THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a guru to the Beatles who introduced the West to transcendental meditation, died Tuesday at his home in the Dutch town of Vlodrop, a spokesman said. He was thought to be 91 years old.
“He died peacefully at about 7 p.m.,” said Bob Roth, a spokesman for the Transcendental Meditation movement that the Maharishi founded. He said his death appeared to be due to “natural causes, his age.”
Once dismissed as hippie mysticism, the Hindu practice of mind control that Maharishi taught, called transcendental meditation, gradually gained medical respectability.
He began teaching TM in 1955 and brought the technique to the United States in 1959. But the movement really took off after the Beatles visited his ashram in India in 1968, although he had a famous falling out with the rock stars when he discovered them using drugs at his Himalayan retreat.
With the help of celebrity endorsements, Maharishi – a Hindi-language title for Great Seer – parlayed his interpretations of ancient scripture into a multi-million-dollar global empire.
Some 5 million people devoted 20 minutes every morning and evening reciting a simple sound, or mantra, and delving into their consciousness.
“Don’t fight darkness. Bring the light, and darkness will disappear,” Maharishi said in a 2006 interview, repeating one of his own mantras.
Supporters pointed to hundreds of scientific studies showing that meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves concentration and raises results for students and businessmen.
Skeptics ridiculed his plan to raise $10 trillion to end poverty by sponsoring organic farming in the world’s poorest countries. They scoffed at his notion that meditation groups, acting like psychic shock troops, can end conflict.
In 1986, two groups founded by his organization were sued in the U.S. by former disciples who accused it of fraud, negligence and intentionally inflicting emotional damage. A jury, however, refused to award punitive damages.
Aides say Maharishi became disillusioned that TM had become identified with the counterculture, and he spent more time at his ashram in Rishikesh in the Himalayan foothills to run his global affairs.
In 1990 he moved onto the wooded grounds of a historic Franciscan monastery in the southern Dutch village of Vlodrop, about 125 miles southeast of Amsterdam.
Concerned about his fragile health, he secluded himself in two rooms of the wooden pavilion he built on the compound, speaking only by video to aides around the world and even to his closest advisers in the same building.