Freedom Measured by Vulnerability

What happens when constitutional freedom and safety conflict?

Benjamin Gitlow was a member of the Socialist party and a business manager for The Revolutionary Age newspaper in 1925. He, alongside three others, were charged under New York’s Criminal Anarchy Law of 1902 for publishing “Left Wing Manifesto” in the newspaper he worked for. The writings called for establishing socialism through strikes and class action.

His trial followed the Red Scare of 1919 and 1920. This was a time when many leftists – anarchists, Bolshevik Revolution sympathizers, labor activists, communists, or socialists – were convicted under the Espionage and Sedition Acts. The country and the Court were caught up in an anti-German hysteria. Whenever society feels vulnerable to such emotion, freedom suffers. Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist stated,

“[SCOTUS] has often interpreted the law differently in wartime than in peacetime.”

I believe the manifesto plainly advocated and called to action the accomplishment of the Communist Revolution through riots and force. I agree with the following court decision to uphold conviction at this time when the threat of anarchy was so present. I think freedoms should be preserved, but I also believe in being responsible in exercising those freedoms.

Petitioner’s defense was that the writing was a historical analysis rather than advocacy of capitalism collapsing. He argued that the state’s criminal anarchy law violated his freedom of expression protected under the First Amendment.

By proposing appeal, Gitlow asked SCOTUS to reverse precedents under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause that requires protection of liberty guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The Court had to decide if it wanted to review a challenge to a state law on the means that it contradicted the federal constitution.

SCOTUS took the case to consider the question: Is the New York Criminal Anarchy Law that punishes advocacy to violently overthrow the government a violation of free speech under the First Amendment?

The New York court ruled that anyone who advocated the doctrine of violent overthrow violated the law. On a 7-2 decision for New York, the majority upheld conviction, ruling that free speech does not shield Gitlow from the state law. Based on the rationale of the “dangerous tendency test,” a state may forbid speech or publication if it might result in dangerous action even if the danger isn’t clear or present. The majority stated:

“A state in the exercise of its police power may punish those who abuse this freedom by utterances inimical to the public welfare, tending to corrupt public morals, incite to crime, or disturb the public peace.”

Gitlow lost his own appeal but struck a win by causing SCOTUS to rewrite rules concerning free expression at the state level, requiring states to respect freedom of speech, religion, and press. This is the first time the Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause holds state and federal governments at the same standard of regulating free speech, known as the incorporation doctrine. This precedent made two landmark cases possible: Near v. Minnesota and New York Times v. Sullivan.

Gitlow nearly reversed the precedent set by Baltimore v. Barron, which held that the Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government. This began a trend toward nearly every constitutional provision applying to both federal and state government.

Recently in McDonald v. City of Chicago, SCOTUS found the Second Amendment to be a fundamental right of all law-abiding citizens over 21 and that it is “fully applicable” in every state. Justice Oliver Holmes argued that the writings present no danger to violently overthrow the government.

Sources: Media Law by Overbeck; Wikipedia: “Gitlow v. New York” and “Schenk v. New York” Gitlow v. New York ((1925) 268 U.S. 652 found at; All the Laws but One: Civil Liberties in Wartime by Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Unanswered Questions about Balancing Freedom of the Press and National Security

U.S. v Progressive (1979) is an often overlooked case that dramatized the conflict between freedom of the press and the need for national security. The U.S. Department of Energy sued The Progressive, a liberal magazine, because of Howard Morland’s article, “The H-Bomb Secret: How We Got It, Why We’re Telling It.” Based on the law of equity, the DOE sought temporary injunction and the government thwarted publication with a restraining order. Even though Morland wrote the article based on public sources, the government thought they should stop publication because it contained information of sensitive nature. Soon after the lawsuit arose, government lawyers ruled it moot it because Milkweed published it. They dropped the case because they could only lose here; they could no longer censor the atom bomb information, and they did not want to lose their privilege to pull back information and classify it.

