It is perhaps the biggest question of them all: What is the purpose of life? It led Fyodor Dostoyevsky to proclaim that it is about “finding something to live for,” it prompted Kurt Vonnegut to say, “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different,” and it called for Karl Pilkington to posit, “There isn’t a meaning of life, or if there is don’t worry about it, you’re here now, get on with it! It does my head in!” All of which are valid, but the more opinions you can get on this sort of thing, the better.
With that in mind, what exactly did the ‘Quiet One’ have to say about it all? George Harrison’s spiritual journey began, at least in earnest, in very peculiar circumstances. As it turned out, it started while filming the oddball movie Help! back in 1965. The band spent most of their time on set smoking copious marijuana and gorging on cheeseburgers; however, there was one profound moment foisted upon Harrison by the universe’s fateful happenstance division in amongst it.
As the tale goes, during the filming of the movie, in the April of ’65, an Indian band played background music in a groovy restaurant scene that set George Harrison agog. He tried his best to make a mental note of the ungainly instrument and the emotional wallop it dealt him. Later, in casual conversation with Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Harrison would mention this mind-bending moment, and McGuinn would auspiciously slip Harrison a copy of Ravi Shankar.
As George Harrison famously declared: “Ravi was my link into the Vedic world. Ravi plugged me into the whole of reality. I mean, I met Elvis—Elvis impressed me when I was a kid, and impressed me when I met him because of the buzz of meeting Elvis, but you couldn’t later on go round to him and say, ‘Elvis, what’s happening in the universe?’” A few years earlier, Harrison and the rest of the Fab Four would’ve had no cause to even bother asking such questions; they were young lads interested in holding pretty girl’s hands. Now, however, they were fucking with the fabric of the cosmos.
Years later, when appearing on a talk show with Ravi Shankar, Harrison laid out his carefully curated worldview in unflinchingly pious tones. “What are we doing on this planet?” the star began. “You know I get confused when I look around at the world and I see everybody is running around and as Bob Dylan said, ‘He not busy being born is busy dying’, and yet nobody is trying to figure out what’s the cause of death and what happens when you die. That to me is the only thing of any importance and the rest is all secondary.”
He then delineated the significance of the search for knowledge, from which answers soon follow. “I believe in the thing that I read years ago in the Bible that said, ‘Knock and the door will be opened’,” he said. In the process, Harrison also importantly showed how open-minded he was when it came to spiritualism by indiscriminately meddling in various sacred texts and teachings without strictly adhering to a single dogmatic view.
Naturally, the cynics always counter such views as celeb privilege, but Harrison even disavowed that notion in quite a meta sense, declaring: “Fame is not the goal and money, although it’s nice to have it can buy you a bit of freedom, and you can go to the Bahamas when you want, it’s not the answer. The answer is how to get peace of mind and how to be happy that’s really what we’re supposed to be here for.” Well, George, you can’t say it fairer than that.