Indian guru to the Beatles gives up control of meditation movement

.THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – It was 1967 and the Indian meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, dressed in white with long flowing black hair and a gray beard, beamed as he stood surrounded by four smiling young Beatles at the peak of their popularity.

George Harrison, clutching a sitar, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were on their way to a retreat in Wales led by the Maharishi, and the Hindu holy man was on his way to worldwide fame.

It has been more than 50 years since the Maharishi began teaching a technique known as Transcendental Meditation. He is now believed to be 91 and on Tuesday, a close adviser said he has retreated into near silence and turned over the day-to-day running of his global network to aides.

“He is not as young as he once was,” adviser John Hagelin, an American physicist, said by telephone from the Dutch village of Vlodrop where the TM movement is now headquartered. “I think he probably has a more limited reserve of physical energy to draw upon. He was working … 20 hours a day for years.”

Transcendental Meditation, or TM, is a 20-minute twice daily routine in which the meditator silently focuses on a sound, or mantra, to induce relaxation and “dive into a state of pure consciousness.”

Most scientists agree TM can ease stress, high blood pressure, pain and insomnia. But some argue it is no more effective than many other mind-body relaxation techniques.

Movie director David Lynch once extolled the virtues of TM in a speech.

“Anger, stress, tension, depression, sorrow, hate, fear – these things start to retreat,” said Lynch, a longtime practitioner. “And for a filmmaker, having this negativity lift away is money in the bank. When you’re suffering you can’t create.”

The Maharishi’s movement claims some 6 million people have become practitioners.

But it was not until the Beatles visited his ashram in India in 1968 that the guru became an icon of the counterculture movement. John, Paul, George and Ringo came for spiritual instruction as they struggled to come to terms with the death of their manager Brian Epstein.

Other celebrities who followed the Maharishi’s teachings included singer Donovan, actress Mia Farrow and the Beach Boys.