Paul J. Mills, Tiffany Barsotti, Meredith A. Pung, Kathleen L. Wilson, Laura Redwine, and Deepak Chopra Gratitude, along with love, compassion, empathy, joy, forgiveness, and self-knowledge, is a vital attribute of our wellbeing. While there are many definitions of gratitude, at its foundation, gratitude is a healing, life-affirming, and uplifting human experience that shifts us […]
August 1, 1991 saw the publication of my book, Perfect Health, a popular guide to Ayurveda that came at the height of my involvement with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although I had been meditating less than a decade in comparison with TM meditators who went back to the
Sixties, my association with Maharishi quickly became personal. He felt comfortable around other Indians and had a special regard for trained scientists and physicians. In return I had a deep fascination with enlightenment and the almost supernatural status of gurus. A few days before the book’s publication, I was in Fairfield, Iowa to participate in a meditation course. Maharishi was supposed to address the assembly on speaker phone from India, but the phone call didn’t come through at the appointed time. We all dispersed.
I immediately left Fairfield for Chicago, where a wealthy TM donor had been kind enough to charter a plane for me. When I arrived in Delhi, it was past midnight. I first went home. My father was not there, and my mother told me he was still with Maharishi in a house in Golflinks, a private reserve in the city. One room had been converted into an intensive care unit presided over by my father and other doctors. I arrived at the house at 2:00 am, and when I entered the makeshift ICU I saw Maharishi lying unconscious in a bed with IV tubes and a respirator just as I had foreseen. My father informed me darkly that after drinking a glass of orange juice given to him by “a foreign disciple,” Maharishi had suffered severe abdominal pain and inflammation of the pancreas, along with kidney failure followed by a heart attack. Poisoning was suspected. Over the next few days Maharishi’s condition worsened. The pancreas and kidney functions continued to deteriorate, and his heart didn’t improve. My father was of the opinion that Maharishi should be taken to England for a course of kidney dialysis. The Indian TM organization, centered around Maharishi’s nephews, Prakash and Anand Shrivastava, were adamant that no one in the movement should find out that Maharishi was grievously ill. The rationale was that his followers would panic and lose faith.
There was one person the Indian inner circle chose to trust, however. He was Neil Paterson, a Canadian who had been chosen by Maharishi as chief spokesman and de facto head of the movement. Neil and I flew to England and made arrangements for Maharishi to be admitted to a private hospital on Harley Street. My father and two other doctors chartered a plane and brought Maharishi to London. I remember standing outside the London Heart Hospital, watching an ambulance navigate the snarled traffic, sirens wailing. Just before it arrived on the hospital’s doorstep, one of the accompanying doctors ran up with the news that Maharishi had suddenly died. I rushed to the ambulance, picking Maharishi’s body up -– he was frail and light by this time – and carrying him in my arms through London traffic.
I laid him on the floor inside the hospital’s doors and called for a cardio assist. Within minutes he was revived and rushed to intensive care on a respirator and fitted with a pacemaker that took over his heartbeat. The attending physician felt that Maharishi was clinically dead. My father suggested that we keep him on life support, however, until the family gave permission to take him off. As fate would have it, after 24 to 36 hours the attending informed us that Maharishi was recovering miraculously. His kidney function was returning to normal, his heart was beating independent of the pacemaker, and he had started to breathe on his own. Within a few days he was sitting up in bed, drinking milk with honey. The doctor could not explain this recovery; everyone in the hospital, including his nurses, were awestruck, not just by the turn-around but by his presence, which induced a sense of peace in anyone who came near.
Let me pause here to reflect on the strange juxtapositions at work. I genuinely felt in the midst of the crisis that I was fulfilling a purpose beyond myself. A series of circumstances had brought me to the very moment when someone had to intervene to save Maharishi’s life, and it was as if the universe had conspired to carry me to that moment. At the same time, he exhibited both the all-too-human qualities found in every holy man and other qualities one associates with the superhuman. I had the distinct sensation of standing on the border between two worlds, or should one say two versions of the human condition? It was easy to believe that other disciples in another time felt much the same in the presence of Jesus or Buddha.
