John Lennon and friends with devotees at Tittenhurst Park
Srila Prabhupada, the founder and acharya of the Hare Krishna movement,
"John and his wife were very kind upon me when I was staying at Tittenhurst Park as their guests. I always prayed for them to Krsna for understanding this great movement. Please inform him this message on my behalf. I have dreamt something very nice about John which I shall disclose in proper time. In the meantime, please ask him to cooperate with this movement as you are doing, and he will be very happy."(Srila Prabhupada letter to George Harrison, February 16, 1970)
Srila Prabhupāda speaks with John Lennon, Yoko Ono and George Harrison
In September 1969 Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, arrived as a house guest at Tittenhurst Park, John Lennon’s estate in England. 1969 was for John Lennon a year of intense search for social and personal liberation. He had already been to the Maharishi and later would enter primal therapy and left-wing politics. He was in a major transitional period; he had married Yoko Ono in March, and the Beatles were about to break up.
On a cold December night in 1966, an elderly Indian Swami climbed into a Volkswagen van with about fifteen of his followers and their instruments (including a harmonium loaned by Allen Ginsberg) and drove uptown to a recording studio near Times Square. They weren’t professional musicians, but in a few hours they’d recorded an LP that even the producer was excited about. it was a special album, more than just music. it was chanting and meditation; it was worship. A few months later a letter arrived at a small storefront temple on New York’s Lower East Side. Someone had heard the album and told the Beatles about it. They ordered one hundred copies.
George Harrison would later recall in a November 1980 interview the impression Swami Bhaktivedanta’s album, Krishna Consciousness, made on them. “I remember singing it [the Hare Krishna mantra] just for days, John and I, with ukulele banjos, sailing through the Greek islands–Hare Krishna. Like six hours we sang, because you couldn’t stop once you got going. You just couldn’t stop. It was like as soon as you stop, it was like the lights went out.”
In September 1969, Swami Bhaktivedanta, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement arrived as a house guest at Tittenhurst Park, the beautiful eighty acre British estate owned by John Lennon. Three or four times a week, the Swami, who later became known to the world as Srila Prabhupada, gave public lectures in a tall, stately building at the northern end of the property a hundred yards from the main house, in which John and Yoko lived.
The building had been formerly used as a hall for chamber music recitals, but now several of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples, who resided along with him in a block of guest houses on the property, installed a small Deity altar and a podium for Srila Prabhupada. The building never really had a name, but after Srila Prabhupada’s arrival, everyone called it “the Temple.”
They still call it “the Temple” today, and except for the recent addition of an enormous crimson-and-gold pipe organ nearly covering the towering west wall, it exists unchanged, now surrounded by a recording studio complex owned by Ringo Starr.
Nineteen sixty-nine was for John Lennon a year of intense search for social and personal liberation. He had already been to the Maharishi and later would enter primal therapy and left-wing politics. He was in a major transitional period; he had married Yoko Ono in March, and the Beatles were about to break up.
On September 14, John, Yoko, and George Harrison, after enjoying an Indian vegetarian meal prepared by the devotees at the Temple, walked over to Srila Prabhupada’s quarters for their first meeting. Three months before in Montreal, some of the Hare Krishna devotees had sung with John and Yoko during the recording of “Give Peace a Chance.” And now they were about to meet the guru who brought the Hare Krishna mantra to the West.
Their lively discussion with Srila Prabhupada, which you can hear by listening to the MP3 Audio clip on this page, deals with the path to peace and liberation, the eternality of the soul, reincarnation, the nature of God, qualifications of the guru, and the authority of Bhagavad-gita (the Indian spiritual classic still sacred to 800 million people.
In a conversation sometimes lightly humorous, sometimes intense, the reader will be struck by Srila Prabhupada’s prophetic use of President Kennedy’s assassination to dramatize the temporality of human life and how the soul lives on after death, subjects that John would explore in his later songs. Explaining that John should have nothing to fear either in life or death, Srila Prabhupada declares:
“When this body ceases to exist, you will continue to exist… The soul is eternal and the body is temporary…. But that minute quantity of the Absolute within us [the soul] is very great when compared to material knowledge. Material knowledge is practically no knowledge whatsoever. It is covered knowledge. But when one is liberated and attains liberated knowledge, his knowledge is verymuch greater than the greatest material knowledge.”
