A Tribute to George Harrison ~ Beatle and Devotee of Yogananda

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George celebrating his 30th birthday

At a time when the West was just beginning to wake up to the spirituality of the East, in the early years following the publication of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, George Harrison of the Beatles was becoming more and more disillusioned with money and fame and began seeking deeper meaning in his life.  His searching led him eventually to the Autobiography and Paramahansa Yogananda.  As a member of the most popular pop music band in history George helped to propel an entire generation of the western world into awareness of Eastern spirituality, as Deepak Chopra put it, “overnight.”

The following  are some insights into George’s spiritual journey taken from various quotes from him and those who knew him, following the theme of one of his greatest hits, “Here Comes the Sun.”

Here Comes the Sun with beautiful images

George Performing on stage

GEORGE HARRISON: Here Comes the Sun

“As the lead guitarist of the world’s biggest rock band and a prolific song writer, the Beatles’ George Harrison’s greatest legacy may be the way his decades-long spiritual quest shaped the ways the West looks at God, gurus and life…”

“How George Harrison changed the way we believe”
Oct. 11, 2011, Steve Rabey, in the National Catholic Reporter

[But George’s journey from Beatle to spiritual seeker, whose life and music would influence a whole generation and the world, was not an easy one.]

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George Harrison: “The stronger the commitment (to spirituality) on my part, the stronger the animosity becomes”…

“Yes,” Prabhupada said, “But when one preaches he must tell the truth. Lord Jesus Christ–the people did not like his preaching, but he did not stop…Especially in speaking God-Consciousness such things are possible.  We have to pay sometimes in this way.”

George may have felt uneasy hearing his trials compared to those of Jesus Christ, but the analogy carried weight. “Christ-Consciousness” appears frequently in the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, who urged followers to find in themselves the same “Christ-Consciousness” that Jesus had exhibited through his compassion, equanimity and love for all humanity.

“If you take a risk for Krishna,” Prabhupada said, “even if you stand to lose everything, Krishna comes to help and protect.  Just like Arjuna.  Because Krishna was there with him on the battlefield, he came out victorious.  Krishna always protects his devotee.”…Don’t fret, he said, or think you have to find solutions on your own.  Your talent is not ordinary karma.  It has a special purpose and Krishna will help you to fulfill it.

Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison
Joshua M. Greene

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[George’s] most overtly spiritual single “My Sweet Lord” was inspired by… a two-hundred year old gospel classic that featured a chorus repeating the song’s title over and over.  George wrote a choral line using the word “Hallelujah” as the refrain, then switched mid-way through the song to the phrase “Hare Krishna.”

“I wanted to show that ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Hare Krishna’ are quite the same thing,” he told his friend Mukunda.  I did the voices singing ‘Hallelujah’ and then the change to “Hare Krishna” so that people would be chanting the maha-mantra before they knew what was going on.  The song was meant to be “a western pop equivalent of a mantra that repeats over and over again the holy names.”…

…By chanting the names of the Lord, you’ll be cleansed. You don’t need a passport or visa to see Jesus.  Just open your heart.

George ended the song with a Sanskrit prayer…“I offer homage to my guru…” …Devotees and scholars familiar with ancient mantras were stunned to find one serving as a choral refrain in a top-ten pop tune.

“At that time”, George later explained, “nobody was committed to that type of music in the pop world.  There was, I felt, a real need for that…So I thought, ‘Just do it.’ Nobody else is, and I’m sick of all these young people just boogying around, wasting their lives, you know.”

Once the record made it to the radio, letters started pouring in…from all parts of the world. It seemed a lot of people had been waiting for someone to validate their own search for God, and from the day the record was released, thank you letters started coming and never stopped.

“I still get letters from people…” he said, “so I know by the Lord’s grace I am a small part in the cosmic play”…

“My Sweet Lord” became an international megahit.

Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison–Joshua M. Greene

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George with Sri Daya Mata, President of Self-Realization Fellowship

“’My Sweet Lord’ proceeds go to Self-Realization Fellowship”

Proceeds from U.S. sales of the January 14th [2002] reissue of George Harrison’s 1970 song “My Sweet Lord” will go to the Self-Realization Fellowship, a California organization that promotes the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda.  Yogananda, who established the fellowship in 1920 to spread his philosophy of yoga and meditation, is best known for his Autobiography of a Yogi. He was frequently cited by Harrison as an important spiritual influence.

–Rolling Stone magazine

“At the service in Encinitas last evening the topic was on chanting.  Brother Tieagananda mentioned how once Sri Daya Mataji mentioned to him how she just received George Harrison’s CD of “My Sweet Lord” and he mentioned he thought it was just the Beatles…but she helped him recognize how any song impregnated with thoughts of Love for God can become a doorway to Heaven and become a spiritualized song or chant.”

