Various accounts give the year of his birth as 1911, 1917 or 1918. Authors Paul Mason and william Jefferson say that he was born 12 January 1917 in Jabalpur, Central Provinces, British India (now Madhya Pradesh, India). The place of birth given in his passport is "Pounalulla", India, and his birth date 12 January 1918. Mahesh came from an upper-caste family, being a member of the Kayastha caste, a high-status caste whose traditional profession is writing.
Mahesh studied physics at Allahabad University and earned a degree in 1942. While a few sources say that he worked at Gun Carriage Factory in Jabalpur for some time, most report that in 1941, he became an administrative secretary to the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (also known as Guru Dev) and took a new name, Bal Brahmachari Mahesh. Coplin refers to bala brahmachari as both a title and a name, and considers that it "identified him as a fully dedicated student of spiritual knowledge and life-long celibate ascetic." The Maharishi recalls how it took about two and a half years to attune himself to the thinking of Brahmananda Saraswati and to gain "a very genuine feeling of complete oneness." At first Brahmachari Mahesh performed Common chores but gained trust and became Guru Dev's "personal secretary" and "favored pupil." He was trusted to take care of the bulk of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati's correspondence without direction, and was also sent out to give public speeches on Vedic (scriptural) themes.
Brahmachari Mahesh remained with Swami Brahmananda Saraswati until the latter died in 1953, when he moved to Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand in the Himalayas. Although Brahmachari Mahesh was a close disciple, he could not be the Shankaracharya's spiritual successor because he was not of the Brahmin caste. The Shankaracharya, at the end of his life, charged him with the responsibility of travelling and teaching meditation to the masses, while he named Swami Shantananda Saraswati as his successor.
In 1955, the organisers of the Great Spiritual Development Conference of Kerala published The Beacon Light of the Himalayas, a transcribed 170-page "souvenir" of the conference. Authors Chryssides, Humes and Forsthoefel, Miller, and Russel cite this as the Maharishi's first published book on Transcendental Meditation, although Transcendental Meditation is not mentioned in the text of the book. The book is dedicated to Maharshi Bala Brahmachari Mahesh Yogi Rajaram by his devotees of Kerala and contains photographs, letters and lectures by numerous authors which appear in various languages such as English, Hindi and Sanskrit.
He traveled around India for two years interacting with his "Hindu audiences" in an "Indian context". At that time, he called his movement the Spiritual Development Movement, but renamed it the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in 1957, in Madras, India, on the concluding day of the Seminar of Spiritual Luminaries. According to Coplin, in his visits to southern India, the Maharishi spoke English rather than the Hindi spoken in his home area to avoid provoking resistance among those seeking linguistic self-determination, and to appeal to the "learned classes".
According to author william Jefferson, in 1958, the Maharishi went to Madras to address a large crowd of people who had gathered to celebrate the memory of Guru Dev. It was there that he spontaneously announced that he planned to spread the teaching of TM throughout the world. Hundreds of people immediately asked to learn TM. In 1959, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi began his first world tour, writing: "I had one thing in mind, that I know something which is useful to every man".
When the Maharishi came to the U.S. in 1959, his Spiritual Regeneration Movement was called Transcendental Meditation. That same year he began the International Meditation Society and other organizations to propagate his teachings, establishing centres in San Francisco and London. For years, the sole Teacher of Transcendental Meditation in America was a San Diego woman named Beulah Smith.
In 1961, the Maharishi visited the United States, Austria, Sweden, France, Italy, Greece, India, Kenya, England, and Canada. While in England, he appeared on BBC television and gave a lecture to 5,000 people at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In April 1961, the Maharishi conducted his first Transcendental Meditation Teacher Training Course in Rishikesh, India, with sixty participants from various countries. Teachers continued to be trained as time progressed. During the course, the Maharishi began to introduce additional knowledge regarding the development of human potential, and began writing his translation and commentary on the first six chapters of the ancient Vedic text, the Bhagavad Gita.
