"John loved and prayed for the human race," Yoko Ono, widow of John Lennon, said yesterday. "Please do the same for him."

After Lennon was shot in front of the Dakota apartment building in New York on Monday night, news of his death raced around the globe, prompting shock and grief. Lennon's fans were seen weeping publicly on the sidewalks of New York and at record counters where they lined up to buy his records.

The news set off a national buying spree -- Beatles records quickly disappeared from record shops around the United States, and orders for almost 1 million copies of Lennon's latest album were reportedly received in a single day.

Early yesterday morning, fans were already lining up at Washington stores. "In three hours we were completly wiped out of Beatles product. All the Lennon albums were gone in half an hour," said one local retailer.

Television networks rushed to provide on-the-spot coverage at the scene of the death and to produce instant specials on Lennon's life and work. Many radio stations began continuous programming of Beatles records, interrupted only for news breaks and phoned-in tributes by fans.

The personal grief was intense at the Dakota, where one tenant, Leonard Bernstein, was reported "in a state of shock" at the murder of the man he had hailed as "Saint John" in the introduction to a current book about the Beatles.

Across town at St. Patrick's Cathedral, president-elect Ronald Reagan was stopped en route to an interview with Cardinal Terence Cooke and asked for his reaction. "Well, what can anyone say?" Reagan said. "It's just another evidence of -- that we have to stop tragedies of this sort. . . . I think the whole overall thing of violence in our streets is something that has to be dealt with. . . . We have to find an answer."

In England, the news of Lennon's death came while most Britons were asleep, at 4 a.m. Tuesday. As all-night radio programs announced the shooting, newspaper and wire-service switchboards were flooded with calls. By 7 a.m. radio stations were playing nonstop Beatles hits in tribute to Lennon and continued throughout the day, as Lennon's past associates reacted with horror to his murder.

Paul McCartney, looking white and drawn yesterday morning, told reporters outside his Sussex farmhouse: "I can't take it at the moment. John was a great guy. He is going to be missed by the whole world. . . " The musician and his wife, Linda, then drove away, but later in the day, McCartney told reporters at his studio, "I won't be going to the funeral. I'll be paying my respects privately. I want everyone to rally around Yoko."

There had been some animosity between Lennon and McCartney, dating from the time that the group split up. But an aide to McCartney said yesterday, "The rift between them happened years ago. They respected one another's work. They went through an awful lot together." He added that they had met "socially" and communicated by phone in the last year and "they were great friends."

Ringo Starr broke off a vacation to fly to the United States immediately, and George Harrison reportedly canceled a recording session. Neither could be reached for comment, but an aide to Harrison said that "George is very, very upset. He hasn't spoken to Paul, Ringo or Yoko. He hasn't yet made a decision about going over to the States. He's just stunned.

Lennon's former wife, Cynthia, now remarried in England as Mrs. Cynthia Twist, also reacted with shock yesterday, calling Lennon's death "tragic." She said that she had been in London with Ringo Starr's ex-wife, Maureen, when Ringo phoned with the news early Tuesday morning. The two women then drove to the Twist home in Wales, where Julian -- Cynthia twist's son by Lennon -- is staying. Mrs. Twist said Lennon spoke to Julian "two or three times a week" and described them as "very close."

Around the world in Japan, Lennon's brother-in-law, Keisuke Ono, said he was going to America to persuade his sister to return to her native country, "where she doesn't have to worry about gunshots anymore." He described Lennon as "a really good man, a good father, a good husband and a good friend."

In London, former prime minister Sir Harold Wilson called Lennon's death "a great tragedy," and recalled that he had recommended that the group be awarded decorations as Member of the British Empire in 1965 because of "what they were doing for kids -- taking them off the streets and giving them a new interest in life."

Musical personalities were quick to respond.

Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones said in Paris that he was "shattered" by the news. "I knew and liked John Lennon for 18 years. But I don't want to make a casual remark now at such an awful time for his family, millions of fans and friends."

At a concert in California Monday night, Stevie Wonder dedicated his encore, "Happy Birthday," to Lennon. He called the Beatles "one of the first groups to recognize the value of black roots in music."

Sid Bernstein, producer of the Beatles' Shea Stadium Concerts in 1965 and 1966, said: "So brilliant, so gifted, so giving. He was the Bach, the Beethoven, the Rachmainoff of our time."

Musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky, who included Lennon in his prestigious "Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians" along with classical composers and performers, said the killing was "a dreadful thing" and saw it as a symptom of how deeply Lennon's music has "penetrated the subconscious minds" of young people. "Numerous times," he said, "when I mentioned the name of Lenin, my secretary would spell it 'Lennon.' She would just automatically spell it that way, because Lennon is more clearly in the subconscious of young people than Lenin ever was.

"I have read about this killing and watched the news on television, and I wondered what was in the mind of that man, killing someone whom he so obviously admired. It had a philosophical, almost a religious significance -- killing the source of the delight. Rock music has an affinity for violence which perhaps, in some cases, can be satisfied only by murder."

