room as he did people one by one, and then you got to go into the inner sanctum, just a room they'd put a lot of flowers in and a few drapes around, and lit a few joss sticks. You had to take some cut flowers to Maharishi as some sort of offering. It was all flowers with Maharishi, but flowers were the symbol of the period anyway so it was very easy. So you got your flowers, you took your shoes off and went into a darkened room where Maharishi was. It was quite exciting. It reminded me of Gypsy Rose Lee's tent in Blackpool - 'Come inside!' - Santa's grotto or something. Maharishi explained what he was going to do, he said, 'I'll just do a few little bits and pieces...' however he put it, of this and that, little incantations for himself, then he said, 'I will just lean towards you and I'll just whisper, very quietly, your mantra.' He gives you your mantra and he's only going to say it once and you repeat it once, just to check you've got it, and he says, 'Yes, that's it.' And he said, 'The idea is that you don't mention that to anyone ever again, because if you speak it, it will besmirch it to some degree; if you never speak it, then it's always something very special.'
But I must admit, I have spoken it, to Linda. At one point we decided that to reaffirm our faith in each other I would even tell her that, but that's the only time I've spoken it, once, to Linda. I know, I know, I've completely blown it, man! But I don't think you're really not allowed to. It's not like a chant, I think it's just generally a pretty good idea if you don't voice it, and I go along with that.
I asked Maharishi, 'Am I supposed to see this word? Or am I supposed to hear this word?' and it was hear it. But he said, 'You can repeat this at any speed, slow, fast, or anything. Try it at various speeds.' I remember one of the ways I could get into it was visually. Mind you, if you follow this through and look at Buddhism, they eventually imagine mandalas and the whole tantric thing. But I remember one of my little aids to meditation was imagining someone on a gate with a straw out of his mouth, just chewing, that feeling of being very very calm. You get nice peaceful images like this and, obviously, to spend twenty minutes out of your day doing that rather than sleeping or eating or shouting at someone was not a bad idea and that was basically all I thought of it all.
Brian Epstein had been invited to come with the Beatles to Bangor and had agreed to join them there after the August Bank Holiday. Brian, a complex, vulnerable man, had been having a particularly bad time. Earlier that month he had sat the traditional Jewish shiva for his late father in Liverpool and was now very worried about his mother's health and state of mind. He had only recently come out of the Priory Clinic, where he had tried with some, but not much, success to kick amphetamines and rid himself of acute insomnia. Contributing to his worries was the fact that his management contract with the Beatles was coming up for renegotiation on 30 September. Though he was fairly sure that they wanted him to continue with them, he also knew that his management fee would be reduced from 25 per cent to the more usual 10, now that they were no longer touring.
On Friday, 25 August, Brian invited Geoffrey Ellis and Peter Brown, who both worked for him, down to Kingsley Hall, his country house near Uckfield in Sussex, for the bank-holiday weekend. It was his first social event since his father's death. When a gang of rent boys failed to show up, Brian drove back to London to find some 'action', leaving his friends to continue without him. The next day he telephoned at five o'clock in the afternoon from his Chapel Street flat, sounding very groggy. Peter Brown suggested he take the train down to the country rather than drive under the influence of Tuinals. Brian said he would have some breakfast, read that day's mail and watch Juke Box Jury on television, then he would telephone to tell them which train to meet. He never called.
The inquest revealed that he had taken six Carbrital sleeping pills in order to sleep. This was probably not an unusual amount for Brian, but it meant that his tolerance had come close to a lethal level. Brian was pronounced dead of an accidental overdose. There were all manner of rumours surrounding the cause of death, from suicide to accidental suffocation at the hands of a guardsman - Brian had a very colourful sex life which often left him bruised and battered. He had made a previous attempt at suicide but it is unlikely that his death was anything other than a genuine accident.
The Beatles were strolling in the school grounds in Bangor after a late Sunday lunch when the pay phone on the wall of their dormitory began to ring. Peter Brown, from Brian's office, had made Patti Harrison swear to telephone him with a number when they reached Bangor so that he could reach the Beatles in the event of an emergency. The phone continued to ring and eventually Jane Asher went inside to answer it. 'Get Paul to the phone,' said Peter Brown.
Jenny Boyd has described the intense feelings of everyone present at the seminar: 'While we were in Wales we learned that Brian Epstein had died in London. It was an incredible experience; first the experience of the meditation, then the incredible sadness of Brian's death. Brian had been the bridge between Lennon and McCartney. It really felt like the Beatles ended that weekend, and everyone felt it.'
PAUL: We were shocked with the news of Brian's death, which was terrible. We checked with Maharishi: 'What do you do, man? Look, this great guy's dead ...' He said, 'Well, we'll just have to send him great vibrations. There's nothing more you can do, just have to meditate and feel good ourselves. There's no more you can do.' So that slightly placated us. It helped a little bit, in my own mind. I can't speak for anyone else. Then eventually we went off, sorrowed by the news of Brian's death. It was shattering, sad, and a little frightening. We loved him.
The Beatle probably most affected by Brian's death was John. Not long after Brian's death, he said:
With Brian dying it was sort of a big thing for us and if we hadn't had this meditation it would have been much harder to assess and carry on and know how we were going. Now we're our own managers, now we have to make all the decisions. We've always had full responsibility for what we did, but we still had a father figure, or whatever it was, and if we didn't feel like it, well, you know, Brian would do it. It threw me quite a bit. But then the Maharishi talked to us and, I don't know, cooled us out a bit.
Though John normally appeared the most cynical, least vulnerable of the Beatles, Brian's death undermined his confidence. Years later he told Rolling Stone magazine: 'I knew that we were in trouble then. I didn't really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music and I was scared. I thought, "We've fuckin' had it!'" John probably used Brian more as a father figure than the others and with Brian gone, John turned for help to the nearest authority figure, which happened to be the Maharishi, and focused all his hopes on him. The Maharishi had hoped that the Beatles would become converts but was not prepared for such sudden acceptance. Soon John and George were equal in their expectations of him and had elevated him to a position that he didn't want and was probably incapable of fulfilling. Paul and Ringo remained interested but that was the extent of it.
The press was uneasy with many of the countercultural heroes of the sixties and in particular waged a campaign against Dr Timothy Leary, whose message of using drugs as a path to greater awareness was anathema to them. By contrast they loved the Maharishi because he preached the exact opposite, even if it did come from a slightly suspect oriental source. He was opposed to the use of drugs and told his audience, 'It is not good to quit school. We should stay in school and learn,' and 'We should obey the parents. They know what is best.' He was against nuclear disarmament and supported the war in Vietnam.
