Friday, February 08, 2008
THE MAHARISHI BLISSES OUT FOR THE FINAL TIME:
Two days ago (February 5,2008) the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi finally became one with the Universe for the final time in the Netherlands (one wonders about the tax laws of that country). The Universe is poorer for the event. The former guru to the Beatles (until a falling-out precipitated in part by the Maharishi putting the moves on Mia Farrow) was born at an undetermined time between 1911 and 1918 in Jabalpur,Madhya Pradesh, India. The "official" date for his followers would be 1918 beacause of a celebration of his 80th birthday in 1998. His life story from this point forward was a true Horatio Alger fable. Whatever else one may say about the Maharishi one can't say that he was stupid. His real name may have been lost nto history along with his actual birth, but it is known that he entered University to major in physics and mathematics. Far from being otherworldly he soon recognized where the money was, and it wasn't in cosmology. In 1939 he became a disciple of Swami Brahmananda Sawaswati, popularily known as "Shri Guru Deva". Deva was an up and comer, and in 1941 he bacame the leader of the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, one of the main Hindu monasteries in the Himilayas. Deva insisted that his young follower finish his University degree, but after graduation he spent a decade as an understudy with Guru Deva at Uttar Kashi, another monastery in the Himilayas.
Details are unclear about the power struggles within the community after the death of Guru Deva in 1955, but what is clear is that his yound disciple put the logic of mathematics to work and realized that there was a world of financial opportunity outside of the "love offerings" of India. In 1958 he announced the formation of a world-wide 'Spiritual Regeneration Movement' at Kerala India. Following the lead of many other Indian entrepreneurs/gurus before him he shortly thereafter left India for the first of many world tours. This continued through the late 50s and early 60s. He didn't neglect the printed word either, writing his first book 'The Science of Being and the Art of Living' in 1963 and supposedly writing an English translation and commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita in 1965 (Molly has actually read the Gita in a legitimate academic translation but never in this guy's version. She doubts that he had the capacity to render a proper version in proper English, but that hardly matters. No doubt his version outsold more accurate versions by a thousand to one).
Up to this time the Maharishi was merely one of a long line of Indian gurus peddling their wares to a pseudo-progressive(and pseudo-intellectual) Western middle class. It was a line that stretched back all the way to the 19th century, and the product that was sold could guarantee the seller a comfortable living but little more. But fortunes are made not just by cunning but by cunning reinforced by luck. The Maharishi was extraordinarily lucky to put his (more than slightly threadbare) product on the market just as the demand for such things skyrocketed. He was also more than solicitous about the need for "networking", and gathered a coterie of celebrities who propelled his brand to worldwide recognition- even if most of them, like the Beatles, eventually became disillusioned. Scandal actually worked in his favour as it merely led to more publicity for his business empire. The list of "dupes" even included- I KID YOU NOT- Clint Eastwood. "The Good, the Bad and the Bullshit", maybe ?
The problem with many less successful con-men is that they actually believe too much of their own bullshit and become rigid and unchanging. This was hardly the case with the Maharishi. As the so-called "counter-culture" which made him his first millions faded he responded with a display of opportunism that would put a Lenin to shame. Never one to condemn "Caesar" or to refuse him his due he set his sights on telling Caesar that he could increase his due exponentially by cutting the Mahariashi his spiritual cut. This actually worked very well with various business enterprises who took him at his word, especially those managerially controlled enterprises who were susceptible to grotesque experiments in employee control anyways. The trick was that he actually had a method that could give at least the illusion of and sometimes actually the substance of psychological happiness (see later in this blog), though one hardly had to buy into the bullshit or pay money to discover it.
It also worked quite well with certain politicians whom the Maharishi cultivated, though their results from buying his product were hardly as gratifying as those of the businessmen who put their employees through such programs (some employees were actually grateful). Cuddling up to the Maharishi did little good for Philipino dictator Marcos and his wife (whom the Maharishi described as "the father and mother of the age of illumination"). Huge grants from the President of the Republic of Mozambique did little except increase the reputation of the government for graft. All told the Maharishi was more or less on a level playing field with the Moonies in this field of eneterprise ie the success was limited at best.
