George Harrison and Srila PrabhupadaMukunda: George, you and John Lennon met Srila Prabhupada together when he stayed at John’s home, in September of 1969.
George: Yes, but when I met him at first, I underestimated him. I didn’t realize it then, but I see now that because of him, the mantra has spread so far in the last sixteen years, more than it had in the last five centuries. Now that’s pretty amazing, because he was getting older and older, yet he was writing his books all the time. I realized later on that he was much more incredible than what you could see on the surface.
The thing that always stays is his saying, “I am the servant
of the servant of the servant.” I like that…. I liked Prabhupada’s
humbleness. I always liked his humility and his simplicity
The servant of the servant of the servant is really what it is,
you know. None of us are God–just His servants.
Mukunda: What about him stands out the most in your mind?
George: The thing that always stays is his saying, “I am the servant of the servant of the servant.” I like that. A lot of people say, “I’m it. I’m the divine incarnation. I’m here and let me hip you.” You know what I mean? But Prabhupada was never like that. I liked Prabhupada’s humbleness. I always liked his humility and his simplicity The servant of the servant of the servant is really what it is, you know. None of us are God–just His servants. He just made me feel so comfortable. I always felt very relaxed with him, and I felt more like a friend. I felt that he was a good friend. Even though he was at the time seventy-nine years old, working practically all through the night, day after day, with very little sleep, he still didn’t come through to me as though he was a very highly educated intellectual being, because he had a sort of childlike simplicity. Which is great, fantastic. Even though he was the greatest Sanskrit scholar and a saint, I appreciated the fact that he never made me feel uncomfortable. In fact, he always went out of his way to make me feel comfortable. I always thought of him as sort of a lovely friend, really, and now he’s still a lovely friend.
Mukunda: In one of his books, Prabhupada said that your sincere service was better than some people who had delved more deeply into Krishna consciousness but could not maintain that level of commitment. How did you feel about this?
George: Very wonderful, really. I mean it really gave me hope, because as they say, even one moment in the company of a divine person, Krishna’s pure devotee, can help a tremendous amount. And I think Prabhupada was really pleased at the idea that somebody from outside of the temple was helping to get the album made. Just the fact that he was pleased was encouraging to me. I knew he liked “The Hare Krishna Mantra” record, and he asked the devotees to play that song “Govinda.” They still play it, don’t they?
That was the thing about Prabhupada, you see.
He didn’t just talk about loving Krishna and getting
out of this place, but he was the perfect example….
He was a perfect example of everything he preached.
Mukunda: Every temple has a recording of it, and we play it each morning when the devotees assemble before the altar, before kirtana. It’s an ISKCON institution, you might say. George: And if I didn’t get feedback from Prabhupada on my songs about Krishna or the philosophy, I’d get it from the devotees. That’s all the encouragement I needed really. It just seemed that anything spiritual I did, either through songs, or helping with publishing the books, or whatever, really pleased him. The song I wrote, “Living in the Material World,” as I wrote in I, Me, Mine, was influenced by Srila Prabhupada. He’s the one who explained to me how we’re not these physical bodies. We just happen to be in them.
Like I said in the song, this place’s not really what’s happening. We don’t belong here, but in the spiritual sky: As l’m fated for the material world, Get frustrated in the material world, Senses never gratified, Only swelling like a tide, That could drown me in the material world. The whole point to being here, really, is to figure a way to get out. That was the thing about Prabhupada, you see. He didn’t just talk about loving Krishna and getting out of this place, but he was the perfect example. He talked about always chanting, and he was always chanting. I think that that in itself was perhaps the most encouraging thing for me. It was enough to make me try harder, to be just a little bit better. He was a perfect example of everything he preached.
I think Prabhupada’s accomplishments are very significant;
they’re huge. Even compared to someone like William Shakespeare,
the amount of literature Prabhupada produced is truly amazing.
It boggles the mind. He sometimes went for
days with only a few hours sleep.
Mukunda: How would you describe Srila Prabhupada’s achievements?
George: I think Prabhupada’s accomplishments are very significant; they’re huge. Even compared to someone like William Shakespeare, the amount of literature Prabhupada produced is truly amazing. It boggles the mind. He sometimes went for days with only a few hours sleep. I mean even a youthful, athletic young person couldn’t keep the pace he kept himself at seventy-nine years of age.
