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

Making Teachers, Shagging Yogurt

Much to our regret, Maharishi left Los Angeles in the early fall. We wanted him to stay on but he was anxious to get his crusade going on the east coast and Europe.

His first stop was New York and it was pretty much of a bust. He was stewing at a third-rate hotel in the wrong part of Manhattan. Maharishi would lecture at the hotel and then interview and initiate those who were interested. But there weren’t many takers.

In December he flew on to London. Advance man Ron Sheridan, one of the Los Angeles meditators, alerted the British press and Maharishi arrived to a lively news conference and then separate TV interviews with the BBC and Independent Television News.

The next day, the Manchester Guardian announced his arrival to set up SRM in London with a principle that is “roughly meditation while you work.” It seemed, the newspaper ventured, “a far snappier programme” than the ones offered “by the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury who “make various stuffy demands upon their devotees.” The Daily Express was less effusive: “It sounded all too utterly simple.”

Sheridan reported back that after the initial blast of publicity, invitations were pouring in from all sorts of private organizations and the “phone is ringing almost non-stop for private interviews.”

Maharishi planned to stay only three weeks but remained for over a year, using London as his European headquarters.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, the new meditation community was experiencing acute hemorrhage. Maharishi had initiated probably a thousand people while he was with us. When he was around, people flocked to him. When he was gone, they were gone. The number of regulars dwindled down to about fifty hard core devotees.

John Hislop, a land developer, was the president of the SRM organization. I was vice president. Roland Olson was treasurer. We were hard put to generate funds to keep Maharishi going, but we managed one way or another. A lot of us were shelling out of our own pockets. As much as we could afford.

It was Los Angeles that provided Maharishi transportation to New York and London and all the upkeep and expenses involved. We sustained him for quite a period of time because even though there was considerable interest aroused in England, initiations were slow to materialize in the beginning.

Even if Maharishi was gone, we wanted to keep up the interest of the meditators. We would invite guest speakers to the center, anyone in town who could speak on some allied subject. Any swami or Indian around was fair game and we would invite them. One Indian who we thought was going to speak about the treasures of the Vedas pulled a fast one on us and lectured for one and a half hours on the wonders of communism. We would even ask meditators to speak on how the meditation was helping them. And we always passed the basket around.

We raised money also through potluck dinners. Everybody would bring a dish and hopefully lots of friends. We charged $1.50 a head.

We sent out letters to delinquent meditators reminding them of unpaid pledges. We even tried a monthly pledge scheme in 1960. John Hislop penned an eloquent appeal pointing out that things had changed since Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed and others taught the way to peace and happiness.

“Maharishi carries his teachings to all corners of the world by jet aircraft,” he wrote. “Money is needed not for the things of the spirit but for the things of the world… (like) travel, stamps and printing.”

We had money in a bank account and so much was drawn out and sent to Maharishi. He would write me a letter and say I am going here or there. And I would buy him a ticket accordingly.

To give an idea of what our financial state was, Roland Olson made a treasurer’s report on September 30, 1959, covering the period from July 8 when we filed for incorporation as a non-sectarian, non-profit educational foundation. Through initiations, pledges, collections, sales of pictures, and booklets, the general fund had earned $3,292.86. Expenditures were $3,055.78. The balance was $237.08, of which $136.85 was accounted for in unpaid bills.

Among the expenditures was $600 for New York expenses for Maharishi and Ron Sheridan and, before he left, $172.97 for groceries for Maharishi.

It was all pretty modest. But it was with these kinds of workaday figures and activities that we kept Maharishi going. In 1966 he would say that the success of the movement was due to the early acceptance and support of North America, particularly Los Angeles.

In London, Maharishi busied himself to launch the first year of his three year plan. We saw to it that he operated out of a more appropriate place than the seedy hotel he had been staying at in New York. A comfortable flat was obtained for him in Dolphin Square, a nice area in southwest London.

As in Los Angeles, his schedule consisted of morning initiations, private interviews and checking of the technique of new meditators during the day, and discussion groups and lectures in the evenings.

