by Paul Saltzman, Photographer, filmmaker, author of The Beatles In India
These are excerpts from the new, Deluxe Limited Edition, box-set book, The Beatles in India. The time that John, Paul, George
and Ringo spent at the Ashram in India, in 1968, was the single most creative period in their illustrious careers--they were
inspired to write 48 songs in the few weeks they were there. But the real reason they went to India was to find inner peace:
George Harrison shared this with me in one of the many intimate times I was fortunate to spend with the Fab Four.
The 1960s were archetypical. Following the enormous destruction and inhumanity of two world wars in the first half of the 20th
century, and the reactive focus on creating personal wealth for safety in the 1950s, the 60s quickly became a time of
tremendous change in society, marked by a world wide upheaval between the generations and growing skirmishes between
governments and their own young people. The 'old order' was being challenged daily by social and political activism, as well
as drugs, rock 'n' roll, and the 'free love' movement. As Bob Dylan told us, the times they are a-changin'. Our generation
was looking for fun, yes, but also for deeper meaning for ourselves and for others, trying to create a better world.
The 1960s came to a head in 1968. It was both positive and negative. It started with the 'Prague Spring' liberalization of
communism in Czechoslovakia, followed by the 'Tet Offensive' in Viet Nam and the buildup of the anti-war movement in the
United States. In May of that year the 'Paris Riots' saw hundreds of thousands of French citizens take to the streets in a
general insurrection, started by university students in a quest for social and political reform. By August, Russian tanks
crushed the 'Prague Spring' but it was the first crack in the face of totalitarian Soviet communism that would eventually lead
to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. And while the early and mid 1960s saw major leaps forward
in the American civil rights movement, 1968 was the year the movement lost two heroes in the assassinations of the Rev. Martin
Luther King, Jr., at age 39, and Bobby Kennedy, just 42.
By 1968 the struggle for outer justice and equality was being mirrored by a growing thirst for inner transformation, and our
generation dived into the universal quest for personal fulfillment. We were looking for a more loving redefinition of
relationships than our parents' generation seemed to believe in. It wasn't just about getting a job and making a living,
anymore. It was also about living your feelings, about honesty, joy and playfulness. It was about peace both inside and out.
The Beatles, Dylan and Donovan were our heralds, our troubadours calling out to us, leading the way, in the ideal, to an end
of the patriarchal, both within and without. It was the beginning of a movement from a struggle-based paradigm to a joy-based
paradigm. In their music, they never felt or appeared or sounded as if they were out to please, or manipulate, or make money.
For the Beatles, they were mostly having authentic fun, itself a great lesson.
But something was missing. Early in 1968, at the height of their popularity and arguably the most famous people on the planet,
the Beatles traveled to India, to the foothills of the Himalayas, to find something that all their fame and fortune could not
give them. They went to find inner peace. For eight weeks they disappeared into an ashram to study meditation. No press or
visitors were allowed.
Seekers in their music, they were now seekers in their spiritual lives. For many of us, the Beatles were the avatars--the
embodiment, the archetype--of western culture and society and when they turned to the East, millions of young people turned to
see what they were looking at, where they were going, what they were doing. To the West, then, ashrams were a little known
phenomenon. They were centers of spiritual learning, of yoga, of vegetarian eating and, to the generations of the 60s, word
that the Beatles were at an ashram in India aroused a curiosity in a great many people searching in their own lives for a
deeper fulfillment than materialism could deliver. The Beatles were forging ahead, again.
Why did all four Beatles go to India? George was the most interested. He was 'the quiet one', perhaps most in touch with
himself. He was a devoted seeker, devoted to finding the inner connection with his own Divine Nature. This connection is soul
food. It requires quiet to do this. That they all went was significant. Each, in their own way, more or less, was looking to
get away from their fame, from the cacophony of their busy lives. Looking for the quiet. Looking for the soul food. As George
said, when we sat together at the ashram: all the bells and whistles, all the outer rewards and distractions, "It isn't peace
inside, is it?" They were also there to be together. They were family.
Personally, I woke up one morning in Montreal in late 1967 and realized there were parts of myself I didn't like. I was
shocked. I had thought all was going well: I was working in film, been a television host at 21, was proud of myself for doing
voter registration work in Mississippi in the dangerous summer of '65. And yet, in that moment, I felt empty inside. As I
thought about it, I realized I lacked self-confidence. I lacked a sense of inner peace, even a sense of meaning for my life.
In December of that year, I stuffed my backpack and set out on a journey to 'find myself'. I only thought of India. It was
instinct, the inner voice. I knew nothing of India or meditation, and I had no idea the Beatles would be there.
I said good-bye to my girlfriend, both of us in tears, and arranged to end my time working at the National Film Board of
Canada with one last job, as a sound recordist on a documentary shoot in India. On December 4, 1967, with two hundred dollars
and a round-trip ticket to India in my pocket, I boarded a plane for my first trip overseas.
Flying at 32,000 feet, heading for India, I was excited, and scared. I knew I was searching for something. I was looking for a
different 'me'. But, who was that? And, how do I find him? And, what if 'he' didn't exist? What then?
Landing in the early dawn's dust and heat of Bombay on December 6, 1967, I was four days shy of my twenty-fourth birthday and
I'd never been out of North America. On my own, far away from home, I found myself loving my girlfriend more than ever.
Culture shock hit hard. I spent the first three nights in a Salvation Army hostel, for a dollar-fifty a night, including three
meals and tea. The first night, my two hundred dollars in U.S. traveler's checks were stolen and I was awakened at 5:30 the
next morning by an earthquake. Nonetheless, I was amazed by India--by its richness and its poverty. The streets around the
hostel stank of sewage and yet the colourful clothes, the music, the art and the smell of incense were exquisite. The local
people were remarkably hospitable. If I looked lost on a street corner for thirty seconds someone immediately came up to offer
directions. Often, they were very curious and asked questions. "What is your name?" "How old are you?" "Where are you from?"
"Are you married?" "How do you like India?" And several times I was invited into their homes for tea and conversation.