A reader writes:
Hope I'm not bursting any bubbles here, but George's "Sweet Lord" was Krishna. The closest that song comes to anything even ecumenical, let alone "explicitly Christian," is "Hallelujah" – and that's a Hebrew expression. Others have sung it with all the Hindu lyrics removed, sometimes substituting Christian lyrics, but it was written as a devotional song to Krishna. The lyrics contain the famous "Hare Krishna" mantra/prayer as well as another Sanskrit prayer of the Vaisnava Hindu sect to which the Hare Krishnas belong.
Granted, from his Hindu perspective, George would have considered Christ a divine figure, but the song just wasn't written for him.
Another agrees, adding, "I always assumed George was trying to draw Christians in and then turn them on to the Hare Krishna movement." Another:
What I've always found clever with the song is, until the explicit Hindu references, how it's ambiguously phrased. It could be any believer/non-believer from any religion asking to be nearer to his/her god/s. By using such general language, Harrison has managed to reveal the similarities that run through the religious experience – even as most religions demand to be viewed as unique, they really are quite similar in many ways, especially in the way that they stoke the human sense for wanting more "I really want to know you, I really want to see you" – a banal point, but a nice one, still.
But, yeah, explicitly un-Christian. Sorry hombre.
Other than "hallelujah," every word comes right out of Hinduism, in this case Vaishnava Hinduism, which centers on worship of Vishnu and particularly enthralled Harrison. One facet of the Vaishnava tradition similar to Christianity is the belief that Vishnu has nine avatars, or incarnations, two of whom are mentioned in the song: Krishna, the seventh, and Rama, the eighth. Buddha is the ninth avatar (while living in India I witnessed throngs of Hindus at Buddhist temples tossing offering coins at the Buddha statue). And many Hindus, incidentally, regard Christ as an avatar of God (you can buy cheap statues of Mary and the baby Jesus all over India), which is one reason why Christian missionaries have never gotten very far with Hindus over the centuries.
The other is that Hinduism is by nature ecumenical and simply absorbs other religions it comes into contact with. Even the title, "My Sweet Lord," is Hindu. Vishnu, especially in his Krishna form, is often referred to in those terms.
When I was a Presbyterian youth-group-attending Christian in the '70s, I loved "My Sweet Lord" and thought it was fairly "Christian" because of the refrain "My Sweet Lord." Then, 25 years later and a long-time student of an Indian Guru, I could recognize the Hare Ramas, Tasmai Shree Guruve Namaha, Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, etc. that I didn't know back then and therefore couldn't hear. I thought they were just background scat consonants without meaning (I wasn't one of those kids who read the lyrics, obviously). So now it seems much more explicitly Vedantic – and ecumenical – than explicitly Christian and ecumenical.
The sanskrit verses Harrison used are the words of one of the most important mantras of India. They invoke the grace of the Guru principle, the primal force of the Divine that reveals the divinity within our own being and in creation:
GURUR BRAHMA, GURUR VISHNU, GURUR DEVO MAHESHWARAH. GURUR SAAKSHAAT PARA-BRAHMA, TASMAI SHRI GURUVE NAMAH.
Guru is the creator Brahma, Guru is the preserver Vishnu, Guru is the destroyer Siva. Guru is directly the supreme spirit – I offer my salutations to this Guru.
The non-dual understanding of a particular human Guru is that he or she is the human presence of the cosmic power of grace or revelation, and that a Guru (such as Jesus, Ramana Maharshi, etc) is necessary if we want to experience the divinity of our own being, rather than just talk about it. I don't see anything in Harrison's wonderful song about redemption, sin, baptism, or other more Christian concepts. I can still see a generally ecumenical expression of love for God in it and a longing to see Him, know Him, be with Him, which are the most universal and elemental longings of a mystic of any path.
May your own longing burn brighter and deeper! And thank you for bringing your own spiritual path and longing to your blog.
Regarding the above video:
The most interesting thing about "My Sweet Lord" is that it is probably the most obviously plagiarized song in rock ‘n roll history. One needn’t count the notes or make the argument that the song is too similar to "He’s So Fine." – it is "He’s So Fine." So one wonders about Harrison honoring his "Lord" by plagiarizing somebody else’s work with impunity (look Lord I have no creativity, thanks). George Harrison was a huge thief and anybody with ears could hear it, and John Lennon of all people remarked that "he knew exactly what he was doing when he stole the original song."