—SRF devotee note

My Sweet Lord on YouTube

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“Among luminaries I am the radiating Sun.” – Lord Krishna

God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita—Paramahansa Yogananda

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“The spiritual eye has a correspondence with the Cosmic Sun.”  Paramahansa Yogananda, God Talks With Arjuna

About four years ago I spent a week with him in Hawaii completely in silence where we would practice almost four hours of meditation, and even recently he would practice two to three hours of meditation in the mornings and another half an hour in the evenings and the rest of the time he was either writing, working in his studio, or gardening.

Deepak Chopra

1974 at the White House with U.S. President Gerald Ford, wearing Babaji, AUM and Krishna buttons

Gerald Ford Conversing with George Harrison and Organist

“[George Harrison] told me that when he visited President Gerald Ford at the White House, he handed him as a gift his favorite book, Autobiography of a Yogi He also gave him a button to wear on his jacket—a photo of a yogi master named Babaji—and not George’s new CD, as one would expect a rock star to do.  I marveled at both his courage and his role as an ambassador of peace, and was so happy to have a real friend who spread the message of truth everywhere he went.”

Gary Wright, “Dream Weaver: A Memoir; Music, Meditation, and My Friendship with George Harrison”

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George wearing Babaji button with Ravi Shankar, virtuoso sitar player

On Going to India

“I went over there partly to try to learn the music, but also to absorb much of the actual country.  I’d always heard stories about these masters living in the Himalayas who were hundreds of years old, levitating yogis and saints who could be buried underground for weeks and stay alive.  Now I wanted to see it all for myself.  I’ll tell you one thing for sure, once you get to the point where you’re actually doing things for truth’s sake, then nobody can ever touch you again, because you’re harmonizing with a greater power.”

George Harrison–1966

On visits to Los Angeles, George spent time at the Self-Realization Fellowship estate in Encinitas, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and only three miles from Ravi Shankar’s home. Ravi had met SRF founder Yogananda in the 1930s and had given his first U.S. concert at the Encinitas retreat in 1957.

Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison
Joshua M. Greene

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Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band Album Cover

Gurus of Self-Realization Fellowship: Top row, far left—Swami Sri Yukteswarji; second row from the top, second from the right—Paramahansa Yogananda; second row from top, eighth from right—Babaji (forehead and eye showing); third row from top, second from right—Lahiri Mahasaya

In January 1967 George sat in the sound room…working with the other Beatles on their eighth album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, wishing it were done…”I’d give up everything if I could be a monk walking from one side of India to the other,” he told artist Peter Max….To keep up his spirits he added bits and pieces of India whenever possible…And when the group turned its attention to designing the album’s historic cover, he brought in images of revered Gurus…He added Yogananda, Yogananda’s grand guru Lahiri Mahasaya, and Mahasaya’s guru Sri Mahavatara Babaji.  The photos, he would explain in later years, were “clues to the spiritual aspect of me,” but such moments merely made bearable a job he no longer cared to do…

George told me that (the Sergeant Pepper cover) was where he deposited his first clue.  A lot of people aren’t even aware that there’s a photo of Yogananda in there.  That was the first of his clues…He was absolutely amazed at how people would study this stuff…he wanted the spiritual side of life to be revealed the same way.  If people wanted it, they’d have to look for it.  He felt his role was to bring this light that otherwise people wouldn’t know about, and he was hoping that one day the clues would blossom into something.

Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison
Joshua M. Greene 

“As I entered the foyer of the temple, they had up a kind of small poster of the Sgt Pepper album cover.  It was mounted and displayed on an easel.  Beneath the cover was a quote from, I think it was Neil Aspinal.  It said that when the Beatles conceived of the cover concept, each added daily to their list of “admirables” to include on the cover.  George’s were all Guru’s!  This simple statement was the only ‘visual’ at the service, apart from the natural beauty of the temple.”

devotee note from George Harrison’s Memorial Service at Lake Shrine, Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, 2001

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“I always felt at home with Krishna. You see it was already a part of me. I think it’s something that’s been with me from my previous birth. I’d rather be one of the devotees of God than one of the straight, so-called sane or normal people who just don’t understand that man is a spiritual being, that he has a soul.”

George Harrison–Interview, Henley-On-Thames, Oxfordshire, 1982 

When [George] would engage in conversation it was all about spirituality.  He was a very, very avid reader and not just an avid reader of Eastern spirituality, but a very avid reader of the Gnostic gospels, the other versions of the historical Christ, the Gospel of Thomas. When he signed a letter he would always put an eastern symbol and also put a cross.  He very much had a relationship with Christ…All along. He had a very personal relationship with Christ.

Deepak Chopra

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Christ and the Dove of the Holy Spirit seen at the spiritual eye

“I got to understand what Christ really was through Hinduism.  Down through the ages there has always been the spiritual path, it’s been passed on, it always will be, and if anybody ever wants it in any age it’s always there.  It just so happens India was the place where the seed of it was planted.  The Himalayas were very inaccessible to people, so they always have peace there.  The yogis are the only people who can make it out there.  It may be something to do with my past lives, but I felt a great connection with it.  In this age the West and East are closer and can all benefit so much from each other.  We can help them with our material attributes, and they can help us with their spiritual things.”

