“Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was my exemplar, he was my format. He was that on which I patterned my whole approach to knowledge, giving knowledge and teaching. And through that process of my watching him for thousands upon thousands of hours over the many years that I had the great advantage of studying under him, he basically ended up creating me.”Thom Knoles
The impact that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had on the world is inestimable. With millions of people practicing the meditation technique that he popularized around the world, and many thousands more learning each year, the ripple effect of his work will last for centuries to come.
And not just here on earth. It’s fitting that Maharishi’s three favorite words, Jai Guru Deva, inspired lyrics within the famous Beatles song, Across the Universe, which, in 2008, became the first song beamed by NASA into deep space.
But what was it like being up close with Maharishi? In this episode Thom shares some of his observations from his 25 plus years of direct contact with Maharishi in India and throughout the world, often around the clock and for weeks and months on end.
He describes Maharishi’s most endearing characteristics and the impact they had on him personally, declaring that Maharishi shaped him to become the man he is today.
And for bonus value, he also shares the origins of another song from The Beatles that can be attributed to being influenced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
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What Maharishi Was Like
An Inspiration to The Beatles
A Great Grace
Glory to Guru Deva
An Artful Walk
An Armful of Flowers
A Car Seat in Sydney
A Coffee Table and a Deerskin
Questions From the Floor
Response to Worthy Inquiry
Hari the Cook
Feeling the Food
An Incessant Phenomenon
A Great Buzz of Activity
The Colorless Sap
Is It Understood?
From This Angle, From That Angle
Jai Guru Deva
Jai Guru Deva. Welcome to my podcast, The Vedic Worldview. I’m Thom Knoles.
[00:55] What Maharishi was Like
Today I’d like to spend some time talking to you about what it was like to be around Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. What my personal experience was.
And it has to be acknowledged that he was somebody who was known to millions of people at various levels. I was one of the few thousand, one of a few thousand, who was able to have some direct contact with him over a period of some 25 years.
And so every individual is going to report on their experience of Maharishi from their own level of consciousness. And I offer up my level of consciousness to you for your consideration and my level of experience of him.
Rather than going into the first time I met Maharishi and here and there and so on, I’d like to describe to you what he was like from my perspective.
He was not a large man. I remember on the many occasions when I stood near Maharishi, the top of his head came just up to my chin. I’m five-foot-eight. Maharishi, I’m guessing, was about five feet tall.
Although he had an unusually large head for his body size, You know, the way that a child looks different to an adult, one of the ways that children look different to adults is that their heads seem to be disproportionately large for their bodies.
And somehow Maharishi appeared, at least, to maintain that kind of disproportionate large head for his body. And this was accentuated by the fact that he wore his hair long.
[03:14] An Inspiration to The Beatles
In fact, the first time I met him, in the late 1960s, he had the longest hair I’d ever seen on a male in my life at that point, even though I grew up through the age where in the West, men were experimenting with having long hair, long hair wasn’t yet as long as Maharshi’s hair was.
And I can tell you from direct experience, and as a fact that the inspiration for the famous, singing group, The Beatles, for their growing their hair long was their having met Maharishi and seeing his long hair. They grew their hair long after that, really long.
Anyway, he had very long hair. In fact, when I first met him, his hair was about down to his elbows. He also sported a long and very voluminous beard. And his beard was, in the early days when I first met him, was unusual in one particular respect. The sides of the beard were black, and his hair was black. His head hair was black.
But on his chin, where the chin hairs grew, was very absolute pure, pristine white. And so he had this long white, long white beard coming down from his chin. Unlike my beard, his beard wasn’t curly, and so this long white waterfall of hair came down from his chin and around his mouth.
[04:58] A Great Grace
He had about him a great grace. He wore a white, perhaps a better description of it was ivory colored, pure hand-woven silk garment called a dhoti.
The dhoti has a top half and a bottom half. The bottom half wraps around one’s waist, perhaps in the way that one might put a towel around one’s after a shower. And the top half is simply wrapped around over one’s shoulders.
And the silk that he wore was super, super fine, hand-woven, and you could see that quality in it. And his hair was unkempt, uncombed, and just hung in tresses around about his shoulders.