In all, Maharishi was out of circulation for almost a year; few in the TM movement knew where he was, and almost no one was willing to concede that he had been sick. After he was fully recovered we flew him via helicopter back to his chosen residence, which wasn’t in either India or the U.S. but the obscure village of Vlodrop in Holland. It would be impossible to calculate how many disciples and even casual TM meditators would have given anything for personal time with Maharishi. Because of his mass appeal and his undeniable presence, there were many who cherished a moment with him as the most precious in their lives. Yet I was growing increasingly disturbed by contradictions I couldn’t reconcile.
Maharishi had spent decades traveling the globe to promote TM; now he remained permanently in Vlodrop while I was sent, as one of his main emissaries, on a routine of almost constant jet travel. He aimed at ever-increasing expansion. Eastern Europe and the Soviet bloc were opened up to meditation. Gradually so was the Islamic world, which resisted TM in large part because the initiation ceremony included a picture of Maharishi’s teacher sitting on an altar, which went against the Muslim prohibition over depicting God or holy men. Everywhere I went I was given the respect accorded to my guru, bringing with it a level of pomp and ceremony that verged on veneration. Not only did this make me uncomfortable personally, but I wondered why Maharishi, the first “modern” guru, allowed and encouraged it. It seemed inconsistent with Vedanta’s central theme that the material world is illusion, not to mention the freedom from materialism that is expected of one who is enlightened.
At that point I had only heard indirect reports about his displeasure; this was the first time, in fact, that Maharishi had shown anything but the highest trust in me. It was true that after his medical crisis he refused to discuss his health and took pains to indicate that where once I had been his physician, now I was to consider myself in the former position of disciple. Actually, I admired him for this. It would have been impertinent for me to take any other role. To be in the presence of someone like Maharishi is to realize an immense gulf in consciousness. His physical status continued to be amazingly strong considering what he had been through.
It was a critical moment. Then and there I had to consider the entirety of the guru-disciple relationship. To anyone outside India, much misunderstanding surrounds the whole issue of taking on an enlightened teacher. To begin with, there is a Western predisposition to doubt that enlightenment could be real except as personified in Buddha or a limited number of saints and sages who existed centuries ago. There is also a sense in the West that following a guru is tantamount to surrendering your personal identity, your bank account, and your dignity. None of these issues concerned me, however. In the role of guru Maharishi was authentic, dignified, respectful, and accepting. In addition, he was personally lovable and a joy to be around (even if one had to suffer patiently through discourses that lasted many hours and that circled around the same basic points.) The dilemma I faced was more fundamental: Can a real guru be unfair, jealous, biased, and ultimately manipulative?
I never found out, because practical considerations loomed large at that moment. I had a family with children in school, a wife who decidedly did not want to live an ashram life, and no visible means of support if I stopped producing books and giving lectures. I told Maharishi that I didn’t need twenty-four hours to make my decision. I would leave immediately and not return. With some surprise he asked me why. I told him that I had no ambitions to be a guru myself – the very idea appalled me. I was dismayed that he would believe such rumors. It was beyond my imagination for anyone to compare me to him or that I would have the gall to do the same.
I replied that I didn’t want what he was offering. I loved the knowledge of Vedanta and wanted to devote myself to it. By the end of the conversation, however, I relented and told him that I would think about it. In the ensuing months I was approached by medical institutions and universities to introduce Ayurveda and TM as part of their programs. However, when I contacted Maharishi and the movement with these promising prospects I was told that I shouldn’t pursue these offers. At the same time decisions were made to raise the cost of TM astronomically, putting it out of reach for ordinary people. On January 12, 1994 I went back to Vlodrop for the annual New Year’s celebration and told Maharishi that I was leaving permanently. I expressed my immeasurable gratitude to him and told him that I would love him forever. When we parted, he said, “Whatever you do will be the right decision for you. I will love you, but I will also be indifferent to you from now on.”
I believe that Maharishi would have been the first to agree. It’s not possible to stray from the one reality, and if Maharishi the personality couldn’t give his blessing, at a deeper level Maharishi the guru was doing his job of coaxing consciousness to expand. There was no way for me to reconcile the two opposites back then, but I have come to realize that I never needed to. All opposites are reconciled in unity consciousness, the state that Maharishi was in and the state I aspire to every day.