Srila Prabhupada has already had an amazing effect
on the world. There’s no way of measuring it.
One day I just realized, “God, this man is amazing!”
George: Srila Prabhupada has already had an amazing effect on the world. There’s no way of measuring it. One day I just realized, “God, this man is amazing!” He would sit up all night translating Sanskrit into English, putting in glossaries to make sure everyone understands it, and yet he never came off as someone above you. He always had that childlike simplicity, and what’s most amazing is the fact that he did all this translating in such a relatively short time–just a few years. And without having anything more than his own Krishna consciousness, he rounded up all these thousands of devotees, set the whole movement in motion, which became something so strong that it went on even after he left. And it’s still escalating even now at an incredible rate. It will go on and on from the knowledge he gave. [Edititors note: Srila Prabhupada: “Even if they stop (the movement) externally, internally it will go on.”] It can only grow and grow. The more people wake up spiritually, the more they’ll begin to realize the depth of what Prabhupada was saying–how much he gave.
His contribution has obviously been enormous
from the literary point of view, because he’s brought
the Supreme Person, Krishna, more into focus.
Mukunda: Did you know that complete sets of Prabhupada’s books are in all the major colleges and universities in the world, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, and the Sorbonne?
George: They should be! One of the greatest things I noticed about Prabhupada was the way he would be talking to you in English, and then all of a sudden he would say it to you in Sanskrit and then translate it back into English. It was clear that he really knew it well. His contribution has obviously been enormous from the literary point of view, because he’s brought the Supreme Person, Krishna, more into focus. A lot of scholars and writers know the Gita, but only on an intellectual level. Even when they write “Krishna said…,” they don’t do it with the bhakti or love required. That’s the secret, you know–Krishna is actually a person who is the Lord and who will also appear there in that book when there is that love, that bhakti. You can’t understand the first thing about God unless you love Him. These big so-called Vedic scholars–they don’t necessarily love Krishna, so they can’t understand Him and give Him to us. But Prabhupada was different. Well, Prabhupada’s definitely affected the world in an absolute way.
What he was giving us was the highest literature, the highest
knowledge. I mean there just isn’t anything higher.
Mukunda: The Vedic literatures predicted that after the advent of Lord Caitanya five hundred years ago, there would be a Golden Age of ten thousand years, when the chanting of the holy names of God would completely nullify all the degradations of the modern age, and real spiritual peace would come to this planet.
George: Well, Prabhupada’s definitely affected the world in an absolute way. What he was giving us was the highest literature, the highest knowledge. I mean there just isn’t anything higher.
Mukunda: You write in your autobiography that “No matter how good you are, you still need grace to get out of the material world. You can be a yogi or a monk or a nun, but without God’s grace you still can’t make it.” And at the end of the song “Living in the Material World,” the Iyrics say, “Got to get out of this place by the Lord Sri Krishna’s grace, my salvation from the material world.” If we’re dependent on the grace of God, what does the expression “God helps those who help themselves” mean?
George: It’s flexible, I think. In one way, I’m never going to get out of here unless it’s by His grace but then again, His grace is relative to the amount of desire I can manifest in myself. The amount of grace I would expect from God should be equal to the amount of grace I can gather or earn. I get out what I put in. Like in the song I wrote about Prabhupada: The Lord loves the one that loves the Lord
And the law says if you don’t give,
then you don’t get loving
Now the Lord helps those that help themselves
And the law says whatever you do
It comes right back on you
-”The Lord Loves the One that Loves the Lord”
from Living in the Material World Apple LP
Have you heard that song “That Which I Have Lost” from my new album, Somewhere in England? It’s right out of the Bhagavad-gita. In it I talk about fighting the forces of darkness, limitations, falsehood, and mortality.
“My Sweet Lord”
Mukunda: I don’t think it’s possible to calculate just how many people were turned on to Krishna consciousness by your song “My Sweet Lord.” But you went through quite a personal thing before you decided to do that song. In your book you said, “I thought a lot about whether to do ‘My Sweet Lord’ or not because I would be committing myself publicly … Many people fear the words Lord and God … I was sticking my neck out on the chopping block … but at the same time I thought ‘Nobody’s saying it … why should I be untrue to myself?’ I came to believe in the importance that if you feel something strong enough, then you should say it.