This has to be taken into a context in which he first appeared in the western world in the late 1950s and into the sixties when it was not at all usual to see a man with such long hair and a long beard, and wearing nothing but a silk dhoti.
On his feet, he wore sandals that were carved from sandalwood. Perhaps that’s why sandalwood is named sandalwood, I don’t know, but his only footwear in the entire time that I knew him was sandals. He always wore bare feet. I never saw him put on socks or anything like that.
The sandals, the wooden sandals, had underneath them where the wood would normally have met the ground, two little rubber strips, very thin, to elevate the wooden sandals slightly off the floor, presumably, so that he wouldn’t slip.
And then on the tops of the sandals was a red rubber strap. One that he could just slide his feet into. It didn’t require any buckles or anything like that. And these carved sandals were carved exactly in the shape of his footprint.
[07:17] Glory to Guru Deva
So that was his footwear and the silk dhoti and the long hair and the long cascading beard. His beard must have been at least a foot long.
And then the cherubic face, he had a face that was like the face of a small child, a rather chubby face that had the most beautiful smile. When he would look and smile at you, he had fabulous teeth, and his teeth just shone out from his brown skin, and brown eyes, large eyes, and he had a beautiful inscrutable smile on his face. At his most relaxed, he still had a small smile on his lips.
He could be caused to laugh at the slightest provocation. Almost anything would make him laugh. If he was walking into a lecture, people would stand out of respect for him. This was the tradition that came down to us from India.
People would stand out of respect for him. And he would walk through an aisle of people gazing to his left and right. It was a tradition that a blessing could be attained by offering him a flower. And so when he would arrive into a lecture hall, which is something I saw him do thousands of times, the whole room would go silent.
He would enter the room and say, “Jai Guru Deva,” and the entire group, anything from 10 or 15 people up to tens of thousands of people, would all respond with the group saying, “Jai Guru Deva,” Glory to Guru Deva, Maharishi’s teacher.
[09:23] An Artful Walk
And then, he would enter the room, walking very gracefully. He had an amazing, graceful walk. With each step, he had to clamp his toes down onto his wooden sandal in order to hold it as he lifted his foot.
And so he had a rather peculiar walk because he would clamp his toes down with each step that he took to hold his sandal onto his foot with his toes.
And then, when the sandal would touch the floor, his toes would relax. And then as he lifted it, gripped the sandal with his toes again, and it made the way that he walked look very artful. He had a very artful walk.
[10:06] An Armful of Flowers
As he walked past one, then the meditators would reach out with their flower that they had selected specially for the occasion, and he would take each person’s flower.
And even if the crowd was four or five people deep on his left and on his right, people would be reaching their flowers over the tops of the heads and shoulders of others trying to reach their flower out to him.
And he would take the time to reach right in there and take each person’s flowers and consequently, since, on many occasions, there may have been hundreds of people lining the path from where he arrived at the lecture hall, perhaps in a car, and walked from the car into the lecture area. He would always end up with literally an arm full of flowers and the flowers, perhaps, hundreds of flowers, and he would carry all of those with him.
[11:09] A Car Seat in Sydney
Whenever he sat to lecture, his organizers, of which I was one for periods of time, would have set up a dias. You know what a dias is? It’s a low stage, something that might have one or two, or at the most three, steps up to it.
And the main reason for the stage really was because he was such a tiny man that unless you elevated him, a crowd of people sitting in a room literally wouldn’t be able to see him unless everybody stood and dodged their heads around and things, they wouldn’t be able to actually see him.
So he had to be elevated so that we could see him. Maharishi would always deposit his sandals, slip them off, just slip his feet out of them, before mounting the stairs, and typically his seat would be set up like a kind of a couch.
I remember on one occasion in Sydney, Australia, there was no immediate couch available, and it had slipped everyone’s mind as to where he was going to sit, and someone had figured out that they could remove the bench seat in a car.
And that bench seat at the last minute was brought in, and it was propped up on some milk crates, and a piece of white sheet was strewn over the car seat, and it was tested out quickly to be sure it was stable.
