BY BURT CHOJNOWSKI
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the biggest influence on my life.
I first met Maharishi years ago in 1972 when he was the age I am now. It has been amazing to see what Maharishi has accomplished since then. I first met Maharishi on the island of Majorca off the coast of Spain. When he came to the hotel where I was working, after taking his customary week of silence to begin the New Year, someone was playing a viola as he walked into the room. Everyone else was silent and waiting to give him a flower, as usual. It was sublime. That was the year when the groundwork was laid for the World Plan and I got to be a part of it.
I had arrived a week earlier on two days’ notice to be a chef on the second teacher-training course held in Majorca. When I arrived, everyone was already expecting me and happy that I had come because they had heard about me from people like Charlie Donahue and Alaric Arenander. I guess I had a bit of a reputation because I had started the first natural food restaurant in the Midwest, in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1970, and had come to cook in exchange for teacher training course credit. I had a ball.
Most people came to a teacher-training course without kids, but we had the families and kids in my hotel, including Mike Love’s and Al Jardine’s families. I used to play my banjo and sing to them and their kids. I had a great crew of people from Canada, England, New Zealand, and the U.S, plus our Spanish waiters and waitresses. I was exposed to amazing food that I never seen before. One of the guys responsible for housing in our hotel was a slim Australian chap named Bevan Morris.
After a few weeks, I also volunteered to run the audiotape recorder and got to sit right in front of Maharishi every time he recorded his talks at our hotel, the Bahia del Este, in Calla Millor. He attributed the good feeling in the hotel to the fact that everyone was well fed and happy with the food, and he gave me credit for that.
After we moved to Fiuggi, Italy that spring, I set up a few more kitchen staffs and then began my TM teacher-training course. Maharishi saw something in me, and after a personal interview in Fiuggi, he invited me join his World Plan Executive Council as an Executive Director. This was a month before my 21st birthday. This was a bit surprising, not only because of my age, but this was a time when he routinely advised TM teachers who were college students to go back to school to complete their college degrees. He said he wanted people around him who were “self-sufficient.” I was honored he included me in that group. I was the youngest by several years.
During the rest of the 70s, I worked with Maharishi closely on many projects. He made it clear that I reported directly to him. He gave me as much responsibility as I was willing to take. He had me train teachers, set up a TV station, and help organize an SCI (Science of Creative Intelligence) symposium.
While we were creating the course materials for the SCI Course, I was responsible for the courses on higher states of consciousness. I think they were lessons number seven and twenty-one. Part of the task was asking Maharishi every question I could think of so we could include the Q&A in the course materials. With the help of others, including many of the original MIU Faculty, I got to ask Maharishi volumes of questions about transcendental consciousness, cosmic consciousness, and unity consciousness. Maharishi said this was the most important part of the course and allowed as much time as necessary for the questions and answers. And, during that discussion, he started to discuss what was beyond Unity: Brahman Consciousness.
I was able to spend time with Maharishi in Majorca, Fiuggi, Humboldt, Lake Tahoe, Interlaken, Weggis, Murren, and Seelisberg. I sat in on countless meetings. One thing that people may not know about Maharishi is how much he liked to hear everyone’s ideas and encouraged contribution from the people around him. He was always asking, “What does everyone think?”
I saw how hard Maharishi worked, especially the time we spent together in Italy, California, and later in Switzerland. He encouraged me to stay with him as much as possible and “absorb his mind” because this was to be my “108 training.” There were times when it was difficult to keep up. During Humboldt ’72 and at the course in Lake Tahoe he was recording all of the Rig Veda and Sama Veda, and he was also working on his commentaries of the Brahma Sutras and planning for the launch of MIU and TM centers in every part of the world. There was a lot to absorb.
I spent three months at Lake Tahoe with him in an intimate setting late in 1972. Maharishi loved it there and described it as one of the most beautiful lakes on earth. I concur with that. He didn’t want to leave because this had been such a productive time for him and he kept extending the course. They had even let the kitchen staff go at one point and everyone begged me to jump back in the kitchen and feed everyone. Maharishi laughed when he heard that. I was the last one to see him in his room before he left to catch a flight for Europe and, as I bowed, he held my head tenderly in his hands. At that moment, I felt the whole universe open up for me.
Maharishi always treated me with great gentleness and affection. I was initially shy around him and Maharishi would occasionally ask to see me to go over my plans or, would sometimes start chatting when I offered him a flower. Once, when I told him I wasn’t sure what my plans were, he laughed and laughed. He really thought it was funny. He explained to me: “It didn’t really matter, because if you wanted to go to any point on the globe [he had one in the room to show me], all you had to do was start moving and you would end up there, no matter what direction you start.” He loved to make me laugh, and as my confidence grew, I returned the favor. I would make an occasional wise crack and he would light up and laugh out loud.