“I wanted to show that Hallelujah and Hare Krishna are quite the same thing. I did the voices singing ‘Hallelujah’ and then the change to ‘Hare Krishna’ so that people would be chanting the maha-mantra-before they knew what was going on! I had been chanting Hare Krishna for a long time, and this song was a simple idea of how to do a Western pop equivalent of a mantra which repeats over and over again the holy names. I don’t feel guilty or bad about it; in fact it saved many a heroin addict’s life.”
Why did you feel you wanted to put Hare Krishna on the album at all? Wouldn’t “Hallelujah” alone have been good enough?
George: Well, first of all “Hallelujah” is a joyous expression the Christians have, but “Hare Krishna” has a mystical side to it. It’s more than just glorifying God; it’s asking to become His servant. And because of the way the mantra is put together, with the mystic spiritual energy contained in those syllables, it’s much closer to God than the way Christianity currently seems to be representing Him. Although Christ in my mind is an absolute yogi, I think many Christian teachers today are misrepresenting Christ. They’re supposed to be representing Jesus, but they’re not doing it very well. They’re letting him down very badly, and that’s a big turn off.
My idea in “My Sweet Lord,” because it sounded like a “pop song,” was to sneak up on them a bit. The point was to have the people not offended by “Hallelujah,” and by the time it gets to “Hare Krishna,” they’re already hooked, and their foot’s tapping, and they’re already singing along “Hallelujah,” to kind of lull them into a sense of false security. And then suddenly it turns into “Hare Krishna,” and they will all be singing that before they know what’s happened, and they will think, “Hey, I thought I wasn’t supposed to like Hare Krishna!”
People write to me even now asking what style that was. Ten years later they’re still trying to figure out what the words mean. It was just a little trick really. And it didn’t offend. For some reason I never got any offensive feedback from Christians who said “We like it up to a point, but what’s all this about Hare Krishna?”
Hallelujah may have originally been some mantric thing that got watered down, but I’m not sure what it really means. The Greek word for Christ is Kristos, which is, let’s face it, Krishna, and Kristos is the same name actually.
Mukunda: What would you say is the difference between the Christian view of God, and Krishna as represented in the Bhagavad-gita?
George: When I first came to this house, it was occupied by nuns. I brought in this poster of Visnu [a four-armed form of Krishna]. You just see His head and shoulders and His four arms holding a conchshell and various other symbols, and it has a big oàThis transcendental syllable, which represents Krishna, has been chanted by many persons throughout history for spiritual perfection.* written above it. He has a nice aura around Him. I left it by the fireplace and went out into the garden. When we came back in thc house, they all pounced on me, saying, “Who is that? What is it?” as if it were some pagan god. So I said, “Well, if God is unlimited, then He can appear in any form, whichever way He likes to appear. That’s one way. He’s called Visnu.” It sort of freaked them out a bit, but the point is, why should God be limited? Even if you get Him as Krishna, He is not limited to that picture of Krishna. He can be the baby form, He can be Govinda and manifest in so many other well-known forms. You can see Krishna as a little boy, which is how I like to see Krishna. It’s a joyful relationship. But there’s this morbid side to the way many represent Christianity today, where you don’t smile, because it’s too serious, and you can’t expect to see God-that kind of stuff. If there is God, we must see Him, and I don’t believe in the idea you find in most churches, where they say, “No, you’re not going to see Him. He’s way up above you. Just believe what we tell you and shut up.”
I mean, the knowledge that’s given in Prabhupada’s books-the Vedic stuff-that’s the world’s oldest scriptures. They say that man can become purified, and with divine vision he can see God. You get pure by chanting, then you see Him. And Sanskrit, the language they’re written in, is the world’s first recorded language. Devanagari [the alphabet of the Sanskrit language] actually means “language of the gods.”
Mukunda: Anyone who is sincere about making spiritual advancement, whatever one’s religion may be, can usually see the value of chanting. I mean if that person was really trying to be God conscious and trying to chant sincerely.
George: That’s right. It’s a matter of being open. Anyone who’s open can do it. You just have to be open and not prejudiced. You just have to try it. There’s no loss, you know. But the “intellectuals” will always have problems, because they always need to “know.” They’re often the most spiritually bankrupt people, because they never let go; they don’t understand the meaning of “to transcend” the intellect. But an ordinary person’s more willing to say, “Okay. Let me try it and see if it works.” Chanting Hare Krishna can make a person a better Christian, too.