In America, where he concentrated his efforts, many students were shocked by his attitude. When they asked him if they should resist the draft to avoid killing fellow humans, the Maharishi replied, 'We should obey the elected leaders of the country. They are representatives of the people and have more information at their disposal and are more qualified to make the right decisions.' His politics were those of the American establishment. In fact, many of his meetings in the USA broke up because his youthful audience walked out, appalled at his message. After a meeting at UCLA in September 1967, one student commented, 'If his opinions reflect what twenty years of meditation will do for you, I estimate that forty will raise you to the stature of Hitler!'
The Beatles may have been quite casual in their investigation of the Maharishi; John and George perhaps naively expected him to slip them the answer to the meaning of existence, but they tempered this with a healthy Liverpudlian irreverence - an irreverence which was unfortunately lacking in many of the young people who attended his lectures purely because he was the Beatles' 'guru'. Miles, who was writing for the underground paper International Times, did some background research into the Maharishi and asked Allen Ginsberg, who had lived in India for several years, what he knew about him. When Miles warned Paul and John that he had connections with right-wing politicians in India and that his students were expected to give him one week's wages per annum, John's characteristic response was, 'Ain't no ethnic bastard gonna get no golden castles out of me, if that's what you think!' Nor did he; Lennon never paid him a penny.
But neither was John moved by the criticism from other Hindu teachers. 'So what if he's commercial? We're the most commercial group in the world!'
The Maharishi was very quick to use the Beatles' name to promote his cause. In November 1967, he released his own album, promoted in ads as 'Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles' Spiritual Teacher, speaks to the youth of the world on love and the untapped source of power that lies within'. Even before the Beatles went to Rishikesh, he had announced that they would join him in a TV special for the ABC network in America. Twice Peter Brown had to inform the ABC lawyers that the Beatles were not appearing on his show, but the Maharishi insisted that he could deliver them. Peter Brown flew to Malmo, Sweden, where the Maharishi was encamped, but a few days later ABC called to say he was still confirming their participation. Eventually Paul and George, accompanied by Peter Brown, flew to Malmo and finally convinced him that he must not use their name without authority in his promotions. The Maharishi just nodded and giggled. George defended him, saying the Maharishi was not a worldly man, but the fact was that the Maharishi had been touring the world since 1958, rather longer than they had. The Beatles did agree to appear in a film to promote his Indian centre, but when Neil Aspinall flew to Rishikesh to negotiate the deal, he was surprised to find that the holy man had a full-time accountant on hand and was very sophisticated in negotiating percentage points and profit splitting.
Because of the publicity generated by the Beatles, and fanned by the Maharishi's own press people, his smiling face was on the cover of virtually every mass-market magazine in America: Time, Life, Newsweek, Look, Esquire, the New York Times Sunday Supplement, and on specialist magazines from Ebony to Dance Magazine. He appeared on The Johnny Carson Show and at Madison Square Garden. Through the Beatles he gained thousands of new followers.
The period after Brian's death was one of confusion and uncertainty. The Maharishi could offer not only solace but a refuge - and perhaps a solution. George had become more and more interested in Hinduism and was now a firm believer in the notion of a cycle of karma and rebirth. It was he and John who were perhaps most keen on the idea and devised the plan of the Beatles all going to India for further meditation practice at the Maharishi's ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas. Paul was enthusiastic and Ringo went along for the ride.
PAUL: John and George were going to Rishikesh with the idea that this might be some huge spiritual lift-off and they might never come back if Maharishi told them some really amazing thing. Well, being a little bit pragmatic, I thought in my own mind, I'll give it a month, then if I really really like it, I'll come back and organise to go out there for good, but I won't go on this 'I may never come back' thing, I won't burn my bridges. That's very me, to not want to do that. I just see it as being practical, and I think it is.
The sceptical expression on Jane's face in photographs taken as she and Paul listen to the Maharishi's lectures suggests that she may have been dubious about the whole venture.
After a number of delays caused because the filming and editing of Magical Mystery Tour took far longer than they had expected, the Beatles were finally able to make enough time to go to India. Their roadie Mal Evans went out first in order to organise transport for John and George. Their excess luggage cost £200. George and Patti, Patti's sister Jenny, John and Cynthia took the flight to Delhi the next day, arriving on 16 February 1968. Mal met them at the airport with Mia Farrow, who had flown to India with the Maharishi from New York three weeks earlier and had already elected to become part of the Beatles' entourage. Mal had organised three ancient, battered taxis for the 150-mile drive from Delhi to Rishikesh.
Paul and Jane, Ringo and Maureen arrived at 8.15 on the morning of the 19th after an overnight flight, attracting much more press attention. A film crew was on hand as they stepped from the plane after the exhausting twenty-hour flight, jet-lagged from the five time zones. Mal Evans and Raghvendra from the ashram placed garlands of red and yellow flowers around their necks in the traditional token of greeting. Ringo's arm was hurting from the required shots, so their first move was to find a hospital. Their driver lost his way and finished up in a dead end in the middle of a field, followed by a whole convoy of press cars. One of them came to the rescue and took them to the hospital.
Paul and Jane took one car and Ringo and Maureen another.
PAUL: There was an Indian driver and Raghvendra from the camp in front and me and Jane Asher in the back and it was long and it was dusty and it was not a very good car and it was one of those journeys, but great and exciting. I remember these Indian guys talking in what was obviously an Indian language and I was starting to doze off in the car in the back because once you were two hours into the journey the tourism had worn off a little. It was fascinating seeing naked holy men and the kind of things you just don't see unless it's late-night Soho, and the ones you tend to see in Soho tend to be covered in shit and very drunk. I slipped into sleep, a fitful back-of-the-car sort of sleep. It was quite bumpy, and the guys were chattering away, but in my twilight zone of sleeping it sounded like they were talking Liverpool. If you listened closely, it so nearly slid into it. There was like a little segue into very fast colloquial Liverpool. And I was thinking, Uh, where the fuck am I? What? Oh, it's Bengali, and I would just drop off again. 'Yabba yabba, are yer comin' oot then, lad?' It was a strange little twilight experience. It was a long journey.
