A Tribute to Maharishi – By Deepak Chopra

February 13, 2008 at 6:33 am Leave a comment

It was in 1985, two years after a trip to Rishikesh, that I got an opportunity to meet Maharashi. A young psychologist at Harvard, who was doing a study on the benefits of Transcendental Meditation for older people, told me about Maharishi’s visit to America for a conference after several years. My wife, Rita and I decided to attend it.

It was a dark auditorium with over five hundred people and we, with great difficulty, managed to get a glimpse of the Maharishi. He was on the stage, dressed in white silk and seated in the lotus position on a divan. He rarely stirred, and even from a distance, one could see the immaculate stillness in him.

As he talked, he gestured with a flower in his hand. His voice was unusually varied, rising and falling, often breaking out in a laugh. He spent several hours discussing the revival of Ayurveda with various doctors and Indian pundits. It sounded interesting, but we had a plane to catch. As discreetly as we could, Rita and I walked out.

On our way out, we stopped for a glass of water, then began to make our way through the lobby. At that moment, the doors to the hall opened and out came Maharishi. He walked fast and a group of people trailed behind him, but without warning he veered away from where they were going, towards the elevator and walked right up to Rita and me. He picked out a long-stemmed red rose from the flower bouquet he was holding and handed it to Rita, then picked another and handed it to me.

“Can you come up?” he asked us. Feeling a little dazed, I looked over at Rita. We were both thinking about our flight home half an hour later. I didn’t know what to say. “We have a plane to catch, Maharishi,” I said. He laughed. “Oh, can’t you come up?” he said again. We decided to go and upstairs we found ourselves in a conference room decorated from floor to ceiling in pink.

We sat on overstuffed pink chairs; Maharishi sat in the lotus position on a white divan, the only non-pink furniture in the room. Rita and I had seen his picture many times, so he seemed familiar to us already, except that his untrimmed monk’s beard now had a wider ribbon of white in the middle.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is a name that suggests a story. Like kabir, maharishi, is a word. It combines maha or “great” and rishi or “sage.” The part of the name that we would call a given name is Mahesh. And yogi means “in union.” A man named Mahesh has attained union and become a great sage. As he chatted with us, I could not even think of paying attention to anyone else.

Without any effort, my mind had fallen silent. No thoughts moved through it, and there wasn’t the usual ricochet of stray impressions – just silence. This seemed an extraordinary pleasant state to be in, because I felt completely unself. I felt no desire to look important or to impress Maharishi. I could have even sat sky-clad and not been embarrassed.

Maharishi asked us about what we did and I said that I was a doctor and that I had practiced TM for four years. He then asked, “Do you know a lot about Ayurveda?” I shook my head. “You should learn,” he said, “because it is such a simple way of approaching medicine. Everything around us is change, but it all takes place against a background that is unchanging. Against everything in the relative world is a background of the absolute. Ayurveda says that behind mortality is the aspect of immortality. The goal of Ayurveda is to restore this multiplicity to that absolute, to unity.” Consciousness is our link back to the unchanging, he explained, because our consciousness rises from the absolute in the same way that plants, rocks, and all physical things arise. The raw material for everything in the universe is consciousness. “Nature thinks the way we do,” he said.

Maharishi said, “Everything is orderly because everything is intelligence. Food is intelligence and the plants are intelligence. What we take in as nourishment we convert to our own intelligence. Sickness is interrupted intelligence, but we can bring it back into line. That’s all we do from our side. Nature takes care of it.”

Listening to Maharishi was a remarkable experience. He was stitching together, very simply and deftly, a new world. After a few hours our meeting came to an end. As a parting gesture he very carefully picked out two more roses. He must have scrutinised a dozen before he found the right ones. He asked us to give them to our children. We took one last glimpse of him in the pink room, and the next minute we were alone in the elevator.

As happy as Rita and I felt, our thoughts turned to the plane that had taken off two hours earlier. On an impulse, we went to the airport anyway. There were no later flights, we were told, but by chance, all the earlier flights had been delayed on the eastern corridor, and our plane was still on the ground. We were lucky.

As we headed home, I thought about Ayurveda and Maharishi’s desire for me to get involved in it. Now that I was away from him, my inner silence evaporated, and the buzzing of thoughts started up again. Over and over, a thought repeated itself: “Don’t become an outsider.” I was being asked to look outside science. Perhaps Ayurveda would be the science of tomorrow, but what was it today? I thought about my standing as a doctor. Ayurveda is not licensed medicine in America. I wasn’t being asked to practice Ayurveda, but simply to look into it. A part of me said that I had a lot to lose. Another didn’t have an opinion.

I lay in bed thinking about Maharishi himself. The tradition of wisdom in India has been passed down from one person to another, from teacher to disciple. This may seem a more fragile way than written records, but in reality it has been much more durable. The teacher, or acharya, embodies the truth he talked about. If he can effectively teach it, his disciple becomes the next embodiment, and in that way, generation after generation the living links are forged. The truth may sink from public light, but somewhere it is flowing through a sage. A mind that is truly enlightened does not think of the truth, it creates it. That is why a true acharya is very rare.

I had no doubt, after practicing his meditation, that Maharishi was anything less than his name implied. He was a great sage, a knower and teacher of reality. It wasn’t necessary for me to seek him out as a guru, because, by a stroke of genius, Maharishi had compressed the acharya and placed him inside every meditator. If we want to look for the one who will enlighten us, we do not have to go beyond our own doorstep.

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