John Lennon took a helicopter ride with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi because he thought the guru would slip him the “answer.”


In February 1968, John Lennon and the Beatles traveled to Rishikesh, India, for a retreat organized by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, leader of the Transcendental Meditation Movement. The group had heard the guru speak twice and left both events mesmerized.

However, the Beatles’ stay in India was very different. It became a media frenzy, but the group and other celebrities found peace in the ashram bubble. They learned about meditation, quit drugs, and experienced one of their most creative periods by writing about 48 songs.

When the Beatles arrived, they ate, meditated, slept, and occasionally listened to Maharishi, day after day. However, there was still time for a short helicopter flight, which John thought he would give time to answers.

The Beatles and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi | Cummings Archives/Redferns

John Lennon took a helicopter ride with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi because he thought the guru would slip him the “answer.”

In his book With the Beatlesrecalled Lewis Lapham (per Rolling Stone) Maharishi looks at a helicopter “like a child looks at a giant, complicated toy.” The guru needed the helicopter to take him to New Delhi one day, as Paul McCartney reflected in Barry Miles’ In many years (Per Beatles Bible).

“One day Maharishi had to go to New Delhi and back for something, so someone suggested a helicopter,” Paul said. “When it arrived we all rushed down, a hopping line of devotees coming down a narrow, dusty path to the Ganges, singing and delighting. Much like the Hare Krishnas, wonderful, chatty.

“We got to the Ganges, the helicopter landed and then they said, ‘Anybody want to go quickly before Maharishi takes off?’ John jumped up. ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes!’ John got there first and there was only room for one.”

Paul later asked John why he was so anxious to go up with the guru. John’s reply was as witty as ever.

“Later I asked John, ‘Why were you so excited? You really wanted to get on that helicopter.” “Yes,” he said. “I thought he might slip me the answer!” Which is very revealing about John. I suppose everyone is always looking for the Holy Grail.”

Paul continued: “I think John thought he could find it. I think it really shows an innocence, a naivety. It’s really very touching.”

So John hoped that Maharishi would reveal the mysteries of the universe to him. The guru has revealed nothing. However, John quickly saw evidence that Maharishi knew nothing.

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John Lennon fled India after hearing a rumor about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s indecency

During their trip, “Magic” Alex Mardas, an inventor and Apple Corps employee, convinced the Beatles that Maharishi had behaved inappropriately towards certain women in the camp. John was so upset that he confronted the guru and immediately left the ashram.

John Lennon’s wife Cynthia recalled this in her book John (Per Beatles Bible). “A few weeks before we left, Magic Alex accused the Maharishi of inappropriate behavior towards a young American woman who was a fellow student. Without giving the Maharishi a chance to defend themselves, John and George chose to believe Alex and decided we all had to go.”

Cynthia was upset because she had seen Alex with the girl and wondered if it was him who was being mischievous. She was surprised that John and George believed him.

“It was only when John and I spoke later that he told me that he had begun to feel disillusioned with the Maharishi’s behavior,” she wrote. “He felt that the Maharishi had too much interest in public recognition, fame and money for a spiritual man.”

John confronted the guru. He told Rolling Stone (according to the Beatles Bible): “We went to him and we stayed up all night arguing about whether it was true or not.”

“I was the spokesperson – like always, when the dirty work came, I actually had to be the leader, no matter what the scene, when it came down to the nitty-gritty, I had to speak. And I said, ‘We’re going.’

“‘Why?’ Hehe, all that shit. And I said, ‘Well, if you’re that cosmic, you’ll know why.’ He always implied, and all his right men implied, that he performed miracles. He said, ‘I don’t know why, you have to tell me.’

“And I just kept saying, ‘You know why’ – and he gave me a look like, ‘I’ll kill you, bastard,’ he gave me a look like that, and then I knew it when he looked at me, because I had revealed his bluff. And I was a little rude to him.”

After that, John immediately fled India. He wrote Maharishi, which he renamed Sexy Sadie on George’s advice.

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Strange things happened to The Beatles while he was meditating

Before leaving India, John devoted much time to meditation with George. Although he may have gone too far. Strange things happened when he meditated for a few days.

In The Beatles Anthology, John said: “I was in a room for five days to meditate. I’ve written hundreds of songs. I couldn’t sleep and was hallucinating like crazy, having dreams that I could smell. I did a few hours and you stumble, three or four hour stretches. It was just one way to get there and you could make amazing trips.”

At Bob Spitz’s The Beatles, Cynthia said that John cared deeply about mediation. She added: “John and George did it [finally] in their element [at the ashram]. They threw themselves completely into the Maharishi’s teachings, were happy, relaxed and, above all, found an inner peace that had been denied to them for so long.”

This relaxation ended when John heard the rumors about Maharishi. While the Beatles’ trip to India was eventful, it gave them time to rest, focus on their well-being, and write songs. When the band came back, they recorded The White Album.

John may not have gotten an answer and left India because he felt betrayed by the Maharishi, but at least he has a lot of songs under his belt.

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