The 1960s saw the rise of the Anti-establishment Hippie and Counter Cultural movement in the US and much of the western world. It was marked by experimentation with music, sexuality and psychedelic drugs. It was in that dynamic subculture that the rock band Beatles was formed, which would go on to become one of the “most influential” bands of all time, inspiring many cultural movements of the 60s.
It was in that phase that The Beatles had an encounter with the Indian Guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, when they attended his seminar on meditation, in Wales. Later, they travelled to his Ashram in India and went on to become his disciples. Their visit gave international publicity to the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement. The Beatles became proponents of meditation, and specifically TM, giving up drugs. They brought a fundamental cultural sea-change in the west.
Talking about Maharishi, George Harrision said – “I thought he made a lot of sense; I think we all did. He said that with a simple system of meditation – twenty minutes in the morning, twenty minutes in the evening – you could improve your quality of life and find some sort of meaning in doing so”.
This influence on the Beatles marked a seismic shift in American sensibilities on Indian meditation, music and spirituality. It was the first mainstream acquaintance of the west with Hinduism. They inadvertently popularised the ‘Meditation Movement’ in the west. It was even visible in their subsequent musical compositions. Philip Goldberg, in his book American Veda, writes that the band’s stay in Rishikesh “may have been the most momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those forty days in the wilderness”.
“The relationship between the Beatles and the Maharishi brought about an enormous interest in the West in Indian clothing, meditation, yoga and the playing of the sitar.” – Paul Oliver in his book Hinduism and the 1960s.
[Maharishi Mahesh Yogi]
The Beatles, although quite rich and famous, were struggling with the question – “What Next? What is it all for?” They found their answers in meditation, and the idea that elevating one’s consciousness through meditation was far better than a temporary drug induced state of altered consciousness. It was a ‘spiritual reawakening’ and the ideas of love, service and compassion changed their lives forever. It was also the most creative period for them, when they composed close to 48 songs.
The influence of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, along with Swami Vivekanada, Paramhamsa Yogananda and Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was well established in the west by the 1960s. The Beatles and specifically George Harrison expanded the western sensibilities beyond the Judeo-Christian tradition through their life and artistic expressions.