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Meeting Srila Prabhupada

by George Harrison

Mukunda: George, you and John Lennon 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 didn't 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 centuries. Now that's pretty amazing, because he was getting older and older, yet he was writing his books all the time. I realized later on that he was much more incredible than what you could see on the surface.

Mukunda: What about him stands out the most in your mind?

George: The thing that always stays is his saying, "I am the servant of the servant of the servant." I like that. A lot of people say, "I'm it. I'm the divine incarnation. I'm here and let me hip you." You know what I mean? But Prabhupada was never like that. I liked Prabhupada's humbleness. I always liked his humility and his simplicity The servant of the servant of the servant is really what it is, you know. None of us are God -- just His servants. He just made me feel so comfortable. I always felt very relaxed with him, and I felt more like a friend. I felt that he was a good friend. Even though he was at the time seventy-nine years old, working practically all through the night, day after day, with very little sleep, he still didn't come through to me as though he was a very highly educated intellectual being, because he had a sort of childlike simplicity. Which is great, fantastic. Even though he was the greatest Sanskrit scholar and a saint, I appreciated the fact that he never made me feel uncomfortable. In fact, he always went out of his way to make me feel comfortable. I always thought of him as sort of a lovely friend, really, and now he's still a lovely friend.

Mukunda: In one of his books, Prabhupada said that your sincere service was better than some people who had delved more deeply into Krishna consciousness but could not maintain that level of commitment. How did you feel about this?

George: Very wonderful, really. I mean it really gave me hope, because as they say, even one moment in the company of a divine person, Krishna's pure devotee, can help a tremendous amount.

And I think Prabhupada was really pleased at the idea that somebody from outside of the temple was helping to get the album made. Just the fact that he was pleased was encouraging to me. I knew he liked "The Hare Krishna Mantra" record, and he asked the devotees to play that song "Govinda." They still play it, don't they?

Mukunda: Every temple has a recording of it, and we play it each morning when the devotees assemble before the altar, before kirtana. It's an ISKCON institution, you might say.

George: And if I didn't get feedback from Prabhupada on my songs about Krishna or the philosophy, I'd get it from the devotees. That's all the encouragement I needed really. It just seemed that anything spiritual I did, either through songs, or helping with publishing the books, or whatever, really pleased him. The song I wrote, "Living in the Material World," as I wrote in I, Me, Mine, was influenced by Srila Prabhupada. He's the one who explained to me how we're not these physical bodies. We just happen to be in them.

Like I said in the song, this place's not really what's happening. We don't belong here, but in the spiritual sky:

As l'm fated for the material world
Get frustrated in the material world
Senses never gratified
Only swelling like a tide
That could drown me in the material world

The whole point to being here, really, is to figure a way to get out.

That was the thing about Prabhupada, you see. He didn't just talk about loving Krishna and getting out of this place, but he was the perfect example. He talked about always chanting, and he was always chanting. I think that that in itself was perhaps the most encouraging thing for me. It was enough to make me try harder, to be just a little bit better. He was a perfect example of everything he preached.

Mukunda: How would you describe Srila Prabhupada's achievements?

George: I think Prabhupada's accomplishments are very significant; they're huge. Even compared to someone like William Shakespeare, the amount of literature Prabhupada produced is truly amazing. It boggles the mind. He sometimes went for days with only a few hours sleep. I mean even a youthful, athletic young person couldn't keep the pace he kept himself at seventy-nine years of age.

Srila Prabhupada has already had an amazing effect on the world. There's no way of measuring it. One day I just realized, "God, this man is amazing!" He would sit up all night translating Sanskrit into English, putting in glossaries to make sure everyone understands it, and yet he never came off as someone above you. He always had that childlike simplicity, and what's most amazing is the fact that he did all this translating in such a relatively short time-just a few years. And without having anything more than his own Krishna consciousness, he rounded up all these thousands of devotees, set the whole movement in motion, which became something so strong that it went on even after he left. And it's still escalating even now at an incredible rate. It will go on and on from the knowledge he gave. It can only grow and grow. The more people wake up spiritually, the more they'll begin to realize the depth of what Prabhupada was saying -- how much he gave.

Mukunda: Did you know that complete sets of Prabhupada's books are in all the major colleges and universities in the world, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, and the Sorbonne?

George: They should be! One of the greatest things I noticed about Prabhupada was the way he would be talking to you in English, and then all of a sudden he would say it to you in Sanskrit and then translate it back into English. It was clear that he really knew it well. His contribution has obviously been enormous from the literary point of view, because he's brought the Supreme Person, Krsna, more into focus. A lot of scholars and writers know the Gita, but only on an intellectual level. Even when they write "Krishna said...," they don't do it with the bhakti or love required. That's the secret, you know -- Krishna is actually a person who is the Lord and who will also appear there in that book when there is that love, that bhakti. You can't understand the first thing about God unless you love Him. These big so-called Vedic scholars --they don't necessarily love Krishna, so they can't understand Him and give Him to us. But Prabhupada was different.

Mukunda: The Vedic literatures predicted that after the advent of Lord Caitanya five hundred years ago, there would be a Golden Age of ten thousand years, when the chanting of the holy names of God would completely nullify all the degradations of the modern age, and real spiritual peace would come to this planet.

George: Well, Prabhupada's definitely affected the world in an absolute way. What he was giving us was the highest literature, the highest knowledge. I mean there just isn't anything higher.

Mukunda: You 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 or 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 Iyrics say, "Got to get out of this place by the Lord Sri Krishna's grace, my salvation from the material world." If we're dependent on the grace of God, what does the expression "God helps 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 can 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. Like in the song I wrote about Prabhupada:

The Lord loves the one that loves the Lord
And the law says if you don't give,
then you don't get loving
Now the Lord helps those that help themselves
And the law says whatever you do
It comes right back on you

-- "The Lord Loves the One that Loves the Lord"
from Living in the Material World
Apple LP

Have you heard that song "That Which I Have Lost" from my new album, Somewhere in England? It's right out of the Bhagavad-gita. In it I talk about fighting the forces of darkness, limitations, falsehood, and mortality.

(Interview from Chant and be Happy, September 4, 1982)
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