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

Guru on the Go

Maharishi’s real destination on leaving India was the United States. An American had heard one of his talks and urged him to go to America, that his teaching would really catch on there. Maharishi felt also that if he could popularize meditation in the most progressive and creative country on earth, it would surely accelerate expansion of the practice elsewhere in the world.

But getting to America — or anywhere, for that matter — was solely determined by the degree of support he could muster. His Indian followers paid his air passage to Burma. From there he made his way east slowly. Singapore. Kuala Lumpur. Hong Kong. Hawaii.

In each place he managed to interest some individuals who then spread the word. Lectures were arranged in homes, halls, temples, and Maharishi initiated those who were interested. But the numbers were small. Modest centers were established, perhaps in someone’s home, but frequently to stop functioning once Maharishi had left. Homes and temples were opened to him and money raised to see him off to his next destination. Occasionally, a well-to-do new meditator would pay for his plane ticket.

It was the beginning of a long, hard road.

At the end of December, 1958, on Guru Dev’s 90th birthday anniversary and the first anniversary of the Spiritual Regeneration Movement, Maharishi took stock of his progress.

“When I review the progress of one year,” he reported from Hong Kong to his followers back in India, “I find myself between gain and loss. In the beginning, I thought one year would be sufficient for the light to spread in all countries, but when I came out of India six months ago I found it was easy to give out a flash of the divine glory without loss of time. Establishing permanent lighthouses of that great effulgence, however, needs more time in each place. So my movements were not as quick as originally planned.”

Maharishi had learned something of the world. One man wasn't about to convert it in a year or even years.

If his blueprint for progress was awry, it could be excused. He was really new to the world, a freshman on campus.

But there was nothing faulty about his message, his sincerity, his naturalness, his intelligence, and his remarkable ability to explain the most abstract of human concepts in simple terms.

One Hong Kong businessman who had been initiated by Maharishi described his manner of speaking like this:

“The sweet shrill voice of the Yogi had a magic influence in the hall. It captivated the hearts and engaged the minds of the audience for its sweetness, logic and magnanimity. It was an attraction of its own kind when the most tedious philosophy of realization was being explained in simple words of homely language, giving out scientific explanations and convincing arguments.

“It was history, philosophy, religion and science converging to spirituality. Many were found closing their eyes to follow with the full mind. And when Maharishi stopped, the air felt the loss of the charm.”

Like many masters, Maharishi possesses a quick, warm sense of humor. His contagious giggle became a quasi-trademark later on.

“Maharishi has a hard, hearty cackle,” Life Magazine once wrote about him. “It's an irresistible invitation to join him in a huge joke—even if one is not at all sure what the joke is. Whatever the source of his mirth, whether it springs from his understanding of some sublime, specific truths or from his recognition of the idiocy of mankind in general, Maharishi laughs often.”

Maharishi once joked that “the highest state is laughter.”

His speech was mirthful and charming, provincial and thoroughly Indian, yet it carried the substance and acuity to capture the most skeptical of western minds.

Once, Maharishi initiated an American professor of philosophy who had written a book on existentialism. The man believed in nothing in life except change and death. Change and death, that was it. Suddenly, after meditating the first time, the professor told Maharishi he felt a great peace.

“What do I do now?” he asked Maharishi.

“Just laugh it off,” Maharishi said.

And he did. Maharishi said the man laughed for twenty minutes straight.

So it is. Some people begin to laugh. Others smile. Some just feel peace and relaxation. Maharishi once said he was expounding “a very serious philosophy in a very blissful way.” Another time he quipped that we all had “an infinite number of reasons to be happy and a serious responsibility not to be serious.”

Very early Maharishi learned the importance of the media to help get across his message. He saw to it that the press was always informed of his activities. In return, he found that his presence always stirred journalistic interest and he freely granted interviews. He was and always has been good copy.

Announcing his schedule of talks in Penang, Burma, the local “Gazette” referred to his technique as a “spiritual shortcut for the busy householder.”

The Singapore Straits Times picked up on his habit of sitting on a deerskin.

“Before seating himself for the interview,” the reporter wrote, “he had waited for an Indian servant to place a deer skin on the settee. He told me he never sits down anywhere except upon a deerskin and that he wears out about one a year.”

In Hawaii, a Star-Bulletin reporter found Maharishi living in a tiny room on the fourth floor of the central YMCA, sleeping three hours a night and eating one vegetarian meal a day.

