Lotus flower.

Memoirs of
Charlie Lutes:

Memoirs of
Charlie Lutes

Charles F. Lutes with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Charlie Lutes with Maharish Mahesh Yogi

From The Himalayas to Hollywood
A Personal Account of Maharishi’s Early Days

By Charles F. Lutes
As Told to Martin Zucker
© 2006 Martin Zucker

East Meets West

Nicky and I were out, as usual, taking our nightly constitutional along Ventura Boulevard. For me, the walking was good exercise and a relaxing form of therapy, an attempt to flush out the tension built up during a day of business activity. Nicky, of course, loved it. A dog needs his exercise after being cooped up in the backyard all day and our little Cocker Spaniel was no exception.

It was a pleasant evening around the beginning of 1959.

Nicky was doing his thing, intently exploring the doggy wonders of the sidewalk world, and I was absent-mindedly window gazing and mulling over the day’s events.

From out of nowhere, so it seemed, a stranger approached. He was distinguished-looking, well-dressed, middle –aged. He greeted me and expressed admiration for the dog.

“Yes,” I said, "‘Nicky’ is quite an animal. We are even thinking of sending him off to culinary school so he can cook and earn his keep.”

The man laughed but immediately turned serious and said, “Very great indeed is your good fortune because shortly you will meet a master of this earth and our time who is going to have great impact on the world with his teaching. And you will become very close to him.”

Before I had a chance to respond, the man bid me good night and walked briskly away down the street and turned the corner.

The strange encounter seemed to have paralyzed me right in my tracks. By the time I got myself in motion again it must have been a full minute. I hurried to the corner to find the man and ask for an explanation. How did he know all that?

I reached the corner and saw no one. He couldn’t have gone very far, yet he had seemingly vanished. I had never seen him before and I never saw him again.

A few nights later, Nicky and I were making the same rounds and this time we had our pal, Peter the Hermit, with us. Peter was an old-time Hollywood bit player who lived by himself in the Hollywood Hills not far from us. He had a long white beard and flowing white hair and would get called by movie producers anytime they needed somebody to play an old prospector or biblical prophet.

Peter was also extremely psychic.

As we were walking along he suddenly said to me: “You know, Charlie, you are going to meet a great teacher pretty soon and he will have a big part in your life.”

The message sounded very familiar.

And just how did he know?

“I just know, Charlie. I just know.” That’s all he could say.

* * *

Five years earlier, I probably would have laughed off these two incidents as purely coincidental encounters with neighborhood weirdoes.

In 1954, I was 40 years old. I had had a standard middle-American Christian upbringing. My grandfather had won a Congressional Medal of Honor in the Civil War. My father manufactured window glass. As a boy, I was sent to military school. I boxed in college and served in the engineering corps during World War II. Except for a brief crack at acting, I pretty much toed the conservative straight and narrow.

An influential family friend counseled me out of an actor's life. “Get serious,” he said, and set up an appointment for me with the general manager of the Portland Cement Company. I was hired. Later I joined Flintkote Corporation, a huge firm that supplied steel construction products as well as concrete. My whole life became wrapped up around my work. I was sales representative, a career man with blinkers, largely oblivious to almost everything else, although I did follow world events, business news, and the Los Angeles Rams with some interest.

I would have had an impossible time trying to tell you anything about the meaning of life. There was absolutely nothing in my track record to suggest a tendency toward spirituality or meditation. To me, life was measured in tons of steel and yards of concrete. I could tell you how much concrete was poured into the downtown Los Angeles freeway cloverleaf and how much steel was holding up the Park La Brea Towers. I knew because I had sold the materials.

My friends were people from the industry and we talked steel, concrete, and construction. In the course of a day, I would be attending the endless details involved in any number of building jobs. I’d meet with crew foremen, engineers, architects, and even company presidents. I worked hard and took the pressures of the job home with me to my wife, Helen.

In 1954 I became suddenly ill. I was having lunch with a business associate in Farmer’s Market. The waitress was bringing a slice of pecan pie I had just ordered. All at once, the restaurant turned upside down and my heart started thumping like a tom-tom. I grabbed onto the table and held on for dear life. I thought I was having a heart attack. Pretty soon the room turned right side up again but I felt terrible.

My friend drove me right over to my doctor’s office. The doctor examined me. It wasn’t a heart attack, he said afterward, but something was definitely wrong.

That’s how it began. I was totally healthy one minute and in bad shape the next. It was an illness the doctors were never able to explain. In a short period of time, I lost 65 pounds. From a robust 200-pound six-footer, I shrank down to skin and bones. I experienced blackouts with such frequency that my company assigned a driver to me. At one time or another, practically every gland and organ in my body stopped working.

