Dear Reader, I offer here a George Harrison meditation. Before we embrace (or struggle with) the meditation practice we might take for granted, or if we are just beginning to consider a contemplative discipline, let’s look to someone who made our predicament possible…
Our meditation begins on a recent hazy Saturday morning. In a t-shirt, shorts and a baseball cap, my neighbor Paul was tinkering with the speedboat in his front yard. As I headed out my driveway for a run, Paul looked up and waved. On weekends from Boston, Paul and his wife visit their summer camp here near Harvey’s Lake in Northern Vermont. Not anxious to begin my efforts (it had been a while), I walked across the narrow road separating our houses to say hello.
We’re neighbors, but over the years, Paul and I haven’t had more than passing interactions. He’s in his mid 60’s with a little stoop. Paul asked about all the comings and goings in our usually quiet neighborhood. (My teacher, Sakyong Mipham, had just finished leading a retreat at Karmê Chöling, the local meditation center. The visit had ended the week before.)
“You know, I’ve always appreciated Buddhism,“ Paul declared out of nowhere, pulling on the end of a cigarette. I remembered Paul as a man of few words. His statement ranked as effusive.
“Oh, yeah, it’s a great philosophy,” he continued knowledgeably, flicking the butt of the cigarette down the road.
“Really, where did you, ah, encounter Buddhism?” I asked, genuinely curious.
Hits from the 70’s
“George Harrison!” Paul replied, his tone suggesting that this was the obvious and perhaps only answer. “He brought it all, Ravi Shankar, that’s great music. All that from India was coming over. That’s what was happening, it was the 70’s.”
“Yes, George Harrison was an amazing dude…hmm…my wife loves Ravi Shankar.” (Jeanine is a big fan of Ravi Shankar.) I was six when the Beatles had their first hit in the US, but like a lot of people, I was a fan of Harrison in the post-Beatle era. While confused about the connection between Harrison and Buddhism, I had no trouble sharing the vibe. Adjusting his cap, Paul looked me in the eye. For a moment we were quiet.
The Wisdom of India
Google George Harrison and Buddhist Meditation and nothing comes up. That’s because starting in the late 1960’s, Harrison was a student of Hinduism and Yoga. But the soon to be ex-Beatle practiced meditation (Transcendental at first, then other forms from Hinduism) and told the world about it. While the Shambhala Buddhism I study comes from Tibet, the Buddha and Buddhism are Indian in origin. And some scholars see Buddhism, which rejected the caste system, as a reformation of early Hinduism. In the last century Tibetan refugees have brought Buddhism back to India. It’s been hundreds of years, however, since indigenous Buddhism flourished in India.
Paul knows of my connection to the local meditation center and possibly Samadhi Cushions. ‘Samadhi’ is Sanskrit (from India) meaning ‘meditative absorption’. The shop is up the road in nearby Barnet. It’s where I work and where meditation cushions are made and sold. Samadhi Cushions and the meditation center we support have been here since the 1970’s. Jeanine and I moved here in the 90’s, although we met at Karmê Chöling back in 1976. By and large, our neighbors in this rural community are friendly and welcoming. At the same time, in casual conversation, Buddhism is often conflated with Islam or Hinduism—anything that’s not Christianity. Multicultural we aren’t.
My George Harrison Meditation
No matter. My neighbor Paul’s comment speaks for itself. Google Harrison and Spirituality, and you will understand (or be reminded) that what the ‘least popular’ Beatle did was introduce meditation, yoga and engaged spirituality into mainstream America. In the midst of the 70’s counter culture, the ex-Beatle modeled an authentic respect for Eastern Traditions and the spiritual guides arising from them.
Our conversation picked up again, shifting to the family reunion Paul was having later in the summer and the prospects for getting his boat in the water today. The propeller needed to be replaced. We said our goodbyes. My neighbor returned to his boat and I, feeling strangely moved, turned to begin my run.
Here Comes the Sun
The haze of the morning had burned away. Off to the east, between the houses and trees, Lake Harvey shimmered, its surface colors shifting between blue, green and silver. As I heading up the hill past Paul’s camp, I felt a deepening gratitude for the meditation center nearby, the teachers who established it, the community of practitioners, and the work and people at Samadhi Cushions.
All of it, I reflected, was born in the 70’s. Today, meditation is considered reasonable and healthy—an obvious option. But meditation is here, in part, because 50 years ago, the less popular Beatle fell in in love with the music and spiritual traditions of India. Diving deeply into that culture, Harrison embodied the idea that being fully human required personal discipline and engagement. And as if that wasn’t enough, more than fifteen years after his death, on a stretch of narrow road in Northeastern Vermont, Harrison’s spirit inspired a new and unlikely connection between my neighbor and me.
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