"He’s a remarkable man sitting cross-legged on a deer’s pelt,” the reporter said. “His eyes remind you of the innocence of a puppy’s eyes. He is childlike in his simplicity yet with an enormous vocabulary. He has no money. He asks for nothing. And does not think of limitations.”

The reporter said Maharishi had given a lecture to twenty people the night before at the YMCA,

“He carries a message of time immemorial from the awed silence and icy coldness of the Himalayas. He told them that life was to be enjoyed like a flower, not only the outer beauty of it but the honey inside.

“‘My method is simple, simple, very simple,’” he had said to them. ‘Nothing to be done. No preparation. It is for all men. The rich. The poor. The sinners. The religious. It is also for atheists.’”

The Honolulu Sunday Advertiser pointed out that Maharishi does not reveal his age. “He prefers to have it as old as you think me to be, he says. Among his new friends here, speculation ranges from twenty five to sixty years.”

From Hawaii, Maharishi traveled to San Francisco. One of his activities in the Bay Area was a meeting with a group of University of California psychiatrists,

The San Francisco Chronicle covered the east-west confrontation and said there was no escaping the fact that Maharishi thinks “his secret system of ultrasonically-induced Deep Meditation is much, much better” than psychiatry,

Maharishi wasn't anti-psychiatry. He simply felt that meditation could accomplish in a short time what psychology couldn’t bring about in years in the individual.

“Psychology only uncovers the surface levels of the ocean of the mind,” he said. “Meditation gets to all levels.”

Years later, he would initiate quite a number of psychiatrists into meditation. Some would even become teachers of meditation and prescribe the practice to their patients.

On April 29, 1959, Maharishi arrived in Los Angeles. A press conference at the Ambassador Hotel had been arranged for his arrival by Richard Sedlacheck, one of Maharishi’s new followers, who was playing the role of advance man. The reporters came, even though they didn't know much about Maharishi.

One of them said he didn’t have any literature and really didn't know what to ask.

“This is a good question to start with,” Maharishi said. “Innocence is a great quality on the divine path.”

He giggled, and they all laughed.

Maharishi told them of his idea to eliminate wars by bringing inner contentment and peace into the daily lives of people through meditation. Politics couldn’t do it, he said, because politics are ever changing and anything which is always changing in itself cannot establish anything permanent.

“If a garden is to be made green, every tree has to be made green,” he said. “World peace can only be established if the individuals of the world are in peace and this can be achieved by a wide publicity of my simple system of Deep Meditation which makes a man peaceful and happy without delay.”

What about tranquilizers, one reporter wanted to know. They bring peace also.

Maharishi would have none of that. “They are a great misery to the whole world. Meditation is a non-medicinal tranquilizer and it has no evil effects.”

Ted Thackrey, a top Los Angeles Examiner reporter, described Maharishi’s unveiling in Los Angeles thusly:

“Mystic East meets Mystified West.

“Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, from Uttar Kashi, India, sat on his deerskin and smiled affably while he tried to explain his ‘Sputnik method’ of learning meditation in a hurry. It brings peace, he said, with the first easy lesson.

“A little like the ‘learn to dance in a hurry’ idea—only you do it with your mind.”

Maharishi was asked about money. How did he plan to spread his message in the United States?

“I do not worry about where the necessary money will come from,” he said. “Be assured that it will come when people learn how simple and swift is my method of meditation. Americans like anything they can do in a hurry.”

* * *

It was in Los Angeles that the real nucleus of the worldwide movement grew.

After the pictures, articles, and hoopla of Maharishi’s arrival, it was word of mouth and a small daily advertisement in the newspapers that brought people. The ad said: “Public lecture by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of the Himalayas. Simple system of Deep Meditation for mental peace, energy, and spiritual happiness in daily life.”

People would call the Olson house, where Maharishi was staying, or come over for more information. In the den, he would usually initiate for about two hours in the morning depending on the traffic. Each individual initiation took him about ten minutes. Meditators were supposed to return in the following days for Maharishi to check their techniques, to make sure they were meditating correctly. Often, in the evenings Maharishi would give his public lecture in the living room or discourse to the initiates on consciousness and meditation.

The comings and goings became too much for the quiet residential street where the Olsons lived. The neighbors started complaining. Nobody could find a parking place on that block. Some less-than-realized individuals would even park in driveways. The police came around a couple of times and the Olsons understandably began to get nervous about it.