Rishikesh is about 150 miles north-east of Delhi, halfway to Tibet. On the way they passed through Hardiwar, one of the seven sacred cities of the Hindus, filled with temples and ashrams, monkeys and sacred cows, and from there into the foothills of the Himalayas to an area studded with Hindu pilgrim centres. The Academy of Transcendental Meditation occupied a guarded compound on a flat ledge, 150 feet up the side of a mountain above the fast-flowing Ganges, full to overflowing from the rainy season, which had just ended. There were wonderful views out over the sacred river to the small town of Rishikesh on the opposite bank and to the plains beyond. The centre was reached by a modern suspension bridge built across the river, which had a big sign, 'No camels or elephants', but the students tended to use the open ferryboat that ploughed back and forth across the muddy river. The ashram was surrounded on the other three sides by jungle-covered mountains filled with howling monkeys, peacocks and brightly coloured parrots.
The students lived in six solidly built stone cottages set in groups along an unsurfaced road. Each bungalow contained five self-contained rooms furnished with two four-poster beds, a dressing table and chairs, new rugs on the floor and walls and modern bathroom faculties with hot and cold running water, though sometimes the water supply broke down. Surrounding the buildings were flowering shrubs and plants, tended by an old gardener. It was simple, clean and very peaceful. 'It was back to Butlins holiday camp,' Paul thought, 'you all had your own chalet. It was like all these camps are, it was a Boy Scout camp really except not under canvas, it had these little flat-roofed huts; for some reason it suggested a Butlins chalet to me. Quite nice, nothing fancy at all.'
The ashram had a staff of about forty people, including a construction crew, a printing works, cooks and cleaning staff. The room service was first-class and there was even a masseuse on hand. There were no bugs but there were flies.
PAUL: Ringo didn't like the flies, but it doesn't bother me too much. Maureen, Ringo's wife, apparently had every fly spotted. She knew the six flies that were in the room. There would be one above the door lintel; she knew that one was going to get her. And then there was one just by the window. She knew it and she hated it. Whereas I would just tend to take a broader view, 'Ah yes, it's India, innit? They got flies here.'
John Lennon told the story of how one day Maureen, who had a great interest in things magical, could not stand the flies any more and gave them a thunderous black look and the flies dropped dead around her.
A path led from the row of cottages down towards the Ganges, past the lecture hall to the two dining rooms. While the Beatles were there, a swimming pool was under construction next to the lecture building. Beyond the kitchens there was a heated dining room for use if the weather was bad, but they normally took their meals in a glass-walled dining room, open to the sky, near the cliff over the river. There they were sheltered from the sun by a canopy of leaves from creepers trained across a wooden trellis and were often joined at their meals by monkeys, which roamed around the tables and made off with the toast.
They sat on benches at a long communal table, covered with plastic tablecloths held down by jars of jam and bowls of fruit. Breakfast was served from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m.: porridge, puffed wheat or cornflakes, fruit juice, tea or coffee, toast, marmalade or jam, brought by young Indian servants. 'The idea was you'd all wake up at a certain time and you'd all go for breakfast,' Paul explained. 'You'd sit outside all together and chat about this and that, have a bit of breakfast, a communal thing.' Breakfast was followed by meditation practice, with no rules or timetable. Lunch and dinner both consisted of soup followed by a vegetarian main dish.
John and George were already vegetarians so for them the diet was nothing strange. Paul liked the Indian cuisine but the spices were too strong for Jane. Ringo had spent long periods in hospital with peritonitis as a child and found the food much too hot for his taste. Mal Evans assembled a stock of eggs so that he could cook Ringo fried, boiled, poached or scrambled eggs, and Ringo himself had resourcefully brought along a suitcase of baked beans, just in case. The local water was safe to drink as it came cold and fresh from a mountain spring. At first they boiled it to be on the safe side. The Maharishi never ate with his students, preferring to stay in his bungalow.
They had enrolled in a teachers' course in Transcendental Meditation (TM), designed to give the student enough information to pass the method on to others. There were ninety-minute lectures at 3.30 and 8.30 with students describing their meditation experiences and the Maharishi answering their questions. Most of the time was taken up by meditation itself.
Because they arrived late, the Beatles were three weeks behind the other students, and Paul and Ringo four days behind John and George, so the Maharishi gave them extra tuition and lectures in the afternoons. These took place in the open air, sometimes on chairs on the grass and other times on the flat sun roof of his bungalow. If it was a cool day, they would go to his bungalow and sit on cushions. Big Mal Evans had his own chair because he was unable to cross his legs comfortably.
PAUL: It felt ordinary. By anybody else's standards it certainly didn't look ordinary; it was the front page of the Daily Mail, and you can't call that ordinary, can you? But it felt ordinary, like the ordinariness of an Edward Hopper painting. That quality he gets: it's streets I've seen, it's corners I've been on, it's people I know, the old bald janitor with the waistcoat.
It was quite nice. It was a bit strange being away from home in a sort of camp, but I found the experience was very interesting and I was quite into the meditation. We'd had the introduction to it in Bangor where Maharishi had done his little bit. I'm glad when I talk about meditation to people today and we talk about Transcendental Meditation, I can say, 'Well, I got my mantra from Maharishi.' Nowadays if you do it you'll get your mantra from one of his followers, who'll take you through the ceremony. So it's kind of nice to have got it from the horse's mouth, as it were. Slipped it to me, yeah.
One thing slightly impressed me was, being a good British person, whenever I went to a hot place I would get sunburned. Stay out in the sun too long, not realising, which the Brits never seem to do. Take me shirt off, get a nice lobster tan, and really be in pain the rest of the day and probably have to drink in the evening to try and anaesthetise it. Then fall asleep and just hope for the best.
But this time, I got sunburned in the morning and come lunchtime I was going, 'Oh, my God, it's going to be the burning lobster thing.' But I meditated for a couple of hours and low and behold, the lobster had gone. I often wondered whether it was just the fact that I'd calmed myself, whereas normally I'd go running around with a shirt on, irritating it, or I'd go to a dance and really rub it, whereas now I was just sitting very quietly with it for three hours. But it certainly didn't bother me.
The meditation sessions were increasingly long, they were as long as you could handle. It was a very sensible thing. He basically said, 'Your mind is confused with day-to-day stress so I want you to try and do twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening.' That's what they start you on. Twenty minutes in the morning is not going to hurt anyone. You sit still, I suppose you regulate your breathing and, if nothing else, you rest your muscles for twenty minutes. It's like a lie-in. That's pretty good. The meditation helps your productivity that day. And then twenty minutes in the evening; I used to liken it to sitting in front of a nice coal fire that's just sort of glowing. That sort of feeling, that very relaxed feeling, a twilight feeling which I quite like. Are you dreaming or are you awake? There's a nice little state that they recognise halfway between it.
