It has been too long since I posted an entry in this blogosphere. I have been too busy experiencing… When I do not write, though, do not take pictures or sound recordings, I get this feeling that the world is passing me by… that without documentation in some form my life does not exist, that the lessons I learn vanish into the subconscious and/or collective unconscious and I steal my memories from the world. Maybe if I were talking to more people about what I learn – rather than just asking them questions pertaining to the topic and offering the occasional leading conjecture - such would not be the case, and there would be some output that confirms my existence and validates my efforts. Thus now do I write a summation of the many notes I have made after interviews and transcendental musical experiences.
Firstly though, to account for the time before I began my project in India…
From Norway it was going to take weeks to get my Visa for India in Oslo, so after a brief period of looking at the map and deciding if I should go somewhere before India, both enjoying and quaking in the limbo of having my life on my back and the whole world in front of me, I found out that I could get a Visa within a couple days in Istanbul, where I had my connecting flight. So I got permission and went to that great crossroads of East and West, stayed with a wonderful family friend, ate home-cooked gourmet food, finished my writing and processing of lessons learned of yoik in Northern Norway, played with street musicians from the North – on whose melodies I forced harmony, one of which implored me, “Brian… rhythm!” - and a couple film composers I met through a friend. I learned a new song, jammed, started being able to sing and play quarter tones, and finally got my Visa.
One musical memory which still impacts me from Istanbul is the call to Prayer, which I made an effort to hear all 5 times in the day. It was not every time and not from every singer, but sometimes it was entrancing… passion for Allah being sung from the heart. I felt as if in some of those times if I listened close enough, surrendered a moment of busy-body thinking, and let myself be touched, I could climb that ladder to the heavens behind the singer. I had many such experiences later in Banaras (Varanasi, Kashi).
I got to India by stealing the last ticket on the plane from a cute, but insufficiently motivated Japanese girl. I arrived very auspiciously on Diwali, one of the most important festivals in Hindu society, left my hotel to prowl the city and made “friends” with a guide who showed me around and took me to his house where we celebrated with his family, spoke of life, and so on. Things became sour in the night though and the next day on the train to Banaras (where I stayed and worked on my project almost exclusively for three months) I wrote this in my journal:
“I have been scammed, my camera stolen, my money grabbed from too-loose fingers. I can trust no one whose interests are not well understood. Thinking of this man who first offered me transport, then house, food, and celebration... Never let business get so expensive so quick… listen to your gut… strangers can be dangerous… watch your shit… I feel like an idiot, but now I know, never again. Still, everything seems like a conspiracy, part of this elaborate plan to swindle me. Actions that seem to my benefit turn out to hurt me, suck my blood. He says, “it’s just money” and then says “I need it”, parades around his cute children. I sleep in the company of thieves, think the attitude “there’s not enough” to be a problem I’m supposed to solve. Delhi sells souls, is capitalism refined. All the pop is sad love songs. I must adapt, learn Hindi, know the prices of things, not pay through 3rd parties, watch my things, maybe carry less things. I sleep softly so if my one-legged 5000 rupee man tries to escape I can seize him.”
Since then, after not being paid my dues and paying my dues by getting properly groomed, visiting this ¨guide´s¨ family, and sleeping on a roof with his other “brothers”, I had been in Banaras taking vocal Hindustani classical music lessons with Pundit Pashupatinath Mishraji, learning Hindi from the wonderful Binit Kumar Mishraji, going to concerts, participating in Bhajan- devotional song – and talking with musicians, priests, and scholars. I also teach one kid here guitar and music theory, cause when we found each other he was just playing scales and I thought that can’t be fun. Turns out he also teaches some kids, cause their government education isn’t so good; it’s a perfect system: I teach him for free and he teaches them for free (excepting tea and the occasional meal).
Now here is what I have gathered in my research experience; I must first give the disclaimer that I am far from being an expert. If I were to write in a well-informed, detailed matter about the nature of Indian Classical Music in Banaras I would need at least one lifetime of extremely devoted study and practice. People have been writing about the philosophy of this music here for thousands of years, and thus my summations in a few areas of particular interest by comparison cover only the itty-bitty-tippy-tip of the iceberg. Indeed, I had only three months of such work, and at this point too I am no scholar, nor am I a refined musician. I am, however, a window through which some – even potentially profound – insight can be seen and I have learned so much that at this point it is a necessity and compulsion to share.
Gratitude (A Preemptive Sermon)
One of the most profound lessons I learned here, which I think is behind every noble action, beautiful creation, extraordinary thought, is that of gratitude; since it helps give birth to this music and its philosophy I put this section first.