Maharishi began to gather a dedicated circle of meditators around him and through their contributions and initiation fees, a lease was obtained for a house near Regent's Park to serve as London’s SRM center.

A newsletter kept us informed of Maharishi's progress. Often the reports were more enthusiastic than accurate, reflecting Maharishi's own boundless enthusiasm and positivity and the contagious effect he had on his followers. When he initiated a number of Indian, Malaysian and African students, the newsletter had this to say about it:

“All of them have begun to feel brighter and more intelligent. Previously they thought that it was the dull and depressing atmosphere of London that they were feeling loss of brightness in the mind. But now they have realized that the atmosphere has nothing to do with dullness of the mind. The fog, the smog, and the clouds are the same as before. But the clouds of their minds have withered away through meditation.”

In March, the newsletter reported that the “Paper of Hope” was "flashed all over the world.” What this meant was that copies of the Three Year Plan had been hand-delivered by meditators to all the embassies in London with the exception of “two or three who wanted the ‘Paper of Hope’ to be sent to them by post.” The plan was received by the embassies with “sincerity and enthusiasm,” it was noted, but there was no evidence or later mention that any governments of the day did anything about it. Still, Maharishi never ceased trying to bring his message to heads of state and law-makers. And over the years he would indeed score some modest successes with them.

In May of 1960, Maharishi traveled to West Germany and it was there, for the first time since he launched his world mission, that he really struck gold. The Germans were ready and eager for him. Against the background of a Rhine River ferry, one newspaper photograph of him dramatized the mystique of the moment as he arrived in Bonn. “No one knows his age or where he was born,” the caption said occultly.

Another newspaper headlined the arrival of “Der Lachende Jogi aus Dem Morgenlande” (the laughing yogi from the orient) who was different from the run-of-the-mill commercial yogis. “This one doesn’t sleep on nail beds,” the paper said, “nor swallow razor blades. He doesn’t jump through fire rings and isn’t clued in about the secrets of the rope tricks. This one is unique for he is the one with a plan to clear suffering from the world.”

Mrs. Magdalena Hislop, wife of the SRM President, was accompanying Maharishi and she reported back the exciting news from Germany:

“In Bonn, his opening lecture was so crowded that it was difficult for Maharishi to find an opening on the way to his seat. In Stuttgart, he initiated over a hundred people in one day, a long cherished dream of his. He was so radiant and happy. And yesterday again, he initiated a hundred people. Today in the morning he has had seventy interviews and will initiate them in the afternoon.”

Maharishi spent time in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Scandinavia that year, in addition to Germany and England, but nowhere did he match the receptivity of the Germans. The entire experience encouraged him to call a series of “world assemblies” in early 1961. His purpose was to bring as many meditators as possible together in one place, to keep enthusiasm high through a continual program of events and projects, and to generate more publicity for his mission. As well, Maharishi wanted to proclaim that his system of meditation had been tried, tested, and proven valid by people in many different countries as “the simplest and fastest method of fulfillment in life, whatever it may be—worldly or divine.”

The tour of assemblies opened March 13 in London before five thousand people in the famous Royal Albert Hall. It was Maharishi’s largest audience since leaving India. Subsequent assemblies were held in Paris, Duesseldorf, Bonn, Berlin, Milan, and finally Bombay, Bangalore and New Delhi, marking Maharishi’s homecoming after three years on the road.

In his first trip around the world he had established centers of meditation in every country he had visited. His “lighthouses of that great effulgence” were now operating, to a lesser or greater degree, in London, Birmingham, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester, Oxford, New York, Boston, Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berlin, Bonn, Bremen, Duesseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Nuremburg, Stuttgart, Paris, Lille, Rome, Milan, Athens, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Rangoon, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Hong Kong, Additionally, there were twenty-one cities in India where Maharishi had previously set up centers.

If he was running behind schedule, not keeping up with the lofty pace he himself had fixed, it didn’t matter. John Hislop estimated that Maharishi had personally initiated forty-five thousand people into meditation by this time, but I reckon that figure would have been closer to ten thousand. Whatever the actual number, it was a remarkable testimony to the determination and energy of one man and the validity of his program.

