John Lennon’s Impassioned Letters on the Value of Meditation
By Maria Popova
In February of 1968, a year and a half before their final photo shoot, the Beatles traveled to India in order to meet and study with the famous guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had pioneered Transcendental Meditation. They stayed in Rishikesh — a small village in the foothills of the Himalayas, considered the capital of yoga. Immersed in this peaceful community and nurtured by an intensive daily meditation practice, the Fab Four underwent a creative growth spurt — the weeks at Rishikesh were among their most fertile songwriting and composing periods, producing many of the songs on The White Album and Abbey Road.
This spiritual openness also manifested itself in how the Beatles communed with the world directly. John Lennon (October 9, 1940–December 8, 1980) penned some of his most impassioned letters while at Rishikesh, advocating for the creative and spiritual benefits of meditation. A number of them are included in The John Lennon Letters (public library) — an altogether scrumptious trove of the beloved Beatle’s love letters, memos, and correspondence with friends, fans, and bandmates.
In March of 1968, Lennon received a letter from a fan named Beth, asking for clarification on how Transcendental Meditation fits with the major religious traditions. He responded in a thoughtful and detailed two-page letter, which ends with the words jai guru dev, translated as “I give thanks to the Guru Dev” — a phrase that appears as a refrain in the Lennon classic “Across the Universe.”
Thank you for your letter and your kind thoughts. When you read that we are in India searching for peace, etc, it is not that we need faith in God or Jesus — we have full faith in them; it is only as if you went to stay with Billy Graham for a short time — it just so happens that our guru (teacher) is Indian — and what is more natural for us to come to India — his home. He also holds courses in Europe and America — and we will probably go to some of these as well — to learn — and to be near him.
Transcendental meditation is not opposed to any religion — it is based on the basic truths of all religions — the common denominator. Jesus said: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” — and he meant just that — “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” — not in some far distant time — or after death — but now.
Meditation takes the mind down to that level of consciousness which is Absolute Bliss (Heaven) and through constant contact with that state — “the peace that surpasses all understanding” — one gradually becomes established in that state even when one is not meditating. All this gives one actual experience of God — not by detachment or renunciation — when Jesus was fasting etc in the desert 40 days & nights he would have been doing some form of meditation — not just sitting in the sand and praying — although me it will be a true Christian — which I try to be with all sincerity — it does not prevent me from acknowledging Buddha — Mohammed — and all the great men of God. God bless you — jai guru dev.
A month later, he received a letter from an Indian fan, who described himself as a poor clerk and asked Lennon to send him money for a world trip so that he can discover the “huge treasure” necessary for achieving inner peace. (The history of celebrity is strewn with such requests, ludicrous though they may seem — Mark Twain was one of their earliest targets and fielded them with his characteristic wry wit.) Lennon politely refused the request and recommended that the man instead try transcendental meditation as a gateway to inner peace:
Dear Mr. Bulla,
Thanks for your letter. If every request like yours was granted — there would be no “huge treasure” as you call it. You say “peace of mind minus all other things on earth is equal to nothing” — this doesn’t make sense. To have peace of mind one would have to have all that one desires — otherwise where is the peace of mind?
Even a “poor” clerk can travel the world — as many people do — including friends of mine some of whom are at this academy now, all equals “poor.” All you need is initiative — If you don’t have this I suggest you try transcendental meditation through which all things are possible.
Jai guru dev
Complement The John Lennon Letters with Lennon’s illustrated poetry and prose, his handwritten to-do list, his philosophy on music and life, and his animated conversation with Yoko Ono about love, then revisit Jack Kerouac on how to meditate.
Published October 9, 2015