Within You Without You
To Continue our Sgt. Pepper theme in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the album’s seminal release, we felt it apt to consider their most overtly spiritual and Indian influenced track, Within You Without You.
The track itself was George Harrison’s second attempt to capture the magic of Indian raga music and the essence of its philosophical and spiritual underpinnings (the first track being Love You Too). It was inspired by his six week stay with his mentor Ravi Shankar in the Autumn of 1966. It was recorded without the other Beatles playing on it, instead using Indian musicians to play the tabla, sitar and dilruba. While in India, Harrison found that the ancient Vedic teachings coincided with the mind-expanding experiences he had had on LSD. His time in India showed him that these experiences can be matched and indeed exceeded through the clarity of meditative techniques and organic methods of enhancing consciousness.
The opening lines of the track were inspired by a conversation Harrison had had with long time Beatles collaborator Klaus Voorman, about the space that exists between us all. There are all of these unseen forces connecting us all. Yet most people only tend to see the separation between us, when in fact the space between us all is the very medium which connects us!
He then goes on to talk about all the people who hide themselves behind the wall of illusion. In the Vedic worldview this surface level reality (maya) is one of three main phase of reality, all of which can be experienced if we can find ways to transcend the limiting beliefs of our conditioned minds. The easiest way to do this is through medicinal herbs and drugs. However, these can be dangerous, unpleasant, and difficult to integrate. Indeed, most herbs and chemicals will only help you arrive at one strata or another, and render you somewhat dysfunctional. In contrast, deep meditative practises can help you sustain those experiences and integrate them more effectively into everyday life.
The next layer down from this surface level reality is the one of love and celestial experience. The layer below that is one of total unity with all forms and phenomena of life.
Unfortunately, many people in both east and west have translated the word maya – describing the surface level reality – to mean ‘illusion’. This is highly unfortunate as it is somewhat derogatory and condemnatory of the most expressed value of life. The irony being that any one of history’s greatest masters would have gently chided them for their ignorance. The word in actual fact means ‘appearance’ ie the surface layer of life appears to be everything, but is in actual fact only some of it.
Dear old George wasn’t to know this at the time. He was only beginning his journey with ancient Vedic knowledge and it doesn’t in anyway invalidate the sentiment behind the song. George was also somewhat cynical by nature – not surprising given his experiences of the Beatles – and so this translation will have probably resonated with him quite well.
For those of us taking inspiration from the song however, it is an important distinction. For as long as spiritual seekers condemn this surface layer of life, they are going to find themselves just as trapped by a partial experience of life as the most ardent materialist. It’s only when our true internal experience is based on all-inclusivity can we begin to understand the fulsomeness, depth and symbiotic beauty of all the different layers of reality in our fair universe.
Likewise people often mistake the concept of oneness to mean a feeling of oneness with the universe. This is indeed a stage on the spiritual journey, but it is merely the beginning of a great journey of self discovery, as opposed to the destination that most people think it is. Oneness can be experienced at a much more visceral and sensorially profound level. However, it is something that is much better experienced rather than merely being talked about.
George then goes on to describe that people only glimpse the truth when it’s far too late – ie when they’re on the threshold of death. One of the insights of the ancient Indian worldview is that before death we experience something akin to an enlightened state, for either minutes or even weeks. It happens when we finally accept our fate and all of a sudden we are imbued with an almost complete experience of the first stage of enlightenment. This is the time when dying people suddenly find peace, attain that ethereal glow (despite their withering body) and often realise how foolish they had been whenever they didn’t appreciate every moment of magic in their lives. There is a very famous example of the world’s richest man declaring to his bevvy of lawyers and hangers on that ‘I’ve blown it’ just before he took his last breath. On the threshold of the body no longer giving us life, we get an almighty dose of love, insight and perspective. One of the happy by-products of teaching people to meditate is to help them get that perspective when they’re 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60, and not when they’re knocking on heavens door!
Having spent the first verse trying to spell out a deeper truth of our existence, George then proceeds to talk about love. Not the personal love that we all tend to associate with, the bigger more universal love that underpins our experience and binds everything in the universe together. It may sound like a very esoteric and hippy thing to say. Indeed, it is something that seems too incredible to be true. That is, until you’ve experienced it and you start to realise that that is a much deeper layer of reality than we could all enjoy if we simply used the tools that the ancients passed down to us. In time, we can have systematic access to that beautiful, blissful field of all encompassing love. It takes diligence to remove all of the calluses of ignorance and pain that have built up in our lives, but it certainly doesn’t take long for you to start feeling considerably better about yourself and about life. With each passing year there is more and more love flow in your everyday experience until there is so much you almost can’t bear it. It’s like a permanent orgasm of love flowing through you which can be quite a challenge to direct at times! George alludes to this by saying that when we do find it, we try to hold it with our love – in the first few years of it arising, it comes and goes like a circuit that has not yet been fully repaired by the cosmic electrician. It is like you experience rolling brown-outs as you transition into wholeness, until finally, you become fully plugged into the cosmic grid of electric universal love.
