|John Lennon and Hare Krishna|
Mukunda Goswami: Often times you speak of yourself as a plainclothes devotee, a closet yogi or "closet Krishna," and millions of people all over the world have been introduced to the chanting by your songs. But what about you? How did you first come in contact with Krishna?
George Harrison: Through my visits to India. So by the time the Hare Krishna movement first came to England in 1969, John and I had already gotten ahold of Prabhupada's first album, Krishna Consciousness. We had played it a lot and liked it. That was the first time I'd ever heard the chanting of the maha-mantra.
Mukunda: Even though you and John Lennon played Srila Prabhupada's record a lot and had chanted quite a bit on your own, you'd never really met any of the devotees. Yet when Gurudasa, Syamasundara, and I [the first Hare Krishna devotees sent from America, to open a temple in London] first came to England, you co-signed the lease on our first temple in central London, bought the Manoryoga-aSrama* for us, which has provided a place for literally hundreds of thousands of people to learn about Krishna consciousness, and financed the first printing of the book Krishna. You hadn't really known us for a very long time at all. Wasn't this a kind of sudden change for you?
George: Not really, for 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. Your coming to England and all that was just like another piece of a jigsaw puzzle that was coming together to make a complete picture. It had been slowly fitting together. That's why I responded to you all the way I did when you first came to London. Let's face it. If you're going to have to stand up and be counted, I figured, "I would rather be with these guys than with those other guys over there." It's like that. I mean 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. And I felt comfortable with you all, too, kind of like we'd known each other before. It was a pretty natural thing, really.
Mukunda: George, you were a member of the Beatles, undoubtedly the greatest single pop group in music hisiory, one that influenced not only music, but whole generations of young people as well. After the dissolution of the group, you went on to emerge as a solo superstar with albums like All Things Must Pass, the country's top selling album for seven weeks in a row, and its hit single "My Sweet Lord," which was number one in America for two months. That was followed by Living in the Material World, number one on Billboard for five weeks and a million-selling LP. One song on that album, "Give Me Love," was a smash hit for six straight weeks. The concert for Bangladesh with Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, and Billy Preston was a phenomenal success and, once the LP and concert film were released, would become the single most successful rock benefit project ever. So, you had material success. You'd been everywhere, done everything, yet at the same time you were on a spiritual quest. What was it that really got you started on your spiritual journey?
George: It wasn't until the experience of the sixties really hit. You know, having been successful and meeting everybody we thought worth meeting and finding out they weren't worth meeting, and having had more hit records than everybody else and having done it bigger than everybody else. It was like reaching the top of a wall and then looking over and seeing that there's so much more on the other side. So I felt it was part of my duty to say, "Oh, okay, maybe you are thinking this is all you need-to be rich and famous-but actually it isn't."
Mukunda: George, in your recently published autobiography, I, Me, Mine, you said your song "Awaiting on You All" is about japa-yoga, or chanting mantras on beads. You explained that a mantra is "mystical energy encased in a sound structure," and that "each mantra contains within its vibrations a certain power." But of all mantras, you stated that "the maha-mantra [the Hare Krishna mantra] has been prescribed as the easiest and surest way for attaining God Realization in this present age." As a practitioner of japa-yoga, what realizations have you experienced from chanting?
George: Prabhupadaacarya (spiritual master) of the Hare Krishna movement told me once that we should just keep chanting all the time, or as much as possible. Once you do that, you realize the benefit. The response that comes from chanting is in the form of bliss, or spiritual happiness, which is a much higher taste than any happiness found here in the material world. That's why I say that the more you do it, the more you don't want to stop, because it feels so nice and peaceful.
Mukunda: What is it about the mantra that brings about this feeling of peace and happiness?
George: The word Hare is the word that calls upon the energy that's around the Lord. If you say 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 a realization of God, which all 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, and Krishna consciousness and meditation are methods where you can actually obtain God perception."
Mukunda: Is it an instantaneous process, or gradual?
George: You don't get it in five minutes. It's something that takes time, but it works because it's a direct process of attaining God and will help us to have pure consciousness and good perception that is above the normal, everyday state of consciousness.
