EXCLUSIVE PLW EXCERPT
You Need Is Love
IN HER BOOK ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE: AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT of When Spirituality Spread From the East to the West, Nancy Cooke de Herrera tells the amazing story of how a blue-blood society mother of four began a love affair with India and became a pioneer at the forefront of the spiritual movement in the West.
1968 found her at the ashram in Rishikesh catering to a very psychedelic famous foursome, the Beatles. As the Maharishi's confidante, de Herrera was selected to take care of John, Ringo, Paul and George's every need. De Herrera catered not only to the most popular band of all time, but also to sisters Mia and Prudence Farrow, the musician Donovan and Beach Boy Mike Love.
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE offers an eyewitness account of these varied stars' experiences amidst this pivotal period in cultural history.
The Beatles Invade the Ashram
Our first weeks were spent meditating for increasing periods of time, reading Maharishi’s books, Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita and The Science of Being and Art of Living, and attending classes three times daily. The afternoon lecture was an explanation of the discourse between Lord Krishna and the warrior, Arjuna, the central action of the Gita. We gathered around Maharishi under the trees, like children listening to a grandparent telling fairy tales. These were enchanted hours, the only sounds other than Maharishi’s voice came from animals and birds in the forest—an occasional raucous call of a peacock, a bleating from the kitchen goat, the chattering of monkeys, or the crashing sound of a large beast pushing through the underbrush—possibly a tiger or an elephant.
Maharishi believes Indians became a passive race through a misinterpretation of the Gita, the Hindu Bible. With great care and sensitivity, Maharishi unrolled his knowledge of the mechanics of life and the Shankara tradition as important points came up in the scripture.
No outsiders were allowed into the lectures as they would have interfered with the steady raising of our group consciousness.
“I cannot give you knowledge,” he said. “I must bring your conscious level up to the point where wisdom will flow out of me. This is what will happen in this course.”
Each night he asked for a show of hands to illustrate how many hours of meditation we were accumulating. After a few days at the ashram, Maharishi had instructed us to meditate four or five hours a day, and he gradually lengthened these periods.
Whenever someone fell behind in his hours, he never criticized us for anything but complimented those who were accomplishing the most. If someone asked a stupid question, we would all laugh, but he was likely to encourage the asker with, “We must understand this point from all sides. We can easily be fooled by our senses, but we are never fooled by our intuition if we develop it and learn to trust it. This will come from long meditation.”
The main social hour was held after the evening lecture. Most of us went to the kitchen to get our thermoses filled and have a cup of something hot to drink. The musicians in the group usually sat around the dining area composing and singing.
One day Maharishi called me to his house. He dropped the bombshell, “The Beatles and some of their companions will be here next week. I am counting on you, Nancy, to help me get Block Six fixed up for them.” He had seen my room, and at the time commented, “Ah, with little you are learning to do more.” No wonder he was in such a festive mood. It was an honor that he was sharing this with me.
What fun, was my immediate reaction, but the doing was something again. The first part of my job was to teach my raw, untrained work crew how to clean. They would pick up a filthy rag and make the bathroom fixtures dirtier. Starting from scratch, I made the best use of the two or three Hindi words I knew as I literally grabbed them by the collars to get them to do what I wanted. If I ordered the floors swept, I had to teach them how to sweep first. Then, after they had swept all the dirt into the flower patch running around the porch, I made them take all the refuse out from around the flowers. If I asked them to spread and tack a blanket to a wall, I had to measure it for them, or it would certainly be out of place.
I needed patience to work with these workers. I remembered telling Maharishi I lacked patience; maybe that was the reason for giving me this job. There was a lesson in humility also.
One may think the caste system is dead in India. Not at all. For example, these workers would refuse to clean a toilet; that was a job for the untouchables, the Harijans, the lowest caste in India. And if none were available, they would stand by and watch me do it.
Although I was a strict taskmaster to these poor, tattered-looking men, they all remember me to this day. Whenever I visit the ashram, like little children they rush to greet me with flowers saying, “Jai Memsahib!” (“Hail Boss!”).