Throughout Maharishi’s travels, word of his exploits was flowing back to India, mostly through diplomatic and press channels and the pollyannish newsletter. When he returned, his silent revolution to change the world made him something of a “local boy makes good.” In south India, where the whole thing had started, his appearance was an occasion for rejoicing. Many of his original initiates rained flower pedals upon him when he came to speak of modern Parisians and New Yorkers practicing his ancient technique.

But Maharishi had not returned to bask. His business, as always, was to expand the movement, initiate more meditators, whether in southern India, southern California or the south of Prance. His main preoccupation now was to conduct the first teacher training course.

Many a time Maharishi had told his followers of the urgency to create teachers of meditation. He alone could not reach all the people with the message. He said he needed to multiply himself in order to train teachers.

In March of 1960, John Hislop had trekked to the Himalayan foothills looking for a suitable site for a teachers training academy. He found a beautiful place on a hillside with a magnificent view of the Ganges Valley and of snow-capped peaks. But the place he selected was smack in the middle of a defense area and not available for activities the like of meditation. That fact, however, surfaced only after extensive conversation and paperwork had been initiated with local officials. We were eventually granted twenty acres at a place called Rishikesh. The twenty turned out to be sixteen after fresh surveying showed that four of the allotted acres were in the Ganges River. The rest of the land was good though.

Rishikesh is a small, picturesque town abounding in ancient temples and straddling a gorge 1,500 feet above the Ganges near where the mighty river plunges out of the mountains onto the plains of India.

The actual academy wasn’t completed until a few years later, so the sixty-five teacher candidates from ten countries who came for that first course were settled in a nearby hostel called the Kali Kamli Wala after a local famous holy man. There, they spent the next three months absorbing some of the wisdom that Maharishi himself had learned years before from the Guru Dev.

In Los Angeles, we enviously read accounts in the periodic newsletters speaking of “group meditations and discussions in the moonlight on the sandy banks of the ever-flowing Ganges, with the majestic Himalayas towering above.” We all would have loved to participate in that kind of idyllic activity, but work, family, or other demands of the “householder’s life” prevented most of us from going at this time. It would be another half dozen or more years before Helen and I could get away to take teacher’s training.

The impression of a Shangri-la at Rishikesh was gaining ground with the folks back home. It prompted one of the course participants, Leona Simpson of Canada, to write something of a disclaimer.

“Yes, we do enjoy wonderful midday lectures and pleasant evening discourses held by the light of the moon on the banks of the Ganges,” she wrote, “but I refute the opinion that life here is complete tranquility.

“Anyone who has had even the most brief contact with Maharishi knows of the seemingly inhuman pace at which he ceaselessly toils. We’ve found ourselves deeply involved in the plans to be made for presenting meditation in the most dynamic way to every country.”

And besides, wrote another participant, by June the daily temperature was climbing up to 115 degrees, leaving no other recourse but to take daily dips in the Ganges.

If the setting resembled summer camp, the business at hand was nevertheless serious. Maharishi conducted daily lectures to inculcate the method of teaching meditation. His lesson plans were demanding. There was a great deal of knowledge to be learned and memorized, requiring a substantial application of mind and energy. He also had the students spend long meditation sessions daily to deepen their experiences and understanding of the process. Most people failed to meet his standards and were not “passed” as teachers. Only eleven, in fact, out of the original sixty-five, made the grade.

One of the graduates of that first class was Beulah Smith of San Diego, who had been taught to meditate in Hawaii by Maharishi before he came to the U.S. mainland in 1959. She was the only American to qualify as a teacher. It was another five years before Maharishi was able to hold the second teacher training course. It took that much time to complete the academy at Rishikesh. It was decided that conditions were otherwise too primitive to train teachers.

During the five years, except for when Maharishi came or we could borrow one of the Canadian teachers, Beulah was the only American initiator. I booked her continually — much like you’d book a concert pianist or a rock group to speak and initiate around the country.

