George Harrison Believed in ‘Self-Realization,’ Not Religion

George Harrison believed in “self-realization,” not religion. Contrary to popular belief, George never truly belonged to any religious organization. He preferred to take aspects of all spirituality to help him connect with his true self.

George Harrison with members of the Hare Krishna Temple in 1970.
George Harrison | Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

George Harrison found self-realization early on in his spiritual journey

In the mid-1960s, George took LSD, which he said opened his mind to God-consciousness. He learned more about what that meant when he met his spiritual and musical guru, Ravi Shankar. Suddenly, spiritualism was more interesting to George than being a Beatle.

In Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda, Geoge read, “All people possess innate and eternal perfection… You are that which you seek. There is nothing to do but realize it.” Eventually, George did. He also discovered his spiritual journey wasn’t about any one religion.

His parents raised him as a Catholic. However, as he learned more about Hinduism and the Hare Krishna movement, he realized he could never truly join them either. It was all about finding your true self and having self-realization.

During a 1967 interview on The Frost Programme (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters), George explained that you could see your true self by doing yoga and meditating.

“Because the thing is, your true self isn’t on this level; again, it’s on a subtler level,” George said. “So, whatever the true self is, the way to approach it is through that meditation or some form of yoga.

“Yoga incorporates lots of different techniques, but the whole point is that each soul is potentially divine, and yoga is a technique of manifesting that, to arrive at that point that is divine.”

That year, George told Melody Maker (per George Harrison on George Harrison), “You can only do it if you believe in it. Everybody is potentially divine. It’s just a matter of self-realisation before it will all happen. The hippies are a good idea—love, flowers and that is great—but when you see the other half of it, it’s like anything.”

George believed in self-realization, not religion

The spiritual Beatle preferred self-realization. He didn’t like when people used the word religion instead. They were two different things in his mind.

During another interview with Melody Maker (per George Harrison on George Harrison) in 1967, he said, “I don’t like to use the word ‘religious’ but when you get into whatever that is, that scene, when you go through yoga and meditation it’s just … self-realization… Yes, that’s the whole thing why people have missed God. They haven’t been able to see God because he is hidden in themselves.

“All the time people concentrate their energies and activities outwards on this surface level that we live on. But it’s only by turning your concentration and directing it inwardly, in a form of meditation, that you can see your own god in there. When you realize that then you can realize a lot more things about this surface level—because you’re now looking at it from a more subtle point of view.”

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He never joined any religious or spiritual organization

George’s biggest takeaway from spiritualism and religion was that you had to be God-conscious and come to self-realization. That didn’t mean he had to be any one religion.

In Harrison, his wife, Olivia, wrote, “But the driving force was his desire to know God. ‘If there is a God, we must see Him: if there is a soul we must perceive it. Otherwise it is better not to believe. It is better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite,’ as he used to remind us!

“Though he often quoted spiritual greats in this way, George did not, contrary to popular belief, ‘belong’ to any spiritual organization, although many claimed him as their own. George also said, ‘He who tells all that he knows, tells more than he knows.’ This usually applied to those who declared they knew the very private George’s innermost beliefs. In fact, his spiritual knowledge and experience was many faceted.

“Still, he managed to dive deep to the heart of each practice, never content to skim the surface. He embraced the essence of all religions although he had little patience for organized religions or dogma that espoused guilt, sin or mystery. For George, there was no mystery, and he would gladly spend hours discussing God with an interested person.”

In 1979, George told Rolling Stone, “Basically I feel fortunate to have realized what the goal is in life. There’s no point in dying having gone through your life without knowing who you are what you are or what the purpose of life is. And that’s all it is.

“People started getting up-tight when I started shooting off my mouth and saying the goal is to manifest love of God—self-realization. I must admit, there was a period when I was trying to tell everybody about it; now, I don’t bother unless somebody asks specifically. I still write about it in my songs, but it’s less blatant, more hidden now.

“I’m a very poor example of a spiritual person. I don’t really want anything in my life except knowledge, but I’m not a very good practitioner of that.”

George was a good practitioner in every single way.