So, with patience and perseverance, slowly Block Six came together. Maharishi ordered a lot of special items brought from the village. Now the rooms had carpets completely covering the cement floors, mirrors and fabric hung on the walls, and there were thin foam mattresses and spreads on the beds. The bathrooms had tubs and showers, some of which actually worked in a primitive fashion. The closets had curtains with hangers inside. When the celebrities arrived, they would be comfortable and have no idea of what had been accomplished for them. It wasn’t anything like the Rishikesh Hilton, the press later called it, but by the standard of the other blocks, it looked like a palace.
Maharishi was thrilled with Block Six, “You have done the impossible, Nancy. You have made something out of nothing!”
Then one morning, the third week in February, Maharishi made the announcement that the first group of Beatles and their friends were arriving that afternoon. “Please remember, I have offered these young people a quiet refuge from being celebrities. I promised them they would not be molested in any way by news seekers. Please do not have any cameras near them, do not ask for their autographs, and treat them no differently than anyone else here.”
I wished he would take his own advice. He had even planned a private dining area for them. Actually, no one was that interested in the celebrities. We were more interested in the wisdom Maharishi had to offer, and the announcement came as a surprise to no one. The minute we had started on the “beautification program,” everyone knew it was for someone very special; who else could it be but The Beatles?
There were mixed emotions in the group as to the merits of the celebrities’ impending arrival. Also, lacking information, we didn’t know if it was going to be a quick visit or a longer stay. “Well, there goes our peace and quiet,” was the general opinion, except for the younger members who were thrilled to be in the same place as The Beatles!
About 5 P.M. I heard cars drive down the road strictly prohibited from use during the course in order to protect the quiet for “Meditators Row.” Genie and I watched as several young men in long black coats descended, followed by three young women. On top of the cars were sitars, guitars, and all sorts of psychedelic colored bags.
They had to be The Beatles! I wondered which ones, as I didn’t know them by sight. We’d find out at evening lecture.
At dinner I was told it was John Lennon and George Harrison who had arrived with their wives. Naturally, there was a sense of excitement as we entered the lecture hall. I noticed the front row of seats roped off. I took a place in the second row and waited. Everyone was seated when John and George walked in with Maharishi. Both men wore long gray robes and hoods with tassels hanging down their backs.
They certainly were attention-getters. No one said a word or made a move. Once seated, Maharishi welcomed them from his platform sofa and then went on with his lecture as though nothing unusual had happened.
Sitting directly behind them, I looked straight at George Harrison’s shiny hair, clean and beautifully cut in its long, shoulder-length fashion. The delicate girl next to him was his wife, Patty. She was the one who had originally led the group to Maharishi. Next to her was her look-alike sister Jenny Boyd. The third girl was John Lennon’s wife, Cynthia. Although wearing glasses, she was the prettiest of the three. Then came John, who looked like a stern schoolteacher with his granny glasses. His white skin had an unhealthy tinge of gray. During the lecture his hands never stopped moving; he seemed to be doodling. Later I learned he’d been a heavy drug user, especially LSD, but was now off drugs. He undoubtedly had a lot of tension on his nervous system.
My mind went back to the only other time I had seen these two boys and the rest of the Beatle foursome. It was at Dodger Stadium with my daughter and 55,000 other howling young people. I never heard a note of their music over the din! They were brought in by armored truck and taken out by helicopter. I had asked María Luisa, “How do you know if you like their singing? You never heard it.” Now, here I was, sitting not more than two feet away from two of them.
María Luisa would be so excited with my news. I tried to notice every detail possible so I’d have more to write. John’s Liverpudlian accent was a bit hard on the ears. From their spoken words, the girls appeared to be more cultured than the boys.
A third man accompanied them. I found out later he was their road manager, Malcolm Evans. Maybe because he was heavy-set and had a businessman’s haircut, he seemed older than the two famous young men, who were very slight.
