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Sriman George Harrison—
by the Grace of Krishna, Fortunate

from Vyenkata Bhatta Dasa

Dear Maharajas, Prabhus, and Matajis,

Yesterday at 1:30 pm in Los Angeles, California, Sriman George Harrison — a sincere and gentle friend of the worldwide Hare Krishna movement — left his body. He was 58 and had been suffering from cancer. He is survived by his wife Olivia and son Dhani. Most of the world will remember George as a member of the most influential and popular musical group of all time, the Beatles. George was often called "the quiet Beatle."

George first came into contact with the Hare Krishna mahamantra in India in the mid 1960s. He and fellow John Lennon soon acquired Srila Prabhupada’s first record album, Krishna Consciousness, and began to chant along to it. All of this was before he had even met a single devotee of ISKCON! Soon enough, George’s path crossed with Gurudasa Prabhu, Syamasundara Prabhu, Mukunda Prabhu (now Maharaja), and the other young devotees sent by Srila Prabhupada to start the fledgling Radha Krishna temple in London.

Quickly striking up a friendship with these devotees, George became an invaluable source of support in their early struggles to establish Krishna consciousness in the U.K. The devotees took great pleasure in introducing their famous friend to their spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada took an immediate liking to the young musician and encouraged him to chant, associate with devotees, and help spread the sankirtana movement.

It is difficult to overestimate the service rendered by George throughout ISKCON’s early history. He co-signed the lease to the first temple in London and personally donated the marble for Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara’s first altar. He produced the Radha Krishna Temple record album— arguably, ISKCON’s most well known musical achievement. He also performed on the album, playing harmonium, guitar, and bass guitar on the world-famous "Hare Krishna Mantra" song. George played those now all-too-familiar guitar chords that start off "Govindam" and announce the greeting of the deities in ISKCON temple worldwide. The Radha Krishna Temple album soared to the Top 10 in record charts all over the world, and helped popularize the chanting of Hare Krishna internationally.

George also supported the preaching efforts of Srila Prabhupada, whom the Beatle came to regard as a genuine saint, scholar, and good friend. He donated substantial funds towards Srila Prabhupada’s publishing the Krishna Book. In fact, at Srila Prabhupada’s request, he humbly penned a short introduction to the book. These "Words from George Harrison" attest to his strong faith in Prabhupada’s teachings and in the Holy Names.

Srila Prabhupada appreciatively wrote of George in the preface of the Krishna Book: "My grateful acknowledgement is due to Sriman George Harrison, now chanting Hare Krishna, for his liberal contribution of $19,000 to meet the entire cost of printing this volume. May Krishna bestow upon this nice boy further advancement in Krishna consciousness."

George continued his support of ISKCON over the years. In 1973, he gifted a palatial estate to ISKCON, to be used as a Krishna consciousness center in England. The Bhaktivedanta Manor is today a thriving beacon of Krishna consciousness and one of ISKCON’s most successful temples. George would continue to visit the Manor, especially when Srila Prabhupada was present. George immensely enjoyed his friendship with Srila Prabhupada and his disciples. Srila Prabhupada reciprocated with George’s eagerness by encouraging him to use his music as a medium for spreading Krishna consciousness, and by maintaining a warm friendship with the introspective celebrity. Prabhupada would often gleefully instruct his disciples to fill up George’s plate with more and more prasadam, which he was very fond of.

George’s deep and sincere relationship with Krishna and the devotees was nowhere more evident than in his own popular music. Unafraid of public opinion, George unapologetically expressed his spiritual views in his songs. In "Awaiting On You All," George requested his listeners to chant the Holy Names. In one of his most popular (and most controversial) hit singles, "My Sweet Lord," George openly chanted Hare Krishna. Less well-known, but equally devotional, was his 1974 release "It is He (Jai Shri Krishna)." George would also often adorn his album covers and liner notes with pictures and glorifications of Krishna. His popular album Living in the Material World features a color photo insert of Krishna and Arjuna on the chariot, along with the caption "From the cover of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami."

When asked why he included the picture, he humbly responded, "I wanted to give them all a chance to see Krishna, to know about Him. I mean that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?"

While George never took formal vows and while he certainly had his share of ups and downs in spiritual life, Srila Prabhupada always encouraged him and glorified him as a "very good boy."

In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna promises: "Whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt." (Bg. 8.5) When George was brutally attacked in 1999, he cried out "Hare Krishna" as he was being stabbed. Likewise, he may have chanted Lord Krishna’s Holy Names as he left his body yesterday afternoon. In any event, we have firm conviction that all the chanting, preaching, prasadam-eating, and service he rendered to the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna and Srila Prabhupada are eternally to his spiritual credit. They will carry him forth to his next destination. As George himself said, "We die and go on to a new life where we try again, to get better all the time. That’s life. That’s death."

Dear devotees, let us take a moment or two to remember this great soul and his wonderful service to Srila Prabhupada. Sriman George Harrison will be sorely missed and will be fondly remembered as a very dear friend of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Thank you, George. Hare Krishna!

Your servant, Vyenkata Bhatta dasa
(disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami)

Further Reading: Srila Prabhupada-Lilamrta, Volume IV: In Every Town and Village (BBT); Chant and Be Happy: the Power of Mantra Meditation (BBT); Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead (BBT) http://www.cnn.com/2001/SHOWBIZ/Music/11/30/harrison.londonobit/index.html 

Quotes:

"He left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends. He often said, ‘Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.’" (the Harrison family, statement to the press)

"I have always felt at home with Krishna... I think its something that’s been there from my previous birth." (George Harrison)

"John and I, with banjos, went sailing through the islands chanting Hare Krishna. Our jaws were aching from singing. We felt exalted: It was a very happy time for us." (George Harrison)

"Mr. George Harrison appears to be a very intelligent boy, and he is, by the Grace of Krishna, fortunate also." (Srila Prabhupada)

"Humility means not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less." (H.H. Varsana Swami)

© CHAKRA 1 December 2001

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