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

Holy Man from the Himalayas

Who was this audacious Indian monk claiming possession of the ultimate panacea?

As far as Maharishi was concerned, his meaningful life began somewhere around the late 1930s when he was a university student and met Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, a great master and religious figure.

The swami, who Maharishi always and reverently refers to as simply “Guru Dev” (Divine Teacher), was the equivalent of the pope of northern India in the Hindu religion. Even though he had led the life of an ultra-recluse for more than fifty years, his wisdom and spiritual attainment were legendary, Maharishi said. “He was the most highly revered sage in all India and was held as the embodiment of divine consciousness.”

After years of urging by religious and civic leaders, the Guru Dev was persuaded to leave the caves and forests and take the office of Shankaracharya, or pope, of the north. The seat had been vacant for 150 years, waiting to be filled, so it was said, by the right person. The year was 194l and the Guru Dev was seventy-two years old.

A few years before he became Shankaracharya, the old sage made one of his rare ventures out of the wilderness. It was at this time that Maharishi saw him in a procession and the experience was something like spiritual love at first sight. Maharishi, a twenty-year-old student, felt an overwhelming desire to be near and serve the great master. He sought out the Guru Dev who told him to first finish his education and then come. Two years later, having earned his degree, Maharishi headed for the monastery of Jyotir Math in the Himalayan religious center of Badrinath, there to devote his life to the Guru Dev, “to serve at the feet of my master.” And this he did for thirteen years until the swami passed on.

Over the years, Maharishi would be asked hundreds of times to talk about his past. Reporters were especially curious. But his answer was always the same: “Once you take the vows of the monk, past life is forgotten.”

He told me long ago that when you become a bramachari, or monk, you no longer relate to your family or to any of your background.

Once an Indian newspaper said that his father was a tax collector for the British colonial government and that Maharishi as a young man once had been employed in an ammunition factory. Maharishi would say little more than that he came from a large, cultured family and graduated from Allahabad University with a degree in physics.

During his years as a disciple of the Guru Dev, Maharishi was schooled, along with other monks, in the traditional disciplines and teachings of yoga and Hindu philosophy. His was a monastic life of meditation and learning and of total dedication to the swami. He wrote the master's correspondence and swept his quarters. One photograph taken in 1947 shows a 30ish Maharishi, a head and beard full of rich, black hair, arranging flowers at the feet of the Guru Dev during a religious procession. He was, he once said, “an iron filing drawn to a magnet.”

Shortly before Guru Dev passed away, he intimately disclosed to Maharishi knowledge of a form of meditation entirely different than the difficult mind-control forms of meditation taught and practiced by the holy men themselves.

This was the highest teaching, he told Maharishi. The fastest and the highest. It was something he himself did not teach, but now he was giving it to Maharishi to give to the people. By the people he meant the common folk of India, “the householders,” as Maharishi called them. The idea was not to make monks but simply to uplift and spiritualize the people and give them a teaching that could make their daily lives more effective.

From time to time, over the ages, this special technique is brought back into focus. The Guru Dev chose Maharishi to do it now. Where the Guru Dev acquired the knowledge isn’t known; whether it was given to him by his own guru many, many years ago, or whether it came to him from his attunement with the Infinite. The Guru Dev was a master of masters, a master of all paths. His comprehension was universal.

What Maharishi had inherited was the quintessence of Transcendental Meditation. It was like a magnificent raw diamond requiring the skill of an expert cutter and polisher. Maharishi now had to structure the knowledge and make it workable. What was the best way to teach it? What were the modes of practicing it? How could it be made appealing to the masses?

None of the other monks or holy men could help him. He alone had received the knowledge from the Guru Dev.

When the old master departed, Maharishi secluded himself in Uttar Kashi, the Valley of the Saints. This is a traditional center of ashrams and temples tucked away in the Himalayan foothills where all shapes of religious ascetics and students conglomerate. For the better part of two years, Maharishi lived in a small, cave-like basement beneath an ashram. He led an austere life of meditation, fasting and pondering how to actualize the Guru Dev’s assignment.

When he was out and about, circulating among the other holy men, he told some about the meditation. But they had their own ways and wanted to remain with them. They weren’t a bit interested in what he had to say.

During his marathon meditations, he kept experiencing a vague but persistent notion to travel to the south of India. He could find no reason for this recurring thought. Finally, he confided to a wise man he knew. The man shrugged it off, “Why should you want to go to the hot and crowded south?” he asked. Apparently referring to the monsoons that sometimes inundated parts of the countryside, he called it a land of mud.

But mud or no mud, Maharishi followed his intuition and crossed the Ganges River. For months he wandered southward, alone and aimless, staying in village temples or accepting the customary hospitality given to holy men by householders. He arrived finally at the southern tip of India. He had traveled more than 1,500 miles, most of that distance on foot.

