Mahesh Yogi, Maharishi

Mahesh Yogi, Maharishi
(b. 1911 or 1917)
   founder of Transcendental Meditation
   The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi played an important role in spreading the theory and practice of MEDI-TATION in the West. During the height of the West-ern “counterculture,” he acquired a large degree of fame and notoriety.
   Little is known about the Maharishi’s early life. Mahesh is his family name, and Maharishi in Sanskrit means “great sage or saint.” His date of birth has been variously given as either October 18, 1911, or January 12, 1917. Acquaintances in India claim that he is a native of Uttarkashi, a small town in the HIMALAYAS, and the son of a local income tax collector. According to his official biography, he received a degree in physics from Allahabad University in 1942 and then worked in a factory before studying SANSKRIT and Indian philosophy.
   According to his biography, the Maharishi studied ADVAITA (non-dual) VEDANTA for 13 years under Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, Jagadguru and Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, Himalayas (1870–1953). Upon the death of Brahmananda, he withdrew to a cave near Uttarkashi for two years. On a visit to South India in 1955, he gave his first talks and became a popular lecturer on the wisdom of Hinduism.
   In 1958 at a lecture in Madras (Chennai), the Maharishi spoke of his vision for the “spiritual regeneration of all mankind,” which received a five-minute ovation. The next evening he announced the formation of the Spiritual Regeneration move-ment, dedicated to the accomplishment of that goal. Soon after, he began the first of more than 12 world tours. He first left India to settle in London, where he established the International Meditation Society. He taught primarily out of a small apart-ment in London’s Knightsbridge section, as well as private homes and hotels.
   He arrived in the United States in 1959 teach-ing a technique called TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION (T.M.), a practice that draws from Vedic science and employs a MANTRA, or chant, that is given to each student in an initiatory ritual. Each person’s mantra is meant to saturate the mind and allow a peaceful state of mind, absent of thought. Initiates are encouraged to practice at least a half-hour in the morning and a half-hour in the evening. T.M. is well suited to life in the secular, technological West, as the practice does not require devotion or faith and claims a scientific rather than religious basis. In the 1960s the Beatles were his most cel-ebrated followers.
   In addition to the Spiritual Regeneration move-ment founded in 1958, the Maharishi formed the Students International Meditation Society and the International Meditation Society in the 1960s. In 1971, Maharishi International University was founded by the Maharishi in Iowa to train teach-ers of T.M.
   The Maharishi returned to India in the late 1970s and moved to the Netherlands in 1990. His organization includes ashrams, clinics, schools, universities, and Vedic study centers. His teach-ings have stimulated a broad array of interest in Vedic literature. With over 5 million initiates, T.M. has expanded the reach of traditional yoga and Vedic philosophy.
   Further reading: Martin Ebon, Maharishi: The Guru: The Story of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Bombay: Pearl, 1968); Jack Forem, Transcendental Meditation (New York: Dutton, 1974); Paul Mason, The Maharishi: The Biography of the Man Who Gave Transcendental Medita-tion to the World (Rockport, Mass.: Element, 1994); Helena Olsen and Roland Olsen, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: A Living Saint for the New Millennium (Herndon, Va.: Lantern Books, 2001); Khushwant Singh, Gurus, Godmen and Good People (Bombay: Priya Adarkar, Ori-ent Longman, 1975).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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