John had searched for a guru in India and was anxious to understand how one could recognize a genuine spiritual master:
John: Yes, we should go to a true master. But how are we to tell one from the other?… That’s what we’re doing. We’re going around. Actually, Yoko never met the Maharishi. So, we’re asking for advice about how to know what’s real.
Yoko: We want to ask your advice on that. In other words, what is your answer to this question of authority?… What is the authority, and who has the authority? [more here...]
George Harrison, John Lennon, Patti Boyd, Yoko Ono and devotees
enjoying prasadam at John Lennon's Tiittenhurst Park estate, 1969.
Srila Prabhupada letter to George Harrison, February 16, 1970
"I know that both you and John are very good souls. Both of you are pledged to do something for the peace of the world. By the grace of Krsna, you have already realized to some extent about the necessity and importance of Hare Krsna movement in the world. Similarly, if John also does so, it will be a great event.
"John and his wife were very kind upon me when I was staying at Tittenhurst Park as their guests. I always prayed for them to Krsna for understanding this great movement. Please inform him this message on my behalf. I have dreamt something very nice about John which I shall disclose in proper time. In the meantime, please ask him to cooperate with this movement as you are doing, and he will be very happy." (Letter Feb. 16, 1970)
Srila Prabhupada letter, April 24, 1970
"You have asked me to disclose my dream about John, so I beg to state the incident as follows. I dreamt that John took me in a place at Calcutta and he was showing me a house, a big palatial building, which formerly belonged to a very rich man, and he was a famous musician also.
"I think therefore that John was previously that man to whom that house belonged, and now he has taken birth in England. It is quite possible that he has inherited his past musical talent, and because that man was very liberal and charitable, so he has acquired some wealth also, and now in this life if he properly utilizes his talent and wealth for Krishna, then surely he will achieve the highest perfection of his life." (Srila Prabhupada letter, April 24, 1970)
JOHN LENNON Lennon '69: Search For Liberation (1981
The Beatles had a central role in popularizing the Hare Krishna movement in the west. In December 1966, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada recorded an album of chanting titled Krishna Consciousness. The recording was done in New York City, but George Harrison was in New York at the time and had been joining in with Hare Krishna chanting sessions in Tompkins Square Park. He took the album back to England and the Beatles ordered 100 copies of it. Soon after that, Harrison and Lennon sang the Hare Krishna chant “for days” during a sailing trip through the Greek islands. Harrison reminisced, “Like six hours we sang, because we couldn’t stop once we got going.”
In September 1969, at the invitation of the Beatles, Srila Prabhupada left for London and stays in John Lennons guest house in Tittenhurst Park, an 80-acre estate owned by John Lennon. Three or four times a week he gave public lectures in a building at the north end of the property, about 100 yards from the main house, in which John and his second wife, Yoko, lived. A Krishna altar was set up there and eventually the building was called “the Temple.”
In June of 1969, Hare Krishna followers sang in Montreal, Canada, with John and Yoko on the recording of “Give Peace a Chance,” a song that would become extremely influential. John and Yoko chanted Hare Krishna on that song. The Hare Krishna devotees had been visiting with the Lennons for several days, discussing world peace and self-realization, and the Lennons recorded the song to promote the universal concept of world peace. That same summer, George Harrison produced a hit single, “The Hare Krishna Mantra,” which featured the Hare Krishna devotees from the London Radha-Krishna Temple. It rose to the Top 10 and made the 'Hare Krishna chant' a household word in the West.
Harrison co-signed the lease on the first Hare Krishna temple in London. He also gave them a mansion outside London, which they made into an international ashram, where hundreds of thousands of people have learned about Krishna in the heart of the old British empire. Harrison financed the publication of Krishna magazine and put up $19,000 to print the first edition of the Krishna book in 1970. In his introduction to book, Harrison said, “As GOD is unlimited. HE has many Names. Allah-Buddha-Jehova-Rama: All are KRISHNA, all are ONE.” By 1982, a leader in the Hare Krishna movement said it is “growing like wildfire” and “Krishna consciousness has certainly spread more in the last sixteen years than it has since the sixteenth century” (Interview with George Harrison at the Hare Krishna web site). Today the complete works of Prabhupada are in all the major colleges and universities of the world. Millions upon millions have been influenced to think more favorably of Krishnaconsciousness because of the Beatles.