In addition, the question of prior restraint in this case remains unanswered. Generally, prior restraint has been widely unconstitutional as exemplified in the Pentagon Papers case. However, in U.S. v Progressive, the Atomic Energy Act specifically allowed for injunctions. This was basically a free pass for the government to reclassify anything they wanted. I think Morland had a right to have his works published. He was seeking a critical public debate—something the First Amendment should protect. His political ideas were unfavorable to the government and appeared to be on a trajectory to prior restraint. I believe when Congress says they shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, it includes prior restraint. We have to balance our free speech with the protection of national security; however, I have to wonder at what point the “classified” documents become cover-ups for what is really politically embarrassing or deceptive. It’s shocking to me that SCOTUS considered prior restraint in this case, because Near v. Minnesota declared it unconstitutional. There are few circumstances that government censorship should be considered, such as obscenity around children or imminent danger. I want the opportunity to hear all differing opinions. I believe in seeking truth, not just ideas that complement mine. I am thankful we live in a land of subsequent punishment because ideas should at least have the opportunity to be heard before we determine whether or not they should be punished.

SOURCES: Wikipedia: “U.S. v. Progressive,”,

Facts are Pieces, Truth is the Completed Puzzle

Factual news is not true if it is presented in false light.

In Edwards v. National Audubon Society (1976), a group of scientists has special interest in a pesticide company. In their research, they cited the Audubon Society’s own findings, saying their data “shows steady increase in bird sightings despite the growing number of pesticides in the last thirty years.”

While it is a fact bird sighting may have increased, it is not necessarily true that birds have increased, according to the Society, which says the statistics are presented in a false light.

Reporters should always share what they know to be true. They don’t have to come out and say the accuser is wrong or lying, however they should present both sides of the story so the reader can determine where the truth lies.

Democracy thrives on an objective truth. If ethics is what keeps the social contract theory together, it is for the good of everyone that a journalist reports objective truth. Facts can be misleading. False light is just as bad as lying.

SOURCES: Wikipedia: “Neutral Reportage,” “Edwards v. National Audubon Society,”

Court Protection on Freedom of Expression

The decisions in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, Socialist Party v. Skokie, Cohen v. California, Texas v. Johnson, U.S. v. Eichmann, and Virginia v. Black all share a common denominator: court protection of freedom of expression. In each of these cases, from 1971 to 2003 and with two different supreme court justices, it doesn’t matter how distasteful the expression, the Court voted – often divided – to protect it.

I think the Court has a firm grasp on the importance of a free exchange of ideas in each of these cases. I find it interesting that in each of these court cases, the chief justice at the time was in the dissent.

In Cohen v. California, with Chief Justice Burger dissenting, Justice John Harlan writes,

“States cannot censor their citizens in order to make a ‘civil’ society… People bring passion to politics, and vulgarity is simply a side effect of a free exchange of ideas – no matter how radical they may be.”

If this went the other way, I would fear my Christian beliefs might be considered offensive to some, making my expression limited. It is a slippery slope and I am glad I can exercise my Christian faith in an open exchange of ideas.

I don’t want someone with more influence censoring what I can and cannot say. I welcome challenges to my beliefs. When beliefs are challenged, we grow.

Things get heavier eight years later in Socialist Party v. Skokie when the National Socialist Party announces its march through the village of Skokie. Without considering long-term consequences, it would be difficult to rationalize how the Court could protect the right to wear a Nazi uniform and bear the symbol associated with gross racial hierarchy in years prior. SCOTUS, in these decisions, recognizes the connection between free expression and a vibrant democracy.

Even under media scrutiny, the Court still says we don’t need the government to dictate truth. 

This mantra is most prominent in the highly scrutinized flag burning cases. People got emotional with these decisions, baffled that the Court “sided with flag burners.” I think it is particularly ironic that there was so much pandemonium, and people wanted more regulations for the flag – the symbol of American freedom. Even President Trump mentioned outlawing flag burning.

As Justice Anthony Kennedy said,

“The flag protects even those who hold it in contempt.”