* * *

Via Europe and Africa, Maharishi returned once again to Los Angeles in September of 1961, He had been gone two years.

Some come to Southern California to relax in the sun. Maharishi was never one of those kinds. No sooner had he gotten off the plane and through a gauntlet of flower-bearing welcomers, than he settled into the Olson house to discuss his immediate plans. Ahead was a series of lectures in the Los Angeles area and then off on a tour of the Pacific Northwest.

I had assumed the presidency of SRM around this time and the responsibility for organization was now on my shoulders. I was going to take my annual vacation and drive Maharishi through the northwest. Some of the meditators wanted to arrange the tour and lecture halls and hotels by calling here and calling there. It was always my contention that the movement should use professionals to get jobs done that needed professionals. I insisted we do it right and so I contacted a crack Hollywood public relations firm to set up the schedule. This was the first time the Movement had involved a publicity firm. But the thing I learned is that no matter how professionally you set up TV and newspaper interviews and advertising, there was no way to arrange receptivity.

In mid-October we headed north by car. Maharishi and I were joined by Bob Whitman, an enthusiastic meditator who had volunteered himself as a relief driver. We drove through the San Joaquin Valley, stopped in Sacramento for some lectures, then continued north to Portland, Seattle, and Victoria,

On this trip, Maharishi decided to go on a yogurt diet. He apparently wanted to lighten himself up a little. He would eat nothing but yogurt. It may sound simple, but yogurt in 1961 was not the universal commodity it is today, and in the territory we were covering it was easier to find gold. At one point I had to drive twenty miles out of the way to get some yogurt.

On the way up through northern California, Maharishi spotted a whole field of bright yellow wildflowers off the highway.

“Please stop the car, Charlie,” he said, “and we go pick flowers.”

I had once been involved in a construction project in that area and remembered that those flowers were awful smelling things. “Maharishi, you don’t want those flowers. They smell like skunk cabbage,” I said.

“No, no, beautiful flowers,” he insisted. Maharishi always loved to have flowers with him, but he didn't know this bunch. However, I duly went and picked him a whole bouquet. I brought them back to the car and plopped the lot in his lap without a word.

We hadn’t driven a mile or so before the whole car filled up with the stench of those flowers.

“Charlie, at next stop we lose the flowers,” Maharishi said. That was the first and only time I ever saw him reject flowers.

Conversation with Maharishi hadn’t changed much in two years. He might mention the Greek Isles or Kenya or Rome or Paris or other places he had been, but always in the context of meditation.

“We now have first city (Nairobi) meditating in Africa,” he would say, proudly. “We have a new center there and maybe two hundred new meditators. This is a good start for all of Africa to enjoy fulfillment.”

He talked about deep meditation and pretty much deep meditation exclusively. We would discuss all the activities and projects and how to reach this goal or that goal. He was interested in current events, especially in politics and international affairs. He wasn’t interested in murders or scandals. If he didn’t read the paper himself, he would ask for a report or say read this or that for me. And I’d read him something and he would comment: “It would have beer much better if they had been meditating.” He always brought the topic back to meditation.

It was on this trip that I first caught glimpses of some of his “supernormal” powers. One was his acute sensitivity to vibrations. People always talk about good or bad vibrations. Usually it is a colloquial way of describing something you like or don’t like. Maharishi, as with all masters, is keenly aware of the negativity or positivity of a place or a person. The “antenna” is extremely refined.

The reason Maharishi always sits on a deer skin is to insulate himself from the vibrations of people who sat there before. No matter where he is, he sits on a deer skin. Over the years I have seen him with several different ones, but he uses one, day in and day out, as long as it lasts. They come from India. He says he prefers the deer skin for its properties of softness, calmness, and serenity. The Guru Dev used a tiger skin.

We were in Sacramento, staying on the twelfth floor of one of the better hotels, and were late getting to the lecture downstairs. We got halfway down the aisle to the stage when I remembered I had left the deerskin upstairs. I told Maharishi.

“We don’t worry for it. I do without it,” he said.

“Well, I can run up quickly and get it,” I offered.

“No, no. No need,” he assured me.

