A story of five George Harrison songs that capture profound spiritual truth.
George Harrison was known as the Quiet Beatle, and for good reason. In live Beatles performances he was often more heard than seen, ripping out his awesome fills, riffs and solos when standing beyond John and Paul.
Indeed, in later years he declared that he felt like an alien visitor to planet Earth, and in the final song on his final studio album he attacks everything from the stock market to education to the royal family.
But in my mind, his introversion and sense of alienation are secondary. To me, George Harrison is the Awakened Beatle. Sure, John, Paul, and Ringo kissed some spiritual frogs. They did their Transcendental Meditation, did interviews on the power of meditation, and sung trippy music with allusions to altered experiences.
But George is the real mystic. His solo music contains myriad spiritual references and mystical truths, across multiple decades. In fact, in some albums the references come in almost every song, especially in his later career.
And beyond the words, his vocal tones have a touch of divinity and reverence akin to Indian music. He doesn’t just sing spiritual music — he feels it, breathes it, embodies it.
So in this mini-series, we’ll look at George Harrison’s top 5 spiritual songs, starting with one only the diehards will know, and winding up with his most popular of all.
George Harrison’s Spiritual Songs: 1 –Life Itself
Though not many know this George Harrison tune, it’s the first that comes to mind when I think of his spiritual songs. Let’s see. Here’s the tag:
“You stand alone and speak the truth. You are the breath of life itself, you are the one.”
This is another of my favourite lines, from the first bridge:
“You’re all that is real. You’re the essence of that which we touch, taste and feel.”
And in the second bridge he manages to fit in seven names for the divine:
“They call you Christ, Vishnu, Buddha, Jehovah, our Lord. You are Govindam, Bismillah, Creator of all”
Wow. This is profound stuff — mystical-level spirituality in pop songs.
George Harrison’s Spiritual Songs: 2 – Rising Sun
Let’s look at another little-known George Harrison number that I put among his most spiritual songs: Rising Sun.
Rising Sun appears on the Brainwashed album, which was released after his death. There are a few other gems in there, but this song contains a tonne of spiritual references. In my mind, it describes to our return to spirit, our rememberance of spirit, and the pain caused by ignorance of it.
Here’s a snippet from the first verse:
“And in the room of mirrors you can see for miles, but everything that’s there is in disguise.”
The manifestations of God are God-in-descent. They’re artefacts of God, and we become used to mistaking them for Reality, battered around, drunk on the Manifest. Only with spiritual awareness do we realise that all of life is God at play, and that it has no reality of its own.
And he gets right to the matter in the chorus:
“But in the rising sun, you can feel your life begin. Universe at play inside your DNA, and you’re a billion years old today.”
Spirit has no age. It’s utterly timeless, substanceless, blank, lucid, glowing. And in every moment it begins again.
In the second verse, George returns to the theme of depression, of insatisfaction with the Material.
“On the avenue of sinners I have been employed, working there until I was near destroyed. I was almost a statistic inside a doctor’s case, when I heard the messenger from inner space.”
Separation from God and intoxication with Manifestation gets painful. It never satisfies, because it’s ultimately an illusion, an artefact of our ultimate nature, not our ultimate nature itself.
The ego runs here, there and everywhere (that’s another Beatles song), wearing itself out and failing to find lasting satisfaction. Only psychological death and discovery of Being will do the trick.
Song 3: Brainwashed
Let’s move on to the final song in George’s final studio album: Brainwashed.
Though some understandably see this one as fatalistic and paranoic, it still contains some beautiful spiritual lyrics. There’s not much in the verses — that’s when he lets rip with his criticism of society, monarchs, and capitalists — so let’s start with the first chorus:
“A voice cries in the wilderness; it was on the longest night. An eternity of darkness; someone turned out the spiritual light.”
Powerful, right? As the Sufis say, God loves to be known. He cries out for conscious recognition. Do we know Him?
The theme continues in the second chorus:
“You are the wisdom that we seek; the lover that we miss. Your nature is eternity; you are existence, knowledge, bliss.”
Beautiful. This lyric captures our yearning and distance from God and points us towards how to find Him. But the most spine-chilling section is the bridge. The drums and George’s vocal disappear, making way for some exquisite slide guitar, Indian instruments, and a female voice reciting Patanjali:
“The soul does not love; it is love itself. It does not exist; it is existence itself. It does not know, it is knowledge itself.”
Yet more pointers to our deep nature.
Song 4: Awaiting On You All
We’ll finish off with two songs from his immensely popular 1970 studio album, All Things Must Pass, beginning with the less-known Awaiting On You All.
We might rephrase the title to God Is Awaiting On You All. George describes how the divine is simply waiting for our recognition, and shows us the way to get there. In the chorus, he says:
“By chanting the names of the Lord, you’ll be free. Because the Lord is awaiting on you all to awaken and see.”
In the second verse, he tells us:
“If you open up your heart, you’ll see he’s [Jesus] right there. Always was and will be, he’ll relieve you of your cares.”
This reminds me of the Soto Zen view of enlightenment, which is that we’re already fully conscious of God. He’s always 100% present.
Another theme in the song is his rejection of ritual and paraphernalia in favour of raw spiritual practice:
“You don’t need no church hourse, and you don’t need no temple. You don’t need no rosary beads or them books to read to see that you have fallen.”
This is a beautiful reminder for us all: are we getting lost in the external symbols of spirituality, or are we practicing diligently?
Song 5: My Sweet Lord
It’s time for the song you’ve all been expecting to see. This is the second track in George’s landmark album All Things Must Pass. It both put him on the map as a solo artist and landed him in court. But whether he deliberately stole the melody or not, it’s an all-time classic. It’s My Sweet Lord.
Let’s start with the title. George was brave to give his first solo single this name, but his decision came off. Lord for many people evokes images of damnation, fire and brimstone, an angry, selfish, punishing God. Isn’t it interesting how he softens this God with sweet, hinting that God is graceful, loving and giving after all?
Indeed, the title points to deep spiritual truths. “My” shows us that God is something we possess. It’s ours, it’s us. This is true, but we are also God and God’s. By saying “My”, George is telling us that God is like a sanctuary, a protector. But it’s deeper than that: this possession exists because ultimately everything is non-dual. It’s us and it’s ours.
“Sweet” shows us that God means renewal, peace, joy, rest, wonder. Discovering and taking up residence in God is a positive, life-changing shift from egoic, thought-dominated consciousness to transpersonal divine Being.
Let’s dive into the chorus:
“I really want to see you, I really want to be with you. I really want to see you, Lord, but it takes so long, my Lord.”
There are several interesting spiritual elements here, but let’s focus on one. George sings it in a tone of mourning and longing, and he repeats “I really want to” three times. To me, the message is clear. Being separate from God (or more accurately, being stuck in the false perception of separation) is painful.
All the individual artefacts of God — from inanimate objects, to plants, to insects, to animals, to humans — ultimately yearn to unite with Him. The yearning is a syntom of separation, of our state of forgetfulness. This is not just George’s desire, but the desire of all of God’s Children.
My Sweet Lord is a long song, filled with repeating lines and a key change, a common device in religious music. My Sweet Lord sounds like a church hymn or a Buddhist chant but in postmodern clothes. Fading the song with dozens of names for the divine taken from all the world’s religions, George makes it clear that your God is my God is their God.
Thank you, George, for your wonderful contribution to music and for using your fame to create beauty and increase spiritual awareness. Blessings.