The problem was resolved by finding a small hall nearby to hold all the activities. Maharishi made the Olson home his personal headquarters for the five months he stayed in Los Angeles, but in July a proper center was inaugurated in a former dance studio. It served as our Los Angeles center for the next ten years.

A real mixed-bag of people gathered around Maharishi, attending the lectures, and volunteering their services. Roland Olson was an accountant for the telephone company. His wife Helena was a publicist for the Greek Theater. We had people in the poultry business, law, the arts, real estate and land development. There were aeronautical engineers and housewives. All professions. All religions.

The common denominator was the fact that we all got to know Maharishi personally. We all had a personal relationship with him, to the degree that there were certain ones he would call his family. You are my family, he would say, and no matter what happens, no matter how large the movement becomes, you will always be my family. These were the few people who in the beginning had real faith in his mission. As far as faith in the meditation was concerned, that really wasn’t necessary. It didn't really call for faith. Suddenly, we were all experiencing more energy, and were calmer, peaceful and happier. In a nutshell, we were experiencing more bliss. The teaching was effective.

Being around him, of course, was a boost. We were helped by the master himself. But there are many thousands of meditators today who have never been near Maharishi, who have been taught by the teachers he taught, or even by the students of the teachers he taught, and who still derive the same benefits of his technique. The teaching is valid even if the master isn’t present. The instructor need only be true to the manner and method laid down by Maharishi. When he created Instructors of meditation from businessmen, engineers, lawyers, housewives or students, he always insisted that they adhere 100 per cent to the purity of his teaching and never waver, add or subtract. Even if the teacher is not perfect, he would say, the teaching is.

Today, when an individual wants to become initiated into Transcendental Meditation, there are fixed fees. Maharishi only started charging for initiations in Hawaii. Up until then,in India and Southeast Asia, he gave the technique without charge.

Initiation was accompanied by a request to donate one week’s income to the movement. It was asked solely to defray printing costs, renting halls for lectures, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses directly related to promoting Maharishi’s activities.

This was what I paid. I didn’t think it was too high or too low, simply a matter of what it cost if I wanted it.

We found out that if people paid for something, they valued it. If somebody was unemployed, or low on money, and said he wanted the meditation, or wanted to find God, or peace of mind, Maharishi always initiated them, without charge. But before long he realized that the meditation didn't mean anything to them. They placed no value on it. They didn't stick to it. And they disappeared like flies.

If somebody couldn't afford a week's income, then we asked for two or three days’ income, but for something.

We also took pledges. When Maharishi left for the east coast in September, our treasury had chits for about $8,000 in unpaid pledges. That was a lot of money. As things turned out, most of that money was never paid.

Some people balked at paying anything at all. Why should something having to do with the spiritual side of life have a price tag, they argued.

During one of those early days, a fast-talking businessman convinced Maharishi to initiate him and his friends for free. Once given the technique, and once experiencing the benefits, he told Maharishi, they would all donate lavishly. Maharishi agreed and suddenly all kinds of people showed up claiming to be the businessman's friend. There were at least seventy five. They came in for free and we never saw or heard from any of them again.

Maharishi wasn't really concerned about money. If somebody had underwritten his mission, supported him, he would have continued giving the technique free of charge. But he needed to get around, needed his subsistence, and needed to cover all the promotional expenses involved in his effort.

Years later he told Joe Garagiola on the “Today Show”: “As much as a man would like to contribute to spread it to the people, donations are asked to cover the expenses and to propagate it more and more and more.”

Maharishi was hoping to attract wealthy people to him who had the wherewithal to support his activity, but this was far more difficult than he had anticipated. He usually wound up relying on people without the wherewithal, individuals who would scramble around to obtain as much as possible by one honest means or another. We were in contact with a lot of people who had money but very few of them felt disposed to reach deep into their pockets. They said they would donate to their church, to their charities, but not to the Spiritual Regeneration Movement, and “not to a traveling Indian,” as one person put it to me.

I think basically that most of the new meditators declined to contribute because the movement was too new and too small. It had no history, no buildings, no protocol.

Around 196l we had a notable exception. One woman donated $100,000 to build the ashram in India where Maharishi wanted to train teachers of meditation. That was a lot of money in those days. To my knowledge, it was the largest donation ever received by the movement.

