George Harrison’s Spiritual Awakening: ‘Heaven and Hell Is Right Now’

By 1967, George Harrison was extremely passionate about pursuing spiritual enlightenment — something all four members of The Beatles were eventually interested in. In 1968, the band went to Rishikesh in northern India to study meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

When Harrison was interviewed in ’67 by Barry Miles for the International Times, he spoke about his spiritual musings and findings. To him, it was “all very obvious.” Here’s what the musician said.

George Harrison with Ravi Shanker of India plays the sitar
George Harrison learns the sitar from Ravi Shanker | Bettmann, Getty Images

George Harrison on Hare Krishna chants

By this time, Harrison had become interested in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement.

According to Ranker, “Hare Krishnas are the largest branch of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a branch of Hinduism, so you’ll see a lot of Hinduism in their beliefs. For example, Krishna, the supreme God worshipped by Hare Krishnas, is the eighth incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.”

Part of the movement includes chanting, which is said to free the soul and connect it to Krishna.

“People get hung up on the meaning of the word rather than the sound of the word,” Harrison said of chanting, as recorded in the book George Harrison on George Harrison. “‘In the beginning was the word,’ and that’s the thing about Krishna saying Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, so it’s not the word that you’re saying, it’s the sound: Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna and it’s just sounds and it’s great. Sounds are vibrations and the more you can put into that vibration, the more you can get out, action and reaction that’s the thing to tell the people. You see it’s all very obvious, the whole thing of life and all the answers to everything are in one divine law, Karma, action and reaction.”

The Beatle on happiness

Something else the musician often pondered back then was the meaning of happiness and how to achieve it. What was it for?

“It’s obvious: everybody knows that if they’re happy then usually the people around them are happy, or that people around them happy make them a little happier; that’s a proved thing, like ‘I give to you and you give to me’; they all know that but they haven’t thought about it to the point of every action that they do,” he said.

Harrison also spent a lot of time thinking about actions and reactions.

“That’s what it is with every action that you do, there’s a reaction to it, and if you want a good reaction then you do a good action, and if you want a bad one, then you punch somebody,” he said. “But that’s where it is at. Just that one thing. That’s why there is the whole scene of heaven and hell; heaven and hell is right now, right at this moment. You make it heaven or you make it hell by your actions. . . it’s just obvious, isn’t it?”

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Harrison went on to say that most people don’t realize that they’re in control of their own experiences.

“Everybody would like to be good, that’s the silly thing, everybody always likes it when they’re having a nice time or when they’re happy or when it’s sunny, they all dig it; but then they go and forget about it, they never really try to make it nice,” he said. “They think that it just comes along and it’s nice if you’re lucky, or if you’re unlucky it’s bad for you.”