This was a tough day for Ye Olde Maharishi.

Not that long ago his ashram in Rishikesh had been home to 100% of the world’s Beatle population. Then he lost one, but that was OK, because it was just Ringo. Paul’s departure stung a bit more, but that still left him with two Beatles, which on the whole is not bad. Now John and George were standing there telling him that they were leaving immediately, but unwilling to say why.

Though they were acting in concert, the two Beatles were not 100% on the same page at this moment. John had already become somewhat skeptical of the Maharishi’s fondness for material things, and this skepticism was fanned by Magic Alex, who claimed to have seen the Maharishi cozying up to a young female student.1It’s entirely possible that John, who aspired to spiritual accomplishment but was also impatient and undisciplined, was looking for an excuse to leave and get back to his normal life. He was also increasingly aware that his marriage was coming to an end, and at this point could only escape his wife — and start pursuing Yoko — by getting away from the ashram.

George, the more devout of the two, was slower to believe Alex’s accusations. But something he saw, heard, or felt must have made him suspicious. And that in turn was the final straw as far as John was concerned; he later said,

When George started thinking it might be true, I thought, “Well, it must be true, because if George is doubting him, there must be something in it.”

When they decided to leave, Magic Alex convinced them that it must be immediately, because the Maharishi would use “black magic” to try to prevent them from going. In truth, he probably didn’t want the Maharishi to have a chance to talk them down, and John may have thought similarly. Cars were waiting to take them away first thing in the morning; Bob Spitz’s The Beatles describes “the Maharishi standing helplessly, looking small and quite forlorn, as they all filed past with their luggage.”

Many versions of this parting scene are in circulation, all basically the same but various in their details. The Maharishi is said to have wrung his hands and begged them to tell him “Why? Why?” Spitz renders Lennon’s response thusly:

If you’re so cosmically conscious, as you claim, then you should know why we’re leaving.

Which seems a little formal for the situation. Philip Norman’s Shout has it as the rather more direct:

You’re the cosmic one. You ought to know.

In Lennon’s own telling,

He said, “I don’t know why, you must tell me.” And I just kept saying, “You know why” – and he gave me a look like, “I’ll kill you, bastard.”

I picture George shrinking into the background, avoiding the Maharishi’s eyes, once again playing the role of younger brother as John does the dirty work. Both of them would later come to regret their actions on that day, but while they could have acted more gracefully, my sense is that their fundamental concept was sound: The Maharishi was indeed up to some shady business. And it was just plain time to go. Enough of the navel-gazing; there are records to make.

Almost immediately upon leaving the ashram, they began to have car trouble, seemingly bearing out Magic Alex’s black magic warnings. They did eventually make it, but in the meantime, John began the process of turning this experience into a song. Bob Spitz again:

On the way back to Delhi, in a bruised little car that kept breaking down every few miles, he began work on a vengeful song titled “Maharishi.” He sang it for George after a long stretch of downtime in which the car developed a flat tire and the driver disappeared, ostensibly to seek out a spare. It had a pungent, assertive melody that gave form to inexplicable feelings. “Maharishi, what have you done….”

George understood where it came from but was appalled by the undisguised lyric. “You can’t say that, it’s ridiculous,” he warned John. There was no reason why the Beatles should give the Maharishi a public flogging. It would ruin the man, George argued…. Instead, George proposed that John replace the Maharishi’s name with “Sexy Sadie.”

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