THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a guru to the Beatles whose beaming, bearded face became an icon of 1960s hippie mysticism, has died at his Dutch home. He was thought to be 91.
His death Tuesday night came just three weeks after he told followers that his work was complete and retreated into silence. Over 50 years, he had parlayed his meditation techniques into a global empire that he controlled by video links from his headquarters on the forested grounds of a former Franciscan monastery in the Netherlands.
"It is a very poignant time because Maharishi is so beloved by millions of people," John Hagelin, one of his closest advisers, said Wednesday.
Maharishi's body is expected to be flown to India in coming days for a funeral in his home country, Hagelin said.
A group of 48 "ministers and rajas" led by a senior figure in Maharishi's movement, Maharaja Adhiraj Rajaraam, will take over his leadership roles, the group said in a statement.
Maharishi helped gain medical respectability for the ancient Hindu practice of mind control that he called transcendental meditation, or just TM.
He began teaching TM in 1955 and brought the technique to the United States in 1959. But the movement really took off after the Beatles attended one of his lectures in Wales in 1967 and visited his ashram in India in 1968 as they struggled to come to terms with the death of their manager Brian Epstein.
But Maharishi had a falling out with the rock stars after rumors emerged that he was making inappropriate advances on attendee Mia Farrow. John Lennon was so angry he wrote a bitter satire, "Sexy Sadie," in which he vowed that the Maharishi would "get yours yet."
The Maharishi insisted he had done nothing wrong and years later McCartney agreed with him. Deepak Chopra, a disciple of the Maharishi's and a friend of George Harrison's, has disputed the Farrow story, saying the Maharishi had become unhappy with the Beatles because they were using drugs.
With the help of celebrity endorsements, Maharishi — a Hindi-language title for Great Seer — made his interpretations of ancient scripture into the foundation of a multi-million-dollar business. His roster of famous meditators ran from Mike Love of the Beach Boys to Clint Eastwood and Chopra, a new age preacher.
In later years, Maharishi preached grand designs to harness the power of group meditation to create world peace and to mobilize his devotees to banish poverty from the earth.
"I studied with him back in the late '60s-1970s when world peace was important to those of us on college campus and Maharishi was bringing that knowledge of world peace," American follower Linda Mainquist-Orsatti said. "Not just individual peace and enlightenment but also world peace."
Director David Lynch, who has been meditating for 34 years told The Associated Press it helps him "in every aspect of life," including his creative work.
"The world appears in bad shape on the surface, but I compare it to a tree: there are yellow sickly leaves dropping off but the Maharishi has brought nourishment to the roots," Lynch said. "Hang on for a little while longer, it's coming."
Some 5 million people devoted 20 minutes every morning and evening reciting a simple sound, or mantra, and delving into their consciousness.
"Don't fight darkness. Bring the light, and darkness will disappear," Maharishi said in a 2006 interview, repeating one of his own mantras.
Donations and the $2,500 (euro1,702) fee to learn TM financed the construction of Peace Palaces, or meditation centers, in dozens of cities around the world. It paid for hundreds of new schools in India.
In 2001, his followers founded Maharishi Vedic City, a town of about 200 people a few miles north of Fairfield, Iowa, where buildings are designed according to principles set by Maharishi for optimum harmony with nature. Vedic City became the first all-organic city in 2005, banning the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers within the city limits.
Supporters pointed to hundreds of scientific studies showing that meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves concentration and raises results for students and businessmen.
Skeptics ridiculed his plan to raise $10 trillion (euro6.81 trillion) to end poverty by sponsoring organic farming in the world's poorest countries. They also scoffed at his notion that meditation groups, acting like psychic shock troops, can end conflict.
In 1986, two groups founded by his organization were sued in the U.S. by former disciples who accused it of fraud, negligence and intentionally inflicting emotional damage. A jury, however, refused to award punitive damages.
Over the years, Maharishi also was accused of fraud by former pupils who claim he failed to teach them to fly. "Yogic flying," showcased as the ultimate level of transcendence, was never witnessed as anything more than TM followers sitting in the cross-legged lotus position and bouncing across spongy mats.
Maharishi was born Mahesh Srivastava in central India, reportedly on Jan. 12, 1917 — though he refused to confirm the date or discuss his early life.
He studied physics at Allahabad University before becoming secretary to a well known Hindu holy man. After the death of his teacher, Maharishi went into a nomadic two-year silent retreat in the Himalayan foothills of northern India.
With his background in physics, he brought his message to the West in a language that mixed the occult and science that became the buzz of college campuses. He described TM as "the unified field of all the laws of nature."
Maharishi's trademark flowing beard and long, graying hair appeared on the cover of the leading news magazines of the day.
But aides say Maharishi became disillusioned that TM had become identified with the counterculture, and he spent more time at his ashram in Rishikesh in the Himalayan foothills to run his global affairs.
In 1990 he moved onto the wooded grounds of a monastery in Vlodrop, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of Amsterdam.
Concerned about his fragile health, he secluded himself in two rooms of the wooden pavilion he built on the compound, speaking only by video to aides around the world and even to his closest advisers in the same building.
In a statement, Indian spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said he would never forget the time he spent with Maharishi in his early days in India.
"Maharishi laid the foundation for a new world based on the knowledge of Vedas and spirituality," he said. "There was none like him and none shall ever be again."