A wandering monk from the Himalayas is a rare sight in the deep south of India. In Trivandrum, the capital city of the south¬western state of Kerala, a man stopped Maharishi in the street.

“You seem to be from the north,” he said to Maharishi. “Do you lecture?”

“No, I don’t lecture, but if there are people to hear me I could give them some message.”

The man took the address where Maharishi was staying and returned a few hours later.

“Arrangements have been made for you to give lectures for seven days,” the man said. “I need to have the subject on which you will talk.”

Maharishi was astounded. As a good recluse, talking in public was a totally foreign activity to him. He had never done it before and now he was being asked to speak on seven successive days.

He decided to use the opportunity to reveal the knowledge and ideas that had long been incubating in his mind. He would give the “blessings of the Himalayas” to the people of the south. And in this spontaneous manner, both Transcendental Meditation and a people’s guru were launched.

Maharishi had designed the Guru Dev’s legacy into a form of meditation to fit the life style of the householder, He introduced an appealing concept of reducing stress while increasing energy, of elevating one’s efficiency in activity and work, and of achieving spirituality while living a material life. This could all be accomplished, he claimed, by a simple and short, twice-a-day period of meditation.

“It is nothing new,” he said. “I am merely bringing back into focus a very ancient teaching.”

Local newspapers reported on this unusual monk from the north who had an unusual style of meditation. People came to hear him talk and many of them asked to be given the technique, to be initiated into what Maharishi then called Deep Meditation.

Word spread and Maharishi found himself a sought-after speaker. For three months, he remained in Trivandrum, speaking and initiating. For another six months, he traveled throughout Kerala State, doing the same. For another two years or so, he moved from one corner of India to the other, teaching, testing, and tailoring his simple method of meditation, He found it worked and brought practical benefits to people from all walks of life, regardless of their religion, caste, or occupation. There was no great plan to his movement. He was swept along by the momentum and receptivity of the people from one village, town or city to the next.

By the end of 1957, Maharishi had probably initiated a few thousand Indians into Deep Meditation and many of them now joined him in December for a three-day celebration in Madras honoring the 89th anniversary of the birth of the Guru Dev.

It was while addressing the gathering, in a flash of inspiration, that he unexpectedly announced to his followers he was going to carry the teaching out to the world in the form of a “Spiritual Regeneration Movement.”

What he had to say that day is important, for it summed up his thinking about the role and usefulness of meditation for a modern world.

“The Spiritual Regeneration Movement is the natural solution to the growing worries and miseries in daily life of man everywhere,” he said.

“Mental chaos, frustration, corruption and tension everywhere are the direct outcome of the lack of spiritual development in man. It is generally held that modern man is too profoundly enamored of the increased material comforts of this scientific age and that is why it has become rather difficult for him to take to renunciation and rise to the glory of the Soul.

“I hold a different view. I differ entirely from the age-old common concept of spiritual life that decrees detachment as an essential prerequisite for spiritual development.

“Behaving in the world and enjoying the comforts of material life, one can still lay open the gates of spiritual glory within one.

“The main cause (for spiritual degeneration and problems) is the wrong approach to spirituality preached by the pioneers and leaders of spiritual glory. Heedless stress has been laid on detachment and renunciation for realization of the divine.

“Renunciation is foreign to the way of life of the majority, people who are householders, men of action in the world whose life is naturally a life of attachment. Spiritual development through renunciation and detachment is an ideology of the order of the recluse and its application should be restricted to that order alone.

“This fear of detachment has barred the majority from attempting the spiritual side of life and led the people to feel contented with the gross forms of prayer and worship, which, though full of values, directly fail to satisfy the needs of peace and bliss in life.

“No doubt, prayer and worship of the Almighty are needed for peace and bliss in this life and hereafter, but a connecting link is first needed to link the mind with the prayer and glories of God. That link seems to be missing when the mind flies away at the time of prayer and worship. That link has to be provided for everybody in the world.

“If spirituality is to help the man of the 20th century, it must appear in a new garb to attract the modern eye and not frighten material life. If a spiritual technique of living the elevated material life is evolved, the modern taste would go for it. If the glories of the Soul could be lived and enjoyed in the midst of the material glories of life, modern taste would love to have it. If by some technique the Light of Divine could strengthen the values o material comforts of life, modern man would rush for it.”

The link, the technique, the “new garb to attract the modern eye,” was Deep Meditation. Maharishi wanted to give it to all men everywhere in order that they might thoroughly enjoy the two aspects of life—the spiritual and the material. Later, he would come to phrase it, “to enjoy 200 per cent of the fullness of life.”

