The Inner Light

Album: Past Masters, Vol. 2 (1968)
Charted: 96

Songfacts®:

  • George Harrison wrote this song and sang lead. It was released as the B-side of "Lady Madonna" and was Harrison's first song to appear on a single.

    It's the last in a series of Beatles songs Harrison wrote that were influenced by Indian music and Eastern philosophy, following "Love You To" from Revolver (1966) and "Within You Without You" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).
  • The lyrics are a translation of a section of the Tao Te Ching, a sacred Chinese text dating back 2000 years that was written by Lao Tsu, a contemporary of Confucius. The text is a rendering of Tsu's accumulated wisdom; it forms the basis for much of Chinese thought and philosophy, focused on the spiritual aspect of life.

    There are 81 short chapters of Tao Te Ching. "Inner Light" is the title of Chapter 47, which translates to:

    Without going outside, you may know the whole world
    Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven
    The farther you go, the less you know
    Thus the sage knows without traveling
    He sees without looking
    He works without doing


    Harrison's lyric tweaked the translation a bit for clarity and sound. The biggest change he made was repeating these lines to reinforce the central theme:

    The farther one travels
    The less one really knows
  • This song has a similar theme to "Within You Without You," which is that we must look inside ourselves for enlightenment.
  • None of the Beatles played on this track; all the music was recorded by Indian session musicians at the EMI studios in Bombay, India, while Harrison was working on the soundtrack to the movie Wonderwall. Harrison come up with the tune based on how the lyric made him feel; he took the recording back to England, where his lead vocal was added along with John Lennon and Paul McCartney's backing vocals.
  • Instruments used on this track include harmonium, shehnai, tabla, sarod, and flute.
  • Harrison was introduced to the Tao Te Ching chapter that formed the lyric by Juan Mascaro, a Sanskrit teacher at Cambridge University. In October 1967, Harrison and John Lennon appeared on David Frost's TV show, where they discussed Transcendental Meditation. Mascaro was also on the panel and sent Harrison a copy of his book Lamps Of Fire, a compilation of ancient religious texts translated into English. Mascaro noted the "Inner Light" section, suggesting it could be a good lyric.
  • The original release was in mono; a stereo version was mixed in 1970 and used on the Past Masters compilation. The mono mix features an extra Indian instrument in the intro that did not make it to the stereo version.
  • Jeff Lynne from Electric Light Orchestra performed this at George Harrison's 2002 memorial show The Concert For George. Lynne was good friends with Harrison and played with him in The Traveling Wilburys. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2

Comments: 23

  • Renato from Rio De Janeiro, BrazilNady from Adelaide ... though I'm a complete stranger, I'd like to say that as I read your comment "My god !!! This is my life song!", you hit me straight in the heart !!! In times of extreme shallowness, superficiality, lack of love and resourcefulness, etc, I humbly add that this song, with its perfect blend of message, instrumentation and singing, sends chills down my old spine! Pls accept the compliments of a beatlemaniac! Renato Cardoso - Rio de Janeiro
  • George from Belleville, NjThis is a beautiful melody that George wrote.There's a lot of interesting Indian instruments being played,but there's a hidden gem behind that.The words sound philisophical but over all an interesting piece of music.
  • Davíd from Woburn, MaSo, that slighty annoying sound... what is that? I can't tell if it's an instrument or singing. Please forgive my ignorance, but I love George's music, especially his Eastern themed stuff.
  • Catresse from Lawrenceville, GaMeditation song :)
  • Nady from Adelaide, AustraliaMY GOD!!! this is my life song. stunning.
  • Victor from New York, NyThis song is totally awesome, george really knows how to make a sweet hit.
  • Murray from Liverpool, England, EnglandIn fact the stero version was first released in the UK in 1980 in the UK on "The Beatles EP - Past Masters did not vcome out until 1988.

    Greeny
    London,UK
  • Paul from Cleveland, OhThe instruments that were used are the Harmonium, Shenai, Sarod, Tabla, Pakavaj, and a Flute.
  • Forrest from Rochester, MnAnother snippet of incredible harmony between George, Paul and John, right at the end of this song.
  • Peter Griffin from Quahog, Ridirk, I can think of an example-Revolution 9.
  • Dirk from Nashville, TnThe other Beatles sing at the end, but those are Indian musicians, recorded in Mumbai, India, in January 1968.
  • Laura from Mamaroneck, Nyand martin, it is Tao Te Ching, but it is kind of pronounced like a sharp d.
  • Chitra from Bangalore, IndiaI'm an Indian and I love the song..more so cos they have used instruments that are used in the folk music of north/north-west India. It's a nice way of getting introduced to Indian folk music.
    and the concept of an inner light is probably inspired from Hinduism (and maybe even Taoism). The Geeta speaks of an inner light being present in all beings.
  • Joey from Nowhere Land, Cahey, did the other Beatles play the instruments?
    Or did George have people from India play them?
  • Dirk from Nashville, TnStephanie--I read your comments on other songs. You'd like The Inner Light if you could hear it. You obviously know music. This one has a very strange secondary Indian melody working through the song between the lyrics--almost the Indian equivalent of a tenor sax. It sounds almost like a woman laughing. I'd love to read what you think of it.
  • Chad from Huntington Station, NyThe poem is Chinese, the song is Indian, or at least in the Indian style.
  • Patrickman from Makati City, Otherthis is not the first indian-inspired song by george. love you to from the revolver album, released in 1966, is the first one. the first song to include the sitar was norweigian wood (this bird has flown) released in 1965.
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhOne of the few beatle songs I don't care for. Brillant none the less.
  • Dirk from Nashville, TnIf you own the original single, you can get a quick lesson in Beatles history. Side A is Lady Madonna. Side B is The Inner Light.... It was 1968 and this is the first record to come out after the Summer of Love, which was giant for the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, record and movie, Love is All You Need, Strawberry Fields...) But this single is sort of like the Beatles were struggling to quickly shed and move beyond all that psychedelic love stuff. So Lady Madonna is very American, rootsy, almost Elvis in sound. The Inner Light B-side shows that they weren't ALL the way out of the trippy craze yet. But seriously--look at everything and anything released after Lady Madonna and see how much of it sounds remotely psychedelic. I can't think of anything... Arguably, you could say Across the Universe from 1970 is trippy, but that was actually recorded two years earlier and sat in a can. By the time they released it on Let It Be, they had scrubbed off George's sitar (later to be heard on the beautiful Anthology version).
  • Christopher from Greenfield Center, NyGeprge Harrison has been greatly missed on earth since he passed on...but I am sure he was also misseed in the Heavens on the day he was born...


    RIP
  • Jo from Toronto, CanadaMartin: It is spelled "Tao Te Ching" but pronounced "Dow De Ching." And yes, it is Chinese in origin, but much of all Eastern thought is very similar. So it wouldn't surprise me if George used its ideas in a Hindu-sounding song.
  • Jude from Los Angeles, Cai love the concert for george version of this song when his friend jeff and his son Dhani sings it
  • Martin Bonica from Sterling, VaUm, if it was the last Indian-themed song... isn't the Tao Te Ching (wasn't it Dao De Ching, the foundation of Daoizm by Lao Tzi?) chinese?
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