George Harrison Finds Eastern Religion

Beatles Train to India

Beatles Train to India

In August 1967 the Beatles boarded a train at Euston Station, London, bound for Bangor in North Wales. They were going to a weekend retreat for spiritual guides led by a fifty-year-old teacher from India, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had shoulder-length hair a graying beard, and wore a string of beads over his long white dhoti. By taking public transport the Beatles made it clear that they wanted their journey, and the goal of their journey, to be publicized. Journalists swarmed over the train, and the next day the world woke up to stories and photos of the Beatles and their guru.

To the public it seemed like one more zany adventure for the Fab Four. What would they do next? In the days before mass immigration and widespread talk of multiculturalism, most British people didn’t know what a guru was and only had an inkling of Hindu philosophy. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Spiritual Regeneration Movement Foundation, instructed his followers in Transcendental Meditation (TM), something else few had heard of.

The Beatles interest in Eastern religions originated with George. His introduction had come on February 25,1965, six months after his first experience with pot and two months before taking LSD. While George was in the Bahamas filming Help! With the rest of the Beatles, Swami Vishnu-Devananda spotted him and handed him a copy of a book he’d written in 1960, The Complete illustrated Book of Yoga.

Besides being a guide to yogic exercises, it gave an introduction to Hindu religion, explaining that truth can’t be comprehended by the mind, and therefore to achieve enlightenment it is necessary to develop techniques that bypass the intellect. “Yoga has its own method and declares that the truth can be experienced,” Vishnu-Devananda had written in the book’s introduction. “The truth can be experienced only when one transcends the senses and when the mind and intellect cease to function.”

Devananda was a thirty-seven-year-old spiritual teacher and expert in Hatha and Raja Yoga who in 1951 had been sent to establish ashrams and yoga centers in the west by his guru. One of the centers he established was on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, and it was from here that he heard of the Beatles’ impending visit.

Beatles Help Bicycle Scene

Beatles Help Bicycle Scene

While meditating on the morning of February 25, he had a strong feeling that he should approach the group. He found them filming¬†a¬†bicycle scene on Interfield Road. “I didn’t look at the book in detail for some time,” said George, “but at a later date I found it and I opened the cover, and it had a big OM written on it.” (OM is Hinduism’s sacred symbol that represents the Absolute.)

Yoga was the first step in George’s journey East. The second step was the music of India. In Help! Ringo was pursued by the members of a fictitious Indian religious cult because he had come into possession of a sacred ring required by the next sacrificial victim of the goddess Kaili. In one scene, the
Beatles are pursued by the gang, who discover them eating in an Indian restaurant where musicians are playing. After the filming, on April 5, 1965, George picked up one of the sitars on the set and began strumming it. It was to be the start of a lifelong passion.

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alan gross

Didn’t know George got into it all during the filming Help! All it takes is a book dropped into the right hands. Thank you for that information

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May

Hah I like Rol’s comment!John was my first fauvroite beatle, then Paul but I finally settled on George. it’s been that way for over a decade now so I think I’ve finally made up my mind.I do often think how sad it is though that John didn’t get to reach old age and hear the music made by musicians after his time that have rocked the world. I often wonder what he would have thought of Kurt Cobain, Thom Yorke and Bjork. I wonder what sort of old man he would have grown into. Sigh.

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