QUESTION: Oftentimes you speak of yourself as a plainclothes devotee, or closet Krishna. How did you first come in contact with Krishna?
GEORGE: Through my visits to India. So by the time the movement first came to England in 1969, John and I had already had gotten a hold of Prabhupada's album, Krishna Consciousness. We played it a lot and liked it. That was the first time I'd ever heard the chanting of "mahamantra."
QUESTION: Even though you and John played Srila Prabhupada's record a lot and chanted quite a bit on your own, you'd never really met any of the devotees. Yet when [the devotees] came to England you cosigned the lease on their first temple in central London, bought them Bhaktivedanta Manor, which has provided a place for thousands of peoplee to learn about Krishna Consciousness, and financed the first printing of the book Krishna. Wasn't this a sudden change for you?
GEORGE: Not really, I always felt at home with Krishna. You see, it was already a part of me. I think it's something that's been with me from my previous birth. Your coming to England and all that was just another piece of a jigsaw puzzle that was coming together to make a complete picture. If you're going to have to stand up and be counted, I figured, "I would rather be with these guys than those other guys over there." I mean I'd rather be one of the devotees of God than one of the straight, so-called sane or normal people who just don't understand that man is a spiritual being, that he has a soul. And I felt comfortable with them., too, kind of like we'd known each other before. It was a pretty natural thing, really.
QUESTION: You were a member of the Beatles, a group that influenced not only music, but a whole generation of young people as well. After the dissolution of the group, you went on to emerge a solo superstar with albums like All Things Must Pass. That was followed by Living in the Material World, number one on Billboard for five weeks and a million-selling LP. One song on that album, "Give Me Love," was a smash hit for six straight weeks. The Concert for Bangladesh with Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, and Billy Preston was a phenomenal success and would become the single most successful rock benefit project ever. So you had material success. You'd been everywhere, done everything, yet at the same time you were on a spiritual journey?
GEORGE: It wasn't until the experience of the sixties really hit. You know, having been successful and meeting everybody we though worth meeting and finding out they weren't worth meeting and having had more hit records than everybody else and having done it bigger than everybody else - it was like reaching the top of a wall and then looking over and seeing there's so much more on the other side. So I felt it was part of my duty to say, "Oh, okay, maybe you are thinking this is all you need - to be rich and famous - but actually it isn't."
QUESTION: George, in your recent autobiography, I, Me, Mine, you said your song "Awaiting on You All" is about chanting mantras on beads. You explained that a mantra is "mystical energy encased in a sound structure" and that "each mantra contains within its vibrations a certain power." But of all the mantras, you stated that "the Hare Krishna mantra has been prescribed as the surest way for attaining God realization in this present age." What realizations have you experienced from chanting?
GEORGE: Prabhapuda told me once we should just keep chanting all the time, or as much as possible. Once you do that, you realize the benefit. The response that comes from chanting is in the form of bliss, or spiritual happiness, which is a much higher taste than any happiness found here in the material world. That's why I say that the more you do it, the more you don't want to stop, because it feels so nice and peaceful.
QUESTION: Is it an instantaneous process, or gradual?
GEORGE: You don't get it in five minutes. It's something that takes time, but it works because it's a direct process of attaining God and will help us to have pure consciousness and good perception that is above the normal, everyday state of consciousness.
QUESTION: How do you feel after chanting for a long time?
GEORGE: In the life I lead, I find that I sometimes have opportunities when I can really get going at it, and the more i do it, I find the harder it is to stop. For example, once I chanted all the way from France to Portugal, nonstop. I drove for twenty-three hours and chanted all the way. It gets you feeling a bit invincible. The funny thing was I didn't even know where I was going. I mean I had bought a map and I knew basically which way I was aiming, but I couldn't speak French, Spanish, or Portugese. But none of that seemed to matter. You know, once you get chanting, then things start to happen transcendentally.
QUESTION: Can you think of any incident where you felt God's presence very strongly through chanting?