This ordeal had been going on for several months when one afternoon I began to feel the usual symptoms that preceded a blackout: palpitations, a cold and clammy feeling, and a dry throat.

I headed for the doctor as fast as I could. When I arrived, I was pretty groggy. The doctor took one look at me and cleared a treatment room. I remember him pulling off my coat and shirt and going over me with his stethoscope.

“Charlie, it looks real bad this time,” he said. “I’m afraid you are dying.”

Flat on my back on the treatment table, all I could apparently summon out of a fading mind was concern for an orderly passing.

According to the doctor, I mumbled to him that the car was in the parking lot, the keys were in my coat, that he should call Helen and tell her I loved her and to please bury me in Forest Lawn.

I only remember some slurred speech, blurred vision, cold extremities, and the jab of an adrenaline injection. From what seemed like a great distance I heard, “He’s pretty well gone.”

Then there was the most beautiful calm, peace, and warmth I had ever felt in my life. Sometimes you read about people who cross over the line between life and death and who somehow revive and describe a momentary ascension into a sublime state of utter peace and beauty. Apparently, that is what I experienced.

During this passage of time a voice spoke up from within my mind and said: “If you wish you may come home, Charlie. You have done well. But if you wish to stay, you can be of greater help to your fellow man than you ever dreamed of.”

I remember answering: “If I can be of any benefit to humanity, then let me stay.”

“That is very good,” the voice said. “So be it.”

The inner dialogue ended. The next thing I became aware of was sensation returning to my extremities.

In twenty minutes I could see clearly. In a half-hour I was sitting up on the treatment table. A little while later I walked out of that doctor’s office, albeit with help, but nevertheless feeling much better than when I had walked in. Slowly and surely, I started Improving and putting on weight. I was recovering.

The doctor was amazed.

“We doctors see a lot of things and some of them we just don’t understand,” he told me about a month later. “Obviously you shouldn’t be here. But you are and we can’t quarrel with that.”

Often it is in times of severe illness, or after a near-miss with death, that people turn to religion or begin to think about the meaning of life. So it was with me.

Helen had always been interested in spirituality. She read widely on the subject and frequently attended lectures. She tried to interest me, but I would always put her off. Now I asked her about it. I started to accompany her to talks by such people as Dr. Ernest Holmes of Science of Mind and Manley P. Hall of the Philosophic Research Society.

Little by little, I began to explore the concepts of metaphysics and reincarnation and look beyond the boundaries of my orthodox Christian background. Together with Helen, I heard the teachers of Theosophy, the Rosicrucian Order, and Vedanta. We learned to meditate one way and then the other. Concentration. One-pointedness of mind. Hallucination of light. You name it. We tried it.

New avenues of understanding were opening. By the time I met the stranger in the street, I knew that such an encounter could be more than mere coincidence.

It was shortly afterward that the stranger’s prophesy was fulfilled.

* * *

One day I returned home from work and Helen told me about somebody called Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

“He’s an Indian man from the Himalayas,” she said, with more than the usual zeal she radiated whenever she discovered a new teacher. “And he's giving a lecture tonight on meditation at the Masquer’s Club.”

The Hollywood Masquer's Club was a place where film people used to gather to eat, drink, and socialize.

Helen said a doctor friend of ours was going and that she certainly wanted to go too. I was in no mood to go that evening and I told her so. My brain was bulging from a big construction deal I was working on. What’s more, I was deeply engrossed in one particular avenue of metaphysical study at the time.

“The two of you go,” I suggested.

When she wants to be, my wife can be very determined. “Well, if we go, it won’t hurt you to go either,” she said.

So all three of us went.

In the lounge of the club, some chairs were arranged around a small drab stage that was bare except for a bench and what looked like an animal skin on it. There were twenty five or thirty other people seated around the stage.

We sat down and before very long a small, bearded man emerged from a side door. He wore a white, sheet-like robe and carried flowers. He stepped onto the stage and sat down on the animal skin.

I had gone to the lecture reluctantly but as he spoke I began to realize he had something very important to say. He could teach you a technique, he said, enabling you to go within yourself and fathom your own interior nature.

He called the technique “deep meditation.” Several years later, he would change the name to Transcendental Meditation.

By using the technique you could release an enormous amount of latent potential into your everyday activity. Your mind could reach the very source from which thoughts spring. Through the process you infuse an enormous amount of pure energy into your body. You strip your mind of crippling tensions and stresses and replace them with bliss and peace.

“I have brought from the Himalayas the fulfillment of every man's need in this fast tempo of modern living,” I recall him saying. “I have brought from the land of ancient sages to the modern man of this new world a simple technique of living in peace and happiness. If we can bring inner contentment into the daily lives of individuals then we can put an end to wars and suffering.”