Because the majority of Americans support a ban on flag burning, Congress considered various flag protection amendments. I would note what Justice Antonin Scalia said,

“A Constitution is not meant to facilitate change. It is meant to impede change, to make it difficult to change.”

If this were not the case, a constitutional convention would certainly be underway. We can’t change the constitution with our changing society unless there is compelling interest. It would weaken its authority.

In the first flag burning case when the unusual majority votes in favor of Johnson, the flag burner, Kennedy says the flag “is constant in expressing beliefs,” and that the case “forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us.”

Soon after Congress passes the Flag Protection Act of 1989, the Court strikes it down as unconstitutional in U.S. v. Eichmann, once again the telling decision reinforces the Constitution’s clear First Amendment protections.

Two years after Chief Justice William Renquist votes twice against flag burning, he joins the majority in a decision to protect cross burning in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul and again in Virginia v. Black. Justice Clarence Thomas argued that cross burning should never be protected by the First Amendment based on its historical association with terrorism, but the Court once again votes for more freedom to express.

In all of these cases, SCOTUS rules that the government cannot strike down the expression of an idea because they find it distasteful. With the exception of a breach of peace, the Court is revealing a trend in its decisions on freedom of expression. The hard choices they face on the bench are bound by the Constitution, not society. In a marketplace of free ideas, some say the best will emerge.

SOURCES: Wikipedia: “Cohen v. California,” “National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie,” “Texas v. Johnson,” “U.S. v. Eichmann,” “Virginia v. Black,” “R.A.V. v. St. Paul”

Parallels: Christianity & Running

Running has irrefutable parallels to Christianity. 


At some point, these parallels became perpendicular; I let running break the focus of my Christian race. Spending all weekend at a track meet made it very easy to become selfish with my rare free time. I hadn’t had a free Saturday in three and a half years. Did I forget the one who gave me that time? The one who gave me that talent and every opportunity I’ve ever had?

Hebrews 12:1″Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

As the Hebrew writer indicates, the Christian race requires endurance and steadfastness. There are countless lessons I’ve learned on the trail, track, or treadmill that parallel the Christian life. 

If I don’t put in the work, I don’t get stronger. After four months without running after completing my final cross country season, I still expected to run a decent marathon. What could have been a four-hour race was an extremely unpleasant five and a half hour race. I would have had a much better experience if I prepared.

My faith isn’t going to get strong if I don’t put in the work.

“The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” -Juma Ikangaa, 1989 NYC Marathon winner

I expect the best results without prioritizing the things that will get me there. I know when I’m not giving it my all in preparation, yet I still hope for a PR when I put my training to the test. 

I expect to have a strong faith without spending time studying or praying.

“Striving for success without hard work is like trying to harvest where you haven’t planted.” -David Bly

Be zealous, but beware of burnout. The 10 percent rule has been engrained into my brain. “To avoid injury and burnout, do not increase mileage by more than 10 percent each week.” But it happens every year: I watch Rocky 4, hear the perfect running song, witness a record break, or find a sudden gust of inspiration, and I increase speed, intensity, and volume, thinking this time I can handle it. My current onset of plantar fasciitis is a good testimony to the inevitability and fatality of that pattern.

With a strike of spiritual conviction or burst of realization, I see that I need to do more. Instead of taking baby steps, I think I must read the entire Bible in a week or be as well-versed in scripture as someone with a master’s in Biblical proportions.

“Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” I Corinthians 15:58

Harsh conditions are unavoidable. Runners will endure rain, snow, heat, and wind. If you’re comfortable, you’re probably not doing it right.

Persecution in the lives of Christians will come.

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12

In my weakest moments, I am my strongest. The end of a race: you exhaust every muscle, endure every hill, sweat out electrolytes, deplete glycogen storages, flood your body with lactic acid, and exert more mental brain power than a chess match. You might be physically weak, but it is because of your strength that you are capable of running and reaching the finish.

I don’t have to rely on my inadequate strength because it is in my weaknesses that God’s power is revealed.