GEORGE: I was on an airplane once that was in an electric storm. It was hit by lightning three times and a Boeing 707 went over the top of us, missing only by inches. I thought the back end of the plane had blown off, I was on my way from Los Angeles to New York to organize the Bangladesh concert. As soon as the plane started bouncing around, I started chanting. The whole thing went on for about an hour and a half or two hours, the plane dropping hundreds of feet and bouncing all over in the storm, all the lights were out and all these explosions and everybody terrified. I ended up with my feet pressed against the seat in front, my seat belt as tight as it could be, gripping on the thing and yelling "Hare Krishna" at the top of my voice. I know for me, the difference between making it and not making it was actually the chanting. Peter Sellers also swore that chanting saved him from a plane crash once.
QUESTION: Did any of the other Beatles chant?
GEORGE: John and I, with ukulele banjos, went sailing through the Greek Islands chanting Hare Krishna. Like six hours we sang, because we couldn't stop once we got going. As soon as we stopped, it was like the lights went out. It went on to the point where our jaws were aching, singing the mantra over and over and over and over. We felt exalted; it was a very happy time for us.
QUESTION: In 1969 you produced a single called "The Hare Krishna Mantra," which eventually became a hit in many countries. That tune later became a cut on the Radha-Krishna Temple album, which was also produced by Apple. A lot of people in the business were surprised by this. Why did you do it?
GEORGE: Well, it's just a part of my service, isn't it? Spiritual service, in order to try and spread the mantra all over the world.
QUESTION: How did the success of the record of Hare Krishna devotees chanting compare with some of the rock musicians you were producing at the time like Jackie Lomax, Splinter, and Billy Preston?
GEORGE: It was a different thing. There was less commercial potential in it, but it was much more satisfying to do, knowing the possibilities that it was going to create, the connotations it would have just by doing a three-and-a-half-minute mantra. There was more fun really than trying to make a pop hit record. It was the feeling of utilizing your skills to do some spiritual service for Krishna. One of the greatest thrills of my life, actally was seeing [the devotees] on the BBC's Top of the Pops. I couldn't believe it. It's pretty hard to get on that program, because they only put you on if you're in the Top Twenty. It was just like a breath of fresh air. My strategy was to keep it to a three-and-a-half-minute version of the mantra so they'd play it on the radio, and it worked. I did the harmonium and guitar track for the track for that record at Abbey Road Studios before one of the Beatles' sesssions and then overdubbed the bass part. I remember Paul and Linda arrived at the studio and enjoyed the mantra.
QUESTION: Shortly after its release John told me they played it at the intermission right before Bob Dylan did the Isle of Wight concert with Jimi Hendrix, the Moody Blues, and Joe Cocker in the summer of 1969.
GEORGE: They played it while they were getting the stage ready for Bob. It was great. Besides, it was a catchy tune and people didn't have to know what it meant in order to enjoy it. I felt very good when I first heard it was doing well.
QUESTION: In the lyrics to the song "Awaiting on You All" you tell people they can be free from living in the material world by chanting the names of God. What kind of feedback did you get?
GEORGE: At that time, nobody was committed to that type of music in the pop world. There was, I felt, a real need for that, so rather than sitting or waiting for somebody else, I decided to do it myself. A lot of times, we think, "Well, i agree with you, but I'm not going to actually stand up and be counted. Too risky." Everybody is always trying to keep themselves covered, stay commercial, so I thought, just do it. Nobody else is and I'm sick of all these young people just boogying around, wasting their lives, you know. Also, I felt there were a lot of people out there who would be reached. I still get letters from people daying, "I have been in the Krishna temple for three years and I would have never known about Krishna unless you recorded the All Things Must Pass album." So I know, by the Lord's grace, I am a small part in the cosmic play.
QUESTION: What about the other Beatles? What did they think about your Krishna Consciousness? You'd all been to India by then and wwere pretty much searching for something spiritual.