[12:39] A Coffee Table and a Deerskin
And then in came Maharishi, and walked straight up having slipped his sandals off, and he liked to have a picture of Guru Deva, his teacher Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, propped up very visibly behind him. And then he would sit, and when he sat everyone in the room, that was their signal also to sit.
And then he would place his great arms full of flowers, hundreds of flowers that people had gifted him, down on a little coffee table. He liked to have a coffee table in front of him, and he liked to have a pad of paper, and he liked to have felt writing pens, so he could write notes or make diagrams or whatever if he wanted to do that.
And so those things always awaited him on his coffee table. The coffee table had to be pulled away.
Maharishi always sat on a deerskin, the skin of a particular kind of Indian antelope, which had been procured for him in a particular non-violent fashion. And then that deerskin would be placed on the sofa on which he was to sit, and he would sit down on the deerskin, and then pull his legs up into a kind of easy half-lotus position.
And then his helpers would push the coffee table in, more or less, kind of, so that if he were to undo his legs, the coffee table would have to be moved away again. But he didn’t undo his legs. He would sit on that deerskin.
[14:26] Questions from the Floor
And then he would, look around the room and always reach down and take one of the flowers that was in the pile of flowers before him on his coffee table, and then he would either simply start talking, or as happened in the most common cases, as a microphone would be put in front of him so that his words could be captured for recordings and amplified for the room to hear. He would ask, “Any questions?”
And people’s questions were the main driver of his teaching style. There were occasions when Maharishi would simply come out and have a spontaneous speech that would flow out, nothing that he had planned. He wasn’t someone who planned speeches in advance. He would just begin talking extemporaneously.
But very frequently, he would give a little talk, perhaps 15, 20 minutes, and then he would see questioners lining up in the aisles of the various places where he gave his talks, and people would line up at microphones, in long lines.
There could be three or four microphones dotted around an audience, in the aisles where people could stand and wait at the microphones. And it was a regular thing that there would be a dozen people lined up at each microphone, so some 36 questioners or more would be waiting for him to take their questions and answer them.
[16:14] Response to Worthy Inquiry
He would answer a question on almost any topic, but he would use the topic that he was being questioned about as a platform to deliver a particular branch of the Vedic knowledge that he wished to deliver.
And so he used the questions both as a means to answer people’s worthy inquiries but also as a means to bring to the consciousness of people broader ideas than what their questions and the answers to those questions encompassed.
And so he had the great capability of teaching as a dialogue, question-and-answer format was his pedagogy as we say, teaching method.
[17:13] Dear Prudence
And so then, as to his nature, he was someone who, and I’m happy to credit Prudence Farrow. Those of you who are ancient enough to know anything about Beatles music might remember a song by The Beatles called Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play.
Prudence Farrow was a meditator who was in Rishikesh when The Beatles were there, and was doing lots of industrial-strength meditation and The Beatles had wished that she would come out and spend more time in the waking state outside of her room.
But she was always in her room doing what we call rounds, meaning a particular set of Vedic bends and stretches Asana, followed by pranayama, followed by meditation, followed by lying down.
One round takes about an hour to do that. Only should be done, by the way, in a retreat setting with proper supervision, live supervision by a qualified teacher of Vedic Meditation.
But there she was doing her rounds, rounds, rounds, rounds, rounds, and they wrote this song that had the word rounds in it lots of times.
Prudence referred to Maharishi as “a force five hurricane of happiness.” And that really was the best way to describe him. He could and would get a deep and thoughtful look on his face if he was asked a question that required a somber approach to delivering knowledge.
[18:56] Contagious Laughter
But at a certain point in every answer that he would give, whether the answer took a few minutes, or took hours, sometimes his answers would take hours, Maharishi would very often make some kind of a joke, and he himself loved his jokes as much as anybody else did.
He would tell his little joke, and very often, it was a play on words to, to do with the words that were used to describe the gaining of higher consciousness states, and he himself would laugh and laugh and laugh.
If he heard other people laughing at what he said, he thought that their laughter was enough to make him laugh even more. And then when he would laugh more, and sometimes his laughter would just be like, he had the most contagious laugh, and he couldn’t stop himself from laughing.