The aim of the new movement, he said, was to provide a simple method of meditation and infuse it into the daily life of people all over. Meditation centers were to be established to facilitate the promotion and continuity of the practice. Some had already been set up in a number of Indian cities.

What Maharishi was saying and doing was absolutely revolutionary. He had programmed a method of meditation for modern society. It ran counter to orthodox practices of meditation, east or west, which accompanied religious or esoteric philosophies and usually involved an abstemious or rigid style of life,

Here was a monk, an avowed renunciate, vegetarian, and celibate, saying, in effect, you could have all the suits, dresses, and cars you wanted, eat whatever you desired, and enjoy the good life. He had his way, the monk's way, and you had your way. You didn’t have to renounce anything.

Furthermore, you could be man or woman or even a child. You could be Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jew or Martian. All you needed, he said, was a half-hour in the morning and evening to sit down, close your eyes, and meditate according to his instructions. It was an absolutely no-strings attached form of meditation that could service and soothe the soul, body and mind of the 20th century Busyman.

You meditated and felt more peace, more energy, less tension, and this would lead to a better individual and better world.

Health was one obvious area that benefited from meditation. “It is the considered opinion of good physicians all over the world,” he said, “that about 80 per cent of physical diseases are due to muscular and nervous tension which have their roots in mental tensions produced by cares, worries, anxieties, sorrows and failures in daily life. This means that mental tension is at the root of the majority of physical diseases.

“This system of meditation directly relieves tension of the mind and therefore it is found effective to eradicate the very cause of much disease.

“As the mind goes deeper in. meditation, the breath automatically becomes subtler and when the mind is in Deep Meditation, the breath flows very slowly. This gives great rest and relief to the lungs and heart and all other functioning parts of the body.

“Any wear and tear due to constant functioning of the machinery, or any abnormality creeping in the system as disease, is naturally set right due to the natural rest given to the active parts of the body during meditation.

“This is the great preventive and curative medicinal value of Deep Meditation.”

The process of education was enhanced as well, Maharishi said. “When one is meditating, the mind goes deep within itself and fathoms the great depths of its own nature. Finally coming on to the farthest limit of its being, it is reduced to its essence, the transcendental reality, the bliss of the absolute, the reservoir of all energy and wisdom, the source of all branches of learning.

“This process of withdrawal of the mind from the field of gross experience to the field of the transcendent, stirs all levels of the ocean of the mind and makes them active, bringing up to light all the inherent and latent facilities and refining and sharpening the mind to the maximum limit, making it the master of nature, the knower of all that is or that may be.

“The present system of education is concerned only with the surface value of mind, of understanding and retaining certain facts. If the student's mind understands and retains, he passes in the class. The system completely fails to develop the inner glories of the ocean of the mind.”

Maharishi’s proposal was to introduce meditation as a regular part of classroom activity, giving the student quick, deep rest, expanded intelligence and a greater ability to study and learn. In the mid-1960s, American students would begin to pick up on what Maharishi was saying. The direct dividend of better grades inspired a nationwide campus turn-on to meditation.

Meditation could help one and all. Why should it be the exclusive domain of the recluse or student of eastern philosophy? Maharishi said.

The way he looked at it, athletes would experience “increased vital energy.” Teachers, lawyers, and judges would find it “relieves the mind of tensions, refreshes it and prepares it for greater amount of work with greater efficiency.” For writers and poets, it “increases the power of imagination and develops clarity, sweetness, wit, and sharpness of expression.” Salesmen would experience improved “power of logical expression and argumentation.” The policeman would benefit, too, for meditation keeps his mind “free from dullness, always alert and dynamic and develops intuition which is of very great value to detect the culprits.” Meditation will develop the essential qualities in a housewife to make her a lovable mother and a lovable wife. “She will be a sweet company to all and the house will become heaven on earth, otherwise many people are found afraid of entering their own house which is like hell on earth due to the bad temperament of the housewife.”

When Maharishi told all these things to his audience that day in Madras, they applauded loud and long. They were so impressed by what he had to say that they acclaimed him a Maharishi. And that is how he got his name. In the Sanskrit language, Maharishi means great sage. Prior to that moment, he was known simply as Brahmachari (Monk) Mahesh.

One should not get the idea here that Maharishi was sweeping India off its feet. In no way. His following was avid but small, and his maverick ideas were drawing criticism from some sectors of the religious establishment.

The uniqueness and key to Maharishi’s teaching was a system of mantras, ancient Sanskrit words with time-tested vibratory effects on the mind. A mantra can turn the mind 180 degrees inward to transcend itself, that is, to transcend its own activity of thinking, the field of relativity, and arrive at the field of the absolute, beyond thought. Maharishi has used many terms for this field. Transcendental consciousness. The Absolute. Pure Being. Pure Existence. Pure Intelligence. Pure Energy. Pure Awareness. Pure Consciousness. Pure Happiness. Pure Bliss.