Beginning in 1962, the Maharishi began to recommend the daily practice of yoga exercises or asanas to further accelerate growth.
In 1963, the Maharishi audiotaped the text of the book Science of Being and Art of Living, which was later transcribed and published in fifteen languages. K.T. Weidmann describes the book as the Maharishi's fundamental philosophical treatise, one in which its author provides an illustration of the ancient Vedic traditions of India in terms that can be easily interpreted and understood by the scientific thinking of the western world. In the Science of Being, the Maharishi illustrates the concepts of relative existence as the experience of everyday reality through one's senses, and absolute reality as the origin of being, and the source of all creative intelligence. The Maharishi describes this absolute reality, or Being, as unchanging, omnipresent, and eternal. He also identifies it with bliss consciousness. The two aspects of reality, the relative and the absolute, are like an ocean with many waves. The waves represent the relative, and the ocean beneath is the foundation of everything, or Being. Establishing oneself in the field of Being, or unchanging reality, ensures stability.
The Maharishi's fifth world tour, in 1964, consisted of visits to many cities in North America, Europe and India. During his visit to England, he appeared with the Abbot of Downside, Abbot Butler, on a BBC television show called The Viewpoint. In October of that year, in California, the Maharishi began teaching the first Advanced Technique of Transcendental Meditation to some experienced meditators. While travelling in America, the Maharishi met with Robert Maynard Hutchins, the head of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and U Thant, the Secretary General of the United Nations. During this same year, the Maharishi finished his book The Science of Being and Art of Living, which sold more than a million copies and was published in fifteen languages.
In 1966, the Maharishi founded the Students' International Meditation Society ("SIMS"), which The Los Angeles Times later characterised as a "phenomenal success". In the 1970s, SIMS centres were established at "over one thousand campuses", including Harvard University, Yale University, and UCLA.
In his 1967 publication, Bhagavad-Gita: A New Translation and Commentary, the Maharishi describes the Bhagavad Gita as "the Scripture of Yoga". He says that "its purpose is to explain in theory and practice all that is needed to raise the consciousness of man to the highest possible level." According to Peter Russell, the Bhagavad-Gita deals with the concept of loss of knowledge and subsequent revival, and this is brought out by the Maharishi himself in the introduction. In the Preface, the Maharishi writes: "The purpose of this commentary is to restore the fundamental truths of the Bhagavad-Gita and thus restore the significance of its teaching. If this teaching is followed, effectiveness in life will be achieved, men will be fulfilled on all levels and the historical need of the age will be fulfilled also."
The British satirical magazine Private Eye ridiculed him as "Veririchi Lotsamoney Yogi Bear". The Maharishi was also parodied by comedians Bill Dana and Joey Forman in the 1968 comedy album The Mashuganishi Yogi, by Comedian Mike Myers in the film The Love Guru, and in the BBC Sketch show Goodness Gracious Me. He was portrayed by actor Gerry Bednob in the 2007 film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. He was also the subject of The Beatles' song Sexy Sadie. In an episode of the popular BBC Radio 4 fictional comedy show Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge a comment is made about Yogi when Partridge is interviewing a spiritual man comparing him to Buddha, Dalai Lama, Uri Geller and "that man The Beatles went to see..."
In the mid 1970s, the Maharishi began the TM-Sidhi programme, which included Yogic Flying, as an additional option for those who had been practising the Transcendental Meditation technique for some time. According to Coplin, this new aspect of knowledge emphasised not only the individual, but also the collective benefits created by group practice of this advanced programme. This new programme gave rise to a new principle called the Maharishi Effect, which is said to "create coherence in the collective consciousness" and to suppress crime, violence, and accidents.
