Ravi Shankar & George Harrison
May all be happy.
May all be healthy.
May all experience what is good
and let no one suffer.
Any religion with a hymn like that is okay with me.
And any CD of sacred music which ends on that note --- I'm interested.
Even if I don't understand a word that's sung.
Even if the music is sophisticated in ways I can barely begin to appreciate.
As everyone who has taken Beatles 101 knows, George Harrison became enamored of all things Eastern at the height of the group's popularity. In the mid-'60s, he and John Lennon were the catalysts behind the Beatles' trip to India and their meditation retreat with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Thus began the craze of meditation in the West. And thus spawned a handful of songs from the Beatles and Rolling Stones that featured the drone of sitars and the philosophy of mental relaxation.
Crazes pass. Commitments are tested and reaffirmed. George Harrison threw himself into the study of Sanskrit chants. He became more than a devotee --- he was the best known Hindu on the planet. A very, modest Hindu at that, with a light touch in discussing his religious practice: "I have my beads. I remember when I first got them, they were just big knobby globs of wood, but now I'm very glad to say that they're smooth from chanting a lot."
George never preached. Indeed, he was an anti-salesman: "From the Hindu point of view each soul is divine. All religions are branches of one big tree. It doesn't matter what you call Him just as long as you call." As for chanting, it was a non-denominational activity. "What you're trying to do," he explained, "is just trying to remember God, God, God, God, God, as often as possible."
At bottom, George saw chanting as a practical activity. Yes, it put you in touch with God. It also grounded you: "Chanting doesn't stop you from being creative or productive. It actually helps you concentrate. I think this would make a great sketch for television: imagine all the workers on the Ford assembly line in Detroit, all of them chanting 'Hare Krishna Hare Krishna' while bolting on the wheels. Now that would be wonderful."
In 1996 --- after three decades of study and practice --- George and his good friend Ravi Shankar began work on a CD of Indian chants. It was very much a project aimed at Westerners. Instead of all Ravi, all the time, the master sitar player serves mostly as an arranger and back-up musician. A full string orchestra is brought to the front. And there are such unlikely instruments --- mostly played by George --- as acoustic guitar, autoharp, glockenspiel and vibraphone.
George produced the CD, so you may imagine the clarity and crispness. As background music, it is peaceful and refreshing. At medium volume, it's great for yoga or stretching. Cranked high, it hits you in the chest and opens your heart --- if you're 'emotional' about anything when you listen to this CD at volume, prepare to deal with it.
We are not living in easy times. Support makes life more bearable. 'Chants of India' is at once a crash course in spiritual refreshment and a deep statement of ancient faith. I listen to it often, sometimes while I work, sometimes late at night, in the dark. I cannot imagine a time when I won't want to hear it.
To buy 'Chants of India' from Amazon.com, click here.