My best experience of the whole time, which doesn't sound much but which was very pleasant, came when I was meditating. Some of us were called into little like Bible-study groups, but these were just meditation-study groups, good ones. A few of us would sit around on little chairs on the roof of the building Maharishi lived in and talk to him about meditation.
People would complain, saying, 'Anything we can do about the crows? They aren't 'alf distracting.' And he'd say, 'Well, we can only shoot them.' And we'd say, 'Oh no, maybe not; you know, leave 'em.' So you had to deal with it yourself. I didn't mind, I figured it's got to be part of the deal, you can't shoot everything that breathes and makes a noise just because you want to meditate. I thought, I'm not sure they've got the spirit of this here. Really. Then it was 'Maharishi, it's too noisy where I am to meditate,' and he'd say, 'Ah, don't worry about it. If you meditate well it'll go away anyway.'
Then we'd meditate and he'd leave us. After one of those sessions, I remember having a great meditation, one of the best I ever had. It was a pleasant afternoon, in the shade of these big tropical trees on the flat roof of this bungalow. It appeared to me that I was like a feather over a hot-air pipe, a warm-air pipe. I was just suspended by this hot air, which was something to do with the meditation. And it was a very very blissful feeling. It took you back to childhood when you were a baby, some of the secure moments when you've just been fed or you were having your nap. It reminded me of those nice, secure feelings. And I thought, Well, hell, that's great, I couldn't buy that anywhere. That was the most pleasant, the most relaxed I ever got, for a few minutes I really felt so light, so floating, so complete.
The difficulty, of course, is keeping your mind clear, because the minute you clear it, a thought comes in and says, 'What are we gonna do about our next record?' 'Go away!' Meditate, mantra mantra mantra. 'I still want to know what we're doing on this next record.' 'Please go away, I'm meditating, can't you see?' There's inevitably all sorts of little conversations you can't help getting into.
Maharishi used to give some very good advice, things that I suppose tied in with Vedic traditions. He would always translate it into a particular Englishy kind of phrase, like 'The heart always goes to the warmer place,' which I've ever since always found to be a very reassuring thought. I think at the time I half suspected that, being the perverse spirit that it is, my ego would want go to the thing that's bad for me. You tend to suspect your darker side, I suppose. But he was quite reassuring: 'No, your heart always wants to go to the warmer place.' Little things like that: the story of the snake which, when you look at it closely, turns out to be a piece of string and your fears were unfounded.
Sometimes Maharishi would ask us questions about how best to advance this system of meditation and we'd try and clue him in on how we thought it would best go down, try and give him some advice. Maharishi was very practical, he liked to know how to do things the simplest Western way. He would ask what kind of car they should use and you'd say, 'A Mercedes is a good practical car, not too flash, pretty flash, it'll get you there, it'll tend not to break down.' 'This is the car we should have!' It was all done like that, it wasn't 'Rolls-Royces are very nice, Maharishi. You could have a couple of them on what you're earning.' It wasn't that, it was very practical. He wanted to know what was the strongest car that won't break down and that they would get the best wear out of. I never minded that. He never had a fleet of them like some of these other guys, and of course he only ever wore this cheesecloth, so you couldn't accuse him of being into Armani suits or anything. So I couldn't see what he was doing with his money, if he was hoarding it somewhere. To this day he still sits around in a cheesecloth, pushing TM. I don't think he does have a big swinging penthouse in Hong Kong. I've never suspected him of that. And I never saw him come out of his house for the whole month. He was always meditating. I don't think he raved it up at all. Let's put it this way, there were no spoils. If a cheesecloth is a spoil, then that was it.
We would go down and get some breakfast, then go for a short walk around or read a book or something. Then you might do another twenty minutes. But they increased the sessions, so now you could do an hour. And then you'd go and talk to someone or talk to Maharishi. In the evenings there generally was a question-and-answer session. There was a hall, like a school hall with a stage. There would be about a hundred people from all walks of life: there was a guy from Brooklyn, there were the celebs, there were teachers from England. It was a bit the swotty crowd, bit the Youth Hostel Association crowd. And you think, Well, it would be. We're talking about pursuing meditation here, it is going to be a little bit art mistresses and religious instruction and Buddhists. They were actually a very nice crowd.
During their first week there, John and Cynthia, George and Patti had thrown themselves wholly into meditation, so by the time Paul, Jane, Ringo and Maureen arrived, they were ready to let off steam a bit. They took afternoons off to sunbathe on the banks of the Ganges and to go sightseeing. A number of other celebrities flew in. Donovan came with his old friend Gypsy Dave in pursuit of Jenny Boyd. He wrote 'Jennifer Juniper' to win her over, but though Jenny and Patti later opened a boutique of the same name, his overtures came to nothing. 'I liked him,' she remembers, 'but I didn't want a boyfriend.' She later married Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac.
Donovan described the scene when he arrived:
We took taxis at the airport, monkeys were leaping about on the roof. Some hours later we arrived at the village of Rishikesh and the luggage was loaded on to oxen, we took mules, and even walked the last part up a ravine to the ashram gates. We were all amazed at the sights and sounds of the Indian atmosphere. We checked into stone bungalows and went down to see the Yogi in his modern bungalow. We all stood around as Maharishi sat cross-legged on his deerskin. John decided to break the awkward silence, went up to our Yogi, patted him on the head and said, 'There's a good Guru.' We all broke up with laughter. This Liverpudlian humour was always evident, it glued them together in all their fame.
Mia Farrow was already there, described by Paul as 'a quiet little thing in a sort of Nehru jacket'. She was getting over her 1966 marriage to Frank Sinatra. 'That must have been fun, a year with Sinatra,' Paul commented. 'No wonder she needed to meditate.' Her brother John and her nineteen-year-old sister Prudence were travelling with her, and Prudence became the inspiration for one of John Lennon's best-loved songs.
