Tomorrow Never Knows: The Beatles Interpretation of Transcending


"I believe that all art has as an ultimate goal, the union between the material and the spiritual, the human and the divine." 
Michael Jackson

By the time Rubber Soul, the Beatles mind had been half awakened, musically. Then, they used unusual production techniques for "Tomorrow Never Knows", a song in their seventh studio album, Revolver. Revolver marks their fully awakening mind through the development of their musical techniques and spirituality.

John Lennon wrote "Tomorrow Never Knows" in January 1966. George Harrison stated that the idea for the lyrics came from the book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner (which was in turn adapted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead).

The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead

A book about using psychedelic drugs that was coauthored by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert, all of whom had previously taken part in research investigating the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin and mescaline in addition to the ability of these substances to sometimes induce religious and mystical states of consciousness. 

The book held that the "ego death" experienced under the influence of LSD and other psychedelic drugs is essentially similar to the dying process and requires similar guidance. This is a state of being known by eastern mystics and masters as samādhi (a state of being totally aware of the present moment; a one-pointedness of mind).
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Paul McCartney also stating that when he and Lennon visited the newly opened Indica bookshop, Lennon found a copy of The Psychedelic Experience that contained the lines: "Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream".

Lennon bought the book, went home, took LSD, and followed the instructions exactly as stated in the book.

Harrison questioned whether Lennon fully understood the meaning of "Tomorrow Never Knows" lyrics:

"You can hear (and I am sure most Beatles fans have) "Tomorrow Never Knows" a lot and not know really what it is about. Basically it is saying what meditation is all about. The goal of meditation is to go beyond (that is, transcend) waking, sleeping and dreaming. So the song starts out by saying, "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, it is not dying."

Then it says, "Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void – it is shining. That you may see the meaning of within – it is being." From birth to death all we ever do is think: we have one thought, we have another thought, another thought, another thought. Even when you are asleep you are having dreams, so there is never a time from birth to death when the mind isn't always active with thoughts. But you can turn off your mind, and go to the part which Maharishi described as: "Where was your last thought before you thought it?"

The whole point is that we are the song. The self is coming from a state of pure awareness, from the state of being. All the rest that comes about in the outward manifestation of the physical world (including all the fluctuations which end up as thoughts and actions) is just clutter. The true nature of each soul is pure consciousness. So the song is really about transcending and about the quality of the transcendent.

I am not too sure if John actually fully understood what he was saying. He knew he was onto something when he saw those words and turned them into a song. But to have experienced what the lyrics in that song are actually about? I don't know if he fully understood it."
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"Tomorrow Never Knows" is the first track to be recorded in Revolver. The first session started at 8 pm on 6 April 1966, in Studio Three at Abbey Road. Lennon told producer George Martin that he wanted to sound like a hundred chanting Tibetan monks, which left Martin the difficult task of trying to find the effect by using the basic equipment they had. 

The song has a vocal put through a Leslie speaker cabinet (which was normally used as a loudspeaker for a Hammond organ). Tape loops prepared by the Beatles were mixed in and out of the Indian-inspired modal backing underpinned by a constant but non-standard drum pattern.

"Tomorrow Never Knows" breaks so many barriers, musically speaking, and does so many things that no one had done before. It's got a drone all the way through, which is something that happens in Indian music and used to exist in Western music in the 12th century. So it sort of triggered a whole movement that popular music would start to bring in these other records from the avant garde, put them into mainstream songs, into an album that millions of people would hear."
Howard Goodall