Sample from the Spring 2006 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine
Music of the Soul
Here Comes the Sun:
The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison
An Interview with
Joshua M. Greene (Yogesvara Dasa)
In the early ’70s, Joshua Greene spent time with George Harrison at his home and also recorded devotional music together at Apple Studios. In this interview, he talks about Here Comes the Sun, his new book, which traces Harrison’s journey from pop idol to sincere spiritual seeker.
Joshua Greene: In 1969 I was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris and went to London to visit the Hare Krishna temple there. This was just at the time when devotees were recording an album of mantras and prayers with George. I played the organ in a college band, so they asked me to join them. We walked into Apple Studios, and there was George Harrison. I thought, “If I stay with the Krishnas, I get God and the Beatles–okay, I’m in.” I ended up spending thirteen years studying in ashrams.
IYM: What can you tell us about George’s spiritual journey?
JG: It started in the mid sixties and set a course for the rest of his life. In 1966, he first heard a Ravi Shankar album. That led to him to explore the philosophy behind sacred music. He traveled to India later that year to study with Ravi, and that’s where George began reading works by Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Vivekananda, and other teachers of Vedic theology. On his return to England, he wanted to get his friends involved. John, Paul, and Ringo did accompany him to a lecture by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and two years later to a retreat in Rishikesh. But by 1970, it was clear to George that he would be taking this journey without the other Beatles.
IYM: At what point did this spiritual journey begin to influence his music?
JG: There were some early experiments with sitar, for example on “Norwegian Wood.” And his composition “Within You Without You” from Sergeant Pepper was a clear indication of the direction he’d taken toward sacred music. We really see signs of his meditative practices in the post-Beatles music, starting with “All Things Must Pass” in 1970. The more he chanted and performed daily Yoga asanas, the more his journey appeared in his musical compositions. By the 1990s, he had evolved to producing pure Sanskrit hymns, as in Ravi Shankar’s album “Chants of India,” which is an extraordinary work.
IYM: Did that create a conflict within the Beatles?
JG: By the late sixties, all four had become bored with being a “Beatle,” although George may have felt the frustration deepest. He wanted a group of people to commune with, to do spiritual practice with–a sangha. In the fall of ’68 he met some of my Godbrothers and Godsisters, fellow disciples of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and loved their company. These were the kind of people anybody would wanted as friends. Philosophy is all well and good, but spirituality is also an affair of the heart. It’s when you meet people with soft hearts and who acknowledge we are in this world to do some good that you become inspired to become like that. That’s what happened to George–and to me, too.
IYM: Tell us about when he began recording mantras.
JG: In 1969, shortly after meeting Krishna devotees, George recorded the Hare Krishna mantra, which went to the top of the charts. Then he wanted to record an entire album of Sanskrit prayers and that’s when I was invited to sit in. George’s friends heard through the grapevine that he was recording Indian mantras and musicians like Donovan, Billy Preston and others would drop in…