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Maharishi Mahesh Yogi met George Harrison and The Beatles at a pivotal time in their lives in 1967. George’s first wife, Pattie Boyd, discovered the famous guru after seeing his newspaper advertisement for Transcendental Meditation classes.

The Beatles craved something spiritual at the time. So, they went to hear Maharishi speak in London. The guru gave each of them something to help cleanse their souls, just as a doctor would their patients. However, later on, another guru disagreed with Maharishi’s technique.

George Harrison, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and John Lennon at the UNICEF Gala in Paris in 1967.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with George Harrison and John Lennon | Keystone/Getty Images

George Harrison said Maharishi Mahesh Yogi gave him a password to the other world

In Here Comes The Sun: The Spiritual And Musical Journey Of George Harrison, Joshua M. Greene wrote that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi earned a degree in physics from Allahabad University before turning to the study of meditation.

In 1958, he moved to the U.K. and founded the Spiritual Regeneration Movement, which taught “fundamentals of yoga, breathing, and mantra meditation.”

“By 1967 George had reached a point in his studies where he wanted to meditate and knew he would need a mantra—’a password to get through into the other world,'” Greene wrote. George hoped Maharishi could relay that important message.

He went to the guru’s lecture in London with his bandmates. Maharishi had already initiated 10 thousand people into a technique he called Transcendental Meditation.

“The word ‘mantra,’ he said, is comprised of two parts: man (mind) and traya (liberation), and repeating a mantra calms the mind and brings inner peace,” Greene wrote. “Wars, epidemics, famines, and earthquakes were all symptoms of tension, he said, as contagious as any other disease.

“If even one percent of the world’s population followed this easy method of meditation, it would be enough to reduce tension and dispel the clouds of war for thousands of years.”

After his lecture, Maharishi invited The Beatles to his retreat in Wales. During his course, Maharishi gave his students a word or syllable. “Over time, he added more words or syllables until the pieces fit together to form one of India’s traditional mantras,” Greene wrote. “He took George aside, then his mates, and whispered a mantra in their ears.”

Another guru disagreed with the gift Maharishi gave George and The Beatles

A month before The Beatles heard Maharishi speak in London, The Beatles went to Greece. George brought an album of Sanskrit prayers by the bhakti-yoga teacher Bhaktivedanta Swami, a.k.a. Prabhupada. The ancient Hare Krishna mantra became their theme song.

In 1922, Prabhupada’s guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati instructed him to spread chanting to the West. In 1965 he did and gathered a small following.

Later, two devotees helped him open his Haight-Ashbury temple. They called him “‘Prabhupada,’ a teacher of respect that meant a master (prabhu) and whose feet (pada) other masters gathered,” Greene wrote. The devotees organized a mantra rock concert to raise funds for the temple. It took place weeks before George visited the love capitol.

At the concert, Prabhupada said, “I am nobody’s guru. I am everybody’s servant.” Later, one loyal disciple told George that Prabhupada represented a line of teachers going back to the beginning of creation when Brahma, the first created being. He received divine knowledge directly from Krishna.

George helped the devotees start their London temple. John Lennon allowed them to stay at his Tittenhurst estate. Prabhupada arrived in September 1969, “anxious to rejoin his disciples and encourage their work in England.”

George visited the guru with John’s home. The guru said there would be peace in the world if people chanted. Then, Prabhupada asked John what philosophy he followed. “We don’t follow anything,” Yoko Ono said. “We’re just living.”

Then, John explained that Maharishi had given them secret mantras that one couldn’t chant aloud.

“If a mantra has power, why it should be secret?” Prabhupada asked. “It should be distributed. People are suffering.”

In Vivekananda’s book Raja-Yoga, George had read something similar: “Anything that is secret and mysterious in this system of yoga should at once be rejected. So far as it is true, it ought to be preached in the public streets in broad daylight.”


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John didn’t understand how to tell one guru from the other

Initially, Prabhupada confused John. Which mantra do you chant? What gave any guru the authority to say so?

“If all mantras are just the name of God,” John said, “it doesn’t really make much difference, does it, which one you sing?” Prabhupada disagreed. He compared mantras to medicines that cure different diseases.

“All may be potent, but to know which one to use requires the guidance of a qualified doctor. Mantras come from God, he said, and must be prescribed by a qualified guru,” Greene wrote. 

Then, John asked, “But how would you know, anyway? I mean, how are we to tell one master from the other? Maharishi said exactly the same thing about his mantra, that it is coming down with seemingly as much authority as you.”

“If a mantra is coming down in that way,” Prabhupada agreed, “then it is potent. The potency is there.”

“But Hare Krishna is the best one?” John asked. “Yes. You don’t require to bother to say anything else,” Prabhupada replied. “The Hare Krishna mantra is sufficient for one’s perfection.”  

John still didn’t know which guru to listen to, especially after a scandal evolved around Maharishi. During The Beatles’ stay at his ashram in 1968, a rumor started that he’d been inappropriate toward some female students. However, it was never confirmed.

Regardless, George managed to stear himself in the right direction by listening to a plethora of gurus and swamis, not just one.