The Maharishi was reported to be a vegetarian, an Entrepreneur, a monk and "a spiritual man who sought a world stage from which to espouse the joys of inner happiness". He was described as an abstemious man with tremendous Energy who took a weekly day of silence while sleeping only two hours per night. He did not present himself as a guru or claim his teachings as his own. Instead he taught "in the name of his guru Brahmananda Saraswati" and paid tribute to him by placing a picture of Saraswati behind him when he spoke. He was on a mission to bring the ancient techniques of TM to the world. Scientist and futurist Buckminster Fuller spent two days with the Maharishi at a symposium at the University of Massachusetts in 1971 and said, "You could not meet with Maharishi without recognizing instantly his integrity." Authors Douglas E. Cowan and David G. Bromley write that the Maharishi did not claim any "special Divine revelation nor supernatural personal qualities". Still others said he helped to "inspire the anti-materialism of the late 60s" and received good publicity because he "opposed drugs". According to author Chryssides, "The Maharishi tended to emphasize the positive aspects of humanity, focusing on the good that exists in everyone."
The Maharishi announced his World Plan in 1972, the goal of which was to establish 3,600 TM centres around the world. That year, a TM training course was given by the Maharishi at Queen's University and was attended by 1,000 young people from the USA and Canada. At the start of the course, the Maharishi encouraged the attendees to improve their appearance by getting haircuts and wearing ties. He also persuaded the U.S. Army to offer courses in TM to its Soldiers and made videotaped recordings of what was thought to be the West's first comprehensive recitation of the Rig Veda.
In March 1973, the Maharishi addressed the legislature of the state of Illinois. That same year, the legislature passed a resolution in support of the use of Maharishi's Science of Creative Intelligence in Illinois public schools. Later that year he organized a world conference of mayors in Switzerland. In that same year, he also addressed 3000 educators at an American Association of Higher Education (AAHE) conference on quality of life and higher education.
In 1974, the Maharishi International University was founded. In October 1975, the Maharishi was pictured on the front cover of Time magazine. He made his last visit to the Spiritual Regeneration Movement centre in Los Angeles in 1975, according to film Director David Lynch, who met him for the first time there.
In 1975, the Maharishi embarked on a five-continent trip to inaugurate what he called "the Dawn of the Age of Enlightenment". The Maharishi said the purpose of the inaugural tour was to "go around the country and give a gentle whisper to the population". He visited Ottawa during this tour and had a private meeting with Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, during which he spoke about the principles of TM and "the possibility of structuring an ideal society." That same year, the Pittsburgh Press reported that "The Maharishi has been criticised by other Eastern yogis for simplifying their ancient art." The Maharishi appeared as a guest on The Merv Griffin Show in 1975 and again in 1977, and this resulted in "tens of thousands of new practitioners" around the USA.
In his biography of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Story of the Maharishi (published 1976), william Jefferson suggests that the financial aspect of the TM organisation was one of the greatest controversies it faced. Questions were raised about the Maharishi's mission, comments from Leaders of the movement at that time, and fees and charges the TM organisation levied on followers. Jefferson says that the concerns with money came from journalists more than those who have learned to meditate.
The teaching of TM and the Science of Creative Intelligence in a New Jersey public school was stopped when a US court, in 1977, declared the movement to be religious, and ruled adoption of TM by public organisations in breach of the separation of church and state (First Amendment).
