Philip Goldberg <>
Interfaith Minister, author of 'American Veda: How Indian Spirituality
Changed the West'
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Beatles in India: The Retreat That Reverberates Across the Universe
      19 222
etreat%20That%20Reverberates%20Across%20the%20Universe%20http%3A%2F%2Fhu\>  3
Forty five years ago, the Beatles were settling into the ashram of their
new guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
<> , in
Rishikesh <> , India. The news
coverage was nonstop and global, as it had been six months earlier when
the lads first met Maharishi and became public advocates for his
Transcendental Meditation <>  technique.

It would have been easy at the time to dismiss the media frenzy as just
another pop culture craze. But reporters knew this was different. Why
would four young, bright, fun-loving youngsters, wealthy beyond
imagining, able to go anywhere and do anything, choose to hunker down in
an austere, vegetarian, non-air-conditioned compound in the Himalayan
foothills and spend large chunks of time each day with their eyes
closed? What is this meditation thing? What could a backward,
impoverished country, only two decades removed from imperial rule, have
to offer people who seemed to have everything a human being could want?

Questions like those turned what might have been a brief media burst
into a watershed moment in cultural history. I opened American Veda
<> , my book about the impact of Indian
spirituality on the U.S., by calling the Beatles' expedition "the most
momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those forty days in the
wilderness." Since publication, not one person has argued with that
assertion. It was as though the earth tilted on its axis in February,
1968, making ancient Eastern teachings flow more easily and quickly to
the West. The result would impact healthcare, psychology, neuroscience,
and especially the way we understand and engage our spirituality.

In retrospect, the meeting of the Fab Four and the teacher who will
probably always be known as "The Beatles' Guru" seems as karmically
destined as that of Bill and Hillary or Lewis and Clark. ike many in the
counterculture of which they had become de facto leaders, the band
members had come to see that psychedelic drugs like LSD could open the
door to higher consciousness but they did not let you stay there, and,
in the bargain, came with serious risks. The search was on for safe,
natural ways to expand the mind and attain inner peace and unified
awareness. The East seemed to have answers, and all signs pointed to
something called meditation. George Harrison, having spent time in India
studying sitar with Ravi Shankar <>  and
reading spiritual literature, was among the ripest candidates.

For his part, Maharishi had been circling the globe for nearly a decade,
slowly attracting students, mostly among respectable middle-aged people
with a metaphysical bent. His laser-like focus on meditation, and his
skill in presenting a systematic, universal practice that was suitable
for both secular self-improvement and spiritual enlightenment, were
ideally suited for the rational, pragmatic West. When, in 1965, college
students began to take up TM, word spread quickly and meditation clubs
popped up on campuses. By August of 1967, when Maharishi lectured at the
London Hilton, it was only natural that Pattie Boyd Harrison
<>  would hear about it and lead
her husband and his mates to the jam-packed hotel ballroom.

The Beatles took to meditation like they had taken to Chuck Berry and
Little Richard. John and George were especially enthusiastic (hear David
Frost's interview with them <>
). Young people everywhere, always eager to emulate their musical
heroes, flooded TM centers. The press coverage was remarkable for its
shortage of cynicism. It featured parents and respected cultural leaders
who were impressed by the life changes they observed in the meditating
youth. As a result, scientists, prodded by Maharishi, who had majored in
physics, started doing rigorous research on the effects of the practice.

Before long, physicians and therapists were recommending meditation to
stressed-out grownups. To meet the burgeoning demand, Maharishi trained
a cadre of teachers, essentially democratizing what had long been an
esoteric practice available only to an elite few, much as Henry Ford had
democratized automobiles. Now, hundreds of studies later, meditation and
yoga are as mainstream as aerobics and vitamins.

Would this have happened if the Beatles had never gone to India? Maybe,
maybe not, but certainly not as quickly. That's not just my assessment.
Life magazine at the time dubbed 1968 "The Year of the Guru," and when
Newsweek commemorated that seminal year four decades later, one article
was titled "What the Beatles Gave Science."
science.html>  The author, Sharon Begley, chose the topic because the
lads' trip to India "popularized the notion that the spiritual East has
something to teach the rational West."

That's reason enough to remember that eventful journey. If you need
another one, go listen to The White Album
<> . Almost all the
songs on that double record were written or conceived in the ashram on
the Ganges.

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