It took me a bad lesson on Thanksgiving to confront the meaning and importance of gratitude. Before one lesson with Pashupatinath Mishraji I did not practice the new material he had given me, having spent the night enraptured in my own songs and the morning sleeping through all signs of life in the outer world. Though I tried to make that class an interview about the meaning of the music, he was having no part of it; it seemed his perspective was that through practice all answers are revealed. So I had to sing from sight these new sections – in front of him, his senior student, and family members who would sit and listen from time to time – and thus I was utterly embarrassed; Guruji knew, “You didn’t practice, did you?” Thus I wrote, “Guruji had given me his wisdom and I should have taken it. He is a master and to not take his knowledge, not to practice, is to refuse growth, it is almost to defile the sacred. I became swine before which pearls were cast.”
I had not only wasted his time, but I refused to honor him with my practice, refused to honor the music, my purpose in coming here, my gift of music, to an extent even the gift of life.
Gratitude is expressed best not in thank you’s but in humility, in appreciating what one has been given – whether food or music – to feed the individual. Self-respect and confidence too are a part of gratitude, for in honoring yourself you respect all that which made you, all you have made, and all that energy that you consume on this planet. The next step (the active part of gratitude) is taking oneself and devoting it with utter confidence to a cause, making one’s gifts into tools. Anything else is lethargy, denial of the sacred beauty of the world. The body can be a temple if used to worship and serve the life that is in all things.
Way too many of us serve humans before Nature/God, and thus are slaves to whomever controls the perceptions and intentions of the times. Instead, we must become grateful, understanding and connected with that which feeds us, and devoted to service of the source; thus can we be better fed and better feed the world with nutrition for body, heart, and mind. First we must perceive the beauty and divinity in everything; once one sees, there is no denying one´s drive to live through every action with the spirit of gratitude.
“Our song reminds the people. They feel our focus and intensity calling to God, singing crystallized wisdom into the world. In this space, between high ceilings and raised marble floors, the air is thick with prayer, we ebb deep into our soul’s desire and flow back to the world with intention-energized voices.
There are new songs, old songs, young people, old people, and everyone keeps learning humbly with each other. We bow, for we are much lower than that which we worship and aspire to, and then when we get the turn we put our feeling - that uncontrollable laughter at the core and tense tearing in the chest - into song with as much boldness as conviction.”
I first encountered Bhajan in Banaras when I was walking past a temple and heard a group of enthralled signers, a cloud of synchronous cymbals, and an Earthly drum booming forth. I entered the ashram entranced like a moth to a flame, asked if I could sit down and did in that same spot for weeks. The first thing that struck me outside the immediacy of this divinely inspired/directed music was the high ceilings… the enormity of this place dedicated to the singing of God’s name(s), giving any and all devotees ample space to expand and sing their offering.
I remembered the Churches, Temples, and concerts where I have heard and/or sang music for God and thought of how different the power structure and setting was… how I rarely felt encouraged in these places, facing a priest, rabbi, or performer with the rest of the crowd to expose my voice and surrender to a personal and collective experience of the divine; thus it touched me to see and feel their impressive communal space that simultaneously worshipped God and revered one’s role both praising and manifesting it.
Indeed, with the practice of Bhajan , there is nothing in between one and, one’s experience of, the Divine; prayer and music are mediums, as pure as one’s heart and sound, each reflecting the other. Bhajan, whose root Bhaj, to partake, is a staple of Bhakti, a means of worshipping God through intimate interpersonal devotion. Thus one sings to Lord Krishna as one of his gopi lovers, one ever strives for union with God, and in so doing one offers the most beautiful of what one can give; one gives to God the Earth’s most vibrant flowers, candles, sweets, colors, and melodies. It is thus very important to purify the tone, quality, and intention of one’s voice, for this is one’s gift to God. The devotees and priests I have spoken with say it simply (for my simple Hindi): “when we sing our prayer with grace, God becomes happy. When God is happy, he comes down to us and gives us happiness.”
Another mode for explaining through Hindu philosophy why this gift of beautiful melody and rhythm in bhajan fills us with ananda – divine bliss or ecstacy – is because this music is consecrated. Just like we eat Prasad, food offering, after it is offered to God (in turn eating the leftovers), and this holds in it divine energy and blessing, so too does the musical offering. In turn anything beautiful that one presents to please God - from flowers to paintings to temples to right action - leads us to a state in which we can feel the presence of God; the degree to which this union between devotee and God manifests is the degree to which that devotee has made their art and offering pleasing, the ability to do such which reflects their sensitivity of perception in creating or otherwise discerning beauty.