George looked around at the other students with a pleasant smile on his face. John stared straight ahead as though he were alone in the hall. After the lecture was over, everyone left the course as always, going over to the kitchen to fill their hot water bottles and thermoses. I was very proud of the way we all behaved. It was as though nothing new had occurred. Maharishi must have been pleased.
The next morning a message came for me to come to Maharishi’s house. That was exciting. I hoped I was going to meet The Beatles. When I arrived, the newcomers were there.
“Come in, come in, and meet our new guests,” he cordially called out to me. “Nancy is one of my liaisons with the students. If you have any problems, I want you to come directly to me, but if she can help with any of your needs, just ask her,” and he went on to tell them which room I occupied. I was delighted with the turn of events. Of course I would help them!
They were very friendly. Immediately, the girls asked me about getting some clothes made. We made plans to do some shopping in Rishikesh.
Maharishi was so happy. He gave out such energy and joy. What a compliment that The Beatles actually came to his ashram. Paul McCartney was due in a few days. He was seeing a bit of India before reporting in to the course. Nothing was said about Ringo. I asked Patty later, and she said he didn’t think he could make it. But, to have three of the world-famous quartet was incredible!
The celebs seemed happy with their rooms. They indicated that they didn’t want to take their meals alone, that they would eat with the rest. Evidently the casual reception had reassured them that they would not be bothered by the other students.
That afternoon The Beatles, their women, and I set off across the river with Raghvendhra, one of the head Brahmacharis, in tow as interpreter. George wore a shirt that spelled out in flowers, “All you need is love.” John’s pants were multicolored stripes, accented by a wildly-printed shirt. Nothing quiet about the boys. They admired my Punjabe costume. “Take us where we can get some of those.” It was quite thrilling to be complimented by The Beatles.
The three girls wore long, slim dresses under their overcoats. It was the last of February, still winter in India, and crossing the Ganges one felt the cold humidity creep through.
It didn’t seem possible that the ramshackle city of Rishikesh would have much to offer the shoppers, but in an hour’s time our arms were full of purchases—colorful fabrics, saris, long sleeveless vests, thin embroidered kurtas (Indian overblouses), swaths of plush, cheap velvet, and Kashmiri shawls. I’m sure the merchants unloaded a lot of merchandise they figured would never sell.
John and George were decisive shoppers; they knew what they wanted and paid the price asked. The girls were supportive, but the boys made the purchases. They refused to barter, even though Raghvendhra told them it was expected. They especially loved the Khadi shop and all its handspun fabrics. Even John dropped his cynical expression and became excited at the wealth of exotic fabrics. He picked the brightest. Pointing to the gold plush cloth covered with red dots he proclaimed, “I’ll make me a coat out of this one.”
What fun it was for them to leisurely shop around, no one molesting them in any way, no one suspecting that they were special. For the time being, they were completely offstage. As for me, I had to keep pinching myself. Was I really here shopping with two of the most famous personalities in the world?
Several days later, after our shopping trip, costumes began to emerge from the tailor’s tent, which were to influence fashion trends of the world for a decade. At first, the tailor, whose creations were to have more impact on the world than Dior or Balenciaga, was completely confused. George and John were using women’s saris for their shirts, and John did use the red and orange velvet for a long coat. It was wild!
The girls used men’s dhotis (white cloths wrapped around the waist and brought up through the legs) to fashion pajamas, while saris were turned into long, flowing dresses. Long shirts hung below sleeveless vests, accompanied by pajama-like, baggy pants. On The Beatles it looked good—and comfortable. Other course members started to copy their zany styles. Most of the men were sporting beards by now, and soon it was difficult to tell a Beatle from a chela.
Patty and her sister Jenny were very chatty and friendly; Cynthia Lennon seemed depressed and quiet. I wondered what it must be like to be the wife of a Beatle. Obviously she wasn’t handling it well, even though the other girls explained that she’d known the group the longest.
