The Hamburg Beatles and a Meditation on Karma

by Aranyakananda

I find inspiration in the strangest places. I think all of us must at one point or another. I think I’ve mentioned a time or 15 that I am a fan of the Beatles. At work, along with Ganesha at the entrance of my cubicle, Krishna and Arjuna on my desk, and Swamis Yogananda and Vidyadhishananda, another source of inspiration is a photo of the Beatles taken in 1960 in Hamburg, Germany. For one thing this was just months before they really started to make some waves in their hometown of Liverpool, leading to bigger waves across Britain and even bigger waves across the Atlantic. But another reason is that in this picture, the band consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best.

Sometimes I find myself forgetting that we all carry different baggage of karma, yet in the end we’re all playing the same tune. When I do, I look at this picture. It carries within its white borders a fundamental truth in stark black and hazy grey about the variety of life, that plays out through our individual karmas.

You see:

* John Lennon went on to fame, controversy, and social pariah-hood for his political and personal statements. Though he seemed to have found happiness away from the limelight for the last five years of his life, eventually he was to be murdered at age 40. In death he came to be a hippie icon, and the symbol of peace movements to this day.

* Paul McCartney became the most prolific hit-writer in the history of pop music, with the most-covered song of all-time, “Yesterday”, and enjoys success to this day and is an outspoken advocate for animal rights and vegetarian lifestyle.

* George Harrison soon tired of the rock star lifestyle, and yearning for something more he found Hinduism, becoming a devotee of Bhagavan Krishna, dying of lung cancer in 2001. He chanted the Mahamantra regularly up until the day of his death.

* Stuart Sutcliffe voluntarily left the band soon after the picture was taken, and he died of a brain hemorrhage at age 21, not long before he was to marry his girlfriend Astrid Kirchher.

* Pete Best was abruptly fired from the band 2 years later, just before they recorded their first single, never glimpsing all-out Beatlemania. To this day he fends off questions from interviewers about what might have been.

Five men in one band. Five very disparate paths.

It is a reminder that we each have our own path which we cannot predict (in ourselves nor in others). That fortunes can shift, plans can change, and life can take us in any of myriad directions at a moment’s notice. Our state of mind during those potentially troubling times is the only thing we have control over. Our only weapon is, indeed, our state of mind. This is not a judgement on any of these five men, or of their karma. It is merely a photo that has become a parable for me.

Jai Hari Aum.

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One Response to The Hamburg Beatles and a Meditation on Karma

  1. James Sullivan says:

    Well said. That photo of the early Beatles has always been my favorite of them, but not for the same reasons. That time period is my favorite part of their story. When they were grinding it out in Hamburg, barely out of their teens, and honing the skills that would get them to the launch pad. John Lennon once stated that when they were playing straight rock in Hamburg and Liverpool in the early days, they did their best stuff, and that the world never got to see that. I’ve also always had a soft spot for Pete Best. After reading your above comments, I have a whole new take on that image.

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