GEORGE: Oh yeah, well if the Fab FOur didn't get it, that is, if they couldn't deal with shaven-headed Hare Krishnas, then there would have been no hope. The devotees just came to be associated with me, so people stopped thinking, "Hey, what's this?" you know, if somebody in orange with a shaved head would appear. They'd say, "Oh yeah, they're with George."
QUESTION: You and John met Srila Prabhupada together when he stayed at John's home, in September of 1969.
GEORGE: Yes, but when I met him at first, I underestimated him. I realize it then, but I see now that because of him, the mantra has spread so far in the last sixteen years, more than it had in the last five centries. Now, that's pretty amazing, because he was getting older and older, yet he was writing his books all the time. I realized later that he was much more incredible than you could see on the surface.
QUESTION: Your write in your autobiography that "no matter how good you are, you still need grace to get out of the material world. You can be a yogi, a monk or a nun, but without God's grace you still can't make it." And at the end of the song "Living in the Material World" the lyrics say, "Hope to get out of this place by the Lord Sri Krishna's grace/my salvation from the material world." If we're dependant on the grace of God, what does the expression "God help those who help themselves" mean?
GEORGE: It's flexible, I think. In one way I'm never going to get out of here unless it's by His grace, but then again, His grace is relative to the amount of desire I manifest in myself. The amount of grace I would expect from God should be equal to the amount of grace I can gather or earn. I get out what I put in.
QUESTION: What do you think is the goal of human life?
GEORGE: Each individual has to burn out his own karma and escape from the chains of maya [illusion], reincarnation, and all that. The best thing anyone can give to humanity is God consciousness. But first you have to concentrate on your own spiritual advancement; so in a sense we have to become selfish to become selfless.
QUESTION: In I, Me, Mine you speak about karma and reincarnation and how the only way to get out of the cycle is to take up a bona fide spiritual process. You said at one point. "Everybody is worried about dying, but the cause of death is birth, so if you don't want to die, you don't get born!" Did any of the other Beatles believe in reincarnation?
GEORGE: I'm sure John does! And I wouldn't want to underestimate Paul or Ringo, I wouldn't be surprised if they're hoping it's true, you know what I mean? For all I know, Ringo might be a yogi disguised as a drummer!
QUESTION: Where do you think John's soul is now?
GEORGE: I should hope that he's in a good place. He has the understanding, though, that each soul reincarnates until it becomes completely pure and each soul finds its own level, designated by reactions to its actions in this and previous lives.
QUESTION: Bob Dylan did a lot of chanting at one time. In fact, he drove across the United States with two devotees once and wrote several songs about Krishna. They spent a lot of time chanting.
GEORGE: That's right. He said he enjoyed being with them. Also Stevie Wonder had the devotees on one of his records, you know. And it was great, the song he put the chanting in, "Pastimes Paradise."
QUESTION: You wrote in your book : "Most of the world is fooling about, especially the people who think they control the world and the community. The presidents, the politicians, the military, etc., are all jerking about, acting as if they are Lord over their own domains. That's basically Problem One on the planet."
GEORGE: That's right. Unless you're doing some kind of God-conscious thing and you know that He's the one who's really in charge, you're just building up a lot of karma and not really helping yourself or anybody else. There's a point in me where it's beyond sad, seeing the state of the world today. It's so screwed up. It's terrible and it will be getting worse and worse. More concrete everywhere, more pollution, more radioactivity. There's no wilderness left, no pure air. They're chopping the forests down and they're polluting all the oceans. In one sense, I'm pessimistic about the future of the planet. These big guys don't realize for everything they do, there's a reaction. You have to pay. That's karma.
QUESTION: Do you think there's any hope?
GEORGE: Yes. One by one, everybody's got to escape maya. Everybody has to burn out his karma, escape reincarnation, and all that. Stop thinking that if Britain, America, Russia, or the West becomes superior, then we'll beat them and then we'll all have a rest and live happily ever after. That doesn't work. The best thing you can give is God consciousness. Manifest your own divinity first. The truth is there. It's right within us all. Understand what you are. If people would just wake up to what's real, there would be no misery in the world. I guess chanting's a pretty good place to start.