Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Om ... the Maharishi is dead

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has died. In 1968, he was a guru to the Beatles who visited him in India to learn transcendental meditation (TM).

How much they picked up from him is not known but those short months or even days at the Maharishi's Himalayan retreat had a more profound influence on George Harrison (he joined the Hare Krishna movement) than the other three musicians. Reportedly, the Beatles fell out with their guru after the latter found them using drugs at the same time.

News reports said the Maharishi died on 5 Feb 2008 in Vlodrop, Netherlands, from old age. He was thought to be 91 years old.

If you are a child of the Sixties, you may have heard about the Beatles' much publicised trip to India. But the Beatles weren't the only celebrities that visited the Maharishi. Even the Rolling Stones, Clint Eastwood, Mia Farrow and Deepak Chopra could be counted as those who tried to learn meditation and mind control from him.

Whether TM works or not is not for me to say but the Maharishi's activities had spawned several other copy-cat movements around the world, all based on Hindu mysticism.

For example, about two years ago, there was this group of people, followers from all over the world of the self-styled Sri Chinmoy cult, that camped at the Hotel Equatorial in Penang for about a week. Every morning, they would be dressed in white and seated in quiet meditation in the spacious ballroom. I really didn't know about their other activities.

It takes all sorts of people to make up this world so I tend to believe that self-styled gurus like the Maharishi would have their world-wide followers as well as the disbelievers.

Maybe it's true that TM may help create world peace, maybe it's also true that TM may mobilise devotees to banish poverty, but it doesn't seem very clear to me presently that TM is winning over terrorism, fundamentalism and religious intolerance.

Indeed there is skepticism over the practise of TM itself. Over the years, the Maharishi has been accused of fraud by former pupils who claimed that he failed to teach them yogic flying, the ultimate practice in transcendence teaching. Nothing more than people sitting cross-legged in the lotus position and bouncing across spongy mats. Won't take me from George Town to Province Wellesley. I'll have greater faith in Rapid Penang to do that!

Nevertheless, other TM followers claimed hundreds of scientific studies have shown that meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves concentration and raises results for students and businessmen.

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