As the Maharishi's business accumulated (in the words of Carl Sagan, a physicist who never became rich but lived a much better life, on a different subject) "billions and billions" he made sure to hire the best talent. Thus, in his later years it is hard to say how much of the success of Transcendental Meditation was due to the Maharishi's own business sense and how much was due to the bureaucracy that accumulated under him. One may have serious doubts about whether the decision to drain money off governments by registering as a political party (the 'Natural Law Party' in Canada) and thereby take advantage of electoral rebates for parties that gain acertain amount of votes was an innovation of the aging Maharishi or of his young protegees who saw an unexploited financial opportunity. At least here in Canada this was a profitable enterprise as the Natural Law Party routinely gained many more votes than fringe parties both left and right-even if most voters saw it as something of a joke and protest vote. In any case the coffers of Canada opened up, and TM (TM) was enriched.Future religious charlatans shoulkd keep this trick in mind if the laws endure. With his passing his empire falls to the fate of most business enterprises founded by brilliant and innovative entrepreneurs. It passes from capitalism into managerialism, controlled by a faceless cadre of grey bureaucrats.
One may easily mock the crudity of the package that the Maharishi peddled. But, as a famous man once said, "nobody ever went broke by underestimating the credulity of the public". What is interesting about the product that he peddled is that, despite its obvious resemblance to the sort of tripe peddled by tele-evangelists, it appealed to a totally different demographic. Christian fundamentalism appeals to the "uneducated". The sort of low level New Age tripe peddled by the likes of the Maharishi appeals to the "mis-educated", those who have been denied any basis of comparison when they chose ideas. Those who are under the liberal delusion that all ideas are equally valid. those who cannot comprehend, for instance, that when reading a translation of the Bhagavad-Gita that such translations have a long history and that there are methods for determining which are best- let alone whether any commentary has any value whatsoever. During the late sixties and early 70s this sort of "attraction to junk" was manifested in a political sense as supposedly "educated" new-leftists gravitated to the crudest of Leninisms, despite their pretentions to "education". The way was paved with the good intentions of relativism- which still stalks the world today, often under the spectral cover of "tolerance"- which has acquired a totally different meaning in our times.
All that being said, one has to admire the Maharishi. Admire him as a brilliant businessman who stood head and shoulders above his competitors. While the "Bhagwan" made millions he made billions. He founded a wordlwide business enterprise that will long outlast his death. He also peddled a product that actually had some utility, unlike many other religious entrepreneurs. Now, for the first time-here is his secret. It is actually not a secret. It is available to anybody who has a library card and who is willing to skim the writings of various mystical traditions through history. Take one sound (or picture for that matter or even try and "picture nothing"). Repeat the process in your mind. Over and over. Note how your cares seem to recede. Note how you "attain peace". Particularily if you persist in the exercise. This technique has been pretty much standard for mystics throughout the ages, and it can be found in all religious traditions. It is available for free, and you don't have to fork out coin to the likes of TM to find out about it. Molly offers it for free here, and she doesn't think that this qualifies her for beatification, let alone sainthood (though that would be nice, and I expect my followers to start collecting examples of miracles done by invocing my name after my death). The interesting thing about the supposed "scientific research" done that was supposed to support the claimns of Transcendental Meditation is that it never had a true and proper control (something necessary in true science ie "common sense formalized"). It never compared the results of a "mantra" given out for money by the business versus one totally taken by random.
Molly has her own "mantra". I merely repeat the word "bullshit" over and over in my mind. It works like a charm. The worries recede. The world becomes brighter and more immediate. The mind becomes "clear". This mantra is particularily useful when invoked after thinking about things like New Age gurus or advertising. Not that it is particularily "useful" to have a clear perception of the physical structure of say, a mall, but it is at least an interesting experiment when you are trapped with nothing else to do.
For those with a taste for the wierd (and crooked) you can access the Maharishi Vedic University, presently based in Fairfield, Iowa (once more consider tax laws or local goverment grants). This is particularily "useful" if you want to "study" his alternative system of medicine or his system of "Vedic astrology". Thye official site of the Transcendental Meditation movement (imitators beware "TM" is "TM") is at http://www.tm.org/ . The obit of the Maharishi has been published in the Guardian. As to his reputation as the "giggling guru", this is a well hashed schtick of any number of spiritual figures from the East, and Molly awaits the future obit of the Dalai Lama, who has done the act much better (or at least much cleaner in a moral and aesthetic sense). Unlike the Maharishi the Dalai Lama actually manages to crack a really funny joke now and then. He also has a much more realistic view of his place in the universe, whether he is one with it or not. But, on the other hand, he has never set out to build a multinational business empire. To each their own talents and achievements.