People would always say that Maharishi was out in the world to make all the money he could. It boils down to how people see the world themselves. What is their motivation? By and large it is money. The basic motivation of mankind is money, gain, financial worth. And of course many said Maharishi was the same way.

But this has never been true. With his intelligence and ability he certainly could have thought of easier ways to make money than that. If he was out to make a buck, it was the hard way to do it. Often I heard the comment that Maharishi must carry a lot of money on him. I would always answer that his robes don’t even have pockets and I certainly didn't know where he could carry it.

“I don’t handle money,” he would tell questioners.

Once he was asked about the budget of his movement. “Somebody must know,” he answered. “Only it is unknown to me. I keep saying do this, do that. How they do it is their headache as long as it is done legally.”

It was always the members of his organization that handled the money. Never him.

* * *

Maharishi enjoyed rides and outings and getting out into nature. His activity was primarily indoors, in close quarters. Even a master needs some relief.

People were always taking Maharishi around Los Angeles to see this or that. It was more a case of everybody wanting to have him to themselves. One reason why Maharishi delegated me to be his chauffeur was to alleviate the continual pressure of well-meant invitations.

One day a particularly husky meditator pushed me up against a wall.

“You've been about as selfish as anyone can be,” he growled, and accused me of monopolizing Maharishi’s time. “I’m going to take Maharishi with me tonight, whether you like it or not.”

It seemed that he wanted to take Maharishi somewhere and Maharishi was using me to stall him.

“Charlie insists I go with him,” he had told the man.

We managed to settle the problem peacefully. Maharishi said he would go with the man so as not to make him unhappy.

The Incident opened my eyes to one aspect of Maharishi’s character. He didn’t like to hurt people's feeling so he would resort to some indirect ploy. When he was tired and had had enough of people, he would begin to hand flowers out to Individuals and suggest it was time they get some rest. “It is good now that everybody get rest,” he would say.

Sometimes he would give me a quick signal that meant he wanted to end a meeting. So I would say, “Okay, let's break it up and let Maharishi get some rest.” And he would say, “No, no, no. We continue.” I would have to insist and finally he would agree that maybe it was the best thing. It was a big act. He really would want to stop. But this way he wouldn't hurt anybody's feelings.

Maharishi was very impressed by the affluence of America. He would say things like "clean," "nice," and "America has so much to offer." Of course, if you know India this kind of statement is very understandable. One aspect of the American way of life that impressed Maharishi was television. But as with most things, he twisted the subject to meditation. He would say that because TV reaches so many homes we should take advantage of it. And we did. We got him on most every prominent TV program that we could. He always commented that the majority of the talk shows hosts spent most of the time asking him inane questions about what he ate, what it was like living in a cave, or why he wore beads. Maharishi was concerned only about one thing: getting his message across. He wasn't interested in becoming known, only in having his teaching become known, and he would turn every question around to meditation.

“Are you a mystic?” one TV interrogator wanted to know.

“Meditation is the bridge between physics and metaphysics,” he said. “Because I talk of Being, I am labeled a mystic. Each age has its own language. In medieval times, it was all talk of faith and mysticism and no question was asked or a man was called a heretic. What I speak of now is thought energy. Nothing of mysticism. In order to make the mind strong we have to enlarge it. The goat will carry a great load if he is strong.”

In those days we tried to attract more people to meditation by emphasizing the increased energy factor. Americans are always interested in pills or drops that will give them increased energy. We figured this would have a greater appeal than the purely spiritual message. So many came for just that—the increased energy. Many came expecting miracles overnight. Others came to compare the technique to what they were already doing. The reason didn't matter. The meditation could lower blood pressure, increase energy, and make you a more efficient lawyer or housewife. But first and last, it made you more spiritual. It made you more natural.

We used to set up lectures for Maharishi all around Southern California. We would see to it there was ample publicity and coverage in the local press. But generally, in those days, the receptivity was pretty discouraging. We rented the big Long Beach Civic Auditorium for a lecture and thirty or forty people came. Once in Riverside, only five showed up for a lecture.

The “family” would get very depressed at the lack of enthusiasm or over the people who would pledge their initiation fees and never pay. But Maharishi never seemed to be bothered. If he was ever disappointed, he never showed it, He would say, “not to worry,” “first time here,” or “we will get more people as time goes on.” He showed more concern about us keeping up with the meditation and he spent a lot of time encouraging people to stay with it.

