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From the archive:

Guru takes Beatles to higher plane in Bangor

August 27, 1967: Hunter Davies accompanies the pop

group to a yoga retreat in search of enlightenment

from The Sunday Times, London

THE Beatles have given up drugs. This is not just because they talked yesterday for two hours in a first-class compartment between Euston and Bangor to a small Indian gentleman, or even because this morning the same gentleman went on to initiate them into the techniques of transcendental meditation. Giving up drugs was already happening to them. Now they are sure.

When Paul McCartney, George Harrison and John Lennon admitted they had taken drugs it received worldwide publicity. It is hoped that their being off them will be equally publicised. It will be interesting to see if the millions whom they are supposed to influence — that’s when they’re doing anything which the older generation considers bad — will be affected by their doing good.

It could be the end of the hippies. After all, from San Francisco to Tottenham Court Road, by their beads, bangles and acid, the Beatles have been the heroes of all hippies. Is the next teenage cult going to be a positive one for good living? Are the drop-out, freak-out negative days over? It’s ironic that all the acres of heavy print, from leader writers, medics and lawyers, about the wrongs of drug taking didn’t do the slightest bit of good. The Beatles’ reasons for giving up drugs are simply spiritual. They are looking for spiritual fulfilment.

“It was an experience we went through,” says Paul, “and now it’s over we don’t need it any more. We think we’re finding other ways of getting there.”

The Indian gentleman is called the Maharishi. More than 300 of his British followers are gathered this weekend at the University College of North Wales for five days of meditation. Their meditations were rather shattered when out of the blue the four Beatles, plus Mick Jagger, arrived pursued by hundreds of fans, police and press.

The decision was sudden. It happened only yesterday morning. The Beatles had gone to a public lecture given by the Maharishi the night before. He invited them on his meditation course in Bangor. But their interest in Indian religion is not sudden. It’s been happening for the past year. They already have some knowledge of yoga philosophy and have been reading and taking instruction for the past six months, looking for one good wise man to explain everything.

It was planned to be a secret private weekend when we got to Euston for the 3.05 yesterday. But it wasn’t. There was such chaos that Cynthia Lennon was left behind, caught in the crowds and held back by a policeman who thought she was a fan. It didn’t look as if Ringo would make it either. His wife Maureen was due out today with a new baby. “I rang her,” said Ringo. “But she said I had to go. I hadn’t to miss this.”

“Cyn and I were thinking of going to Libya,” said John, “till this came up. Libya or Bangor? Well there was no choice was there.” Pattie Boyd, Mrs George Harrison, was clutching a bag of apples and Marianne Faithfull, Jagger’s girlfriend, clutched a carrier bag. George lit some joss sticks and John asked if the Maharishi would turn out to be another version of what they already knew: “You know, like some are on EMI and some Decca, but it’s really still records.”

George, who is the most knowledgeable, said he didn’t think so. He felt this was going to be it. He has been the leader in studying Indian religion since he took up the sitar. He’s been studying and searching for a long time. He went to Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco to see the hippies, but was disappointed. Last week he went to Cornwall and climbed a mountain with a yogi but nothing happened.

They were ushered into the Maharishi’s compartment where he sat cross-legged on a white sheet laid out on a seat by one of his followers. This is his final world tour before he retires to India. Bangor was pandemonium. But amid all the thousands of shrieking teenagers there were huddles of genteel middle-aged ladies clutching flowers waiting to welcome the Maharishi.

At the college his 300 followers, members of his International Meditation Society, were of the same genteel officer-class background, all clutching flowers. It was surprising to realise that while teenage flower power had all the publicity there are many ordinary adults similarly looking for spiritual guidance.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi died in 2008. Hunter Davies, 74, is the author of an authorised biography of the Beatles. He still writes for The Sunday Times

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