During my late teens, a few of us were sitting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Switzerland. Maharishi was being briefed about some problems in the Transcendental Meditation movement in America. He said, "Once you are at the top, the peak, there is no plateau. So whoever reaches the peak has to come down." I quipped, "There is no competition for depth." At this, Maharishi chuckled with a twinkle in his eye.
I have never seen someone as deep as Maharishi. Perhaps that is the reason why everyone-- young and old, scientists and simpletons, could relate to him. When Maharishi would meet with Baba Muktananda or Anandamayi Ma, people would wait to hear philosophical discussions. However, to everyone's amazement, they would just exchange pleasantries -- it was more a joyful occasion to be together. They never discussed about atma or paramatma.
Maharshi had great enthusiasm and would speak for hours at a stretch. Sometimes he would speak on abstract Vedanta or the unified field theory of modern science, concepts that many would not be able to grasp. Nevertheless, his presence would hold people there.
Though seemingly engaged in mundane activities all day, he always maintained such a depth of dispassion. Maharishi did not care for praise or criticism. He was gracious with all saints and swamis, even those critical of him. Whenever someone would express concern about bad publicity, he would reply with a smile, "Badnam to kab ke ho gaye."
Maharishi always dreamt big and made grand plans to such an extent that people would think it was insane. Perhaps this was a technique to transcend the logical mind. He would quote the Bhagwat Gita, "Yo Buddhe Para Tattva Saha," (The self is beyond the intellect). Once, just a day before the auspicious day of Akshaya Tritiya (the third day after new moon in the month of May), Maharishi summoned the Vedic pundits. He asked them to depart at once and perform Bhoomi Puja (ground breaking ceremony) to establish new Vedic centres all across India. Though the organisation had no land in any of these areas, he insisted that Bhoomi Puja be done immediately. He would never take 'no' for an answer. Though such tasks would seem mind boggling and appear completely impractical, it would help a sadhak, if he rightly understood, to move beyond doership. He would want people to act at once and his deadline was yesterday!
Maharishi often said, "Hathi ke do daant, ek dikhane ke liye aur doosra khane ke liye," (An elephant has different sets of teeth, one for show and one to chew with). As an acharya in public life, he would speak about meditating to achieve world peace -- but to those very close to him, he spoke in terms of maya, pure consciousness and the Vedas. While his scientific discourses nurtured the intellect, in his heart, Maharishi was a pure Vedantist, soaked in Advaita.
Spiritual seekers often make affirmations such as "Aham Brahmasmi," (I am the self, in the name of self-awareness or spiritual realisation). Maharishi was against such affirmations, explaining that these were only at the level of thought, which is at the gross level, not in the realm of experience. His expression of Vedanta was so exquisite and subtle that only those who could perceive the subtlety could appreciate it. He would say, "Like oil is present in the seed, Vedanta is present in the Vedas."
Meditation is the gift he gave to the world. Fifty years ago, meditation was not the household name that it is today. He popularised meditation and the Vedas. Though many would find it difficult to digest his style of functioning, his unique contribution to the field of spirituality remains unparalleled.
It was not always easy to be around Maharishi. He had his own way of explaining and interpreting the Vedas, which many scholars would find hard to accept. Only one who practised meditation and had a deep understanding of consciousness could appreciate it. He often said that being with the Guru is like being in a cocoon -- you are completely protected in the Guru's aura, and you emerge as a butterfly soaring high.
Maharishi was a unique combination of an emperor and an ascetic, a perfect disciple and a Jagadguru, a modern scientist and a deep traditionalist.
Sri Sri Ravishankar is the founder of the Art of Living Foundation