“I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

Comparison will ruin you. Not all runners train the same, race the same, or have the same genetic makeup. It used to shatter my confidence to look at other girls’ training logs to see that they logged more miles than me that week until I realized everyone has different training needs. Every time I lined up for the start of the 10K, I was nearly a foot taller than every other runner. I used to hate it and question whether or not I should be standing there. Then I realized I am just as capable of dominating those 25 laps as the runner next to me. Running is not about being better than someone else, it’s about being a runner. 

Comparing my faith with someone else’s is no way to build myself or them up.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” -Henry Ford

When I don’t see results, I lose patience and wonder if all the hard work is even worth the trouble. There is very little instant gratification when you are training. Results do not come overnight.

Sometimes I lose sight of the Christian goal and want to give up. The reward is not on earth.

“Life is often compared to a marathon, but I think it is more like being a sprinter; long stretches of hard work punctuated by brief moments in which we are given the opportunity to perform our best.” Michael Johnson

I don’t always want to obey what I don’t understand. There were some things my coach told me to do that I didn’t understand. For a while, I thought running two miles before a race was the dumbest thing I had ever heard of. As I matured, I realized how much better I race after warming up my muscles, loosening the joints, and increasing blood flow. It prevents injury and enhances performance. My coach had my best interest in mind.

Sometimes I don’t understand God’s instructions, but I must still let down my nets.

“Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” Luke 5:5-6

I run to win. Unfortunately, trophies are fleeting.

By faith, I live with purpose and direction as I strive to be like the victor and receive the eternal prize.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable. Therefore I do not run aimlessly…” I Corinthians 9:24

The internal struggle is a lot worse than the physical struggle. Running is a constant argument between your brain wanting to stop and your heart wanting to keep going. If you let them, inner demons will strip away every ounce of morale you have.

Don’t underestimate Satan in spiritual warfare.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12

I never regret when I do, but always regret when I don’t. It’s easy to skip runs and find “easier” things to do. But it’s always worth it in the end.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 1 Timothy 4:7

Media Bias or Subjective Strategy?

The New York Times is making regular use of the word “lie” in their headlines about President Trump. It started with the “birther lie,” then in January it was the “election lie,” and now it’s the “Comey lie.”  Is the media crying wolf or perhaps carelessly exposing their bias?

If you replace the word “lie” with “falsehood,” the headlines don’t seem as subjective. If they can prove it, they can print it, and I think the Times should call it what their research proves it is, which is, in the case of the birther claim, a false statement. They don’t know it’s a lie because they don’t know his intent.

“Lie” should be saved for special circumstances. It could be justified for when Bill Clinton told a lie. If they had proof that Trump knew he was giving false statements, then the word would be appropriate. I think the headline crossed an objective line, however, I can see why the editors chose the wording; Trump uses hyperbolic language, and he gets a lot of attention for what he says. Perhaps the editor knew what he was doing when he crossed these lines of objectivity. He may have thought he had to start speaking Trump’s language if he wanted to be heard the way he is. This was likely a strategic decision on the editor’s behalf, but I still would have saved it for the opinion page.

Each time they use the word, it chips away at their credibility and objectivity. If it’s true journalism, they don’t need to take a political stance in their headlines.

They faced competing duties: a concerned citizen and an objective journalist. If the writers stayed true to their duty as objective journalists, they wouldn’t have used the word.

The Western Mantra: How Hinduism Influenced The Beatles and American Culture


1968-Beatles-yogi-new-610.jpgThe Beatles with their guru, Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi. Photo from the Pop History Dig

What happened between Hard Days Night and Magical Mystery Tour? How could the Beatles’ iconic sound change so drastically? I have listened to each album chronologically and recognize a clear discrepancy just before the band’s unfortunate breakup.  Before I travel to the U.K in a few short weeks and admire Beatles artifacts, I wanted to answer this question. 