The most outgoing was Mal Evans, the road manager; he loved the whole show. One day he asked me if I’d like to drive into Delhi with him and Raghvendhra to pick up Paul McCartney. It was tempting, but I decided to save my next request for going in to pick up my son Rik, who was arriving shortly. He had taken a sabbatical from studies before going on to architectural school. I could imagine María Luisa’s, “Oh, Mom, how could you refuse?” I was a bit concerned about myself. Everything seemed more tempting than staying in my rooms meditating. Maharishi was going to have a problem with me.
Soon the world press appeared at the locked upper gate. With small effort they broke the lock. At this same moment Maharishi arrived. He was quiet but firm when he requested, “Please, we will receive you after a little time with the course—then the interviews will be more meaningful. We will send for you and give you two full days to interview everyone.” He finally dismissed them. I think The Beatles were very happy at the way it was done. That afternoon both George and John and their wives came to the afternoon lecture. George asked intelligent questions. The girls looked terrific in their colorful robes, a mad mosaic of color. Everyone complimented them and they seemed pleased. They appeared more relaxed around the other students.
When Paul McCartney arrived he brought a total surprise. It was Ringo Starr, who said he could only stay for ten days at the longest. Paul was also accompanied by a slim, willowy red-haired girl he introduced as Jane Asher, a British actress and his fiancee. He made it clear that they would share the same quarters. George warned me, “Prepare for rain—it rains wherever Ringo is.”
Ringo was small and just as much of a Rumpelstiltskin as his pictures made him out to be. One’s first impression was of a big nose pushed along by vitality. Paul was outgoing and friendly. He seemed delighted to catch up with his team. Maharishi was the happiest of them all—he had all four Beatles as his guests. What a catch! It rained that night, but it didn’t dampen my spirits—every day got more terrific.
“Do you mean that Maharishi condones Paul and that actress sharing a room?” asked an indignant Genie, who was a supporter of Moral Rearmament, a Christian movement with strict moral values. “Do you feel that is a good example for the rest of the course members?”
“Maharishi’s eyes are on far more important events than who is sleeping with whom,” I countered, in spite of being a bit baffled myself. “He isn’t going to treat us like children. We are responsible for our own behavior,” I reminded her. “Don’t forget Maharishi’s definition of sin—it involves an action which is ‘life destructive.’ I don’t think it’s ‘life destructive’ for Paul and Jane to share a room. Neither are married, so who are they hurting?” But her Moral Rearmament training was too deeply imbedded; I didn’t make an impression.
When the world press found out that all four Beatles were at the ashram, reporters from all parts of the globe flocked to Rishikesh. Now there was no holding them back with a polite little request. Security guards stood by the gates.
Several of us pleaded with Maharishi, “You must prepare some material to hand out to the press. After five hours in taxis, crossing the river by boat, and climbing the hill in the heat of the day, all this, and then to be turned away with nothing! You can’t do it, Maharishi. They have to file something. After all the expense, they’ll be in trouble if they get nothing.”
He agreed; the printers would put something together. Later, thinking it over, he felt an explanation given at the gate would be enough to make them understand why they could not enter the ashram. He was looking at the situation from his level! The press looked at it from their own. No press material was prepared. I reminded Maharishi of my PR background, and offered to put together a press release, but he dismissed me.
“I promised The Beatles they would not be molested by the press or anyone else. They are enjoying being away from the world of activity—do you see how rested their faces appear?” He smiled as he added, “No, the world can get along for a few more weeks without their Beatles.”
But Maharishi overestimated the goodwill of the press. There was a confrontation at the lower gate. One journalist insisted he was going through the gate, after being told by Raghvendhra that it was impossible. Raghvendhra bodily threw the man out in the clash that followed. The newspaperman threatened to sue Maharishi for being “assaulted by one of his monks.”
Walter Koch, an old time meditator, was sent down to talk with the angry arrivals, but he could do little to pacify them. He was a scholarly, professional type who made no impression on them. Maybe they would have been more understanding if they could have left with pictures of the ashram, The Beatles attending class, and a little news of the daily routine. As it was, they took the absolute “no” as an affront, and made up all sorts of lies in their articles. Maharishi was to learn the importance of PR the hard way.