PAUL: Prudence Farrow got an attack of the horrors, paranoia, what you'd call these days an identity crisis, and wouldn't come out of her Butlins chalet. We all got a little bit worried about her so we went up there and knocked. 'Hi, Prudence, we all love you. You're wonderful!' But nobody could persuade her out. So John wrote 'Dear Prudence, won't you come out and play ..." He went in and sang it to her and I think that actually did help. We walked up to her chalet, a little delegation, and John sang it outside her door with his guitar. And she looked out, she improved after that. It was a turning point. I think it was quite sensitive of John to realise that she needed showing that she was okay, for someone to tell her that she was all right. You know, if you're used to McDonald's and Howard Johnson's, India is a little bit different. Looking at it now, from a nineties perspective, there was probably a lot of therapy needed for a lot of the people there. We were all looking for something. Obviously you don't go to Rishikesh if you're not looking for something. It's a long schlep otherwise. Prudence probably needed to talk about it rather than meditate.
John Lennon told Playboy: 'Mia Farrow's sister, who seemed to go slightly balmy, meditating too long, wouldn't come out of the little hut we were living in. They selected me and George to try and bring her out because she would trust us.' Prudence has no memory of ever hearing the song in India, but Paul Horn has said that she was in a semi-catatonic state from almost continuous meditation, against the Maharishi's wishes, and didn't even recognise her own brother at the time, so her memory is probably faulty.
Mike Love from the Beach Boys was also resident.
PAUL: Mike Love sat in his place and did meditation, but what I found amusing there was that I saw him rather as the quartermaster of the camp. Because we'd all brought our cameras and film cameras and little tape recorders, and we were using a lot of movie film and we'd run out. He was to my mind the resourceful American who decided he'd hire a taxi and go to New Delhi, he'd buy up lots of the Kodak film that everyone needed, so he became like the quartermaster's stores to me. You'd go to his place and say, 'You got any Kodak, Mike?' He'd say, 'What do you want, Kodak II or Kodacolor?' And behind one of the curtains and in one of the wardrobes of his little Butlins chalet, he had a lot of movie film. He reminded me of a dealer. He had film and batteries and things like that, all the requirements. There wasn't a camp shop so he became the camp shop. It's like when the American army goes anywhere, there's always one guy who can get you stuff. I think he might have even had booze in there. 'Hey, man. Come to Mr Love!' It was a great time, we all enjoyed it, we were all pretty friendly with each other and enjoyed Mike Love's company, and everyone's company; all in all it was good fun. Mike Love's now something big in TM, the way only Californians can get serious.
There was another established musician among the other meditators. Paul: 'Paul Horn the flute player was there. I got quite friendly with Paul, he was very nice. He later went on to record an album at the Taj Mahal and he was hatching that plan there.' Paul Horn and Patti Harrison shared a birthday (he was some fourteen years older), and the occasion was celebrated with a party. Paul gave him an Indian kurta, a long cotton shirt, which Paul had painted with the words 'Paul' on the front, with some stars and dots, and 'Jai Guru Dev' -'Long live Guru Dev', the Maharishi's own guru - on the back. The Maharishi arrived and chanted the appropriate prayers, then the company sang 'Happy Birthday' and the party began. George played a couple of ragas on his sitar and followed this with a rendering of 'God Save the Queen' accompanied by Paul playing the tambour, a bass drone instrument that Donovan had bought that morning. The evening ended with a conjurer and fireworks.
The fact that the Beatles were at the ashram was of course well known to the world press - two Fleet Street reporters had accompanied John and George over on the flight - but there was really very little for them to report. The Beatles gave them a few photo opportunities and then retreated beyond the guarded gates of the compound.
PAUL: The camp compound had a wire fence all around it, which was handy later, for the press decided they wanted to have pictures of everything that we did. They would catch us walking past the gates so we started to avoid that area and they didn't get in much. They got a few pictures of us but we didn't feel too pestered.
We went down to the village one evening when they were showing a film; the travelling cinema came around with a lorry and put up a screen. It was a very pleasant Indian evening so Maharishi came, everyone came, and we all walked down as a procession. And it was very very pleasant; walking along in the dust slightly downhill through a path in the jungle from the meditation camp with my guitar and singing 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da', which I was writing, accompanying the procession on the way. Of course 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' has got no connection with meditation except 'Life goes on ...', it's a little story about Desmond and Molly. In actual fact, I think they quite enjoyed it. Maharishi quite liked someone strolling along singing.
I had a friend called Jimmy Scott who was a Nigerian conga player, who I used to meet in the clubs in London. He had a few expressions, one of which was, 'Ob la di ob la da, life goes on, bra.' I used to love this expression. Every time we met he'd say, 'Ob la di ob la da, life goes on, bra.' Or somebody would say 'Too much' and he'd say, 'Nothing's too much, just outta sight.' At some point in our existence we'll probably find that he was a great guru. He sounded like a philosopher to me. He was a great guy anyway and I said to him, 'I really like that expression and I'm thinking of using it,' and I sent him a cheque in recognition of that fact later because even though I had written the whole song and he didn't help me, it was his expression.
It's a very me song, in as much as it's a fantasy about a couple of people who don't really exist, Desmond and Molly. I'm keen on names too. Desmond is a very Caribbean name. It could have been Winston, that would have been all right. Jimmy Scott had his own band. He died a few years ago, but he was a real cool guy.
Jimmy Anonmuogharan Scott Emuakpor came to Britain in the fifties and had been playing around the London club scene ever since. His catch-phrase 'Ob la di ob la da' is Yoruba for 'Life goes on'. Jimmy played congas on the track when the Beatles recorded it for the White Album. He died in 1986 in his mid-sixties, a victim of British racism. He was strip-searched at London airport immigration and kept naked in a cell for two hours. He developed pneumonia and died in hospital the next day.
PAUL: I wrote quite a few songs in Rishikesh and John came up with some creative stuff. George actually once got quite annoyed and told me off because I was trying to think of the next album. He said, 'We're not fucking here to do the next album, we're here to meditate!' It was like, 'Ohh, excuse me for breathing!' You know. George was quite strict about that, George can still be a little that way, and it's like, 'Oh come on, George, you don't have a monopoly on thought in this area. I'm allowed to have my own views on the matter.'
I was doing a song, 'I Will', that I had as a melody for quite a long time but I didn't have lyrics to it. I remember sitting around with Donovan, and maybe a couple of other people. We were just sitting around one evening after our day of meditation and I played him this one and he liked it and we were trying to write some words. We kicked around a few lyrics, something about the moon, but they weren't very satisfactory and I thought the melody was better than the words so I didn't use them. I kept searching for better words and I wrote my own set in the end; very simple words, straight love-song words really. I think they're quite effective. It's still one of my favourite melodies that I've written. You just occasionally get lucky with a melody and it becomes rather complete and I think this is one of them; quite a complete tune.
