The Beatles, the Maharishi & the birth of the White Album

When you think of Bangor in North Wales, you probably don’t think of it as a hot bed of spiritual activity. On 25th August 1967 the Beatles, accompanied by their wives, girlfriends and a few close friends, jumped on a train from Paddington to attend a weekend on spiritual regeneration by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru who had travelled to the UK to promote Transcendental meditation (TM). The Beatles were informed that for the princely sum of seven shillings and sixpence each, that TM would guarantee ‘inner peace’. By the time of their visit to Bangor, George Harrison had begun to deepen his interest in India, particularly through the music of the sitar player Ravi Shankar. It was not George but his wife Patti who had suggested they meet the Maharishi after she had joined the Maharishi’s Spiritual Regeneration movement in early 1967. During the course of the weekend the Beatles were initiated into TM and each given a special mantra to meditate on.

Six months later the Beatles set off to travel to Rishikesh in Northern India, situated on the banks of the Ganges, where they would be staying with the Maharishi in his ashram on a three month TM retreat. George, Paul, and John lasted two months – which is impressive – while Ringo left earlier as the Indian food did not agree with him. During their stay in Rishikesh they had time to relax, live a more simple life, explore meditation in more depth, attend lectures by the Maharishi and enjoy escaping for a short while from the crazy world of being one of the four most famous people on the planet. The Beatles found it stirred their creative juices as they wrote most of what would become the White Album whilst there, much to the frustration of George Harrison who is said to have remarked “We’re not here to do the next fucking album, we’re here to meditate!” Unfortunately the Beatles’ love affair with the Maharishi was not to last after allegations emerged about possible sexual misdemeanours with a young woman at the ashram. Whatever the truth it left a bitter taste in John Lennon’s mouth as he would soon write a veiled dig in the song ‘Sexy Sadie’ which would appear on the White Album in 1968.

For me as a teenager growing up in the 80’s the myth of the Beatles cast an intoxicating spell over me. As I tried to make sense of my life and its direction, the creative explorations of the Beatles inspired me, from their experimentation with LSD to ideas around eastern religion, meditation, yoga and even vegetarianism. The idea that you could learn to meditate and explore your mind and consciousness was something that fascinated and intrigued me. I think it is fair to say that my journey from attending my first meditation class and going on retreat to exploring the teachings of Buddhism and yoga have come from seeds sown by my interest in the Beatles and the 1960s counter culture movement. It is not that the Beatles were the first artists to explore concepts of eastern thought, but they were brilliantly open to new ideas and able to assimilate them into their artistry. Looking back it is hard to fully grasp how influential they were as a force in popular culture. Whatever they did became an event and headline news. We are fortunate to now have access to many types of meditation and yoga classes, vegetarian food and restaurants and a growing awareness of ecological issues. These are the fruits that were sown over 40 years ago by a generation of young people looking for a new way to live and be in the world.

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

John Lennon