From “Twist and Shout” and “Paperback Writer” to “Jai Guru Deva” and “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream,” — the Beatles’ spiritual journey was broadcast across record players nationwide. The Beatles didn’t start the hippie movement, but they shaped it. The youth of the late 1960s, favoring protest and hallucinogens, strongly opposed the older, ardently conservative generation they succeeded. The Beatles were very influential with their “mop top” haircuts and live music performances, but perhaps their most influential trend was sparking an interest in Eastern religions such as Hinduism. There are three aspects of Hinduism the Beatles incorporated into their music, and subsequently into Western culture: Hindu inspired Transcendental Meditation, the Indian sitar, and the Hare Krishna movement.

While Paul McCartney and John Lennon usually took the spotlight on stage, George Harrison certainly took the lead in the band’s quest to explore Transcendental Meditation. It began in 1967, when the Beatles had a spiritual encounter at a lecture where they met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a famous Transcendental Meditation teacher (Kozinn, 2008). Maharishi became the Beatles’ guru. In Hinduism, gurus are similar to spiritual mentors, as they are enlightened and considered as God in human form (Jayaram). Gurus take responsibility for their disciples’ spiritual lives. This could be classified into the social and institutional dimension of Hinduism because it concerns religious specialist roles. Harrison purchased the tickets to this lecture because he was in search of a mantra— a sound or utterance that is considered sacred and has spiritual influence (2017). This is similar to the way a Christian sings hymns and praises to God. Harrison saw this as his key into the “otherworld.” Before 1967, no one knew what a mantra was. The 2008 election season was full of political candidates’ “mantras,” and many people now use the term on a daily basis.

guruspan.jpgThe Beatles backstage after Mahareshi’s Transcendental Meditation lecure. Photo by The New York Times. 

In an effort to reach an even higher level of consciousness, some Western philosophers in the late 1950s experimented with drugs. In The Doors of Perception, English writer Aldous Huxley put drugs in the same category as yoga, both of which he used for spiritual growth (Goldberg, 2013, p. 96). America in 1966 was clouded in smoke and lost in a search for inner peace. The Beatles were open with their drug use. After experimenting with marijuana and LSD, McCartney said the band tried to “find meaning in it all” (Swanson, 2016).

Ravi Shankar, the Indian musician who taught Harrison how to play the sitar, condemned the use of drugs, saying it was better to have clear senses free of pollutants (Goldberg, 2013, p. 150). Harrison was the one who moved the needle on the spiritual compass as the Beatles retreated to India to learn Transcendental Meditation. Harrison said, “The people of India have tremendous spiritual strength, which I don’t think is found elsewhere. The spirit of the people, the beauty, the goodness — that’s what I’ve been trying to learn about” (Bebergal, 2014).  The Beatles replaced LSD with meditation. Westerners were yearning for ways to reach another level of consciousness without drugs, and when they heard the Beatles found it, they never looked back. McCartney told a reporter, “The only reason people take drugs is because they hear so much about experiences that can expand the mind. By meditating, this expansion can be done without drugs and their ill effects” (Bebergal, 2014). This was bold coming from a rock band in 1967, especially one that admitted to using LSD months before.


Spiritual practices would never be the same for America. The media suddenly began reporting on the sophisticated East as Americans grew more intrigued with buzzwords like “mindfulness,” “enlightened,” or “karma.” Other ideas included vegetarianism, yoga, and Indian clothing. In the U.S., these Indian ideas from the Beatles were quickly adopted among Westerners. Perhaps the youth of the 1960s didn’t see this spiritual goodness exemplified in their homes, and the tumult of the political and cultural climate left them searching for answers. The appeal of Hinduism was that the answers were within oneself. They rejected the nuclear ideals of their government and welcomed peace, one of the most important aspects of Hinduism. The spread of Hinduism in America was the product of many forces; it was a time of mass-communication and more convenient travel, societal turbulence, and nuclear angst (Goldberg, 2013, p. 8). The door was open for the Beatles to create a path between the East and the West, and they came back to America with answers for their fans. America, too, was searching for her mantra.