Donovan's memory is a little different:
I don't think I helped with the lyrics. He is very productive and will always take over the writing in a jam. From listening to the lyrics now, I can hear that Paul no doubt threw together the words for this tune when he got to the studio after India. I may have helped with the shape of the chords and encouraged the imagery from tunes I wrote then in India. The descending movements of my songs may have encouraged Paul to write differently.
It was an extremely productive period for all the Beatles and between them they wrote more than forty songs while they were there, more than enough to justify the trip by any standards. For the first time in years John's brain was free from drugs and the music poured from him: 'Julia', 'Dear Prudence', 'The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill', 'Mean Mr Mustard', 'Across the Universe', 'Cry Baby Cry', 'Polythene Pam', 'Yer Blues' and, during the first few jet-lagged days when he was unable to sleep, 'I'm So Tired'.
PAUL: 'Mean Mr Mustard' was very John. I liked that. A nice quirky song. I don't know what it was about. 'Across the Universe' is one of John's great songs. It had special words. I remember John singing 'Bungalow Bill' in Rishikesh. This is another of his great songs and it's one of my favourites to this day because it stands for a lot of what I stand for now. 'Did you have to shoot that tiger?' is its message. 'Aren't you a big guy? Aren't you a brave man?' I think John put it very well. Funnily enough, John wasn't an overt animal activist, but I think by writing this song he showed that his sentiments were very much that way. One of the nice things about Beatles songs is that in many cases they do seem to stand the test of time and this is an example of one that's getting better with time. It's becoming more and more relevant. If you look at veal crating and listen to this song, or look at the hunting of nearly extinct species like tigers and rhinos, well, this is a very good song. In that context it's fabulous.
'So Tired' is very much John's comment to the world, and it has that very special line, 'And curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid git.' That's a classic line and it's so John that there's no doubt that he wrote it. I think it's 100 per cent John. Being tired was one of his themes, he wrote 'I'm Only Sleeping'. I think we were all pretty tired but he chose to write about it.
John came up with a massive TV scenario! A big TV show. I came up with calling the next album Umbrella, an umbrella over the whole thing. I think this was the point at which George got annoyed at me because we mixed the two things. John and I'd do a lot of chatting.
DONOVAN: Some afternoons we would gather at one of our pads and play the acoustic guitars we had all brought with us. Paul Horn, the American flute wizard, was there. John was keen to learn the finger-style guitar I played and he was a good student. Paul already had a smattering of finger style. George preferred his Chet Atkins style. John wrote 'Julia' and 'Dear Prudence' based on the picking I taught him.
PAUL: The interesting thing for me on 'Julia' is the finger-picking style. He learned to finger-pick off Donovan or Gypsy Dave, I think John said it was Gypsy Dave but the two of them were fairly inseparable and they both would have known it, and if they were both sitting down picking, then who is to know? It was a folk picking style, and he was the only one in the band who could ever do that properly. I made my own variation. Once you can do it, it's really very handy, it's a useful style. Actually I should learn it, never too late. That was John's song about his mum, folk finger-picking style, and a very good song.
Paul was equally prolific and wrote fifteen songs while he was at the ashram, including 'Wild Honey Pie', 'Rocky Racoon' and 'Back in the USSR'. Mike Love says he helped with the chorus on 'Back in the USSR', which was in part a parody of the Beach Boys as well as Chuck Berry's 1959 hit.
MIKE LOVE: I was sitting at the breakfast table and McCartney came down with his acoustic guitar and he was playing 'Back in the USSR', and I told him that what you ought to do is talk about the girls all around Russia, the Ukraine and Georgia. He was plenty creative not to need any lyrical help from me but I gave him the idea for that little section ... I think it was light-hearted and humorous of them to do a take on the Beach Boys.
PAUL: 'Back in the USSR' was my take-off of Chuck Berry's 'Back in the USA'. It's a typical American thing to say when they're away: 'I miss my doughnuts and my Howard Johnson's and my launderettes and I miss the convenience of the Hyatt Hilton and it's just so much better back home and the TV's got more channels ...' So I thought, Great, I'll do a spoof on that. This'll be someone who hasn't got a lot but they'll still be every bit as proud as an American would be. It's tongue in cheek. This is a travelling Russkie who has just flow in from Miami Beach; he's come the other way. He can't wait to get back to the Georgian mountains: 'Georgia's always on my mind'; there's all sorts of little jokes in it. It's a jokey song, but it's also become a bit of an anthem now. Every time Billy Joel goes to Russia, he plays it. Probably my single most important reason for going to Russia would be to play it. It was a good song and I liked it a lot. I remember trying to sing it in my Jerry Lee Lewis voice, to get my mind set on a particular feeling. We added Beach Boy style harmonies.
'Mother Nature's Son' was inspired by a lecture on nature given by the Maharishi but mostly written in Liverpool when they got back. The same lecture inspired John to write a piece called 'I'm Just a Child Of Nature', which he later turned into 'Jealous Guy'. Many of the songs written in India, however, had a more informal genesis in rooftop sing-alongs with George playing sitar and Mike Love, Donovan, Paul and John on guitars. Paul wrote 'Rocky Raccoon' sitting on the roof of the ashram with John and Donovan helping out. It sounds like a story being told to friends.
PAUL: 'Rocky Raccoon' is quirky, very me. I like talking blues so I started off like that, then I did my tongue-in-cheek parody of a western and threw in some amusing lines. I just tried to keep it amusing, really; it's me writing a play, a little one-act play giving them most of the dialogue. Rocky Raccoon is the main character, then there's the girl whose real name was Magill, who called herself Lil, but she was known as Nancy.
There are some names I use to amuse, Vera, Chuck and Dave or Nancy and Lil, and there are some I mean to be serious, like Eleanor Rigby, which are a little harder because they have to not be joke names. In this case Rocky Raccoon is some bloke in a raccoon hat, like Davy Crockett. The bit I liked about it was him finding Gideon's Bible and thinking, Some guy called Gideon must have left it for the next guy. I like the idea of Gideon being a character. You get the meaning and at the same time get in a poke at it. All in good fun. And then of course the doctor is drunk.
I'm not sure if I took my tape recorder, we often didn't, we often worked on songs as if they were poems and carried them in our heads. Which is actually the best way because you can revise them at any time, because you know them. It was a difficult song to record because it had to be all in one take, it would have been very hard to edit because of the quirkiness of the vocal, so I had to do couple of takes until I got the right sort of feel. But it was fun to do.