When he would try to stop himself from laughing, it would make him laugh more, and that would cause other people to laugh more.
Some of these laughing sessions would go on for a solid four-five minutes, which is a lot of laughing if you think about it, before he would regain his composure and then get back on track on his subject.
[20:18] Hari the Cook
Maharishi’s lectures the only thing that would stop him would be if we had gone past a meal time, if it was a morning lecture and lunch was scheduled for, say, twelve or one, then he would frequently take you a little bit, an hour perhaps, beyond the break time, and then the lectures would recommend for the afternoon once other people had had their lunch.
He himself only ate one meal a day, one major meal, and that meal typically was, no surprise, Indian food provided by his cook, who, for the longest number of years in my tenure with Maharishi,was a Brahmin by the name of Hari, who had a shaved head and a little tiny ponytail at the back.
And another tiny, tiny man, even smaller than Maharishi, who was a very competent chef, and his client was one person, Maharishi, his teacher, our teacher.
Maharishi was someone who, in the Indian style, the style of nearly 2 billion people on this planet. Out of the 7 billion, about 2 billion people eat with their hand. They don’t use utensils. Maharishi was one of those.
[21:52] Feeling the Food
I did see him on occasions using, if he was in polite company, using utensils like a fork or a spoon. I did see that a few times when other people were eating with him who were Westerners and who used utensils. But typically, in India, one reaches into the food with one’s hand.
And the Indians have the idea that just as we enjoy food on the level of its fragrance, we enjoy food on the level of the sound of the sizzle of it cooking. We enjoy food on the level of the sight of it, the look of it. We enjoy food with regard to its flavor, the taste of it, the sensation of it being in the mouth.
But Indians like to add one more sense. That is the sense of touch. What does it feel like to just stick your hand into it? And they have a variety of very graceful means of turning and twisting the food with rice or using breads to pick up the food with, and eating the food that way.
Maharishi, as all Indians are, was gracefully a very accomplished hand eater and would eat with his hand.
[23:14] An Incessant Phenomenon
When he would return for his afternoon lecture, it would go right up to usually around the time that the twilight came. And twilight was the time where he would like to break to allow everyone to go off and practice their second meditation of the day. One was expected in the morning to arrive, having already meditated in one’s own time.
And then everybody who was attending whatever course or lecture he gave, which seemed to be just an incessant phenomenon. There was never a time that I can remember where there wasn’t some kind of course. Either a course for new beginners in meditation or a course for very experienced people, including teachers. There was never a time when there wasn’t some kind of course going on.
And so then dinner would happen. People would have their dinner, and Maharishi would be in his room having his little snack if that was his major one meal of the day from Hari, and then he would return.
[24:28] A Great Buzz of Activity
Sometimes he was slated to come back, we were expected to arrive in the hall perhaps at 8:00 PM. It was a common time to arrive. Maharishi sometimes would actually surprise everyone and arrive at 8 in the evening.
I say sometimes because I would say that might not happen except about 25% of the times that he was supposed to start at eight, that lectures would actually happen at eight.
And frankly, as a crowd of people who were listening to him, we would be rather grateful because it gave us an opportunity to socialize while we were waiting for Maharishi. People could sit and talk, and there was always a great buzz of activity.
People talking to each other, meeting each other, and so on, because hundreds, if not thousands, of people had arrived from every corner of the globe to hear Maharishi teach.
And it was just great fun meeting all of these other meditators, and as one became a teacher of Meditation, meeting all of the other teachers of Maharishi’s meditation program, from all over the world.
, And so, at some point, whether it was at eight o’clock or whether it was at nine or ten or eleven, sometimes even later than that, you would hear a door open and everything would go quiet.
[25:58] The Colorless Sap
And the person who was carrying Maharishi’s deerskin would arrive into the room first, would go up onto the stage and lay down the deerskin on the couch, and then in would come Maharishi, and people would line up in those rows that I alluded to earlier to do their outreach and to hand him a flower. And he would use these flowers as teaching aids.
One of his favorite analogies was to hold up a flower and say, “Inside the flower is the colorless sap. The colorless sap has in it all the potential for the color green, for the color pink, if it had pink petals, if the flower had pink petals, for the thorn, for the leaf, but the colorless sap is formless, it is seamless, and it is colorless and fragrance-free.