In India, Harrison studied the Indian spiritual practices diligently, captivated by a worldview that encompasses everyone and everything. Harrison said, “Through Hinduism I feel like a better person. I just get happier and happier” (Greene). Harrison was attracted to the transcendence Hinduism seemed to offer, as it was not founded as a religion, but more of a way of life. In fact, Hinduism has no single founder, unlike Christianity or Islam. Hinduism is sometimes referred to as a religious culture rather than a religion. There is no constant set of beliefs, and the name “Hinduism” simply means “the religion of India” (Corduan, 2012, p. 9). With the media hanging on every word of the Fab Four, the youth paid attention to every word, and a wide set of Eastern religious practices was readily adopted.

A large reason for the success of widespread meditation was the science behind it, but the science is also when meditation started getting more criticism. Maharishi had a physics background and a big reason for his disapproval among Hindus was the profit he made from Transcendental Meditation. He opened Maharishi International University in the summer of 1973, and it’s now Maharishi University of Management and acts as an Indian spiritual legacy. Physicians and psychotherapists recommended meditation to lower blood pressure and relieve anxiety, and that is when many celebrities took notice (Goldberg, 2013, p. 165).  

download.jpgMahareshi Mahesh International University is still here today, now known as Maharishi University of Management.

Meditation was among one of the most attractive ideals of Eastern culture. Thousands joined Hindu-inspired meditation movements (Goldberg, 2013, p. 8). Religious scholar Lola Williamson said the movement represented somewhat of a new religion (Goldberg, 2013, p. 8). This new perspective challenged the way of thinking in America. After Transcendental Meditation received its Beatles endorsement, the media gave it lots of attention and everyone wanted to know more. One of Maharishi’s key messages was that meditators do not have to give up anything or change their way of life. Lennon said, “You can make it with meditation if you’re a Christian, a Mohammedan, or a Jew. You just add meditation to whatever you’ve got” (Greene). These statements aggravated Hindu purists because they thought it watered down the tradition.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi opened meditation centers in Asia, Africa, Europe, and America. He described the practice as “tapping into the inner source of thought, a reservoir of unlimited energy, intelligence, power, peace, and bliss deep within the mind” (Forem, 2012, p. 2). Maharishi’s words were music to young American ears, not just a pop star trend that would soon pass; the idea that peace came from the individual was transcendent. Maharishi took his practice further, saying the power of meditation goes beyond the individual, and when people meditate, a deep inner peace they experience is like a “warm air” surrounding them with harmony and positivity (Forem, 2012, p. 2). Perhaps this message from the unconventional leader gave the young Americans hope that world peace could actually be a reality. Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation, simply put, is the idea that individuals who are at peace within themselves create a peaceful world. What was once a small and intimate idea took off when the Beatles took interest, causing tens of thousands to form lines outside Transcendental Meditation centers (Forem 2012, p. 4). The American youth grew fascinated with all things Indian. There was a boom of self-help books, widespread vegetarianism, and adoption of yoga practices.

images.jpgPhoto by TM-Africa

In addition to Transcendental Meditation, the sitar was another Indian spiritual tool that the Beatles westernized. The first time Harrison heard the peculiar sitar he said,

“I put it on and it hit a certain spot in me that I can’t explain, but it seemed very familiar to me. The only way I could describe it was: my intellect didn’t know what was going on and yet this other part of me identified with it. It just called on me” (2017).

The sitar has been incorporated into various yoga practices to reach a state of full self-realization, helping subside thoughts and inspire peace for the present moment. Hindus use yoga as a path for spiritual development. It was the Indian sitar music that originally drew Harrison to take lessons from Ravi Sankar, sometimes referred to as “Master” among Indian musicians (2017). The sound inspired Harrison so much that he emerged himself in the culture, learning about meditation, rituals, and mantras. As the lead guitarist for the Beatles, he had heavy involvement in crafting the band’s sound.

harrison-ravi-620-368700292-3264128.jpgRavi Shankar teaching George Harrison the sitar. Photo by Beatle Me Do.

