George Harrison would have turned 72 years old February 25, 2015 (however some evidence surfaced some years ago in family documents that it was actually February 24. In honor of his birthday and his life, the article highlights the former Beatle’s seven most popular spiritual songs–seven because of the affinity he had to that number. What did they mean? What did he want to teach the world? And more importantly, did he succeed?
George was raised Roman Catholic. But these beliefs were left behind when the Beatles became famous musicians and began expanding spiritually in 1964. In 1965 when they were filming their second movie “Help” in the Bahamas, fate intervened to introduce the Beatles, especially George, to a new way of thinking. A man named Swami Vishnudevananda handed him a book on the Hindu belief of reincarnation called “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga.” This, coupled with George’s fascination with the Indian sitar music featured in the movie, fueled his interest in Eastern religions. However, George had often said that his first experience with LSD, around this time, was also responsible for his burgeoning interest in spirituality.
He soon befriended Ravi Shankar, who taught him to play sitar, and George began playing it on Beatles records, the first being John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood.” His growth, musically and spiritually, was evident on “Within You Without You” when it appeared on the critically acclaimed 1967 Sgt. Pepper album. The lyrics “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” began to teach Beatles fans about a greater meaning in life and about Universal love.
In 1968 his wife Patti introduced him to the concept of Transcendental Meditation and soon the Beatles were off to meet founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Even though the Beatles had a falling-out with the Maharishi, George continued his spiritual practice for the rest of his life. One article states it perfectly, saying that in the 200 years that the philosophy of eastern religions have been been introduced to western culture, George Harrison has done more than any other poet or artist to spread the teachings to so many.
At the time of the Beatles’ musical revolution, western society was largely suspicious of eastern religions. The ideas that George began to espouse, including reincarnation, universal love, inner peace, and a direct relationship with God, including devotion to gurus, were considered by some fundamentalist religions as satanic or evil. George Harrison did a lot to show the world that this was not so.
So what were the spiritual lessons George wanted to teach us?
“Within You Without You”
“Within You Without You” – (1967, Sgt. Pepper;) George’s first song reflecting eastern mysticism and philosophy. The teaching of the song is that we are all One in the Universe. The truth eludes you if you hide behind your illusions “and it’s too late, when they pass away.” No one can make you change, it’s all within yourself. This was the first Beatles song since Paul’s “Yesterday” to feature just one Beatle. George utilized several Indian musicians, playing tambura, dilruba, and sitar, and wrote it in Indian script. Classified as Indian classical/raga rock.
“Awaiting On You All”
“Awaiting on You All” – (1970, “All Things Must Pass”) – The song beckons all of us to open our hearts and simply allow God into our lives: “By chanting the names of the lord and you’ll be free/The lord is awaiting on you all to awaken and see.” In the lyrics he pokes fun at John and Yoko’s peace efforts: “You don’t need no love in/you don’t need no bedpan.” He also critiques the Pope and the materialism of the Catholic Church. In the end it’s all about cleansing ourselves of all this impurity and that depending on organized religion is unecessary.
“The Art of Dying”
“The Art of Dying” – (1970; “All Things Must Pass”) – This song explores the “art” of not returning to a physical body after dying, i.e., the achievement of nirvana in the afterlife. Our tendency to be reborn is what the Hindus refer to as the “endless cycle of reincarnation” due to the “heavy load” that weighs on our souls. “There’ll come a time when most of us return here/ brought back by our desire to be a perfect entity/Living through a million years of crying/Until you realize the Art of Dying.”
“All Things Must Pass”
“All Things Must Pass” – (1970, “All Things Must Pass”) – Inspired by Timothy Leary’s 1966 book “Psychedelic Prayers after the Tao Te Ching.” Harrison said in his 1980 autobiography “I Me Mine” that the idea for the song came from “all kinds of mystics and ex-mystics.” The lyrics as well as cadence of the song suggest a fatalistic viewpoint of life, and that nothing lasts forever. The idea is also soothing because even if love has “left you with no warning”, a cloudburst doesn’t last all day either: “All things must pass/None of life’s strings can last/So I must be on my way/And face another day.” A beautiful rendition of the song was performed by Paul McCartney and a whole cast of musicians at the Concert for George, a tribute to Harrison’s life in 2002.
My Sweet Lord
“My Sweet Lord” – (1970-“All Things Must Pass” first #1 single by a solo Beatle) –The song, sung as gospel rock, shows that the teachings of eastern and western religion are basically the same. He blends praise of the Hindu God Krishna, as well as the Christian God, with chants of both “Halleluiah” and “Hare Krishna” in the lyrics, showing how similar they are. The song reflects a deep desire to bypass religion for a direct relationship with God: “I really want to know you/Really want to go with you/Really want to show you, Lord, that it won’t take long, my Lord.”
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
“Give Me Love(Give Me Peace on Earth)” – (1973 – “Living in the Material World; 2nd #1 single) In his 1980 autobiography “I Me Mine”, George said, “This song is a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it.” The chorus lyrics, “Give me love, give me love, give me peace on earth/Give me light, give me life, keep me free from birth” conveys the widespread message of the 60s of ‘peace and love’ while expressing his desire for a life without the burden of reincarnation.
“Brainwashed” –(2002, “Brainwashed”) George expresses the mind-numbing disenchantment we experience on a daily basis by our world—brainwashed by everyone– our teachers, the military, Dow Jones and mobile phones. He chants in the chorus, “God God God/You are the wisdom that we seek/God God God/The lover that we miss/God God God/Your nature is eternity/God God God/Your are Existence, Knowledge, Bliss”. The “Namah Parvati” is chanted by George and his son Dhani at the end, a prayer and mantra dedicated to the Hindu goddess Parvati. In the song, George wonders how we will be saved. It’s time to disconnect from all these earthly distractions and re-center ourselves with God.