The Beatles Ashram
I went to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s abandoned ashram today. In the 1960s and 1970s many notable people came here to learn Transcendental Meditation (TM) from him, especially musicians like Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, Ravi Shankar, and most notably The Beatles. People actually now call it “The Beatles Ashram.” While they lived here they wrote several of their songs for the White Album, including “Dear Prudence” about Mia Farrow’s sister who was there as well and “Mother Nature’s Son.”
It was wild walking around the grounds taking in all this history. After Maharishi Mahesh Yogi died in 2008, the lease ran out on the property and it was abandoned. Since then, the forest has begun to take over-- vines and trees are growing out and around the old caves and buildings. It was as if I was venturing inside my dreams. Some of the old rooms make you feel like you're in a scary movie just because they’re so forsaken. It became a place for pilgrims, adventurers, and artists to visit and do as they please until the Indian government saw it as a way to make money. They took it over a few months ago and began charging 600 rupees (about $9, which doesn't seem like much but it actually kind of is) just to walk around the old place.
There's one section of the ashram that has eighty-four meditation chambers that are partly underground. They were built from local river rock and each chamber represents a different classical Yoga asana or posture from Halasana (Plough) to Kakasana (Crow). Put together they represent the whole range of human life.
There are also many caves around the ashram for living in and of course practicing meditation. One of them was supposedly the Beatles cave. Seekers and tourists have painted pictures and written quotes on lots of them, like "Life goes on within you and without you". Some of it is really expressive, some just seems to be the release of aggression, and some is pretty straightforward, like hearts with names in them. In the old lecture hall there's a huge wall covered with paintings of all the Beatles, Amma, Ramana Maharshi, and other luminaries.
It gets even better… The ashram is in the middle of the jungle, so monkeys constantly leap overhead from tree to tree. The compound is part of a tiger preserve, which protects tigers, wild elephants, and leopards. I didn't see any of those but they are definitely around. I wouldn't be surprised if they were watching me as I walked the trails!
After some time soaking in all of the scenery and history, I sat in a large grassy area and did some TM. TM was my introduction to meditation and the first technique I practiced, leading me to explore many traditions and methods. When I first encountered TM I was twenty-four and blacking out regularly from drinking. I was still doing drugs and living my life in a fog. I kept hearing about Transcendental Meditation and how powerful it was but I wasn't ready until after having a few intense psychic experiences like seeing in my mind my entire afternoon play out and also having realized my drinking behavior reminded me of my father—and not in a good way. I needed to change something in me and thought I'd check out TM to see what the fuss was about. More than anything, really, I wanted another psychic experience.
I got in touch with the TM center in West Hollywood and attended the introductory talk. The teacher spoke a lot about bringing the unconscious forward and making it conscious so that we would no longer be controlled by our pasts. I found that interesting—in no way did I want to be controlled by something I wasn't even aware of.
I decided to continue the course, so I borrowed some money from my friend David. It was suggested that you pay either a weeks’ worth of earning or if you weren't working, a weeks’ spending. At the time I was waiting tables at a deli called Jerry’s and I can assure you my income wasn't much. It was also suggested you bring fruit and flowers as an offering. The TM teachers told us how in India, seekers walked hundreds of miles just to get their mantra from a meditation master. So I figured the least I could do was pick up my favorite fruits—blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries—and one of my favorite flowers—a purple orchid—from Trader Joes.
When I got to the TM center, we were instructed to place our money in a box so that the amount of my donation would be between me and God or the Universe. After a little ceremony, we were taken to a private room, given a mantra, and told never to say it aloud. If we only repeated it in our minds while meditating, its power would build. We then proceeded to meditate once a day with the teacher and once a day on our own for the next three days--so twenty minutes of meditation twice a day.
I didn’t notice much change during the first two days of meditating aside from my mind jumping around like an undisciplined child unable to behave or pay attention. Who is this guy? Does he know what he's doing? How am I going to pay David back? Does this guy know how much money I put in the box? He's got to know. What is wrong with me? When am I ever going to not be broke? Pitiful. What's my mantra again? You get the picture. Every time I'd open my eyes to check the time only a minute or two had gone by, but it felt like eternity!
On the third day, I was doing my evening meditation on my bed just before going to sleep. I was repeating my mantra, when all of a sudden there was no mantra. And there were no thoughts, no bed, no apartment, no body, no breath, nothing. Just silence…emptiness…nothingness… I felt as if I were floating but in nothing—I was in emptiness and I was emptiness. Yet, just as I was part of nothing, I was a part of everything. And just as I realized this, it all went away and I was back in my body and in my apartment back in Los Angeles. It seemed that I had just shut my eyes a few seconds before entering that state but when I opened my eyes to check the time it had already been twenty minutes on the dot!
My body was buzzing from head to toe. I had a huge grin on my face that I couldn't remove. And I didn’t want to. When I touched my body, everything was vibrating. It reminded me of being on Ecstasy but beyond Ecstasy…it was so much better. I experienced deep peace and incredible joy. I was high as a kite and I wanted more. What was this? This is possible without drugs? Without drinking? I was hooked.
TM started me on my spiritual path that led me to a journey of going within. Along the way I released my addictions to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and so much more…I’ve released fear, hate, anger, pain, and resentment. There's still stuff I go through, of course, I've got a long ways to go, but the difference between now and before I sat down on that pillow is that I have now been given a flashlight. I have a tool—meditation—to help me navigate my path. I have a new way of looking, of seeing. Until I began TM, I had no idea I was even trapped in the dark and muggy cavern of my mind.
So, as I sit here on these grounds of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram and marvel at the massive impact he had on the world, I bow down and give thanks to Maharishi Mahesh for the massive impact he had on my life.