During that summer of 1959 Maharishi decided to gather as many active meditators as possible in order to establish a proper organization and formulate a set of goals for the movement.

The purpose was noble. The staging was not. Participants were going to come from the ranks of Los Angeles and San Francisco area meditators. We needed to find a suitable middle ground. After much back-and-forth telephoning, Lake Sabrina and Sequoia National Park were singled out and finally, at the last moment, Sequoia. But one group of about twenty meditators left prematurely, thinking the meeting would take place at Sabrina. When they arrived they found out the bad news. Sequoia was clear on the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and hours away.

Outraged, they declined to participate and left the movement.

Maharishi had been up north on a brief visit and came to Sequoia with the San Francisco group. Saturday afternoon found us sitting under a big Sequoia tree, talking of the movement’s future. Then it came time to meditate and we asked Maharishi if he was going to meditate in his cabin.

“What cabin?” he said. “I don’t have cabin.”

It turned out that the San Francisco people had failed to reserve a cabin for him.

We solved the problem by moving Helen in with a single woman. I slept in the car. Maharishi took our cabin.

Flawed start or not, the setting was beautiful. There were only fifty of us there but Maharishi felt inspired enough to regard the gathering as the “First International Convention of the Spiritual Regeneration Movement.”

Maharishi quietly and confidently enumerated the plans for the development of the movement. As he spoke under that great tree that warm and sultry afternoon, the question emerged in all our minds: how could one lone monk, no matter how great his wisdom, ability, energy and dedication to the task, achieve an impossible dream?

Maharishi announced a “Three Year Plan.” In every major city in every country of the free world he would establish a center of meditation, twenty five thousand to be precise, by the end of 1962. The centers would be manned by twenty five thousand teachers of meditation or “meditation guides,” as Maharishi called them.

“God willing,” he said, “by the end of the Three Year Plan enough interest will be created in the public so that one-tenth of the adult population of the civilized world will be practicing and enjoying the great gains of deep meditation.”

Two additional three year plans would suffice, he believed, to spiritually regenerate the whole world. He would travel around and around the world for nine years, to implement all three plans, speaking and teaching to all who would hear and accept his ancient wisdom. Nine years was all he wanted to be out in the world. And that would be enough. Then he would go back to the Himalayas.

But how would he initiate the countless millions, we wondered. He spoke of building a large academy of meditation on the banks of the sacred Ganges in the foothills of the Himalayas. There, every year, he would train teachers in his method of meditation so that they may go out into all parts of the world and spread his teaching.

The shadows grew long when Maharishi finished describing his plans for the regeneration of the whole world. For many of those who gathered there that afternoon, this was truly an impossible plan. Some didn’t even wait for Maharishi to finish.

Three or four men got up during the middle of his discourse. They were engineers or physicists or scientists of some sort and had been fiddling with slide rules as Maharishi spoke of numerical progress over the three years.

“Maharishi, we appreciate what you are saying and what you want to do,” one said, “but we think you are a dreamer. We don’t think you are being practical. And we feel we can’t participate.” And off they went.

If Maharishi’s plan was a dream, I, for one, was captivated by it. And others were too. It didn’t matter if his numbers were far-fetched. His goal was pure and who really knew, with his tremendous ability and enormous one-polntedness of mind, he might just accomplish all he set out to do. The world might do a flip-flop for him, even though we really doubted it. But his extreme, matter-of-fact positivity made everything seem possible. His positivity was—and always has been—very contagious.

Maharishi was still very innocent as to the ways of the west. Many of the things he would project, then and over the years, were really unworkable. But to Maharishi, nothing is impossible. He would never recognize the existence of the word, especially when it came to the powers of meditation.

I never, ever heard him talk about the immensity of one man doing what he had set out to do. All he ever said was that it could be done and that was why he was out in the world. And this was his total preoccupation, no matter what you talked to him about. In one minute’s time, or even sooner, he would turn the conversation back to meditation. It was total one-pointedness. If you talked to him about some scientific development, he would say fine, but if the scientists meditated, they would develop this even faster and more effectively.

Over the years I have traveled at Maharishi’s side to help him carry his message of “the kingdom of heaven that lies within” to many distant lands. I have seen his impossible dream grow into a reality and have heard the testimonies of joy and gratitude of the many, all over the world, who have benefited from his wisdom.

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