The sitar in Western culture was unmatched in itself. No musician had ever used it in pop music. It was a very important instrument that shaped Indian spirituality, as music has a prominent role in Indian rituals.

Hearing a sitar pluck was really what began the spiritual journey for the entire country. It was a turning point in Harrison’s spiritual life, and his enthusiasm was enough to get the other three on board. Even though McCartney and Ringo Starr cut their stay in India short, Harrison stayed behind, enamored with the culture and driven to practice meditation and perfect the Indian sitar. Harrison practiced the sitar in his most ideal setting — at the foot of the Himalayas. There, he spent hours reading Indian teachings and practicing the sitar to supplement his meditation practice.

In the midst of the Fab Four’s international vision quest, life in the States was tumultuous. The anti-war protests, women’s equality campaign, rebellious music, and drug use swept the youth of the nation. The defiant teens of the 60s and 70s were looking for something significantly different from their parents. The Beatles’ drug use and rock-and-roll music played a significant role in the culture at the time. Nonconformity was desirable, and they voiced those ideals through music. Lennon said, “The youth of today are really looking for some answers — for proper answers the established church can’t give them, their parents can’t give them, material things can’t give them” (Kozinn, 2008).

FSU_protest_Tallahassee_rc01458.jpgFlorida State University students marching in protest. Photo by UConn Today. 

Harrison wrote many of the songs on the albums that molded hippie culture. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band illuminated a theme of spirituality, and Magical Mystery Tour was almost otherworldly. Both albums were wildly popular; 51 million copies of Sgt. Pepper were sold, topping the charts for 27 weeks (Guy, 2015). On the album, Harrison wrote the lyrics, “When you’ve seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there.” The lyrics are deeply rooted in Hindu ideals. Hindus believe the path to enlightenment is in one’s own inner being (Goel).


Harrison’s lyrics emulated this Hindu sense of oneness. Perhaps this idea of unity is what the American youth were looking for. They used protests to bring peace, and took drugs to break down barriers. They appreciated human life and opposed war and conflict. This is a fundamental idea of Hinduism; where there is diversity, there can be unity, and there is unity in all created beings (Goel).

After the initial trip to India, Harrison still was not completely fulfilled. He kept searching for more, and that was how he got involved in what is known as the Hare Krishna movement. Even after the Beatles’ unfortunate breakup, Harrison had a great solo success with his album All Things Must Pass emerging as the country’s top-selling album for seven weeks straight and his single, “My Sweet Lord,” topped the charts for two months. After one of the verses on this number one hit, Harrison chants the words, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama.” This chant was known as the mahamantra, and the “Sweet Lord” in his chorus was Krishna. This special mantra is used to praise Krishna. Americans were chanting the mahamantra all over the country whether they knew its meaning or not.


Krishna comes from Vishnu, one of the main Hindu Bhakti deities. Those that follow Vishnu find salvation in his incarnations, called avatars (Corduan, 2012, p. 284). Vishnu descends to reestablish dharma, or righteousness. Krishna, “the lover,” is one of the most well-known avatars. He had a prominent presence in Bengali. Krishna is known to be both wise and given to unrestrained sexual pleasures with milkmaids (Corduan, 2012, p. 287). There is an interesting parallel between Harrison’s chosen deity, Krishna, and his guru, Maharishi. Similar to Krishna, Maharishi was also known for his wisdom and promiscuity with women.

Image result for krishna avatarThe Vishnu avatar, Krishna is George’s chosen deity. Photo from The Indian Mythology.

The Krishna following led to the creation of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, most often referred to as the Hare Krishna movement. ISKCON is a Hindu-based religious movement spearheaded by Bhaktiveedanta Swami and dedicated to worshipping Krishna (2017). The movement was founded by Caitanya, who taught salvation was found in total submission to Krishna. Most Vishnu devotees saw Krishna as an avatar of Vishnu, but ISKCON followers believed Krishna was the supreme deity, calling him the “full” descent of the deity, and the lord of peace, grace, and mercy (Narayanan, 2003, p.137). Harrison likely chose to chant “Hare Krishna” because chanting the mantra is one of ISKCON’s five essential teachings. Followers believed salvation came by chanting the mantra a thousand times a day, accompanied by daily singing and dancing (Corduan, 2012, p. 287).

