Today I present Spiritual DJ Show Number 16, The Spiritual Music of the Beatles. I’m your DJ, Pete Costanza. This show is dedicated to the 3rd UU principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. I believe that spiritually oriented music can lead to these goals.
We started this series back in November of 1998 with the simple premise: many pop, rock and folk artists write songs with lyrics that have a spiritual, religious, or inspirational theme. There are numerous Beatles songs that I believe have special spiritual content. Today I would like to focus on these songs.
And now as we light the chalice for music and the spirit of life, here is the SDJ Show. Starting off, here’s one especially for the children. It’s all about living together happily with a life of ease and every one of us having all we need. The word for this kind of world is utopia. Maybe we will have a world like that someday. (Pete plays Yellow Submarine).
The Beatles began their career in 1960 performing 1950s rock and writing catchy and melodious adolescent love songs, but by 1965 they had matured. In 1965 the Beatles recorded a song that was a rejection of egotistical self-‐sufficiency of brash youth. It was a passionate exhortation for the help of others in getting through the troubles of life. Pete plays Help!
Two years later they recorded a follow-‐up song from “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in which they fully admit that they get by with a little help from their friends. I won’t be playing it, but you’ll hear that tune in the repertoire of the Tuunitarians.
Here’s one of the Beatles’ most inspirational songs. The lyrics say, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me.” Let me note that Mother Mary is not the Virgin Mary. Mother Mary is Paul Mc Cartneys’s mother. Pete plays Let It Be.
Now as we pass the baskets for the Offertory, I will play a song from the Beatles final album, Abbey Road, recorded in 1969. All troubles are now resolved in this song of rebirth, which uses the symbolism of winter becoming spring. Now everything is all right. Pete plays Here Comes the Sun.
The Beatles first became interested in eastern philosophy in 1965 and 1966, and it was during this period that George Harrison met Indian musician Ravi Shankar and learned to play the sitar, and soon became interested in Hinduism. This had a major effect on the repertoire of subsequent Beatles songs. The Beatles wrote and performed several songs with an eastern theme. With the sitar in his command, George was able to influence the others to develop a new sound among their variety of songs.
The Beatles met the Maharshi Mahesh Yogi in England in late 1967, and he invited them to visit his ashram in Rishikesh, India. The Maharishi was already known for the system he developed and called Transcendental Meditation or TM. Each of the Beatles became followers of Hinduism to a varying extent. John Lennon became disillusioned with the guru, and thereafter became somewhat mute on formal eastern beliefs, but its influence on his music and his thinking was evident. The visit to India had only a moderate impact on Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, whereas George became a life long devotee to Hinduism and eastern philosophy in general.
In “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)” George Harrison offered a sitar‐- oriented song to profess Hindu concepts. Pete plays Within You, Without You.
Let’s look at the lyrics of “Within You, Without You” line by line. The song has a lot to say about Hinduism. Let’s look at the first verse:
“We were talking -‐ about the space between us all
And the people -‐ who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse the truth -‐ then it’s far too late -‐ when they pass away.”
This verse refers to the Hindu idea of Maya, which is the idea that all people live in a false reality, and what people perceive as reality is actually an illusion. However, Hinduism teaches that a person will eventually realize that it’s all within and without you. According to the Indian belief system, divinity is to be found by accessing the divine Self (atman) within. Liberation can be attained through realizing the unity of atman and Brahman (the fundamental reality of the universe).
The second verse:
“We were talking -‐ about the love we all could share –
when we find it
To try our best to hold it there -‐ with our love.
With our love -‐ We could save the world -‐ if they only knew…
Try to realize it’s all within yourself, no one else can make you change.”
The love that could save the world is a reference to the Hindu doctrine of Dharma, the ethical code of Hinduism. The last line of the verse says that “no one else can make you change” this being a reference to the eastern concept of looking within oneself as opposed to the western ideas of looking to a savior, prophet, or God.
In the third verse we have references to the contrast of the vastness of the universe versus your true self, and another reference to the fallacy of materialism.
“And to see you’re really only very small
and life flows on within you and without you.”
“We were talking about the love that’s gone so cold and the people, Who gain the world and lose their soul.
They don’t know. They can’t see. Are you one of them?
When you see beyond yourself then you may find,
Peace of mind is waiting there.”
In the final verse, Harrison touches on the Hindu concept of monism, the idea that ultimately all things are one:
“And the time will come when you see we’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you.”
Moving on to the next song. The single “The Inner Light (1968)” was a song written by George Harrison based on Chapter 47 of the Tao Te Ching, the primary book of Taoism. George’s eastern influences were expanding beyond Hinduism. The meaning is simple: it is the inner eye that really sees the world.
Without going out of my door
I can know all things of earth
Without looking out of my window
I could know the ways of heaven
Pete plays The Inner Light.
In the album “Revolver (1966)” John is inspired by the Buddhist Tibetan Book of the Dead to describe death of the ego in Tomorrow Never Knows.
Turn off your mind relax and float down-‐stream,
It is not dying, it is not dying,
Lay down all thought surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.
Pete plays Tomorrow Never Knows.
Across the Universe from the album “Let It Be (1970)” was written by John while in India.The flavor of the song was heavily influenced by Lennon’s and the Beatles’ short-‐lived interest in TM. In the chorus, Lennon added the mantra Jai guru deva om, the phrase commonly invoked by the Maharishi “All Glory to Guru Deva” (Guru Deva was Maharishi’s guru), followed by the mystic syllable om, which is theoretically the cosmic sound of the universe and used by monks during meditation. Lennon’s lyrics in the verses are among his most poetic.
Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe. Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind, Possessing and caressing me.
Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
They call me on and on across the universe, Thoughts meander like a restless wind Inside a letter box they
Tumble blindly as they make their way Across the universe
Sounds of laughter shades of life are ringing
Through my open ears inciting and inviting me.
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns,
And calls me on and on across the universe
Pete plays Across the Universe.
The final song is a classic. It ‘s a love song, but not just a silly little love song like the one Paul McCartney wrote post-‐Beatles. It’s about love itself, love for one’s fellow human being. It’s the answer to everything.
All You Need Is Love.
How can you say it better. One of their best.
There it is folks! Hope you enjoyed the show. So until next time I’m your spiritual DJ Pete Costanza saying, “So long and keep your spirits high!”
Spiritual Deejay Show
December 1, 2013
Note: The lyrics to all the songs referenced in this sermon are available online at http://www.thebeatles.com. In the Songs section, click on the name of the song.