During the 1980s, the organisation continued to expand and his meditation technique continued to attract celebrities despite its "outlandish claims" and accusations of fraud from disaffected former disciples. The TM organization made a number of property Investments, buying a former Rothschild mansion in England, Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire, Roydon Hall in Maidstone, Swythamley Park in the Peak District, and a Georgian rectory in Suffolk. In the United States, resorts and hotels, many in city centres, were purchased to be used as TM training centres. Doug Henning and the Maharishi planned a magical Vedic amusement park, Vedaland, and bought large tracts of land near Orlando, Florida, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, to host the park. The theme park was supposed to be a gateway into understanding the mysteries of the universe. According to the Maharishi's official Vedic city wedbsite, "Entering Veda Land through a secret cave on a windswept plateau high in the Himalayas the adventure starts as one travels through a waterfall that leads to a forest where an ancient Vedic civilization awaits to reveal the deepest secrets of the universe (sic)". These plans were never executed and, for Niagara Falls, Veda Land turned out to be just another theme park proposal that never materialized, joining an eclectic list that includes the Worlds of Jules Verne, the Ancient Chinese City and even Canada's Wonderland when it was first being planned. The Maharishi commissioned plans from a prominent Architect for the world's tallest building, a Vedic-style pyramid to be built in São Paulo, Brazil, and to be filled with Yogic Flyers and other TM endeavours. The Maharishi founded Maharishi Ved Vigyan Vishwa Vidyapeetham, a self-described educational institution located in Uttar Pradesh, India, in 1982. The institution reports that it has trained 50,000 pundits in traditional Vedic recitation. In 1983, the Maharishi invited government Leaders to interact with his organization called "World Government".
The Maharishi's 1986 book, Thirty Years Around the World, gives a detailed account of his world tours, as do two biographies, The Story of the Maharishi, by william Jefferson, and The Maharishi by Paul Mason. The first world tour began in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar) and included the countries of Thailand, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and Hawaii. He arrived in Hawaii in the spring of 1959 and the Honolulu Star Bulletin reported: "He has no money, he asks for nothing. His worldly possessions can be carried in one hand. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is on a world odyssey. He carries a message that he says will rid the world of all unhappiness and discontent." In 1959, the Maharishi lectured and taught the Transcendental Meditation technique in Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, New York and London. While in Los Angeles the Maharishi stayed at the home of author Helena Olson, and during this period he developed a three-year plan to propagate Transcendental Meditation to the whole world. Though most of his audience consisted of average middle class individuals, he also attracted a few celebrities, such as Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Nancy Cooke de Herrera and Doris Duke.
In January 1988, offices at the Maharishinagar complex in New Delhi were raided by Indian tax authorities and the Maharishi and his organisation were accused of falsifying expenses. Reports on the value of stocks, fixed-deposit notes, cash and jewels confiscated, vary from source to source. The Maharishi, who was "headquartered in Switzerland" at the time, reportedly moved to the Netherlands "after the Indian government accused him of tax fraud".) Following an earthquake in Armenia, the Maharishi trained Russian TM teachers and set up a Maharishi Ayurveda training centre in the Urals region. Beginning in 1989, the Maharishi's movement began incorporating the term "Maharishi" into the names of their new and existing entities, concepts and programmes.
In 1990, the Maharishi relocated his headquarters from Seelisberg, Switzerland, to a former Franciscan monastery in Vlodrop, the Netherlands, which became known as MERU, Holland, on account of the Maharishi European Research University (MERU) campus there. During his time in Vlodrop, he communicated to the public mainly via video and the internet. He also created a subscription-based, satellite TV channel, called Veda Vision, which broadcast content in 22 languages and 144 countries.
In 1991, the Maharishi called Washington D.C. a "pool of mud" after a decade of attempts to lower the rate of crime in the city, which had the second-largest TM community in the US. He told his followers to leave and save themselves from its "criminal atmosphere". The Maharishi is believed to have made his final public appearance in 1991, in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Deepak Chopra, described as "one of the Maharishi's top assistants before he launched his own career", wrote that the Maharishi collapsed in 1991 with kidney and pancreas failure, that the illness was kept secret by the Maharishi's family and that he tended to Maharishi during a year-long recovery. According to Chopra, the Maharishi accused him, in July 1993, of trying to compete for the position of guru and asked him to stop travelling and writing books, which led to Chopra's decision to leave the movement in January 1994.
In 1992, the Maharishi began to send groups of Yogic Flyers to countries like India, Brazil, China and America in an effort to promote world peace through "coherent world consciousness". In 1993 and 2003, he decided to raise the fees for learning the TM technique.