Often I was called to answer the phone and talk to different members of the press. I tried to point out how important a course like this was for the world, but they didn’t hear me. My name got mentioned somewhere and each day I made more trips down the hill to the phone, only to find it was some agitated newspaper man. I did my best to explain why Maharishi had to be so strict, but it didn’t make a dent.
When Maharishi sent me to Delhi with instructions regarding his airport, he suggested, “While you are talking to Mr. Shukla, would you tell him we are having a problem with the local police? They are harassing the meditators who walk into Swargashram, demanding to see their passports. Everyone has already been cleared by the police, so it is completely unnecessary. Also, tomorrow, another singer from England will arrive; bring him back in the car with you. His name is Donovan.” Even I had heard of him—more news to write home!
V.C. Shukla again proved a good friend to Maharishi. His reaction to the news I carried was, “We will not allow such rudeness. I will send a Gurkha to stay at the ashram and protect the visitors. Maharishi can feed, give him a room, and pay him ten rupees a day ($1.50). he will be told to report to Memsahib Nancy each day for instructions.”
Avi and I picked up Donovan the next day. He would stay at Avi’s for the night, in order to avoid any press hanging around the Oberoi. A thin, delicate-looking young man with the whitest skin, Donovan was gentle in every way. That evening he took out his guitar and sang some of his ballads. He absolutely captivated us with his sensitivity and beautiful voice. His pale face and gentle eyes were a picture of spirituality. We knew that Maharishi would love him. I liked his Scottish accent, which was far more appealing than those of The Beatles for me. I didn’t know what he meant when he asked me, “Luv, have you got a cough?” He was asking for a cigarette.
The Cambatas had joined us, and they shared our enthusiasm for Donovan. Kersey came up with a smashing suggestion.
“Do you suppose Maharishi would like it if I flew two helicopters into the ashram and took him and The Beatles for a ride?”
“Do you have any idea what will happen to the Valley of the Saints if you fly in there?” asked Avi. “The place will go wild.” I immediately thought of the publicity value—what a gimmick. We’d have to leak it to the press. A great bone for a hungry dog.
They started planning how it could be done. It was decided that Kersey would send a truck ahead with extra gasoline. Then he would fly the first one in and land on the side of the river below the ashram. Hours later, the second helicopter would follow. What news we were to take to Maharishi.
Before returning to the ashram, we went clothes shopping for Donovan. As we drove through Connaught Circle, we saw amazing news posters pasted to the columns of the buildings. They were headlines of the daily papers—“Wild Orgies at Ashram” and “Beatles Wife Raped at the Ashram,” were two that caught our eye. We bought copies of three or four papers, and Avi, Donovan, and I read aloud to each other as we left Delhi.
“Listen to this one, ‘Cartons of whisky were seen delivered to Maharishi’s guests at the ashram. Evidently the guru doesn’t want his disciples deprived of their pleasures while learning about the spiritual world. Maharishi teaches that all desires must be satisfied.’”
“And this, it’s unbelievable, ‘Sources close to the Academy of Meditation located in the Himalayas above Rishikesh report that attempts are being made to suppress the fact that one of The Beatles’ wives was raped two days ago. It has not been determined as yet which wife was the victim.’”
“This really is a silly one,” I reacted. “Listen, ‘Ringo Starr stated he will leave the ashram as he cannot tolerate the spicy food.’ Boy, I wish that were the truth. We could use a little spice in our dull, daily fare.”
It was tea time when we arrived. The Beatles came over to greet Donovan, whom they knew and respected. We showed them the newspapers. They were incredulous. Donovan asked, “Come on, who was the one who got done?” The girls, Patty and Cynthia as the only Beatles’ wives, claimed they hadn’t had the honor. In fact, Cynthia was in a very happy mood.
We asked Ringo to be a good sport and share some of that spicy food with us. His reply was, “After me, man, after me.” The stories were complete lies. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” did not apply.
