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Hello, Goodbye

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With the Beatles in India
Page 3  (Previous Page | Next Page)

Not knowing what I was looking for, I walked a half-mile along the pebbly and rocky riverbank until I saw a small sign at the foot of a narrow path. Made of rough wood, it had the word 'ashram' crudely painted on it, with a small arrow pointing towards the heavens. After a circuitous and steep climb through trees, thickets and patches of large purple wildflowers, I reached the top of the cliff. It was early afternoon on a beautiful day. From there, a one-lane dirt road ran several hundred yards away from town, along the cliffs, leading me to the ashram.

At the entrance stood a faded, yellow, wood picket-fence gate. It was locked and a man in a slightly tattered, dark blue Nehru jacket stood guard. He spoke no English but motioned to someone inside and a short young man in his early thirties, with a lovely light-brown complexion and a short, dark, trim beard came to talk to me. He introduced himself in a quiet, warm voice as Raghvendra, a disciple of the Maharishi, and asked if he could help me. I told him I had seen the Maharishi speak at Delhi University a few days before and that I'd come to learn meditation. Raghvendra was kind, but firm, "I'm very sorry but the ashram is closed because the Beatles and their wives are here, and were doing a meditation teacher's course." I had nothing to lose: "You have to teach me." I said, " I'm in a lot of emotional pain." He considered this for a moment, then said, "I will ask the Maharishi. I will send you a cup of chai, but I may not be back for two or three hours."

I thanked him, dropped my backpack to the ground, and plunked myself down. I had no idea the Beatles would be there and, at that moment, it was not good news. I spent the afternoon resting there by the gate and wrote a letter to my parents and one to my girlfriend, hoping she would reconsider. A few hours later, Raghvendra returned. Again, he was soft-spoken and kind.

"I'm sorry," he said, "the Maharishi says 'Not at the present time'."

He explained that there were sixty meditators in the ashram from all over the world, to take their advanced teacher's course, and with the Beatles and their wives there the ashram was closed to all visitors and the press. Without thinking, I said, "Can I wait?" Raghvendra was a little taken aback. He paused, seeming to check my sincerity, then said, "Yes" and added that, since I had come all the way from Canada, I could sleep in one of two old, white canvas army tents pitched across the path in a clearing of scrub grass under the old teak trees. He added that they would send me their "simple vegetarian meals." Each tent could sleep about six adults, but I was alone in mine. A local tailor from the village below had temporarily set up shop in the other tent.

As each day stretched slowly into the next, I thought about my quest to 'find myself' but I just wanted my heart to stop hurting. I longed to be taught meditation. Over the next few days Raghvendra and I talked often. A kind, decent, down-to-earth man, there was always a twinkling joy in his eyes and whenever we looked at each other we couldn't help smiling. Raghvendra was a brahmacharya, or novice monk, and one of the Maharishi's closest disciples. He had spent many years looking for a guru and when he finally met the Maharishi, two years before, he gave up his law studies and became one of his lifetime students.

The turbulence of world events in 1968 didn't echo in Rishikesh. At the same time, the world's press arrived to find out what the Beatles were doing there. Every day 20 to 30 would arrive: camera crews, radio and press reporters: BBC, the American networks, Time Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Paris Match, Vogue, Der Stern, Italian and Japanese television, and more. Each afternoon I'd watch as the Maharishi came out of the gate to give a press conference and answer questions. Referring to the Beatles, one British reporter asked me if I thought they'd "gone bonkers".


I waited for eight days outside the gates to the Ashram. Then one day, in the early morning mist, Raghvendra came through the gate. He said I could come in now and learn to meditate, and I could spend my days in the ashram, take my meals with them and continue to sleep in the tent at night. My initiation into transcendental meditation took place in Raghvendra's quarters, with only the two of us there. We sat cross-legged on white futons on the floor and began with a short puja, a traditional Hindu offering of fruit, flowers, cloth and prayers. After Raghvendra sang ancient Sanskrit prayers, he told me my mantra, or incantation, that I would use in meditating. Mantras can be words, which lose their meaning through repetition, but mine was simply a one-syllable configuration of letters that gave a soft sound when pronounced. He instructed me in how to say the sound silently, within, and just easily follow it, listening to it until it faded to silence; and how to repeat this until I experienced a transcending of normal waking consciousness. I closed my eyes and tried it for a few minutes. Raghvendra asked me to describe what I was experiencing, to make sure I was using the technique properly. Then after reminding me that the mantra was mine, and secret, he left me alone to meditate for the first time.

I relaxed, shut my eyes, and let thoughts come and go. As I became engrossed in thought, the outside world seemed to recede. I no longer noticed the wind in the trees or the sound of faraway talking. Then, as Raghvendra had instructed, I gently replaced my thoughts with my mantra. I silently said my sound and listened to it, following it. Thoughts flooded back in, and again I replaced them with my mantra. I lost sense of time and for a moment only the sound of my mantra was in my conscious mind. As the sound faded no verbalized thoughts replaced it and I was left in a place without sound and without thought. I wasn't actually conscious of this until a second later, when that faithful little observation voice in my head said, "Hey! That's it!" which right away pulled me back into conscious, verbal thought.

I hadn't fallen asleep, yet it had been a very restful place of silence and darkness. I didn't know quite where I had gone, but I knew I had been somewhere deeply peaceful. I felt reenergized and I realized that I must have transcended. I wanted to experience it again and so continued meditating for about half-an-hour and transcended once more. It could have been for a second or two, or several minutes--I couldn't tell. Most of the time, though, I just thought about things, and my thinking seemed clearer, less cluttered than usual.

When I stopped, I waited for about a minute, slowly opened my eyes, and walked into the bright afternoon sun. It took my eyes a moment or two to adjust. The scream was gone. The agony was gone. I felt like a newborn chick, having just come out of its shell into a whole new reality. I walked toward my tent feeling rested, calm, mildly euphoric, turned on at being alive. As I sat, I couldn't help smiling at the friendly hills. I felt a soft physical vibration in my body and a warmth in my heart. I felt a new sense of oneness with the world. I realized, sitting there, that truly loving another person is not possessive or controlling, but expansive and supportive. Surprisingly, I felt happiness for my girlfriend. And, I realized I had abandoned her before she left me. I felt different, like something profound had shifted within me. Was this part of 'finding myself'? Was this what I had been looking for? And was it to be found inside me? It felt like it, like the beginning of a new path--and I felt very grateful.

That night I sat alone looking up at the mountain stars for hours. The trees rustled faintly in the distance, the sweet fragrance of evening jasmine filling the air. Monkeys chattered and somewhere in the valley below a lone peacock called out. From the far side of the ashram another answered. Allowing the soft, velvet touch of night to envelop me, I felt at peace.

>>Continued on Page 4...

This article is Copyright © 2006, Paul Saltzman, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission.

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