The Maharishi Vidya Mandir Schools (MVMS), an educational system established in sixteen Indian states and affiliated with the New Delhi Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), was founded in 1995 by the Maharishi. It has 148 branches in 118 cities with 90,000 to 100,000 students and 5,500 teaching and support staff.
In 1997 the Maharishi's organization built the largest wooden structure in the Netherlands without using any nails. The building was the Maharishi's residence for the last two decades of his life. In later years, the Maharishi rarely left his two-room quarters in order to preserve his health and Energy. He used videoconferencing to communicate with the world and with his advisors. Built to Maharishi Sthapatya Veda architectural standards, the structure, according to the Maharishi, is said to have helped him infuse "the light of Total Knowledge" into "the destiny of the human race".
In 1998, Maharishi Open University was founded by the Maharishi. It was accessible via a network of eight satellites broadcasting to every country in the world, and via the Internet.
The Maharishi also introduced theories of management, defence, and government programmes designed to alleviate poverty, and introduced a new economic development currency called the Raam. In 2000, the Maharishi began building administrative and teaching centres called "Peace Palaces" around the world, and by 2008 at least eight had been constructed in the US alone. The Maharishi Institute, an African university that is part of a group of schools around the world that are named after him, was founded in 2007 and uses his Transcendental Meditation technique in their teaching.
In 2001, followers of the Maharishi founded Maharishi Vedic City a few miles north of Fairfield, Iowa, in the United States. This new city requires that the construction of its homes and buildings be done according to the Maharishi Sthapatya Veda principles of "harmony with nature".
During a CNN interview in 2002, the Maharishi said "Transcendental meditation is something that can be defined as a means to do what one wants to do in a better way, a right way, for maximum results". His movement offered in-residence style TM advanced courses. By the time of his death, there were nearly 1,000 TM training centres around the world.
The Maharishi is credited with heading charitable organisations, for-profit businesses, and real estate Investments whose total value has been estimated at various times, to range from US$2 to US$5 billion. The real estate alone was valued in 2003 at between $3.6 and $5 billion. Holdings in the United States, estimated at $250 million in 2008, include dozens of hotels, commercial buildings and undeveloped land. The Maharishi "amassed a personal fortune that his spokesman told one reporter may exceed $1 billion". According to a 2008 article in The Times, the Maharishi "was reported to have an income of six million pounds". The Maharishi's movement is said to be funded through donations, course fees for Transcendental Meditation and various real estate transactions.
The Maharishi ordered a suspension of TM training in Britain in 2005 due to his opposition to prime minister Tony Blair's decision to support the Iraq War. The Maharishi said that he did not want to waste the "beautiful nectar" of TM on a "scorpion nation". He lifted the ban after Blair's resignation in 2007. During this period, skeptics were critical of some of the Maharishi's programmes, such as a $10 trillion plan to end poverty through organic farming in poor countries and a $1 billion plan to use meditation groups to end conflict.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in his farewell message on 11 January 2008, announced the establishment of the Brahmananda Saraswati Trust (BST), named in honour of his Teacher, to support large groups totalling more than 30,000 peace-creating Vedic Pandits in perpetuity across India. The Patron of the Brahmanand Saraswati Trust is the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math.
The Maharishi left a legacy that includes the revival of India's ancient spiritual tradition of meditation, which he made available to everyone. He is considered responsible for the popularisation of meditation in the west, something he accomplished by teaching Transcendental Meditation worldwide through a highly effective organization of his own development. The Maharishi is also credited with "the proposal of the existence of a unique or fourth state of consciousness with a basis in physiology" and the application of scientific studies to research on the physiological effects of Transcendental Meditation and the development of higher states of consciousness, areas previously relegated to mysticism. Partly because of this, Newsweek credited him with helping to launch "a legitimate new field of neuroscience." According to the Times of India his "unique and enduring contribution to humankind was his deep understanding of – and mechanics of experiencing – pure consciousness". A memorial building, the Maharishi Smarak, was inaugurated at Allahabad in February 2013.