Maharishi was a spiritual teacher and a leader of the Transcendental Meditation movement. In more than 50 years of teaching he established a successful international corporation, that reportedly taught Transcendental Meditation to a few millions of people. He is known for his association with a number of celebrities and business skills, that helped him to acquire a significant capital.
Maharishi was born in central India, his birth name and family background are not known with certainty. He is said to have been a gifted student, and earned a university degree in physics. In his 20s he became a secretary and close assistant of Shankaracharya (a head of a Hindu monastic order). Maharishi remained with his teacher until he died about 10 years later. He couldn’t become his spiritual successor because he didn’t belong to a brahmin caste. Maharishi spent about 2 years in the higher Himalayas, and in 1955 started teaching a meditation technique called Transcendental Meditation to a general public. At this time he took a self-imposed titles of Maharishi (a great seer) and Yogi. Four years later Maharishi began his first world tour intending to spread the teaching of TM throughout the world. At first he didn’t charge for his teachings and lived on donations of his followers. He presented TM as a simple relaxation method to create peace and happiness, reduce negativity and increase efficiency in one’s daily life. His teaching was enthusiastically met by the members of the middle class and attracted the attention of a few celebrities. Upon coming to the United States Maharishi established a few foundations to spread his teachings, and soon started charging for the courses. Because of the simplicity of his teaching (peace and happiness) and his pro-establishment orientation Maharishi didn’t face much trouble with the government. He was generally well-received and his movement was covered by the press. He started preparing TM teachers, that became the core of his growing organization. Maharishi was well-accepted in the West, but in India he was criticized for teaching meditation to unprepared audience and simplifying the idea of meditation. In 1967 Maharishi’s fame increased when he became the “spiritual advisor” of the Beatles, who started practicing TM, and in a few months came to stay in Maharishi’s ashram in India. The members of the band were soon disappointed with the guru, who apparently used them for self-promotion and reportedly harassed one of their friends, an american model. In the 70s Maharishi made some successful attempts to introduce TM to the educational system. For a while TM was taught in a number of schools and universities in the US. The TM movement continued growing, purchasing numerous properties, setting up teaching centers and establishing business organizations as well. During his lifetime Maharishi moved his headquarters a few times being accused of avoiding taxes. Last time he appeared on public in 1991, and since then stayed in his residence in Netherlands. The last years of his life he lived very secluded and communicated with his followers by a closed-circuit television.
Maharishi started teaching with the intention “to change the course of human history“. Basically, it meant teaching Transcendental Meditation to as many people as possible, which according to him would reduce crime and violence and bring peace and happiness to the society in general. TM as such is a practice of silent repetition of a certain mantra, which is chosen by the TM teacher. Two times Maharishi decided to raise the price for teaching TM, because it should be primarily taught to the leaders of society to produce the maximum change, and that it is fine if the ordinary people can’t afford to learn meditation. Currently the price of a basic TM course is 960 USD. And next to the TM logo on the official website there is a hypocritical statement “taught by a non-profit organization”. At the same time Maharishi often spoke about numerous positive effects of TM on the society in general, and that it should be spread as much as possible. The TM movement includes numerous charitable organizations, for-profit businesses and real estate investments. The real estate alone was valued between 3,6 to 5 billion USD. Now do you want more about Maharishi’s teaching? He also offered advanced (more expensive) siddhi courses for skilled practitioners, which teach supernatural powers like levitation. Practically it means hopping (literally) on your buttocks until eventually you are supposed to learn how to stay in the air without falling! (For example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlw8CxTkyxA) Well, if somebody takes it for real, he definitely deserves to be deprived of the money he pays for these courses.
Mantra practice has been a part of indian tradition for thousands of years, but never before it has been packaged and sold as a product. Maharishi definitely succeeded at one of his objectives – he made this practice available to many. At which cost? Just at 960 USD. Two of his ex-disciples eventually became big gurus themselves – one is Deepak Chopra, another is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. They have definitely learned Maharishi’s lesson – making spiritual business is easy, it is all about branding and presentation.