Mukunda: How do you feel after chanting for a long time?
George: In the life I lead, I find that I sometimes have opportunities when I can really get going at it, and the more I do it, I find the harder it is to stop, and I don't want to lose the feeling it gives me.
For example, once I chanted the Hare Krishna mantra all the way from France to Portugal, nonstop. I drove for about twenty-three hours and chanted all the way. It gets you feeling a bit invincible. The funny thing was that I didn't even know where I was going. I mean I had bought a map, and I knew basically which way I was aiming, but I couldn't speak French, Spanish, or Portuguese. But none of that seemed to matter. You know, once you get chanting, then things start to happen transcendentally.
Mukunda: The Vedas inform us that because God is absolute, there is no difference between God the person and His holy name; the name is God. When you first started chanting, could you perceive that?
George: It takes a certain amount of time and faith to accept or to realize that there is no difference between Him and His name, to get to the point where you're no longer mystified by where He is. You know, like, "Is He around here?" You realize after some time, "Here He is-right here!" It's a matter of practice. So when I say that "l see God," I don't necessarily mean to say that when I chant I'm seeing Krishna in His original form when He came five thousand years ago, dancing across the water, playing His flute. Of course, that would also be nice, and it's quite possible too. When you become real pure by chanting, you can actually see God like that, I mean personally. But no doubt you can feel His presence and know that He's there when you're chanting.
Mukunda: Can you think of any incident where you felt God's presence very strongly through chanting?
George: Once I was on an airplane that was in an electric storm. It was hit by lightning three times, and a Boeing 707 went over the top of us, missing by inches. I thought the back end of the plane had blown off. I was on my way from Los Angeles to New York to organize the Bangladesh concert. As soon as the plane began bouncing around, I started chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The whole thing went on for about an hour and a half or two hours, the plane dropping hundreds of feet and bouncing all over in the storm, all the lights out and all these explosions, and everybody terrified. I ended up with my feet pressed against the seat in front, my seat belt as tight as it could be, gripping on the thing, and yelling Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare at the top of my voice. I know for me, the difference between making it and not making it was actually chanting the mantra. Peter Sellers also swore that chanting Hare* Krishna saved him from a plane crash once.
Mukunda: Did any of the other Beatles chant?
George: Before meeting Prabhupada and all of you, I had bought that album Prabhupada did in New York, and John and I listened to it. I remember we sang it for days, John and I, with ukulele banjos, sailing through the Greek Islands chanting Hare Krishna. Like six hours we sang, because we couldn't stop once we got going. As soon as we stopped, it was like the lights went out. It went on to the point where our jaws were aching, singing the mantra over and over and over and over and over. We felt exalted; it was a very happy time for us.
Mukunda: You know, I saw a video the other day sent to us from Canada, showing John and Yoko Ono recording their hit song "Give Peace a Chance," and about five or six of the devotees were there in John's room at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, singing along and playing cymbals and drums. You know, John and Yoko chanted Hare Krishna on that song. That was in May of '69, and just three months later, Srila Prabhupada was John and Yoko's house guest for one month at their estate outside London.
While Prabhupada was there, you, John, and Yoko came to his room one afternoon for a few hours. I think that was the first time you all met him.
George: That's right.
Mukunda: At that point John was a spiritual seeker, and Prabhupada explained the true path to peace and liberation. He talked about the eternality of the soul, karma, and reincarnation, which are all elaborately dealt with in the Vedic literatures.Vedas, predating the Bible and covering all aspects of spiritual knowledge from the nature of the self, or individual soul, to the Supreme Soul (Sri Krishna) and His kingdom in the spiritual world. Although John never made Hare Krishna a big part of his life, he echoed the philosophy of Krishna consciousness in a hit song he wrote just about a year after that conversation, "Instant Karma."
Now what's the difference between chanting Hare Krishna and meditation?
George: It's really the same sort of thing as meditation, but I think it has a quicker effect. I mean, even if you put your beads down, you can still say the mantra or sing it without actually keeping track on your beads. One of the main differences between silent meditation and chanting is that silent meditation is rather dependent on concentration, but when you chant, it's more of a direct connection with God.