Remembering The Beatles’ Failed Spiritual Quest
Following The Beatles’ many experimentations with mind-altering substances in the late sixties, the four Liverpudlians were looking for new inspiration. Widely considered to be their most groundbreaking album, the acid-induced masterpiece Revolver was a commercial and critical success. Although The Beatles were musically peaking with the help of “Lucy,” both George and John were quickly becoming disillusioned by the hippie drug culture.
Upon attending a 1967 lecture hosted by the mystical Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Beatles were enchanted by the teacher’s exotic practicings of Transcendental Meditation. After a quick introduction with the Maharishi, The Beatles shined their next day recording session in favor of spending the next week and a half learning the art of Transcendental Meditation with the Indian guru.
Crisis Meets Spirituality
The next day, The Beatles hopped on a train to Bangor, Wales to begin their spiritual training. Only a few days in, their inward journey was grievously interrupted by the announcement of their manager Brian Epstein’s death. Epstein was a father figure to the foursome, and oftentimes the glue that held The Beatles together during a crisis. Without Epstein, The Beatles now turned to the Maharishi for guidance during their grief.
The Beatles Head To India
The Beatles soon headed to Rishikesh, India to learn from the Maharishi, although not all of the members were on board. John and George arrived with open minds, but Paul was insistent on finishing the Magical Mystery Tour before taking off.
For the first time, the band was splintering. This was further proven with each member of The Beatles bringing a personal entourage with the likes of Pattie Boyd, Mike Love of The Beach Boys, Donovan, and Mia Farrow in attendance.
School Is In Session
Although the band was at a breaking point, each member agreed to take personal meditation classes from the Maharishi. Much to the surprise of The Beatles, the seemingly simple practice of meditation proved far more difficult than anticipated.
Long days of sitting in a classroom, eating canteen food, and calming their creative minds for silent mantra meditation tested The Beatles’ resolve. Accustomed to communicating ideas amongst each other in spur-of-the-moment creative revelations, living in comfortable accommodations, and working their own hours was a far cry from their new regimented academic environment.
What’s The Meaning?
As the group studied with the Maharishi, John and George were the guru’s brightest pupils. Paul and Ringo being a bit more pragmatic, were far more concerned about the business dealings of their new label Apple records than discovering spiritual enlightenment.
Through hours of intensive meditation classes, John was convinced he was on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough. One day, John hurriedly followed the Maharishi into a helicopter after class in search of the meaning of life. Although the conversations between John and the Maharishi are shrouded in secrecy, it’s safe to say John didn’t find what he was looking for.
The Ashram Wasn’t Without Answers
The Beatles might have initially headed to India in search of counsel and spiritual answers, and the debate is still open to what effect this had on the members (George took to India with a far greater affinity than the rest of the band; remaining a practicing Hindu his entire life), but there’s no denying the band wasn’t creatively inspired. At the Ashram, The Beatles wrote the entirety of The White Album and many tracks on the much acclaimed Abbey Road; two of the greatest rock albums in history.
Controversy And The Future Of The Band
After only one month in India, sexual misconduct allegations came against Maharishi. Disillusioned with the guru, Paul and Ringo returned on the first flight back to London while Lennon and Harrison stayed to confront the guru. John called out the Maharishi’s peaceful facade and left with more anger than equanimity.
The interpretation of The Beatles’ pilgrimage to India is inconclusive. While the band left with some of the world’s best music ringing about in their heads, they ultimately left with tension, anger, betrayal, and irreconcilable creative differences that would mark the beginning of the end for the rock band.