In the spring of 1959, Indian sage Maharishi Mahesh Yogi set off around the world to spread the teachings of Transcendental Meditation. BBC World series Witness spoke to Theresa Olson, who was ten years old when Maharishi came to stay in her parents’ house in Los Angeles.
Listen to full interview
A sage in sandals arrives in the West
Before arriving in Los Angeles, US, Maharishi had been to India, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Hawaii. This was his last stop. He had declared 1959 ’the year of global awakening’.
Theresa Olson recalls the seminal moments:
“My mother went to hear Maharishi’s lecture in Los Angeles, in 1959. So here was a man with long black hair, and long black beard, dressed in white silks and … sandals! Maharishi sat cross-legged, and instead of looking at the audience, he closed his eyes.
The silence came to the room.
After a few minutes, he opened his eyes, extended his hand, open-palm, to everyone. My mom said her heart fell into his palm… Then he began speaking: “Mankind was not born to suffer, mankind was born to enjoy. The purpose of life is to expand happiness.“
My mother, as a philosophy major, was enraptured. She learned after the lecture that Maharishi needed a house to stay in – so my mother didn’t hesitate for a second and invited him over to our place.“
Family home turns into a lecture hall
Maharishi continued with his lectures about Transcendental Meditation, usually using a local Presbyterian church as his venue. Then, one day, he opted for something cozier.
Theresa Olson says, “My mom came home from work one day, and asked where the lecture was going to be that day. Maharishi replied, “Come, I thought of something better for today!”, and he took us to our living room. The heavy furniture – the sofas, the piano – had been pushed back against the walls and rows of folding chairs set up instead.”
That was going to be an established configuration in the Olsons’ living room for many years to come. The audience kept growing, comprising people from all walks of life – merchants, teachers, artists, full-time spiritual seekers… The house at 433, Harvard Boulevard turned into Maharishi’s US headquarters. It was from this middle-class, clean-cut American entry gate that the ancient wisdom of meditation became available, eventually, to millions of people in the Western hemisphere.
“I loved it,” reminiscences Theresa Olson. “Maharishi was like a second father to me. It was devastating when, at one point, our house became too small for the movement and Maharishi left. All of a sudden, all this light and joy and all these wonderful people visiting was gone, and it was us who were paying visits…”