On the Road to Rishikesh (and Beyond)

50 years ago, this month, The Beatles traveled to northern India to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation (TM) training course at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh.  They were joined by their wives and girlfriends, along with a number of friends and associates, including Mike Love (Beach Boys), Donovan, and Mia Farrow.

This was a seminal event in the 1960s because it helped put eastern spirituality on the world map, big time.  All the sudden Indian fashion was in vogue (especially Nehru jackets), you started hearing a lot of Eastern flavored songs some featuring the sitar, and it seemed like every rock band now had their own guru (The Who had Meher Baba, The Rascals followed Swami Satchidanada, etc.).

I was a 16-year-old high schooler living in New Orleans.  One day the postman delivered the latest edition of Life Magazine and it had a 10-page layout of color photos of the Beatles and everyone taken at the Mararishi’s ashram.  It looked really cool.  Whether something was cool or not was the barometer by which I judged just about everything.  And still do to some extent.

After seeing these photos, I decided almost immediately that I had to find a new religion and philosophy.  I suspect the Beatles to Indiae had a similar effect on many others of my generation.  George Harrison’s exploration of Indian philosophy and his promotion of Indian music and the sitar (through Ravi Shankar) had already opened the door.  The Beatles stay in Rishikesh pushed it wide open.  This one event was critical in popularizing Indian culture and meditation around the world.

If you don’t already know, then you should understand that The Beatles impact was not only musical, it was also social.

The philosophy I became most interest in was Buddhism, thanks also to the Beat Generation writers who were heavily into Zen.  My high school library didn’t have any books on Buddhism, but it did have a book of quotes by Mahatma Gandhi and that was the first book on Eastern spirituality I read.

Evidently, Ringo didn’t stay at the ashram for long, only 10 days.  Paul stayed for about a month, while George and John stayed 6 weeks.

For the Fab Four, the India trip was also about music.  Many of the songs on the “White Album” were written there, including one called “Sexy Sadie.”  In this song, John satirically expresses the group’s disillusionment with the Maharishi (who claimed to be celibate) after he hit on Mia Farrow.  (“Sexy Sadie, what have you done/You made a fool of everyone.”)  Now that the Maharishi had revealed himself to be a phony, the Beatles had no use for him.  According to Rolling Stone magazine when the Maharishi asked John Lennon why he was leaving the ashram, he said, “Well, if you’re so cosmic, you’ll know why.”

That didn’t end everyone’s interest in Eastern spiritually.  Its influence permeated many of John and Paul’s songs afterwards.  George continued to study the sitar and he found the teacher A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, under whose guidance began a practice of japa-yoga.  Donovan and went on to study with other Indian teachers and eventually developed an interest in Buddhism.  Only Mike Love stuck with the Maharishi, embracing TM to this very day.

As for me, I embraced Buddhism and eventually became the world-famous guru, Lama Dharma Rama Ding Dong.

To commemorate the 50-year anniversary of this event, here are some photos (click on them for a larger view).  I don’t know if any of them are from that Life article (I wished I’d kept it), but one or two could be.  I don’t recall the individual photos in the layout very well.  Following the pics are videos of two unreleased Beatles-era John Lennon songs, “The Happy Rishikesh Song” and “Child Of Nature (On the Road to Rishikesh),” the melody Lennon later used for “Jealous Guy”.  This video has lyrics and film from the India trip.

Mike Love in the back with white hat, Mia Farrow next the Maharishi, Donovan in yellow (mellow), John, George, Paul, girlfriends, wives.

 

John, after accidentally dropping his pick into his guitars, tries to shake it out. Happens to me all the time.

Jammin’ with Donovan
Viewing the photo in this size, it looks like they’re using cell phones!
Entrance to the Maharishi’s ashram today.

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How to Become a Healing Buddha

Healing Buddha is the heart of the Tibetan healing tradition.  I’ve stripped the Healing Buddha teachings and practice down to some basics and fashioned a practice that is fairly simple and effective.  For me anyway.

The goal is to become a Healing Buddha.  This simply means to awaken all the healing qualities within you.  Practice involves visualization meditation and recitation of mantra.   It’s not absolutely necessary to do both, but both are there for you.