From time to time the Maharishi would organise day trips to Dehra Dun or other nearby towns in order that the meditators did not get too cut off from everyday reality, though usually they would make their own arrangements. These included fairly frequent appearances of the Beatles and their wives and girlfriends at Nagoli's restaurant in Dehra Dun.
PAUL: The camp got a little bit constricting to someone like me who always wanted to get out of school. I used to sag off and go into the Liverpool Cathedral graveyard. We would go and sunbathe and smoke loose ciggies, which were called 'Loosies' (Lucys) at 2d a time from the tuck shop. So when I got out to Maharishi's I got a bit constricted and I found a way I could bunk out of the camp. Because you weren't allowed to go out, you actually had to ask permission, 'Can I go into New Delhi, Maharishi?' 'Why?' I was standing there, tending to think, Why not? - you know, I thought, I'm going to sag off. So I got down to the Ganges a few afternoons. I remember playing by the banks of the Ganges, which was rather nice, just like a kid, it was such a nice day. I just thought, I'd rather be on holiday.
Donovan remembers a similar incident. 'After the day's meditation we would all gather for the evening lecture by Maharishi. One night Paul and I were having an illegal cigarette by the lecture hall. Maharishi approached, surrounded by his usual admirers. Paul saw him coming and said, "Quick, lads, fags out. Here comes teach!"'
PAUL: We were in India almost as tourists. We asked him, 'Can people fly? Can people levitate? We've seen it in all the books and stuff.' And he said, 'Oh yes, people can, yes.' We said, 'Can you?' He said, 'No, I personally have not practised this art.' We said, 'Well, who could?' He said, 'I believe there might be someone three villages away from here.' We said, 'Can we get 'im?' There was an element of, 'We're on holiday, after all. We've come all this way, could we have a levitation display? It would be great to see people do it.' And he half thought of fixing one up but nothing ever materialised. What materialised years later is an actual flying course, a siddi. Which I suspect slightly. I've seen it, the Natural Law commercial for the election had a few people bunny-hopping, lotus position. What we always imagined was you actually lift off. So I'm a bit sceptical about that. But the interesting point I'm making was that when we asked him, Maharishi did not know about it, did not know anyone who did it, was not able to provide one; so it certainly was not a high priority. Now they've modified their approach to include that, and it's an expensive little course. I know a couple of people who've been on the course who say they can fly, but let's put it this way, I've never seen 'em. I always say to them, 'Get me a film of you flying for one minute and I can guarantee you News at Ten tonight with that.
We said it as a tourist thing. 'Eh, you got any of them snake charmers then, Swami? Can you do the Indian rope trick?' There was a slight aspect of that, we were just Liverpool lads. Let's face it, this was not the intercontinental Afro-Asian study team; this was not a group of anthropologists.
Despite the occasional similarity to school or camp, there were some truly magical moments. One night there was a torchlight procession down to the River Ganges, where they piled into two boats. Mia Farrow, Donovan, Mike Love, the Maharishi, all the Beatles and their wives and girlfriends made their way slowly upstream, then the engines were cut and the boats allowed to drift downstream under a clear, starry sky. Mike Love produced a set of pipes, Paul picked up his guitar and everyone sang.
PAUL: One day Maharishi needed to get to New Delhi and back for something, so someone suggested a helicopter. When it arrived we all trooped down, a bouncing line of devotees, coming down a narrow dusty track to the Ganges, singing, being delightful. Very like the Hare Krishnas, marvellous, chatting away. We got down to the Ganges, the helicopter landed and then they asked, 'Does anyone want a quick go before Maharishi takes off?' John jumped up. 'Yea, yea, yeah, yeah!' John got there first, and there was only room for one.
Paul was puzzled since John had been in a helicopter many times before; the Beatles had often used them to arrive and depart from large arenas.
So later I asked John, 'Why were you so keen? You really wanted to get in that helicopter.' 'Yeah,' he said, 'I thought he might slip me the answer!' Which is very revealing about John. I suppose everyone is always looking for the Holy Grail. I think John thought he might find it. I think it shows an innocence really, a naivety. It's quite touching really.
Ringo and Maureen were the first to leave. When they broke the news to the Maharishi just before lunch one morning, the Maharishi was quite shocked. 'He first suggested that perhaps we should go off somewhere and then come back,' Ringo said, 'but we wanted to come home. It was like a hundred reasons which formed into one thing.' They hated the food and missed their children and left promising to send the rest of the Beatles a care package of cine film. Ringo told the waiting press that the ashram was 'a bit like Butlins', but defended the Maharishi against continuing speculation that he was a con man.
No, it is not a gigantic hoax. A lot of people are going to say that I left because I was disillusioned by it all but that just isn't so. The Academy is a great place and I enjoyed it a lot. I still meditate every day for half an hour in the morning and half an hour every evening and I think I'm a better person for it. I'm far more relaxed than I have ever been. You know, if you're working very hard and things are a bit chaotic, you get all tensed up and screwed up inside. You feel as if you have to break something or hit someone. But if you spend a short while in the mornings and evenings meditating, it completely relaxes you, and it's easier to see your way through problems. If everyone in the world started meditating, then the world would be a much happier place.
However, a few weeks after getting back, he admitted that his regime had broken down somewhat: 'At the moment I meditate every day. Well, I might skip the odd day if I get up late or arrive in town late or something.'
Paul left on 26 March with Jane, thoroughly satisfied with the experience.
I came back after four or five weeks knowing that was like my allotted period, thinking, No, well, no, I won't go out and become a monk but it was really very interesting and I will continue to meditate and certainly feel it was a very rewarding experience.
Ringo and Maureen had only stayed for two weeks. John and Cynthia, George and Patti, the ones who had all along been the most interested, remained, intending to finish the course. The problem was, too many people had a vested interest in the Beatles remaining their old selves. 'Then Magic Alex arrived,' Jenny Boyd remembered. 'He came because he didn't approve of the Beatles' meditating, and he wanted John back. He made friends with another girl in our party, and I could see them walking the grounds of the ashram together, obviously cooking something up.' Alex had been introduced to the others as John's guru and he could see that his position was about to be usurped by the Maharishi, particularly if John gave up drugs permanently. Alex's fantastic inventions would have been-far less believable if John was straight.