Even a master can be wrong. And wow, was he wrong this time. On the platform there was a big soft chair, Maharishi sat down on it and jumped straight up in the air onto his feet.

“I stand while you run for the deer skin,” he said, with the closest expression to panic I ever saw on his face.

I hustled up to get the deer skin for him.

After the lecture, he commented to me that the vibrations in the room were very bad. He had a hard time generating his lecture, which was unusual for Maharishi.

I checked with the hotel staff afterwards and found it out the lecture had been given in a beer cellar. The hotel had dealt us dirty. There had been a mix-up and the banquet room where Maharishi was to give his lecture had been booked twice for the same time. For accommodation’s sake, the management put us elsewhere. Big side curtains and screens had been set up to hide the truth. It looked like a small auditorium, but it was a camouflaged Rathskeller.

We might drive through a town, or, as on later trips, fly over countries, and Maharishi would say it has good vibrations or bad vibrations. He could feel something you and I couldn't feel. He knew.

When we entered a new hotel room, he would always stand just inside the door for a minute, testing the atmosphere. Sometimes he would say it was best that we find another room. Often I would ask the management for two or three different room keys and Maharishi and I would go off so he could test the vibrations in each room and pick the one that suited him best.

Once we were checking out a room and he didn’t like it one bit. And it was quite a pleasant room. Later I was talking to the desk clerk and he told me the hotel had just had a convention. That particular room had been used by some of the gentlemen as a sex, drinking, and gambling den. They had cleaned the room afterwards but the vibrations remained.

An event on that trip I’ll never forget was the time we were racing to catch the ferry in Port Angeles to take us over to Victoria on Vancouver Island. We were running late and had to make the ferry in order for Maharishi to keep an important speaking engagement.

We were still a distance out of town and I figured that we would have to drive a hundred miles an hour or more to make the ferry. I told Maharishi.

“Then why not drive that fast,” he said matter-of-factly.

I said to myself if the master thinks it will be okay then it must be. So I stepped on the gas. Soon, we were racing along at about 103 miles per hour down a long, long grade through the mist and a beautiful pine forest. I could see an intersection down the road and I started to slow for it.

“Why go slower?” Maharishi wanted to know.

I explained what was up ahead.

He then closed his eyes for a moment or two and said, “The road is clear, so you keep driving fast.”

And so whoosh, I went right through there. It was clear.

A little ways further on we came to a section of the highway overlooking the city and the docks. I could see the ferry down below. I checked my watch. The boat was scheduled to leave in a couple of minutes and it would take us at least fifteen to get there, I told Maharishi.

“Don’t worry, you just go fast,” he said, calm as ever.

Down and down we went and drove right up on the dock and up onto the boat. I no sooner got on than the back gate went up and off we went. The purser came down and said, “Today’s your lucky day, mister.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Well, the captain has been doing this run for about eighteen years and in all that time he never has failed to leave the dock on the minute. Today he has been standing on the bridge like he was in a trance.”

I said something like, “How about that,” and gave him a count-your-lucky-stars smile. Maharishi in the seat next to me never said a word. We got out and sat up on the deck and enjoyed the boat ride.

Maharishi, of course, has abilities that are extraordinary by our normal standards. But he never makes a show out of them and it is only rare that he manifests these powers. He certainly hasn't been given to wholesale displays of psychic or physical feats such as other yogis do.

Once I asked him about healing. He answered that his mission was to spread the practice of meditation and not get into something like that. If he became known as a healer then that’s all anybody would want to see him about and every sick person in the world would beat a path to his door. He has given certain instructions to certain people over the years to alleviate pain. But healing, he would say, “That’s not my field.”

* * *

Officially, I was on a vacation from my company. But the trip with Maharishi was no vacation. His energy level is sky high. He’s always busy. His mind is always going. I was glad to be helping him but it was hard work nevertheless. I was getting maybe three hours sleep a night, running errands like an office boy, seeing to publicity, confirming and inspecting hotel and lecture arrangements, and, of course, shagging the master’s yogurt.