He was extremely kind to my parents when I introduced them to him in Chicago in 1973, especially after my father gave him a hard time for not including more people of color or low incomes in the movement.
A lot of people have asked me if I really gave a flower to Maharishi with a pumpkin on my head. It is true. I had won the Halloween custom contest in Lake Tahoe and everyone insisted I show the pundits who were there, Brahmarishi Devarat, and, of course, Maharishi. The pundits thought it was really funny. I don’t think Maharishi thought it all that funny. They had turned down the lights and I had a flashlight that was beaming out the pumpkin head’s third eye.
For many weeks, in Lake Tahoe, I had the seat on the right of Maharishi in the large living room at the Fleur du Lac estate. Vernon Katz, who was helping with the Brahma Sutra commentaries, was on his left. When Brahmacharya Satyanand, who was another disciple of Guru Dev, came to the room, I gave up my seat and sat on the floor or nearby.
I was able to ask Maharishi’s advice on all kinds of personal plans, such as should I become a lawyer? “No.” “Study business administration,” he advised me. When I was the first person to be accepted to a graduate school with a MIU degree in 1975, including MBA programs at Northwestern and University of Wisconsin, Keith Wallace was really excited about and couldn’t wait for me to tell Maharishi. Maharishi surprised us all by saying, “No, don’t bother. MIU will have a graduate school.” That became the start of the idea for graduate programs and a university of management at MIU.
Maharishi always liked to hear about my achievements, and for several years I submitted monthly reports while I was in the field. One time, on a conference call from MIU Santa Barbara, I got to report that we were going to put a SCI television station transponder (transmitter) on top of the Sears Tower in Chicago. At the time, the Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world. I had actually walked outside on top of the building to check it out. Maharishi exclaimed, “Broadcasting infinity from the tallest of man’s achievements will make the angels happy.” You can imagine how happy Maharishi was when four years later, I let him know that the technology existed for him to broadcast infinity via satellite to anywhere in the world.
When Maharishi realized I was at MIU in Santa Barbara in 1974, he invited me to do my “forest academy” in Switzerland and bring all the other TM teachers who were students with me. Boy, was I popular.
We were in Interlaken for two weeks and then moved to Weggis on Lake Lucerne. Maharishi invited me to move into the hotel where he was staying. But when I checked at the front desk, there were no rooms. I rode the elevator up to his room, to tell him the situation. When the elevator door opened, he was waiting to get in. He was getting ready to leave for a few days to visit a teacher-training course somewhere in Europe. When I told him no room was available, Maharishi casually pointed over his shoulder and said, “Why not take this room?” Everybody around him was surprised because that was his room. I thought it a very kind gesture and didn’t think that it would actually happen. But later that afternoon, Tom Factor helped me move in and pack up Maharishi’s things to make room for me. And when Maharishi came back a few days later, I thought they would move me out. But he moved into the extra room he had at the other end of the hall and I stayed. Maharishi had let me have the bedroom of the suite where he had all of his meetings for the next several weeks. When I finished my program, I would come out to the living room of the suite to a group of 20 or 30 people, and have Maharishi interrupt his meeting and ask, “Was it good?”
Maharishi had me rounding in the same hotel with the Ph.D. in Vedic Science group he had just created. But he had left to go to a teacher-training for a week or two and the Ph.D. group kept waiting for him to return. Since I was planning to meet up with Maharishi in Murren, Switzerland, everyone on the course asked me to encourage Maharishi to come. I took the train, bus, and tram up to Murren from Lake Lucerne. It was early May, but as I passed through the clouds and arrived in Murren in the evening, it was snowing. I felt as I had magically entered a different world. I found Mahrishi’s hotel and I approached him after sitting through a long meeting about posters, charts, and lots of administrative details. I passed along the message to him that the Vedic Science course was missing him. He looked at me, and with longing said, “They miss me? I miss them way more than they miss me!”
Another time, after I became a Governor, I was traveling to Minneapolis during a three-month drought and twelve inches of rain fell as soon as I arrived in town. When Maharishi heard about this he said to me, “[Since] you control the laws of nature… you can do anything.”
Several times I was approached about taking on an administrative role in the TM movement, Maharishi always said without hesitation, “No. Don’t get stuck in administration. Work on expansion.” Then, as was his habit with me, he would always think of something new for me to work on.
When the Maharishi Effect was discovered in early 1975, Maharishi wanted Governor Robert Ray of Iowa to be the first to know about it. There was a lot of discussion about who to send, whether it should be a professor or scientist. Instead, Maharishi chose me. Keith Wallace and a few other people went with me for support. I didn’t want all the discussion to be on the drop in crime rate, and that was when I suggested to Governor Ray that, “when 1 percent of Iowans meditate, there would not only be a drop in crime rate, there would be an increase in the corn rate.”
Thank you, Maharishi, for so many blessings. Thank you for holding me so close and giving me a chance to absorb your mind.
Jai Guru Dev