George Harrison–London, 1969

 

“From the Hindu point of view each soul is potentially divine, the goal is to manifest the divinity…The Lord, or God, has got a million names, whatever you want to call him, it doesn’t matter as long as you call him, Jesus is on the mainline, tell him what you want.  Going back to self-realization, one guru said he found no separation between man and God, saving man’s spiritual unadventurousness, and that’s the catch, everybody’s so unadventurous.  We’re all conditioned, our consciousness has been so polluted by the material energy it’s hard to try and pull it all away in order to really discover our true nature.  Every one of us has within us a drop of that ocean and we have the same qualities as God, just like a drop of the ocean has the same qualities as the whole ocean.  Everybody’s looking for something and we are it.  We don’t have to look anywhere–it’s right there within ourselves.”

George Harrison–Press Conference, Los Angeles, 1974

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“‘I Me Mine’ is the ‘ego’ problem. There are two ‘I’s’: the little ‘i’ when people say ‘I am this’ and the big ‘I’; i.e. OM, the complete whole, universal consciousness that is void of duality and ego.  There is nothing that isn’t part of the complete whole.  When the little ‘i’ merges into the big ‘I’ then you are really smiling!”

–From I Me Mine, George Harrison’s autobiography

In September 1966, George…traveled with Ravi Shankar and his partner to Srinagar, Kashmir where they stayed on his houseboat overlooking the Himalayas.  George spent his time practicing the sitar, reading the works of Yogananda and Swami Vivekananda, and contemplating his identity.

In 1967 on vacation in Los Angeles, George explained for reporters that his sitar studies under virtuoso Ravi Shankar had led him to the spiritual philosophy behind Indian music.

Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison
Joshua M. Greene

“The word ‘Hare’ calls upon the energy of the Lord.  If you chant the mantra enough, you build up an identification with God.   God’s all happiness, all bliss, and by chanting His names we connect with Him.  So it’s really a process of actually having God realization, which becomes clear with the expanded state of consciousness that develops when you chant.  Like I said in the introduction I wrote for Prabhupada’s Krishna book some years ago: ‘If there’s a God, I want to see Him. It’s pointless to believe in something without proof.  Krishna consciousness and meditation are methods whereby you can actually obtain God perception.'”

George Harrison–Interview, Henley-On-Thames, Oxfordshire, 1982

“Here comes the Sun…” Bhagavan Krishna

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George: “While I was in India with Ravi, I kept saying, ‘I want to know about the yogis of the Himalayas’…he and his brother, Raju, gave me ….Autobiography of a Yogi. It was an Indian copy- English text, but from India.  I looked at the cover and Yogananda just zapped me with his eyes, and that was it–it was all over!

“Then I read the book- and it gave me goose bumps.  With some things you read you think, ‘Well, I’m not sure about that.’ But with Autobiography of a Yogi I was totally convinced about every word in the book; somehow his pureness and his heart just flowed out of it.

“I keep stacks of Autobiography of a Yogi around the house, and I give it out constantly to people.  When people need regrooving, I say read this, because it cuts to the heart of every religion.”

George’s comments in Self-Realization video on Paramahansa Yogananda, “Glimpses of a Life Divine”

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He (the SRF minister) related another story…where George was filming a segment for a video produced by SRF [Glimpses of a Life Divine]…they filmed this segment at the Mount Washington headquarters (temple/offices/monestary).  He said at the time it was just two Brothers, George, and the camera crew who were there.  George was visibly nervous…he wanted to do everything “just right.”  So, he said he would like to first have time to meditate before going on camera.  The brothers said sure, of course, and George went into the little chapel and meditated for about 45 mins.  He came out ready to go!   Soooo, he did the segment and was SO relieved when the filming finished that he jumped up with a big smile and said, “Let’s have a HUG!!!” :^)

from an SRF devotee’s notes on George’s Self-Realization Lake Shrine memorial service, 2001

Interviewer:  You can look around the American spiritual landscape now and you can’t go to a health club that doesn’t have yoga and churches are now teaching meditation.  If Harrison and the Beatles hadn’t done what they did, would that have happened?

No, it would not. I’m being very honest with you, it would not have happened.  What they did was overnight, they made the world aware of Indian spirituality–overnight.  I remember I was in medical school when they came to India and it was in every newspaper all over the world–it was really an overnight awareness that people didn’t have before.

Deepak Chopra

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… his widow, Olivia, puts it, he “transcended the distractions of success and fame to maintain a one-pointed focus upon his goal of spiritual awakening.”

How George Harrison changed the way we believe
Oct. 11, 2011, Steve Rabey, from the National Catholic Reporter

George Harrison (Feb. 25, 1943 – Nov. 29, 2001)

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