Until the time we hit Victoria we were running pretty much at a dead loss. There was very little receptivity in Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle. I kept thinking to myself: if things are this bad on the west coast, which is notoriously receptive to new ideas, what is going to happen when we try to crack Kansas City or Dallas. But Maharishi wasn't concerned. He followed his schedule of interviews, TV shows, and lectures like a professional trooper. Nothing discouraged him. His energy never let up. He would be up until two in the morning and I would be up with him, explaining every little detail. He wanted to know everything. He even wanted to know what kind of a seat he’d have for the lecture. That's because he always speaks sitting down. “Cross-legged on a deer skin,” as the newspapers reported each and every time. That always tickled the press.

One night after a lecture not a single person came forward to sign up for initiation. The whole audience packed up and left.

Dejected, I went over to Maharishi who was sitting on the stage watching the evacuation.

“We sure shot it tonight,” I said.

“Not to worry, Charlie,” he said. “They have heard.”

They have heard. I would hear him say that dozens of times after a poor turnout or poor response. He was always philosophical. Always optimistic.

“Next time it will be different.”

“Next time more will come.”

For him it was enough that people just heard his message. Even if it was just one man he somehow felt his time had been well spent.

After one lecture, only one man stepped forward to sign up.

“My talk was for you,” Maharishi told him.

In Portland we had a lecture scheduled in one of the side auditoriums of the sports arena. When we got there the place was jumping. Cars all over. A big, big crowd. Maharishi got excited.

“Everybody come to hear. Everybody come to hear.”

“No, Maharishi,” I said. “I don't think so. I’m afraid something else is going on here.”

I asked around. The Harlem Globetrotters were in town that night. They played to an overflow crowd. We drew a particularly small audience.

When we went into Canada our fortunes suddenly changed. For his first lecture, some hundred and thirty people turned up at the Louise Room in the Empress Hotel in Victoria. That was an overflow crowd to us compared to what we’d been drawing up to then.

We went on to Vancouver and the good times followed. One night Maharishi filled up the Peter Pan Auditorium, a nice, big place.

In Vancouver, the traffic of people coming to see Maharishi for personal interviews and instruction got so brisk that we ran into trouble with the management of the hotel where we’d set up camp. It was an elegant and conservative place. In no uncertain terms, we were asked to leave.

We picked up and moved to a more modern hotel, a high-rise on busy Georgia Street, and took a few rooms next to each other on the sixteenth floor. We had things arranged so that Maharishi would do the initiations in his room. Next door, in my room, we set up chairs for the new meditators who would be seeing Maharishi. In the room on the other side, where Bob Whitman was staying, we had the people first come in and fill out the necessary paperwork.

The modus operandi on the road was to collect a few helpers from the ranks of the new meditators. They would act as traffic cops, taking the offerings of the individuals coming to be initiated and then guiding them into the right room,

The morning after we settled into the new hotel, Bob and I had to run some errands. One was to find some yogurt for Maharishi and it meant driving ten or fifteen miles out of town to get it.

On returning, three hours later, the scene was bedlam. Desks were out in the hall and people were all lined up, clogging up the passageway.

Often we had found that some people who sign up for instruction never show up. But now they were all there. We had had gone from famine to feast and weren’t prepared. To make things worse, I had left in charge a young Indian by the name of Maharaj. It was a mistake.

Maharaj had come out of the blue to be a devotee of Maharishi. He was headstrong and helter-skelter and began ordering people around. He caused so much disruption that morning that some of the new meditators actually quit or declined to become initiated. If this was how the movement ran, they thought, they wanted none of it.

The hotel manager threatened us with a second eviction if I didn’t clean up the act. I got Maharaj straightened out but fast and managed to convert the scene into something more conducive with the nature of meditation.

The numbers and receptivity during the two stops in Canada highlighted the trip. In five days, Maharishi initiated 250 people, more than I’d ever seen in such a short period.

When I returned to Los Angeles, at the end of my “vacation,” I first needed a vacation. As for Maharishi, he never showed a sign of fatigue. The greater the activity, the more he seemed to thrive.

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