In the early stages of his spiritual awakening, to be "nobody-but-himself" for George Harrison meant fulfilling a duty to broadcast India's devotional teachings. "If I don't take this chance," he told a fellow yoga student in the mid-sixties, "then I've waste my life, haven't I?"
At first, from 1966 through 1973, his efforts met with some success. Sanskrit mantras for peace, the exotic aura of mystic India, and songs about journeying to eternal worlds beyond the material sky could not have been better timed for an era fueled by anti-materialist sentiment, visual spectacle, and spiritual quests.
And in the early 1970s, after the dissolution of the Beatles, George's solo career did bring India's devotional teachings to the attention of the world. His first album, "All Things Must Pass," and first single, "My Sweet Lord," both reached the number one slot in the United States and Britain. In 1971, his second solo album, "Living in the Material World," also rose to the top of the pop charts.
Counterculture idealism still lingered in those days, and George's message of "getting liberated from the material world" struck a chord with post-modern mystics and political refugees. Even greater acclaim followed his 1973 Concert for Bangladesh, history's first pop charity extravaganza, which raised millions of dollars to aid victims of the Pakistan-Bangladesh civil war. For the moment, it seemed George Harrison could do no wrong.
But by 1974, the mood in America had shifted. That year, U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam, a depressed economy sent spiritual seekers back into the world to find work, and it was entertainment that fans wanted, not evangelism. For the first time in his life, George was facing something less than adulation. The negativity sent him into seclusion at his home, Friar Park, 35 miles west of London. Despite his love of performing, it was 20 years before he would again play before a live audience.
During this period of retreat, George's commitment to God evolved from external missionary fervor to concentration on personal communion. "The best thing anyone can give to humanity is God consciousness," he told a friend in 1974, "but first you have to concentrate on your own spiritual advancement. So in a sense, we have to become selfish to become selfless."
But the last two decades of his life were marked less by worldly affairs and more by an appreciation for God in the simple miracles of nature.
|George Harrison poses behind a statue of demigod Shiva at the Harrison home Friar Park west of London. Photo c Rex Features|