What Is Life?

George Harrison

Oh tell me, what is my life without your love
Tell me who am I without you by my side?
(George Harrison)

Many George Harrison lyrics are intentionally ambiguous. They can be read, and usually are read, as straightforward romantic boy meets girl songs. George, however, as a devotee of bhakti yoga, the Hindu form of spirituality which cultivates love for god in the form of his avatars such as Krishna, might well have been writing about his relationship with the divine rather than earthly things.

He may have left us a clue to his intentions in the title of this song. The lyric is ‘what is my life?’ but the title omits the ‘my’ giving the question a more universal twist. It may seem a small point but as someone who, in my own trivial, insignificant way, writes I can attest that sometimes a world of intention can rest on a single word (as in my use of the word twist just now) which readers may never notice.

Be that as it may, what is life? George implies that without the Beloved one may exist but one does not live. Humans cannot be fully human if their focus is purely inward. It is not a question of choice, it is the way we are made. We always are in relation to the Other (which may be singular or plural.)  If that relationship is one where we reject every possible Other it still remains the thing which defines us and dominates our thoughts and actions.

The most perfect form, however, which that relationship can take is to love the Other for its own sake. That is, it does not exist for us in order to be possessed and used by us. It exists in order to be itself and to freely do what it does. If that free action includes a reciprocal love given to us then perfection is added to perfection but whether or not there is reciprocation life, to be life, must involve for us an element of selfless love.

The Other may be a person or persons, for most of us it usually is, hence the romantic reading of George’s lyrics. It may be God or the divine however perceived. It may be an ideal or cause, patriotism, socialism, whatever. But it always involves a personal aspect. That is, we don’t love our country as an abstraction but for the good which it does for people; we don’t love socialism because its a beautiful idea but because it will (we suppose) make human lives better. If we love God it is not the deity of the philosophers it is a personal God, the flute playing Krishna, the crucified Christ, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

What is life without such love? It is closed in on itself. It is a constant unsatisfied desire for fulfillment from an object, ourselves, which can never fulfil ourselves. Hunger and thirst cannot be satisfied from within neither can our need to love and be loved. What is life with such love? It is open to the Other, to a source capable of filling it. We may be mistaken in our choice of object and suffer greatly thereby. But we will have learned from the experience. And the lesson is not to avoid the risk of loving it is to place our love upon the Other which is most suitable to receive it.

@calmlyobserving

thoughtfully detached has a Facebook page

My *other* blog is Catholic Scot

The picture is George Harrison taken by Barry Feinstein

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6 Comments

  1. Ive always been a Beatles fan, Ive got Georges triple album “All things must pass” in my home and I like it. I wonder what it would be like to be a Hindu. I will never know. I think it is mad to believe in endless reincarnations although it is not my job to criticise anyone or anything.
    I am protestant/ evangelical.
    Hinduism has beautiful temples, music, food, art. But as to its teachings, I wonder why it has survived so long, to this day?
    It must mean a lot to lots of people.

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    1. My birthday is the same day as George’s so I’ve always rather liked him. The idea that there is a single religion called Hinduism is probably something thought up by the British when they first encountered India because they tried to explain the family of religions which they encountered by using terms that they, the British, understood. The form that George went for, Bhakti yoga, is really quite distinct from many other practices which are also called Hindu, though they may share *some* assumptions and a common mythology.

      Reincarnation is quite a widespread belief which some Classical Greek philosophers like Pythagoras shared. It sort of makes sense if you think that the spirit is wholly independent of the body and has existed forever. It simply inhabits a material shell for a while as part of its journey from eternity to eternity. Christianity resolves the same question by different means.

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  2. I once had the chance to visit a Hindu temple in Manchester a long time ago. Those eastern religions are invading the West. Is that good, bad, indifferent or just the course of history?
    I read a book by Dave Hunt called “Occult invasion”.
    He puts all non-christian religion in one box and labels them as useless.
    Should we be religiously tolerant or clear about what the New Testament says?
    (Im in for the second option).
    It doesnt seem to be religiously tolerant.
    Why all this confusion? Its not worth it.
    Most people just want a normal life.-
    This wasnt a very intelligent comment, Im afraid.
    I live by the Baltic Sea and the weathers been great today, in summer this place is like a caribbean paradise.

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