In her autobiography Cynthia Lennon wrote:
Alexis and a fellow female meditator began to sow the seeds of doubt into very open minds ... Alexis's statements about how the Maharishi had been indiscreet with a certain lady, and what a blackguard he had turned out to be gathered momentum. All, may I say, without a single shred of evidence or justification. It was obvious to me that Alexis wanted out and more than anything he wanted the Beatles out as well.
Meditation over a prolonged period makes the meditator extremely sensitive and very open to suggestion. John and George were in a state of utter confusion, not knowing whether to believe Alexis's accusations or have faith in the Maharishi. In the event, the Maharishi was not even given a chance to answer his accuser, whereas Alexis spent the night reinforcing the doubts and fears that he had planted in their minds.
Things came to a head very quickly. Cynthia Lennon reports: 'Out of confusion and accusation came anger and aggression ... The Maharishi had been accused and sentenced before he even had a chance to defend himself... the following morning, almost before any of us had a chance to wake up, Alexis set the ball in motion by ordering taxis to take us to the airport. That was how quickly things got out of hand.' Alexis was determined to consolidate his victory and was not about to have John and George talk to the Maharishi.
In Jenny Boyd's account she writes, 'Poor Maharishi. I remember him standing at the gate of the ashram, under an aide's umbrella, as the Beatles filed by, out of his life. "Wait," he cried. "Talk to me." But no one listened. We went back to the hotel in Delhi and George and John tried to decide what to do. "Should we tell the world that the Beatles made a mistake?" John asked. "He isn't what's happening at all." Everyone was so disappointed.'
The Maharishi had no idea why they were leaving, and why the atmosphere was so charged and unpleasant. All John Lennon would tell him was, 'If you're so cosmically conscious as you claim, then you should know why we're leaving.' Just to rub it in, John wrote the song 'Sexy Sadie' about the Maharishi while they were waiting in the dining area for the taxis to arrive. Alex was so anxious to get John away from the Maharishi that even in Delhi he vetoed the idea of booking seats on the first available flight the next day, insisting that they could just make the night flight which was due to leave in an hour. He would not feel secure until they had all left India.
Paul was surprised to see them back in England so soon.
I got back, fine, and wondered what was going to happen with the other guys. For a week or so there I didn't know if we'd ever see 'em again or if there ever would be any Beatles again. What happened amazed me. They all came storming back and they came round to Cavendish Avenue, it must have been for a recording session, we often used to meet there. It was a big scandal. Maharishi had tried to get off with one of the chicks. I said, 'Tell me what happened?' John said, 'Remember that blonde American girl with the short hair? Like a Mia Farrow look-alike. She was called Pat or something.' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Well, Maharishi made a pass at her.' So I said, 'Yes? What's wrong with that?' He said, 'Well, you know, he's just a bloody old letch just like everybody else. What the fuck, we can't go following that!'
They were scandalised. And I was quite shocked at them; I said, 'But he never said he was a god. In fact very much the opposite, he said, "Don't treat me like a god, I'm just a meditation teacher." There was no deal about you mustn't touch women, was there? There was no vow of chastity involved. So I didn't think it was enough cause to leave the whole meditation centre. It might have been enough cause to say, 'Hey, excuse me? Are you having it off with a girl? In which case, should we worry about this or is this perfectly normal?' And to tell the truth, I think they may have used it as an excuse to get out of there. And I just said, 'Oh yes, okay.' But in my mind it was like, well, he never pretended to be anything but a guy, and as far as I'm concerned there's nothing wrong with someone making a pass at someone. Perhaps they had been looking for something more than a guy and found he wasn't a god, whereas I'd been looking at a guy who was saying, 'I'm only giving you a system of meditation.'
John wrote 'Sexy Sadie' about it. Righteous indignation! I remember being quite shocked with that. It's really funny, John's reaction to this sexual thing. I mean, maybe say, 'Hey, we thought he was better than that,' but it seemed a little prudish to me, to do that. So I was quite glad I'd left the week before. I mean, even if they found him in bed, what is this? Anyway, it ended in disarray and that was the reason given. And it became public that we didn't like Maharishi but I never felt that way particularly and I know George is still involved with him.
Originally 'Sexy Sadie' was called 'Maharishi': 'Maharishi, what have you done?' etc. But George persuaded John to change the title and he made the suggestion of 'Sexy Sadie' to protect the innocent. I think George was right. It would have been too hard and it would have actually been, as it turned out, rather untrue, because it was Magic Alex who made the original accusation and I think that it was completely untrue.
PAUL: A week before the British elections of 1992, the ones where the Maharishi's Natural Law Party took double-page ads in all the papers, George asked me to stand as the Natural Law Party Member of Parliament for Liverpool. Just one week before the last general election. George rang me giggling from LA. He said, 'I've been up all night and you may think this is a bit silly, but Maharishi would like you, me and Ringo to stand as Members of Parliament for Liverpool.' He said, 'We'll win.' I said 'Yeeeessss!' He said, 'It'll be great.' I said, 'Why, what'll we do?' He said, 'Well, we'll introduce meditation for everyone.' I said, 'Wait a minute, this is a quite far-out idea this, you know.' I think, as George's wife pointed out to him, he just wouldn't want the work. If you send George a bunch of papers, he says, 'I'm not looking at that!', but if you're an MP, you've got to look at those papers, there's no getting round it. But it was quite funny. I said, 'George, let's get one thing straight. No way am I gonna do it. I don't want to put a damper on, I don't want to rain on your parade or anything. You do it if you want. I'll support you. I'll back you up. But there's no way in heaven I am going to stand as a Member of Parliament a week before the election! You've gotta be kidding!' Well, they put 230 candidates out and I think every one of them lost their deposit. That may be a slight exaggeration but I don't recall any of them getting in. It showed they had a bit of dough, though. But they were talking mad things. George was saying, 'You know places like Bradford and Blackburn or Southall where they have a big Indian community? They're going to bring in Indian guys, holy men, people like that to be candidates.' He said, 'Well, they'll definitely win in all those Indian communities.' There was lots of talk, it was talk.
Looking back on his experience in India twenty-five years later, Paul said, 'I always thought I learned what I wanted to learn there. I took it just as a skill like riding a bike. I didn't then disbelieve. Now I say to my own kids, "Go and get a mantra, because then if you ever want to meditate and you're on some hilltop somewhere, you'll know how to do it." I'm not sure you have to go into it any deeper than that myself.'
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