George concludes by hoping that with this level of love being a very real possibility for every human being in the world, we could save the world. Because when people experience true unconditional love, they really only want peace, harmony and good cheer to reign. They are not interested in fighting. There is an infinite supply of empathy and compassion. Conditional love on the other hand, causes us all sorts of dramas, hurts and anxieties and may even lead to violence when we feel our love is not being reciprocated or has been drawn. ‘If they only knewwwwwww’.
This is why we work so hard to spread the meditation love. Because, when people are happy, healthy, and feeling greater love for themselves and others, not only does our world of individuals become happier, but society becomes a reflection of this internal state rather than the reflection of the stressed and needy internal state that characterises 99% of the population in the industrialised world.
George then beseeches the listener to try to realise it is all within yourself. Your power is right there within you. No one can give it to you. No one can take it away. This is why becoming a missionary or a zealot never works, because the person hasn’t had the chance to choose for themselves that they want this change in their lives. We’ll happily teach young children for free for example, but only if the kids want it. If the parents choose it for them because they think it’s a good idea, the kids will drop it. It’s a journey of self discovery, not of acquiescence to some person or institution that thinks they know how you should live your life.
George then goes on to describe the realisation that although your life experience may be dominated by everything you think and feel. In actuality, you are merely a single cell of a super cluster of cells giving conscious voice to life. As your consciousness expands, you step out of the ‘I, Me, Mine’ mentality more and more and you begin to find more ‘We, Us, Ours’ becomes your predominant frame of reference. However, it should be noted that in the Vedic worldview, it is healthy to retain your individuality and not lose yourself in some form of egoless state (as some more recent schools of thought propose). It is simply that you don’t let your individuality dominate your universal nature. You live both happily in a coherent and integrated manner, where both your individuality and universality are served by bliss, love and meaning.
Following this tidal wave of wisdom, come waves of delicious instrumentation which are as lucid as the lyrics that preceded them.
The lyrical finale of the track begins by commenting on the fact that our love has gone so cold and that we may have gained the world but we have lost ourselves. And it’s a fair point. We humans have become the masters of our planetary universe. We have conquered every territory and between us, and our domesticated animals that are there to feed and comfort us, we absolutely dominate everything. And yet, here we all are lost like little boys and girls, confused, distracted, and feeling trapped by the very life that has come with our conquering of the world.
‘When you’ve seen beyond yourself, you may find that peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you will see we’re all one and life goes on within you and without you.’ Having deconstructed all of the above, this verse needs no further elaboration. It’s there for all of us to find. It is our birthright to find this place and enjoy every precious moment that life brings us.
Rolling Stone Magazine’s most famous journalist, David Fricke has gone on record as saying that the track is “at once beautiful and severe, a magnetic sermon about materialism and communal responsibility in the middle of a record devoted to gentle technicolor anarchy.”
All in all, it is an incredible piece of music, from a guy who had only recently started playing with the tonally rich music of India. But what blows me away is the lucidity and incision of his lyrics. I feel I am going to spend the rest of my life trying to communicate these deeper layers of experience to the common man, and here George is, revealing all these truths in a five minute pop song! Admittedly, one usually needs some pretty advanced techniques to experience what he is talking about on a sustainable basis, but even so, what a distillation!
It amuses me to write these words because when I fell in love with the Beatles aged 15, and discovered Pepper aged 17, I thought the album was such an outstanding piece of work but I just couldn’t understand why they put this hippy piece of shit in the middle of the album – it felt like it should be playing in the background of an Indian restaurant! I felt sure that had the Beatles simply used Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane in its place, the album would have been so much stronger.
But now, in my more worldly and en-wisened state, I can see that George’s contribution is one the most vital components of the album. It is an extraordinary reflection of the dawning ‘ Summer of Love’ and it is a call to arms to every person on the planet to contemplate the truth of life and find that rich field of love that flows within you and without you.
Within You Without You (Lyrics)
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
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 realise it’s all within yourself
No one else can make you change
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’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find
Peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come when you see we’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you