As word of Lennon's death reached across the nation, fans turned out by the thousands to buy his records. Industry sources reported yesterday that in one day, orders for Lennon's new "Double Fantasy" album had reached approximately 1 million copies nationally -- tens of thousands in the Washington area alone. Most stores were caught shorthanded on both the new album on the Geffen label and Lennon's previous material on Capital Records. The new album was just beginning to move onto the charts after its release three weeks ago. Around the country, some stores were reported to be selling the few remaining copies of "Double Fantasy" at far more than the $8.98 list price.

"After the shock Monday night, it dawned on me what was going to happen," said a dazed Ron Hughbanks, Washington district branch manager for Capital/EMI. Local retail outlets started calling in orders at 9 a.m. yesterday.

John Matthews, manager of Record and Tape, Ltd. in Georgetown reported that "people are coming in and buying records quietly, in a state of shock, saying 'How could such a thing happen,' 'I don't believe it.'" At the 15 Kemp Mill Records outlets in the metropolitan area, people were waiting in line for the stores to open this morning, according to buyer Howard Applebaum: "One woman bought 11 copies." At the seven Penguin Feather stores in Virginia, many customers were crying as they purchased Lennon's albums, said buyer Dana Gore.

The same wave swept across every region of the country. When word of Lennon's death reached the West Coast Monday night, it was after 9 p.m., but shocked and downcast fans started congregating at a number of late-night record stores, buying up copies of "Double Fantasy" and older material both in and outside the Beatles context.

Tom Praitt, night manager of Tower Records in Seattle, said: "I think a lot of people who maybe heard one song and didn't think much about it are buying them two at a time." The firm's Los Angeles store was deluged with callers trying to reserve copies of Lennon's work, and most outlets reported that as soon as they sold out of Lennon's solo albums, customers were buying old Beatles albums. A salesperson at Tower in Los Angeles said that "this morning, there were three news crews from local television stations here. We expect this to be pretty much like the time after Elvis died."

Television and radio raced to cover the event. CBS News hurriedly put together a special report, "John Lennon: The Dream Is Over," scheduled to air at 11:30 last night. ABC's "Nightline" planned to combine reports of the murder with analysis of handgun legislation. And NBC planned a half-hour special entitled "John Lennon: A Man and His Music," to be anchored by Jane Pauley.

Yesterday network camera crews remained stationed outside the Dakota. Television news film included interviews with some of the thousands of mourners who showed up at the building to sing and, in some cases, weep. In New York, WOR-TV devoted more than half of its noontime newscast to the Lennon story.

There was little the networks could show other than scenes of the crowd and reporters standing in front of the Dakota or in front of the hospital where Lennon died. Most stations and networks aired brief, quickly assembled biographies of Lennon that included scenes from Beatles films and old newsreel footage of the performer.

Radio stations across the country devoted hours and hours of air time to Lennon. KROQ in Los Angeles went through the night playing Beatles songs, splicing news reports and updates in between numbers.

In Washington yesterday, some stations broke out of their normal formats to play Beatles tributes: WKYS stopped its dance-music programming to pay homage to Lennon; and country station WMZQ solicited comments from stars in the country field about the effect of the Beatles on the music business in general. Almost every station played extensive selections of Lennon and Beatle material, with comments from listeners mixed with network feeds.

WHFS programming director David Einerstein let the listeners call in their requests on Monday evening and early Tuesday morning, and then returned to normal programming in the afternoon. "You do what you can, but the fact that he died is the most important thing," Einerstein said. "This was an individual life. Whether the Beatles would have ever gotten together again doesn't matter.

"I would rather concentrate on this loss of life than hype the Beatles one more time" he added.

In England, the BBC mounted a special television tribute to Lennon last night, and broadcast the Beatles' movie "Help." The BBC ended its special tribute with a montage of pictures, the last of which showed Lennon holding his wife. Over the image ran the lyrics to one of Lennon's songs; "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you will join us and the world will be as one."

One TV announcer said, "I have never seen so many people crying since the day John F. Kennedy was killed."

Perhaps the last journalist to speak to Lennon before his death was BBC radio deejay Andy Peebles, who recorded a three-hour interview with Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, last Saturday night and then spent the evening with them. Peebles was told of Lennon's murder as he stepped off a plane from New York yesterday morning and told reporters: "I am absolutely shattered. The Beatles were more to me than anything else in the world."

For most of yesterday morning, Peebles played excerpts from his interview interspersed with Beatles songs on BBC radio. In the excerpts, Lennon and his wife wished Britons a "happy Christmas," and Lennon described their life together, saying: "We are pretty damned steady -- we're in good condition."

Peebles said that both Lennon and his wife were in high spirits and looking forward to making more music to follow their recently released new album. The single from that album, "Starting Over," is No. 10 this week on the British charts and recording industry observers predict it will now go to No. 1.

The mayor of Liverpool, Lennon's home town, said yesterday that the city would try to commemorate Lennon, perhaps with a music school for children.

Lennon was raised in that city by his "Aunt Mini" Smith, who cared for him after the age of 5 when his mother was killed in a car accident. Speaking from the $250,000 house on the south coast of England -- which Lennon had bought for her -- Mrs. Smith said tearfully yesterday that Lennon had phoned her two days ago to say that he was coming for a visit.

"He was coming over any time now," said Smith. "He sounded so happy and cheerful, more than for a long time. . . "

"I never thought there was a future in strumming a guitar," she said. "I told him, but he must have been right in the end. He certainly brought a great deal of happiness to myself and my husband."