George Harrison was undoubtedly the most interesting of The Beatles. Dubbed “The Quiet One”, he underpinned their classic songs with his brilliant guitar work. In addition to his humble personality, his solo career after the Beatles’ demise continued to endear him to fans worldwide.
He released his third studio album, All Things Must Pass, in 1970, which today is hailed as one of the best records of the decade and a hallmark in the singer-songwriter genre of the early ’70s. It featured his signature single, ‘My Sweet Lord’, which praised the Hindu god of Krishna. At the time, it was virtually unheard of for such a westernised cultural icon to embrace a culture so disparate from our own monochrome theology.
It is well documented that Harrison, along with the other members of The Beatles, embraced the concept of Transcendental Meditation in 1967 whilst on a spiritual jaunt to India. This was greatly influenced by the copious doses of LSD they had taken prior, as well as Harrison’s budding friendship with iconic Indian musician Ravi Shankar.
These trips to India and his karmic friendship with Shankar awoke a life-defining interest in spirituality within Harrison. The quiet one was now also the most spiritual one. He stated that on one of these trips to India, where he had gone to learn the ways of traditional Indian music, within “five hours”, he had developed a nagging desire “to learn about yogis”, the mysterious Indian masters of all things spiritual.
These trips to the sub-continent changed Harrison and how he was perceived forevermore. As noted in his solo work, the spiritual themes and influence of the Hare Krishna movement would leave an indelible mark on the former Beatle. What’s interesting about Harrison’s spiritual awakening is how people paid attention to it. As the years went by, he developed into a far cry away from the cheeky, bowl-cut chappy that audiences adored in The Beatles’ film Help! (1965).
While development is a key part of life, a journey from complete innocence to experience, Harrison’s development into a totally zen saviour of Bangladesh was characterised by how fantastic it was. It was a radical notion that the ancient religions of “The East” could influence the superstar, Harrison. It became a fascinating topic for the uninformed masses of Westernised society.
In an April 1970 interview with the BBC’S now-defunct religious television series Fact Or Fantasy? Harrison spoke at length and in considerable detail about his spiritual beliefs, his personal development and the power of meditation.
He told the interviewer that he got into mediation because: “The only reason to be living is to have complete full knowledge, full bliss consciousness, everything else is just mundane and secondary.” Harrison expanded: “I wanted to know some method of enlarging my own consciousness, and that’s meditation. It’s been there millions and millions of years; it’s always there. Knock on the door, and it’ll be opened.”
He then shed light on why he was so enamoured by the Krishna movement, owing to his rigid religious upbringing: “The thing that really got me interested was being brought up as Catholic until I was about 13. I couldn’t take it any longer because it was just full of hypocrisy.”
Harrison revealed to audiences the key tenets that had inspired his spiritual awakening: “The teachings of an Indian called Vivekananda really impressed me. He said: ‘If there’s a god, we must see him; if there’s a soul, we must perceive it. Otherwise, it’s better not to believe. It’s better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite.'”
He continued, “Whereas the Catholics were teaching me to be a hypocrite. ‘Just be a hypocrite, believe what we tell you, don’t try any experience.’ But the whole basis of religion is to have the experience, have that perception. So there are these methods of god perception and self-realisation which is yoga and self-meditation.”
It turns out that the hallowed teachings of Vivekananda made such an impression on Harrison that they directly inspired the brilliant ‘My Sweet Lord‘. In a separate interview, he said, “that song really came from Swami Vivekananda”. Note, “I really wanna see you”.
In the interview, he explains that you have to be taught by a yogi to be able to perform transcendental meditation and that there are many different ways of reaching the ultimate goal of “absolute consciousness”.
Harrison offered up an account of the purpose of meditation: “The purpose is to transcend from this relative state of consciousness to an absolute state of consciousness. People will think, ‘This is me.’ This isn’t me. This is just a bag of bones.” He argued: “Basically, everybody’s spirit is really what Christ was here to tell everybody about: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven, the lives within’, is the state of being of pure consciousness.”
He then revealed his true motivations behind ascribing to the ways of the yogis: “through many years of pollution of consciousness through material energy…we’ve all ended up in a fallen state.” He claims that all hope for humanity is not lost, “but really everybody is basically, potentially divine.”
“So yoga, all these methods, are really ancient methods just to stop further pollution of your system and consciousness and to cleanse the system. The whole thing of purity that they talk about in religion is really a mental, physical and spiritual purity which is obtained through discipline and through practice.”
Describing the effects of meditation’s power, he explains: “your thoughts become finer and finer until you can arrive at a point that is transcendental, which means beyond. Beyond the senses, beyond intellect.”
Then there is a short break in the interview before the interviewer asks the former Beatle about how much of the change in his persona could be attributed to meditation.
There is a short pause before Harrison gives a typically weighted response: “People always say that I’m the Beatle who changed the most. But really, that’s what I see life is about. The point is, unless your god conscious, then you have to change, because it’s a waste of time; everybody is so limited and so really useless when you think about the limitations on yourself. “
The most significant part of the largely forgotten interview comes towards the end of the clip when Harrison sums up the ethos behind meditation and the reasons for undertaking such a mammoth journey: “The whole thing is to change and try to make everything better and better. That’s what the physical world is about; change.”
In a manner that is now known as typical of the former Beatle, Harrison maintains that “with meditation, you’re able to understand that there is this unity lying beneath everything.”
This brilliant interview serves a vital purpose in understanding the ideation of George Harrison. A man characterised by his thoughtfulness and spirituality, the clip unlocks the door to his mind. It accounts for his underlying set of principles that defined the key moments in his career, such as All Things Must Pass and the Concert for Bangladesh, where he truly made his everlasting mark on the world.
Watch the fascinating interview, below.