The Beatles’ fascination with Indian guru and “spiritual adviser” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was dismissed by John Lennon’s aunt in a revealing letter to a fan of the group.
Mimi Smith, who brought up Lennon as a child in Liverpool, wrote: “I don’t understand why they need an Indian, or India to meditate. That can be done here without any fuss. The basic teachings of their church will give them all they seem to be looking for.”Her reply was part of her regular correspondence with prolific letter writer Eileen Read and was sent on September 7 1967 – less than a fortnight after the death of the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. The band had taken a keen interest in the teachings of the Maharishi, the founder of the transcendental meditation movement, and had joined him at a conference in Bangor, North Wales, in August 1967, along with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones and his then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull.
After listening to a lecture on the form of silent mantra meditation, the Beatles held a press conference at the venue in which they renounced the use of drugs. They cut short their stay when the death was announced of Mr Epstein, aged 32, at his London home following an overdose of sleeping pills. Both topics were covered in Mrs Smith’s letter which goes on sale at auction in Liverpool next weekend.
She wrote: “I haven’t seen John. The sad loss of Brian has upset them greatly & altered their plans. He will be sorely missed as a good friend and advisor to them. It was a great shock to me also, I knew him very well.” Referring to the Beatles’ comments on drugs, Mrs Smith told Miss Read: “The boys have not ‘given up drugs’ simply because they have never been drug takers. They tried L.S.D because there was so much talk about it. They, at least John will not do so again. I’m sure they have decided against any form of stimulant.” Mrs Smith went on to say she hoped the Beatles’ interest in meditation did not mean they were ‘looking for the Lost Horizon’–thought to be a reference to the novel by James Hilton which depicts the fictional utopian land of Shangri-La.
The Beatles travelled to India in Febuary 1968 for a spiritual reawakening through meditation, but following allegations of sexual misconduct by the Maharishi they said later that year the association with him had been a “public mistake”.
John’s aunt, who was known for her sharp criticism of his love life and musical ambitions, also told Miss Read she was not impressed with the gypsy caravan bought for John’s son Julian’s fourth birthday and featured in Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. She wrote: “I haven’t seen the caravan for Julian. I don’t in any case think much of the idea.” The letter and dated envelope, written at her bungalow in Sandbanks, Poole, which Lennon bought her, is among various lots on sale at the Beatles Memorabilia Auction at the Unity Theatre on Saturday August 25.
Also on sale is an original LP set of the Lost Lennon Tapes, a rare American radio documentary series with a three-hour premiere and 218 one-hour episodes.