In Medicine Buddha Sadhana, scholar and teacher Thrangu Rinpoche has this to say,

“The primary technique in the meditation consists of imagining ourself to be the Medicine Buddha, conceiving of yourself as the Medicine Buddha.  By replacing the thought of yourself as yourself with the thought of yourself as the Medicine Buddha, you gradually counteract and remove the fixation on your personal self.  And as that fixation is removed, the power of the seventh consciousness is reduced.  And as it is reduced, the kleshas or mental afflictions are gradually weakened, which causes you to experience greater and greater well-being in both body and mind.”

Buddhism divides the mind into eight consciousnesses.  The first five consciousnesses correspond to our senses, the sixth to our thoughts, and the eighth is the base-consciousness, where all our potential energies are stored.

The 7th or mano-consciousness (mano = mind) bridges the conscious and sub-conscious realms of the mind.  There is where illusions, particularly our false idea of a “self” originate.

The Healing Buddha is imaginary, of course.  We use the Healing Buddha as a symbol, an archetype, an image-guide.  To become a Healing Buddha is to manifest our Buddha-nature, to fully active all our inner qualities of compassion and wisdom.

According to the sutras, the Healing Buddha made twelve aspirations or vows that practitioners are encouraged to pledge themselves.  However, for us it is enough to generate bodhicitta, the thought of awakening.  Bodhicitta represents the aspirations of all Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and sages.

Visualization is an essential part of Healing Buddha practice.  The theory behind visualization is that by creating a picture in the mind of an icon, image or symbol and using it for single-minded contemplation, facilitates the actualization of the qualities represented.  Obviously, it is healing, wholeness, and compassion which are some of the quantities Healing Buddha represents.

At home, I often focus on a hanging scroll dharma mandala I made that displays the seed symbol for the Healing Buddha (right).  When away from home I have a little card with an image of the Healing Buddha that I can use.  Or, no matter where I am, I can just close my eyes and visualize.

At this point, though, you might wonder why go to all the trouble of visualizing buddhas and symbols when to simply sit, focus on your breath, and allow feelings of loving-kindness to arise should suffice.  The breath is an object of meditation, no different from focusing on a mandala or visualizing Healing Buddha.  The advantage visualization provides is that it helps us tap into one of our most powerful inner forces, the imagination.

Imagination plays a critical role in the creating of the false sense of ‘self’ as well as other illusions.  Imagination is also said to rest in the 7th consciousness.  So, with visualization, we use imagination as a counter-force, to reduce the power of flawed thinking that hinders the development of our positive inner qualities.

Lama Govinda in Creative Meditation says that the “power of creative imagination is not merely content with observing the world as it is [and] accepting a given reality.”  So when we talk about “seeing the true aspect of reality” we don’t mean just the mundane reality of our phenomenal world.  It also means going beyond our ordinary awareness of things.  Concentration on a image produced by the mind adds a new dimension of absorption and engagement.  Visualization gives our tool of meditation a little more heft.

It’s said that the root of the Healing Buddha’s power is his great compassion.  We can interpret that to mean that healing power comes from developing our own great compassion.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Ultimate Healing) tells us,

“Compassion is the best healer.  The most powerful healing comes from developing compassion for all other living beings, irrespective of their race, nationality, religious belief, or relationship to us.”

Healing Buddha practice is not limited to sickness, injury or death.  The universality of the teachings and practice makes it a useful method for transforming the mind and transcending all forms of suffering.

Here is a simple Healing Buddha meditation to use.  It is based on Medicine Buddha Sadhana by Ngawang Losang Tenpa Gyältsän, translated by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche.  The meditation can be done silently or while chanting the Healing Buddha mantra.

Visualize the Healing Buddha above the crown of your head.  Purifying rays of light pour down from the Healing Buddha’s heart and body, eliminating your sicknesses and afflictions, and their causes, all your negative thoughts and emotions.

Imagine your body completely filled with light, becoming clean and clear like crystal. Then visualize rays of this light radiating out in all directions, purifying the sicknesses and afflictions of all sentient beings.

Conclude the meditation and/or mantra chanting by visualizing the Healing Buddha melting into light which you absorb into your heart.

When I get into this whole-heartedly, it feels very powerful.

Healing Buddha Mantra: Tayatha Om Bekandze Bekandze Maha Bekandze Radza Samudgate Soha

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