John Lennon Extols the Virtues of Transcendental Meditation in a Spirited Letter Written to a Beatles Fan (1968)

An Indi­an guru trav­els to the West with teach­ings of enlight­en­ment, world peace, and lib­er­a­tion from the soul-killing mate­ri­al­ist grind. He attracts thou­sands of fol­low­ers, some of them wealthy celebri­ties, and founds a com­mer­cial empire with his teach­ings. No, this isn’t the sto­ry of Bhag­wan Shree Rajneesh, the head of the reli­gious move­ment in Wild Wild Coun­try. There was no mirac­u­lous city in the Ore­gon wilds or fleet of Lear­jets and Rolls Royces. No stock­pile of auto­mat­ic weapons, planned assas­si­na­tions, or mass poi­son­ings. Decades before those strange events, anoth­er teacher, Mahar­ishi Mahesh Yogi inspired mass devo­tion among stu­dents around the world with the peace­ful prac­tice of Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion.

Rolling Stone’s Claire Hoffman—who grew up in a TM com­mu­ni­ty—writes of the move­ment with ambiva­lence. For most of his dis­ci­ples, he was a “Wiz­ard of Oz-type char­ac­ter,” she says, dis­tant and mys­te­ri­ous. But much of what we pop­u­lar­ly know about TM comes from its most famous adher­ents, includ­ing Jer­ry Sein­feld, Katy Per­ry, David Lynch, the Beach Boys, and, of course, The Bea­t­les, who famous­ly trav­eled to India in 1968, med­i­tat­ed with Mia Far­row, Dono­van, and Mike Love, and wrote some of their wildest, most inven­tive music after a cre­ative slump fol­low­ing the huge suc­cess of Sgt. Pepper’s.

“They stayed in Rishikesh,” writes Maria Popo­va at Brain Pick­ings, “a small vil­lage in the foothills of the Himalayas, con­sid­ered the cap­i­tal of yoga. Immersed in this peace­ful com­mu­ni­ty and nur­tured by an inten­sive dai­ly med­i­ta­tion prac­tice, the Fab Four under­went a cre­ative growth spurt—the weeks at Rishikesh were among their most fer­tile song­writ­ing and com­pos­ing peri­ods, pro­duc­ing many of the songs on The White Album and Abbey Road.” Unlike most of the Maharishi’s fol­low­ers, The Bea­t­les got a per­son­al audi­ence. The Indi­an spir­i­tu­al teacher “helped them through the shock” of their man­ag­er Bri­an Epstein’s death, and helped them tap into cos­mic con­scious­ness with­out LSD.

They left on a sour note—there were alle­ga­tions of impro­pri­ety, and Lennon, being Lennon, got a bit nasty, orig­i­nal­ly writ­ing The White Album’s “Sexy Sadie” with the lyrics “Maharishi—what have you done? You made a fool of every­one.” But before their falling out with TM’s founder, before even the trip to India, all four Bea­t­les became devot­ed med­i­ta­tors, sit­ting for two twen­ty-minute ses­sions a day and find­ing gen­uine peace and happiness—or “ener­gy,” as Lennon and Har­ri­son describe it in a 1967 inter­view with David Frost. The next year, hap­pi­ly prac­tic­ing, and fever­ish­ly writ­ing, in India, Lennon received let­ters from fans, and respond­ed with enthu­si­asm.

In answer to a let­ter from a fan named Beth, evi­dent­ly a devout Chris­t­ian and appar­ent­ly threat­ened by TM and con­cerned for the bands’ immor­tal souls, Lennon wrote the fol­low­ing (see his hand­writ­ten reply at the top):

Dear Beth:

Thank you for your let­ter and your kind thoughts. When you read that we are in India search­ing for peace, etc, it is not that we need faith in God or Jesus — we have full faith in them; it is only as if you went to stay with Bil­ly Gra­ham for a short time — it just so hap­pens that our guru (teacher) is Indi­an — and what is more nat­ur­al for us to come to India — his home. He also holds cours­es in Europe and Amer­i­ca — and we will prob­a­bly go to some of these as well — to learn — and to be near him.

Tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tion is not opposed to any reli­gion — it is based on the basic truths of all reli­gions — the com­mon denom­i­na­tor. Jesus said: “The King­dom of Heav­en is with­in you” — and he meant just that — “The King­dom of Heav­en is at hand” — not in some far dis­tant time — or after death — but now.

Med­i­ta­tion takes the mind down to that lev­el of con­scious­ness which is Absolute Bliss (Heav­en) and through con­stant con­tact with that state — “the peace that sur­pass­es all under­stand­ing” — one grad­u­al­ly becomes estab­lished in that state even when one is not med­i­tat­ing. All this gives one actu­al expe­ri­ence of God — not by detach­ment or renun­ci­a­tion — when Jesus was fast­ing etc in the desert 40 days & nights he would have been doing some form of med­i­ta­tion — not just sit­ting in the sand and pray­ing — although me it will be a true Chris­t­ian — which I try to be with all sin­cer­i­ty — it does not pre­vent me from acknowl­edg­ing Bud­dha — Mohammed — and all the great men of God. God bless you — jai guru dev.

With love,
John Lennon

This hard­ly sounds like the man who imag­ined no reli­gion. A fan in India wrote Lennon less to inquire and more to acquire, name­ly mon­ey for a trip around the world so that he could “dis­cov­er the ‘huge trea­sure’ nec­es­sary for achiev­ing inner peace.” Lennon respond­ed with a brief rebuke of the man’s mate­r­i­al aspi­ra­tions, then rec­om­mend­ed TM, “through which all things are pos­si­ble.” (He signs both let­ters with “jai guru dev,” or “I give thanks to the Guru Dev,” the Maharishi’s teacher. The phrase also appears as the refrain in his “Across the Uni­verse.”)

The let­ters come from an excel­lent col­lec­tion of his cor­re­spon­dence, The John Lennon Let­ters, which includes oth­er mis­sives extolling the virtues of tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tion. We might take his word for it based on the strength of the cre­ative work he pro­duced dur­ing the peri­od. We could also take the word of David Lynch, who describes med­i­ta­tion as the way he catch­es the cre­ative “big fish.” Or we could go out and find our own meth­ods for expand­ing our minds and tap­ping into cre­ative poten­tial.

via Brain Pick­ings

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Lynch Explains How Med­i­ta­tion Enhances Our Cre­ativ­i­ty

The John Lennon Sketch­book, a Short Ani­ma­tion Made of Lennon’s Draw­ings, Pre­mieres on YouTube

Watch John Lennon’s Last Live Per­for­mance (1975): “Imag­ine,” “Stand By Me” & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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