In accepting filmmaker David Lynch's invitation to play at a benefit concert in New York City's Radio City Music Hall to help fund the teaching of Transcendental Meditation (TM) to a million children, the two surviving mop-tops, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, reunited to reclaim their 1968 spiritual roots.
It was then that the most celebrated rock group in history traveled to India to meditate with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his Himalayan ashram in Rishikesh. "Say the word, and you'll be free," John, Paul, George, and Ringo had sung a few years earlier, and eventually the word became a mantra, a Vedic sound given to them by Maharishi and their fellow meditators by TM teachers like myself.
When I first learned to meditate, Maharishi predicted that those who practiced his technique just twice a day for twenty minutes would become enlightened. He approximated that it would take somewhere between five and eight years. I began TM on April 18, 1971, but I didn't start meditating regularly until January 1, 1972. After that, I almost never missed my twice-a-day meditation. And if I did, I usually managed to meditate at least once that day. I stopped using the technique sometime in 2000, nearly twenty years past the maximum eight-year prediction for enlightenment.
During one of his earliest public appearances, Maharishi described his view of enlightenment, which I came to share, and which millions of others who follow various spiritual teachers around the world still do. "Nothing from outside can stop a man from enjoying lasting peace and permanent joy in life," Maharishi said in 1955. When a meditator becomes enlightened, he explained, "all suffering will cease, all agony will go, and all peacelessness and misery of life will simply disappear."
Maharishi. who died last year at age 91, underestimated how long it would take, and what it would take, to bring people to enlightenment. This misjudgment might have partly been due to his utopian definition of an enlightenment that permanently frees us from all forms of suffering. But his teachings inspired me, his vision sustained me, his meditation expanded me, and I remain grateful. Maharishi wasn't infallible, just human.
As one noted expert on Jewish mysticism explains, even for an enlightened saint, a tzaddik, not every judgment is flawless. "Situations arise in which perfection is not possible, in which the very structure of reality and the relations between a person, the world and God are such that no perfect solution exists," Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz wrote. "In such a situation, even a tzaddik can reach an erroneous decision." This teaching is echoed in Ecclesiastes: "There is not one good man on earth who does what is best and doesn't err."
Instead of fixating on the attainment of an unattainable state of consciousness, where imagined gurus not only behave perfectly but see everything in the world as similarly perfect, spiritual realists experience both the serenity of impeccable inner silence alongside the emotional pain of this imperfect world.
"I do not trust the man who never weeps," said Swami Vivekananda, who in 1893 preceded Maharishi as one of the earliest Vedic masters to popularize Indian philosophy in the United States. This is a basic tenet of spiritual realism. Techniques like TM can take us to a place of inner spiritual peace, yet they will not stop us from crying over the suffering around us. Nor should they.
As Robert Kennedy reminded when quoting Aeschylus after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
He who does not weep over this world does not know this world. Yet letting go of our obsession with perfect happiness can liberate us. It can free us from the distraction of a constant search for an enlightenment that knows no pain.
Spiritual realism shows us that although the dream of a future blissful perfection is charming, the reality of the silent stillness of this very moment offers us a more modest joy, here and now.
The enlightenment that Maharishi promised may never rid us of our sufferings over the cruelties of man and the brutalities of nature. Yet meditation can still awaken us to an inner spiritual calm that we can readily access as we make our way through the emotional upheavals in this imperfect world of Korean nukes, al-Qaeda terror, and A.I.G. meltdowns. As Paul McCartney recently said, "In moments of madness, it has helped me find moments of serenity." Four decades after their Himalayan sojourn, the surviving Beatles' public return to Maharishi was easy because his teachings had never left them.
Steve Posner is the author of "Israel Undercover: Secret Warfare and Hidden Diplomacy in the Middle East." His latest book is "Spiritual Delights and Delusions: How to Bridge the Gap between Spiritual Fulfillment and Emotional Realities." Visit his website at steveposner.com