How a Visit to a Restaurant Changed George Harrison’s Spiritual Life Forever

George Harrison is one of the most famous religious converts in the history of rock music. Despite this, many fans don’t know why he decided to become a Hindu. Some people convert to another religion because they have mystical experiences or fall on hard times. George, on the other hand, went down a different spiritual path because of a visit to a restaurant.

George Harrison sitting next to two men with shaved heads
George Harrison with fellow Hindus | Getty Images

The religious upbringing of George Harrison

George’s journey began when he was brought up as a Catholic. According to the book George Harrison on George Harrison, he associated Catholicism with pain and fear — though he acknowledged he may have “misinterpreted” his childhood religion. He stopped caring about Catholicism when he was 12 or 13. However, religion would become an important part of his life again someday — and George’s Catholic upbringing was clearly reflected in some of his solo music.

How an instrument and a book changed everything

George’s solo music includes prominent use of the sitar, which is perhaps the most famous Indian instrument. The sitar is often used in Hindu religious music. Fittingly, a sitar helped George along his spiritual journey.

“My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison

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According to the book The Rock Cries Out, George went to an Indian restaurant during the filming of the movie Help!. While he was there, he heard the music of a sitar. He felt he had somehow heard the tunes he was hearing before. George thought he had been reincarnated and he was hearing music from a past life. This was the moment that set him down the path to becoming a Hindu.

George became acquainted with the teachings of the Hindu guru Paramahansa Yogananda through Yogananda’s classic book Autobiography of a Yogi. Just looking at the book was a powerful experience for him. “The moment I looked at that picture of Yogananda on the front of the book … his eyes looked right through me, and to this day I have been under the spell of Yogananda,” Harrison wrote, according to the book Working Class Mystic.

George Harrison on the differences between Christianity and Hinduism

George Harrison holding a guitar
George Harrison | GAB Archive/Redferns

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In an interview included in George Harrison on George Harrison, Harrison contrasted Christianity with Hinduism. “I’m a Hindu, but all that means is that I can relate more to the teachings in the [Bhagavad] Gita than I can in the Bible, but that’s no putdown of the Bible: it’s just that from a Christian point of view they always taught us how it was painful and how you have … the crucifixion and the whole thing, whereas from the Hindu point of view, it’s all playful.”

Despite leaving Christianity behind, George had respect for all religions. He said this came from his beliefs as a Hindu, as Hinduism — or at least the version of Hinduism which George practiced — teaches all religions contain truth. George’s Catholic upbringing and conversion to Hinduism are reflected in his hit “My Sweet Lord,” which includes both Catholic and Hindu spiritual terminology.

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