ISKCON received much attention because of Harrison’s interest and immense financial support.  He was very dedicated and convicted in the Krishna movement. Despite being reluctant to commit to a religious message so boldly, he felt compelled to sing its praises. “I was sticking my neck out on the chopping block because now I would have to live up to something,” Harrison explained in I, Me, Mine, “but at the same time I thought ‘Nobody’s saying it; I wish somebody else was doing it.'” (Harrison, Harrison, & Taylor, 2017, p. 176). Perhaps he believed in salvation and wanted to use his music to bring people to salvation, which many Hindus teach is available through permanent Krishna-consciousness. In an interview with the Associated Press in response to manager Brian Epstein’s death, Harrison said, “There’s no real such thing as death anyway. I mean, it’s death on a physical level, but life goes on everywhere, and you just keep going really” (Bebergal, 2014). Harrison was referring to reincarnation, the Hindu concept of the afterlife. According to Nirad C. Chaudhuri, Hindus conquered fear of death in their belief that they would remain in the world and be united with those they love again (2004, p. 153).

Harrison helped spread the chant around the world like wildfire. The phrase made its way into restaurants, bars, movies, and even other rock stars’ lyrics. It was not uncommon to see young men and women in America dressed in traditional Indian religious clothes and chanting mantras and divine names (Bryant , 2004, p. 14).

Apple Records released the single, “Hare Krishna Movement” in 1969, along with “Govinda” and other Sanskrit mantras. Harrison helped Krishna musicians record and tour all over Europe. Harrison praised Krishna in many of his later songs and even incorporated the mahamantra in other Beatles tunes, such as “I am the Walrus.” His 1973 “Living in the Material World” has a line referencing “Lord Sri Krishna’s grace.”

Driven by his pursuit of spirituality, Harrison never stopped sifting through the noise, searching for transcendent answers in a materialistic world.  Unlike many of his time, he swore off using the hallucinogen LSD, saying, “Meditation and chanting became alternate paths toward consciousness shifting and getting in greater touch with the soul” (2017). Part of staying true in obedience to Krishna is abstaining from meat, caffeine, sweets, and sexual activity for pleasure. At the peak of ISKCON popularity, it was not uncommon to see followers dressed in robes with their heads shaved. These strict adherents, however, dwindled away and became more liberal in their practice. Michael Gressett, an American scholar specializing in Hare Krishna, called this the cult-to-church movement. This happens when a cult transitions to a church, where a cult is a religious movement with tension in its environment, and a church is considered a form of a cult that accommodates to society (Goldberg, 2013, p. 181). The exotic ISKCON established thousands of followers and temples worldwide.

The founder’s death marked the beginning of the decline of the radical Krishna movement, and three years later the leaders were accused of child molestation and kidnapping. The faith quickly became more of a private expression and less temple-centered. Goldberg said, “The guy with the shaved head who tried to sell you a book in the airport might now be your insurance agent” (Goldberg, 2013, p. 181). Upon making the slow transition to the mainstream, Hare Krishnas likely generated more interest in vegetarianism and reincarnation than any other spiritual group.

The Beatles had fame, fortune, talent, family, and friends, yet they felt incomplete and went searching for peace of mind and happiness. They first looked for it in drugs and then sought more answers with meditation. Unfortunately, the meditation practices didn’t resolve the band’s tension, and they broke up shortly after returning from India. Hindu inspired Transcendental Meditation, the Indian sitar, and the Hare Krishna movement played a vital role in shaping Western culture. Yoga, meditation, self-help books, Eastern music, and vegetarianism are all products of the integration of Indian spiritual practices that live on today.

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