Later, when he became more familiar with the Western Christian world, he would say that meditation “is the direct path to the Kingdom of Heaven within, according to Jesus Christ.”

Professor A. G, Dickens, director of London University’s Institute of Historical Research, and a renowned student of meditation and mysticism, made this assessment of Maharishi’s teaching in a British newspaper:

“Maharishi’s major discovery is that the mind has this natural tendency to move toward greater satisfaction, toward more happiness, toward this pure consciousness, the most agreeable of all states…beyond all thought, all physiological and psychological affliction.

"All the great contemplatives, past and present, seem to agree that this zone exists, though the Christians call it God and the Buddhists call it the Void. But they differ from Maharishi when they assert that it is extremely difficult to reach and that no man can hope to attain this blissful state until he has totally subdued his senses and destroyed his ego by prolonged and disciplined asceticism.”

Maharishi would always say you could choose your transport to get to bliss. You could go on a bicycle or on a jet plane. His method was the jet plane and the mantras were the jets that took you there, that turned the mind inwards and upwards.

Sure, other techniques could reach higher states of consciousness but the difference was in the simplicity and the immediate effect of his teaching. Maharishi said he could take you at any level of consciousness and evolution and start you at that point. Generally speaking, in other traditions they have to work with you a long time to bring you up to a certain level before you are given the inner teaching. Meditation is rarely the first step toward spiritual attainment. But Maharishi gives it first and doesn't care if you are a dedicated man of the world or a celibate.

I remember once he was asked about the demanding Tibetan methods of meditation.

“Tibet is farfetched,” he said. “All the Tibetan ideologies that you hear, they don’t belong to this age. All that in the name of Tibet is useful for the monk’s way of life, not the householder’s way of life. Anything of Tibet means very strenuous things.”

Maharishi felt that one did not need to armor-plate the mind against its own wandering nature. One didn't have to lock the mind onto a flower or candle flame or one’s navel to achieve peace of mind and spiritual evolution.

“I don't feel the need for concentration at all,” he said. “Concentration means fixing the mind on one spot. Let the mind be fixed and not waver.

“But how long can you concentrate on the beauty and charm of a flower? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Then the mind gets restless, and wants variety. So the process of concentration is the fixing of the mind on one point. But because the charm is not found increasing on the point, the mind doesn’t hold it long. That’s why the process of concentration becomes a difficult process. The mind wants variety, goes here and there.

“Many count concentration as the first step, but if we do, then the first step is very difficult to overcome.

“Deep meditation is a dynamic process leading the mind toward greater happiness, attracting the mind without any effort. It is spontaneous. Concentration is strenuous. So it is wrong to me to say that concentration is the first step. All those who can’t show a direct way, they are the ones who say that concentration is the first step.”

There is no concentration in Maharishi’s meditation. Instead, there are the mantras to turn the mind about face. You don’t set up goals to transcend and grit your teeth to get there.

The mantra carries the mind to subtler and subtler levels of thought until it transcends thought, which is the field of transcendental consciousness. Like a sponge, the mind soaks up some of the absolute and brings it back into activity in the form of more energy, creativity and restfulness. And more naturalness. This is what Maharishi meant when he talked about spiritual regeneration. To be spiritual doesn't mean to be religious. To be spiritual means to become natural, to become naturally what you really are, not what you think you are. The spirit is the true nature of yourself, which is love. To become spiritual is to become your own true, natural self.

This process through meditation is called Infusion of the Being, of the Absolute. It is turning the mind to its universal and basic nature, to its powerhouse. The mantra does the connecting automatically. You don't have to trace the wires.

What Maharishi envisioned was to bring people into attunement with their own true nature. Peace on earth has to start with peace in the individual. If the individual is not at peace with himself, you can easily project his personal misery out to the wider circles he touches: to his family, his community. Maharishi wanted to instill peace in the individual who could then reflect and radiate peace, harmony, love and compassion. Meditation was his way to achieve it.

So, armed with his new-old mind method he called Deep Meditation, and a one-tracked determination to cure a fevered world with it, he set out.

On the 27th of April, 1958, he departed Calcutta by air for Rangoon. He possessed a passport, a few silk dhotis, a pair of sandals, a deer skin, a picture of the Guru Dev, an alarm clock, and a few toiletry items wrapped up in a carpet roll. That was it. No money. No timetable.

He later said, “It never came to my mind where I will stay and to whom I will talk and what will happen when I arrive there. I just started out.”

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