As far as the wild parties were concerned, we figured someone had seen whiskey cartons filled with vegetables and other foodstuffs being unloaded and made the assumption that liquor was being brought in. There was no way Maharishi could protect the ashram from such blatant lies. The best thing was to laugh and forget it.
Maharishi was thrilled with the idea of the helicopters’ arrival. That was right up his alley; his eyes shown with excitement!
Several days later the gasoline arrived by truck, with a message that the following day Kersey would fly in at 10 A.M. At 9:30 that next morning, Maharishi led us all down the hillside. We’d been given the morning off—what a big event for the meditators! We carefully stayed away from the riverfront, not knowing how much landing space Kersey would need. Soon, in the distance, we heard the sound of the aircraft—good old Kersey, a really prompt Parsee (original Persians who migrated to India). Before long we saw the faint appearance of what seemed to be a large mosquito. The sound grew louder and louder as the helicopter invaded the silence and tranquility of the Valley of the Saints.
Soon we were waving as the chopper passed us and started circling before making its descent. Sanyasis, holy men, were appearing from all directions. It was amusing to see these people, who usually move so slowly, now running to see what was happening. One can only imagine what went on in the minds of many who had never seen a movie or TV and were only now getting used to having a meager bit of electricity.
Around and down came the helicopter. I could see Kersey at the controls; alongside was his pilot, Captain Engineer.
“Stand back a bit, Maharishi, so that sand won’t hit you as the helicopter settles,” warned one of The Beatles. We turned away and shielded our faces as a blast of air hit us just as the aircraft landed. The propellers came to a stop and out stepped a smiling Kersey, saying, “Jai Guru Dev, Maharishi.”
After being presented to the celebs, Kersey asked Maharishi if he’d like to go for a ride. Maharishi couldn’t get into the plane fast enough. What a picture it made to see our little bearded guru waving from the window as the chopper took off. Cameras clicked like mad—many of the pictures were to appear in newspapers and prominent magazines around the world. Kersey didn’t know it at the moment, but he’d just given Maharishi the greatest PR exposure possible.
They flew up and down the Ganges. Crowds standing along both river banks watched in wonderment. Maharishi’s stock must have really gone up in the minds of his neighbors! Of course, there would also be criticism.
Landing once again, Kersey instructed Captain Engineer to take The Beatles up. The other helicopter was due in two hours.
The next one up was John Lennon. With his beard and white dhoti he looked like a sadhu himself.
What a day of excitement. Most people had no idea of the tremendous expense involved in bringing the two helicopters. Of course, it helped that Kersey owned the company.
That night, Maharishi asked Kersey, who also owned a movie company in Bombay, an appropriate question.
“I am concerned about something. I have given The Beatles and their Apple Corporation the right to make a movie about Guru Dev, the movement, and myself. It will be a glorious film, and all the world will want to see it,” he announced dreamily. “But The Beatles insist on the distribution rights. I’m wondering if we cannot do that ourselves. I would like your advice.”
“Maharishi, you couldn’t do better than to have Apple Corp. as your distributor. It is the most difficult part, and determines whether you have a big success or not.”
After discussing the pros and cons, one could see that Maharishi was not completely convinced. Something else puzzled me. I thought Charlie Lutes had been told to make a deal with Four Star Productions to make a movie on Guru Dev’s life—I’d better ask Tony to let me know. My mind came back to the conversation when Kersey asked me aside, “Do you suppose Maharishi has seen even a home movie?” I understood his skepticism. Once before Maharishi had sought his advice and then ignored it.
a week, the pictures and stories of the helicopter in the Valley of
the Saints were front-page news around the world. Life and Look magazines
devoted pages to the story. My stock went up with Maharishi. He told
The Beatles, “It was Nancy’s friend who brought the helicopters.”
I quickly pointed out that it was really to Avi’s credit. But
when I’d have a guilty conscience about not meditating enough,
I’d console myself with thoughts such as, “If I hadn’t
gone to Delhi to get Donovan, none of this would have happened.”
I was great at rationalizing.
© 2003 Nancy Cooke de Herrera
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