“However, it has in it, as the unmanifest version of the flower, the capacity to turn itself into round stem, flat leaf, green color, brown color, pink color, fragrances, thorns, soft petal, everything that can come out, can come out from that colorless sap.
And then, if you nourish the sap by watering the root of the plant, then the green becomes greener, and the pink becomes pinker, and the sharp thorn becomes sharper. All the differences become more distinct, become more, different.
And making their individual contribution of difference to the variety of life through one operation, which is to go to that one common place, the colorless sap, and nourish it by watering the plant.”
[28:06] What Happened?
And he would use this as an analogy for our meditation, that by taking our mind to the state of Being, the unmanifest layer of life, beyond thought, we could awaken the colorless sap of life, Consciousness and bring it into every aspect of life, to enliven life, to awaken life.
Maharishi’s lectures frequently would go on until the wee hours. It wasn’t unusual to see 11 o’clock sail past and then midnight sail past, and then one o’clock approach and sometimes be transcended and, on occasions, all the way up until two or so.
Although, when he would have a very late finish, he would always look around the room and say, “What happened? I went late again. Would you please remind me to finish? We should finish by 10.”
And then somebody would have the job of holding up a little sign when 10 o’clock came saying, it’s 10 o’clock now. And he would proceed to utterly ignore the sign that he had asked somebody to write, saying it’s 10 o’clock.
And then people got into the habit of holding up a sign, one at 10, one at 11, one at 12 and so on. I never once saw him actually respond to these signs that he asked people to write. If he was particularly absorbed in a topic on which he was holding forth, there was almost nothing that could stop him from talking.
[29:57] Is it Understood?
His ability to teach, by going into detail, making a point and then really exhausting the point and moving on to the next point, making sure that everybody understood, and his patience with questionnaires was infinite.
Somebody might get up and ask a question. Maharishi would answer it to the satisfaction of, I would say, probably 90% of the people in the crowd.
But if the person who had asked the question appeared not to have really got the point and asked the question in a different way, even if the crowd of people were getting exasperated by the question or not getting it, Maharishi would very patiently go back over the material again, and then carefully arrive at the point from perhaps a slightly different perspective until his questioner was satisfied.
And Maharishi wouldn’t take, if he said, “Is it understood?” and if the person went, “Mm, yep. Somewhat,” if that was the sort of answer, then, rather than stopping there, he’d go back and go right through it again.
And although sometimes this may have exasperated, the larger group who had got the point one hour ago, it actually acted as an advantage to those of us who were going from that place of being with Maharishi to teaching in the field, because, first of all, it gave us an example of how to be infinitely patient when people needed to know more. But also, it gave us the ability to teach from every angle.
[31:57] From This Angle, From That Angle
Maharishi would often hold up a flower, say a rose, and he would say, “You can’t really know the rose until you’ve seen it from the front, from the back, from the left, from the right, from above, and from below. From these six directions, you’ll actually get the whole picture of the rose.”
And he would say, “This is the way that I teach. I take a subject, and I examine it from this angle, from that angle, from that angle, from that angle.” and likewise, his pedantic approach to teaching— pedantic means step by step— though it was sometimes a little slow for people in the audience who were quick, nonetheless, he was demonstrating to you a teaching methodology that you could use when it came time for you to teach people who might have not, as quickly as most, picked up a particular point.
And I found it very compassionate and kind, but I also found it a method which, when I adopted it as my own teaching method because my entire agenda and motive, motivation was to style my teaching, my method of teaching on the method of teaching that I received from Maharishi, that I watched him perform.
[33:24] Creating Me
And so, he was my exemplar, he was my format. He was that on which I patterned my whole approach to knowledge, giving knowledge and teaching. And he really, through that process of my watching him for thousands upon thousands of hours over the many years that I had the great advantage of studying under him, he basically ended up creating me.
And it’s my great honor and privilege to be able to teach in his name, and in the name of his Master, Guru Deva. And we’ll conclude this little talk about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with his favorite three words Jai Guru Deva. Glory to Guru Deva.