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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.
He died on Tuesday, three weeks after telling followers that his work was complete and retreating into silence. Over 50 years, he parlayed his meditaation techniques into a global empire that he controlled by video links from his headquarters on the forested grounds of a former Franciscan monastery.
"He had been saying he had done what he set out to do" and he wanted to dedicate his remaining days to studying the ancient Indian texts that underpin his movement, spokesman Bob Roth said late Tuesday.
Maharishi's teachings helped gain medical respectability for the ancient Hindu practice of mind control that he called transcendental meditation, or just TM.
Alex Kutai, chairman of the official local branch of TM, claims that more than 55,000 Israelis have learned the Maharishi's teachings. Around 60 families of especially ardent followers of TM founded and live in the Galilee village of Hararit.
"The Maharishi was a great teacher who gave humanity a wonderful tool to gain happiness and reduce suffering violence in the world. While it's sad that he's not with us anymore, we still have the knowledge he gave us to use forever," Kutai said.
Although Maharishi never visited Israel, Kutai said "He was very personally concerned about the situation here, and felt transcendental meditation could provide an answer to our problems."
The Israeli TM Association has staged several public events over the years, including a convention of several dozen "yogic flyers" during the Second Lebanon War in an attempt to create a shield of "pure consciousness" to protect the nation.
Maharishi 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 Maharishi would "get yours yet."
Maharishi insisted he had done nothing wrong and years later McCartney agreed with him. Deepak Chopra, a disciple of Maharishi's and a friend of George Harrison's, has disputed the Farrow story, saying 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 turned to larger themes, with grand designs to harness the power of group meditation to create world peace and to mobilize his devotees to banish poverty from the Earth.
Director David Lynch, creator of dark and violent films, lectured at college campuses about the "ocean of tranquility" he found in more than 30 years of practicing transcendental meditation.
Lynch said Maharishi had laid the groundwork for world peace, even if that was not immediately apparent from world affairs.
"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. Hang on for a little while longer, it's coming."
Some 5 million people devote 20 minutes every morning and evening to 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 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 kilometers north of Fairfield, Iowa. The city requires the construction of buildings according to design 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.
Ed Malloy, a TM practitioner and mayor of Fairfield, said Maharishi's followers in Iowa were spending Tuesday evening meditating and holding a "celebration of gratitude for everything he's given."
"History will view him as probably the most extraordinary man of all time... His mission in life was to uplift humanity," Malloy said.
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 Maharishi's plan to raise $10 trillion to end poverty by sponsoring organic farming in the world's poorest countries. They also scoffed at his notion that meditation groups, acting as psychic shock troops, can end conflict.
In 1986, two groups founded by his organization were sued in the US 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 January 12, 1917 - though he refused to confirm the date or discuss his early life.
In 1990 he moved onto the wooded grounds of a monastery in Vlodrop, about 200 km. 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.
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