In the mid-1960s, George Harrison found spirituality. Taking LSD opened a door for him. Then his musical and spiritual guru, Ravi Shankar, opened the flood gates. However, when he started playing sitar, reading about Hinduism, chanting, and incorporating more religious themes in his music, some people doubted whether he was genuine about his spirituality. They thought it was only a passing phase.
It wasn’t. George remained religious for the rest of his life. People might have doubted him, but he also doubted another fellow rock star’s spirituality.
George Harrison found spirituality after hitting a wall
In the mid-1960s, George had a profound experience with LSD.
He told Rolling Stone (per Joshua M. Greene’s Here Comes The Sun: The Spiritual And Musical Journey Of George Harrison), “Up until LSD I never realized that there was anything beyond this everyday state of consciousness… The first time I took it, it just blew everything away. I had such an overwhelming feeling of well-being, that there was a God, and I could see him in every blade of grass.
“It was like gaining hundreds of years of experience in twelve hours… From that moment on, I wanted to have that depth and clarity of perception.”
However, George realized the hallucinogen wasn’t the complete answer to life. He only found answers once he met legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar.
George had hit a wall where nothing was enjoyable anymore. In 1982, George told a leader in the Hare Krishna movement, Mukunda Goswami (per the Guardian), “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, OK, maybe you are thinking this is all you need – to be rich and famous – but actually it isn’t.'”
George finally met Shankar in June 1965. He told CBS This Morning (per Greene), “I just thought, well, I’m looking for something really, really beyond just the ordinary, the mundane… I wanted somebody to impress me. I didn’t expect it to be this little Indian man. But, you know, good things come in small packages.”
Shankar taught the Beatle “God is sound” and gave him his first sitar lessons. Later, George received religious texts from his guru as well. He never looked back.
George didn’t think Pete Townshend’s spirituality was genuine
After George found spirituality, he never let it go. He chanted mantras, read some of the best religious texts, and traveled to India to learn more. Then, he helped members of the Hare Krishna temple in any way he could, including producing an album for them that did well in the charts.
George quickly proved to people that his spirituality wasn’t a passing phase, unlike, according to him, his fellow rock star, The Who’s Pete Townshend. He didn’t think the guitarist was genuine about his spirituality.
In a 1976 interview with India Today, George said, “Townsend! Yeah! Every time I’ve seen that guy he’s been so stoned and talking such a lot of nonsense that I don’t think he means any of the religious stuff he spouts.”
Like George, Townshend experimented with LSD in the mid-1960s. The drug didn’t give him the answers he was looking for as well. So, according to Far Out Magazine, he started to read up on Maher Baba, a spiritual leader who claimed to be an Avatar.
“I don’t try to sell this remarkable man,” Townshend said in 2007. “If you are really interested there are many websites. I am devoted to him as a silent influence in my life. I started studying his writings in 1967 – planning to go and meet him. But, he died in 1969 and I never met him.
“I have been through periods of intense engagement and immense doubt. At the moment I am uncertain what I feel, but my faith in Meher Baba as a genuinely gifted teacher full of extraordinary insight is capable of surviving some uncertainty.”
Mick Jagger doubted whether George was genuine
In a special edition of Rolling Stone, “Remembering George,” The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger said he initially doubted George’s spirituality.
“George developed this other side to him,” Jagger said. “He very much concentrated on the spiritual side of his life, and it was more than a passing fancy. It looked like it was a sort of faddish thing at the time, but it stayed with him.
“You got the feeling that most people were dabbling in spirituality, but for George, it was perhaps the major part of his life once he discovered it.
“And it’s very easy to ridicule someone who does that, and he was ridiculed, there’s no doubt about that, especially in England, for being like that. But he did follow through on the courage of his convictions. He stayed with it and never rejected it.
“And, of course, he made mistakes – anybody following this who was one of the first people of a generation to do that would make mistakes – but not any glaring ones. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
Whether he was right about Townshend’s spirituality or not, George spearheaded a counterculture that placed spirituality at the forefront.