By John W. Whitehead
November 21, 2011
Ten years ago, on November 29, 2001, George Harrison—the “quiet Beatle”—passed away at the age of 58, a victim of throat cancer. Harrison left behind an amazing legacy, one that not only spanned a legendary musical career that began with the Beatles and continued throughout his solo career but also went beyond the cultural to the spiritual. Indeed, Harrison’s spirituality—rooted in Eastern spiritual practices—greatly impacted the life and musical endeavors of fellow Beatles John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as other figures in popular culture.
Harrison, a born and bred Liverpudlian, developed an affinity for Indian music and religion after being introduced to the sitar while making the film Help! After meeting Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and traveling to India in 1966, Harrison found his love of Indian music and spirituality transformed into a life-long commitment to Eastern spiritual practices.
In August 1967, Harrison encouraged his fellow Beatles (and associates) to attend a lecture at the London Hilton presented by the Maharishi Mehesh Yogi—the so-called progenitor of Transcendental Meditation (TM). Attendance at TM lectures tripled almost immediately after it was publicized that the Beatles were into TM. In fact, Deepak Chopra, an Indian medical doctor and author, credits Harrison with spreading TM and other Eastern spiritual practices to America almost single-handedly. Moreover, given the Beatles’ amazing influence at the time, Harrison’s foray into TM set the stage for a movement that would result in the Western world being infused with Eastern spirituality and meditation practices—a movement that continues to this day.
In 1968, Harrison and his wife invited John, Paul and Ringo to join them on a retreat to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram (spiritual hermitage) in Rishikesh, India. They were joined by an all-star entourage including actress Mia Farrow, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and singer/songwriter Donovan. The Beatles found their creative energies heightened in the peaceful atmosphere of the retreat. Between the four of them, they composed over 40 songs while in India. As Philip Goldberg notes in his book, American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West, the Beatles’ trip to Rishikesh “may have been the most momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those forty days in the wilderness.”
Not even the Beatles’ break-up could dampen Harrison’s enthusiasm for Eastern spirituality and Hinduism in particular, both of which played starring roles in Harrison’s life as a solo artist. Even as he shunned the spotlight, Harrison continued to imbue his life and music with a spiritual message that emphasized peace, love and harmony. During his final years, he seemed content to spend his time gardening and practicing Hinduism.
Books and documentaries about Harrison’s life and music abound, but George’s observations and lyrics best encapsulate his life’s mission and work.
“We’ve all got the same goal whether we realize it or not. We’re all striving for something which is called God. For a reunion, complete. Everybody has realized at some time or other that no matter how happy they are, there’s still always the unhappiness that comes with it.”
My Sweet Lord
My Sweet Lord
I really want to see you;
Really want to be with you.
Really want to see you Lord
But it takes so long, my Lord.
“If there is a God, I want to see him. It’s pointless to believe in something without proof, and Krishna consciousness and meditation are methods where you can actually obtain God perception. You can actually see God and hear Him, play with Him. It might sound crazy, but He’s actually there with you.”
It’s All Too Much
It’s all too much for me to take
The love that’s shining all around you
Everywhere, it’s what you make
For us to take, it’s all too much
Floating down the stream of time, of life to life with me Makes no difference where you are or where you’d like to be.
“Everyone is a potential Jesus Christ, really. We are all trying to get to where Jesus Christ got. And we’re going to be on this world until we get there. We’re all different people and we are all doing different things in life, but that doesn’t matter because the whole point of life is to harmonise with everything, every aspect in creation. That means down to not killing the flies, eating the meat, killing people or chopping the trees down.”
Isn’t It a Pity?
Isn’t it a pity
Now, isn’t it a shame
How we break each other’s hearts
And cause each other pain
How we take each other’s love
Without thinking anymore
Forgetting to give back
Isn’t it a pity
Some things take so long
But how do I explain
When not too many people
Can see we’re all the same
And because of all their tears
Their eyes can’t hope to see
The beauty that surrounds them
Isn’t it a pity
“Just as cinematic images appear to be real but are only combinations of light and shade, so is the universal variety a seeming delusion. The planetary spheres, with their countless forms of life, are naught but figures in a cosmic motion picture… One’s values are profoundly changed when he is finally convinced that creation is only a vast motion picture; and that not in, but beyond it, lies in his own reality.”
The Inner Light
Without going out of your door
You can know all things on earth
Without looking out of your window
You could know the ways of heaven
The farther one travels
The less one knows
The less one really knows
Arrive without travelling
See all without looking
Do all without doing
“Well, I am two-faced. But really, things serious and comical are like night and day, black and white, yin and yang. In order to be comical, you have to be serious. You can’t have one without the other. The world is a very serious and, at times, very sad place—but at other times it is all such a joke.”
On the street of villains taken for a ride
You can have the devil as a guide
Crippled by the boundaries, programmed into guilt
Til your nervous system starts to tilt
In a room of mirrors you can see for miles
But everything that’s there is in disguise
Every word you’ve uttered and every thought you’ve had
Is all inside your file the good and the bad
But in the rising sun you can feel your life begin
Universe at play inside your DNA
You’re a billion years old today.
“In one way, I feel pessimistic. When you see the rate that the world is being demolished—people polluting the oceans and chopping down all the forests—unless somebody puts the brakes on soon, there isn’t going to be anything left. There’s just going to be more and more people with less and less resources. In that respect, I feel very sad. But at the same time, I have to be optimistic. At the bottom line, I think that even if the whole planet blew up, you’d have to think about what happens when you die. In the end, ‘Life goes within you and without you.’ I just have a belief that this is only one little bit, the physical world is one little bit, of the physical universe, and you can’t really destroy it totally. You can destroy our planet, but the souls are going onto other planets. So in the end it doesn’t really matter.”
Within You Without You
We were talking
About the love that’s gone so cold
And the people who gain the world
And lose their soul
They don’t know, they can’t see
Are you one of them?
When you’ve seen beyond yourself
Then you may find
Peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come
When you see we’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you.
“It is one of our perennial problems, whether there is a God. From the Hindu point of view each soul is divine. All religions are branches of one big tree. It doesn’t matter what you call Him as long as you call.”
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
Give me love
Give me love
Give me peace on earth
Give me light
Give me life
Keep me free from birth
Give me hope
Help me cope, with this heavy load
Trying to, touch and reach you with,
Heart and soul.
George Harrison’s fascination with and dedication to Indian music and spirituality inspired many to open their minds to what the Eastern world has to offer. Because of his efforts, Western culture was introduced to a new way of life and a new wave of music and instruments, not to mention meditation and yoga. For a so-called “quiet Beatle,” Harrison left a loud mark on American culture.