VIEWING THE DISTANT
1. “Without passing out of the gate
The world’s course I prognosticate.
Without peeping through the window
The heavenly Reason I contemplate.
The further one goes,
The less one knows.”
2. Therefore the holy man does not travel, and yet he has knowledge. He does not see things, and yet he defines them. He does not labor, and yet he completes.
Tao Te Ching (Chapter 47)
Attributed to Laozi
The Inner Light is a song written by George Harrison that was first released by The Beatles as a B-side to Lady Madonna. It was the first Harrison composition to be featured on a Beatles single. The lyrics are a rendering of the 47th chapter (sometimes titled Viewing the Distant in translations) of the Taoist Tao Te Ching. An instrumental alternate take was released in 2014 on George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music remastered CD as a bonus track.
In his autobiography I, Me, Mine, Harrison writes that the song was inspired by a letter from Juan Mascaró, a Sanskrit scholar at Cambridge University, who sent him a copy of his book Lamps of Fire (a wide-ranging anthology of religious writings, including some from the Tao Te Ching) and asked him: “… might it not be interesting to put into your music a few words of Tao, for example number 48, page 66 of the book.” Harrison states: “In the original poem, the verse says ‘Without going out of my door, I can know the ways of heaven.’ And so to prevent any misinterpretations — and also to make the song a bit longer — I did repeat that as a second verse but made it: “Without going out of your door / You can know all things on earth / Without looking out of your window / You can know the ways of heaven” — so that it included everybody”. The passage Harrison refers to, however, corresponds to what English translations normally number as “47”, rather than “48”. D. C. Lau’s translation of the Tao Te Ching 47, for example, states: “Without stirring abroad / One can know the whole world / Without looking out of the window / One can see the way of heaven.”