The man from the Himalayas said his technique could be learned quickly and need only be practiced twice a day for a half-hour each time.

Although his heavily-accented Indian English was hard to follow, I found his message clear enough. He was offering me a way to reduce tension and at the same time open the door to the interior and all-powerful nature of the mind. He described a technique that appeared much simpler to do than the laborious forms of meditation I had been practicing hitherto.

After the lecture I went up to him and said: “I have an enormous amount of tension. If I start to practice your deep meditation, will I lose it?”

“Yes, you will lose it,” he said in a soft and friendly voice.

I thanked him for the lecture and went looking for Helen, who had gone outside with our doctor friend.

“Well?” she said.

“He told me his technique could fix me up.”

“So did you sign up? It would be nice living for a change with a man who isn’t wound up all the time.”

I wanted to think about it. Maybe. Later.

“Go in and sign up,” she said. “I just did.”

So I went back in and signed up. A couple of days later, Helen and I were initiated into deep meditation.

Maharishi had set up shop in the spacious, comfortable house of Helena and Roland Olson, a Los Angeles couple who had attended the same lecture and offered their home to Maharishi.

We were told to bring an offering of fruit, flowers and a handkerchief for the ceremony of initiation. I didn’t question any of this. If that was what he wanted, it was okay with me.

We arrived at the Olson’s house, each of us carrying a great big bouquet of flowers, a basket of fruit, and a nice new Irish linen handkerchief.

Helen and I were shown into the den of the Olson house, where Maharishi was waiting. The room smelled of incense.

Maharishi welcomed us with a nod and a smile. He asked if we were doing any other kind of meditation. Yes, I told him, we had been practicing other forms of meditation involving contemplation and concentration. In fact, I said, we had meditated with these techniques earlier that same day. I felt a near sense of pride, of savvy, of not coming in green.

He put me straight. “If you are going to start deep meditation, then you have to give up the others. You cannot have a half day of this and a half day of that. Cease the others.”

Before we started, there was one important question that I wanted to ask him. “Will I know God when I meditate?”

“Better than that,” he said, “you will experience God.”

The initiation ceremony began with Maharishi softly and beautifully chanting in Sanskrit, the language of the ancient Indian teachings. Helen and I stood there watching and listening. After a few minutes, Maharishi leaned over to Helen and whispered a word into her ear. Then he did the same with me. These were our mantras, the special sounds that Maharishi said could turn the mind 180 degrees into the realm of pure Being. He told us how to use the mantra in our minds when we meditated, but never in a manner of concentration or effort.

I didn't really know how it would work or what was coming. I had had great experiences before, using the other forms of meditation. I didn't know if this would be the same.

Maharishi asked us to sit down and meditate. And he sat down too to meditate with us. We closed our eyes and followed his instructions.

Well, I became convinced right from the start that he had something very valid. I experienced bliss with the very first meditation. And I mean bliss. It came down on me like rain. It was tremendous. And each meditation after that was filled with bliss. It was very uplifting and difficult to describe. You can only use one word. Bliss.

And I had never experienced the same kind of bliss with the other meditations.

After we meditated the first time, we were told that Maharishi was going to give a lecture in the Olson’s living room that evening and if we wanted to come we were welcome. We came and listened. And the next night we came. And we came again and again.

The thing that impressed me was that he wasn’t teaching Hinduism or some Eastern religion. He was simply giving a universal teaching that worked for everybody.

As far as the tension was concerned, I didn't lose it immediately, but gradually it did diminish. In a matter of three months, I shed considerable tension.

It was a few days after our initiation that Helen and I decided we wanted to help Maharishi spread his technique to others. We volunteered our services. Helen got involved on a daily basis, helping around the Olson house, arranging flowers, ushering in new meditators, and doing errands for Maharishi. I came whenever my work schedule permitted, mostly to offer my expertise in the construction of a meditation room that Maharishi wanted to build in the backyard.

I was out there coaching some volunteers in building fundamentals one day when Maharishi walked up to me.

“Do you like your meditation?” he asked.

“Yes, Maharishi, I do.”

“Would you like to be with me?”

“Yes, sure, Maharishi,” I said, even though I didn’t know what he meant.

“Good,” he said. “From today on you will be with me.”

With that he said to get my car, take his deerskin and put it on the passenger’s front seat. As soon as I did, he climbed in and sat down on the deerskin.

“Where do you want to go, Maharishi?”

“We get some air,” he said. “We see the city. We take drive.”

So off we drove. It was the first of many trips I would take with him, trips that would take me around the world, expose me to danger, celebrities, and, above all, his boundless wisdom. It was the start of a very personal relationship and a message come true.

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