There are at least two more explanations I have stumbled upon for explaining why such ecstacy envelops the devotee during worship. One is that bhajan creates a sense of egolessness, a state of singular concentration in which one goes inside the music and merges with it; such a state of complete identification between the subject and the object is called Samadhi in the Hindu and Buddhist context, this being a chief goal of yoga and meditation. In effect it is the joy that is experienced when one leaves behind the burdens of the world and connects with a world that is less dense. Practically speaking, this sense of the loss of ego is facilitated by the fact that in Bhajan one is singing in a group; with enough people matching the same tones, one’s voice exists only as a part of the singular entity of the group and its melody.
By cultivating one’s attention and simultaneously one’s ability to match the rich tone and exact pitch of a group, one’s consciousness - following one´s voice - becomes (part of the) collective; this is one example of how refining one’s vocal vibration is reflexively refining one’s spiritual vibration. Furthermore, since all of the members of the group are, at least ideally, honing their concentration and voice, one is constantly pushed to do the same; since prayer is carried in one’s increasingly focused voice, the group setting of the bhajan makes one’s prayers effectively stronger.
Lastly, here is a parable to underscore the significance of concentration in the Hindu context:
“There is a story in the Puranas about a poor cowherd who spent all his life looking after a buffalo. At the time of his death, he did not think of himself, or his belongings or children, but only of his buffalo, and what would happen to him. At the moment of dying, he simply murmured the animal’s name. Suddenly the God Vishnu appeared before him saying ‘You called me, here I am’. The man said, ‘But I only called my dear buffalo’ and the God replied, ‘Whenever your love for anything is so strong that no other thought remains in your mind, it is me you worship.’This is the ultimate aim of all meditation. Music as the main instrument of meditative concentration and indentification has been practiced by most Indian mystics.”[i]
The Experience of Rasa
“This music is like fine wine… the pungeant emotions of human experience encoded into combinations of exact notes that intoxicate the listener; one tastes with trembling lips the ripened fruits of insight, fermented in years of self-aware practice, in a single tongue’s swirl of melodic flight.”
“The violinist started out simple. I wondered what he was, an intellectual or classically trained or what. I judged and resisted. His notes were perfect but did not touch me, but progressively they got more interesting and on a couple slides he made my head move uncontrollably in approval. Before I knew it he had me in his instrument, and then I became his instrument and he was playing me and my feelings; my mental framework changed so much I remembered dreams I forgotten for days, my eyes teared up with all those emotions I had to feel. In the rhythmic variation of just two high notes so much was happening to me; it was beautiful emotionally, by which I mean more than musically. In this state too everything glowed, reality as usual had been hijacked by music. The musicians in front of me too swayed and moved in unision like a crashing wave as the musician´s perfect improvisations altered our perception of time and then brought them and the whole world back at once on beat one. The tabla player too worked up the musical elite, make them all scream “kya bhat hai”, clap, throw their hands up in the air and “Aaah” when he dropped the beat like it was hot. Maybe all this extraordinariness came from sheer skill, so inspiring because of the level of dedication of the performer; so much good practice in anything must make it divine, or at least powerful. Maybe this music is divine because it can positively affect so many people at the same time."
While from an intellectual stance, experiencing ras is becoming entrained to the feeling intended by the artist in their rendition of a raga (or whatever artistic form they are working with) the experience of such can be profoundly emotional and intimate. When coming to feel an emotion that one has blockages against feeling in particular, the listener – or participant – can undergo a process of emotional clearing, depending on their ability to surrender to that feeling and resolve its accompanying psychological underpinnings. Thus one may have the sensation of getting stroked - and progressively massaged - in a sensitive area normally hidden from the world; it may cause laughter, crying, chills, intense memories, and really anything that leads you deeper into yourself. Through this music, one can enliven a place inside from a tentative quiver into a note that sings.
I would describe the process thus as a move from resistance to integration, between which a rapport is developed with the performer, one is entranced and surrenders one’s guard, one understands the message of the performer and oneself better, feels more open to the world and thus a sense of union, and then one enters the world in higher state of internal awareness left with the job of integration.
Once my Guru told me a story about a program in which a master perfectly rendered an alternate note of a raga – a flattened 3rd – and at once made the entire audience start crying.
Music as a Means towards Perfection
¨The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved by the concord of sweet music,
Is fit for treasons, strategems and spoils;
Let no such man be trusted”
What is implied by this reflexive interaction is that music is a mirror to life, that vibration always reveals the quality of that behind it; what is more profound is that through one's intimate connection to music, one's dedication to making it beautiful, it gives back to us the ability to make ourselves beautiful.
It is somewhat obvious that one can perfect one's powers of attention in music (since attention is required to make notes precise, to stay on the beat, to sustain practice over several hours, etc.) but there are many - perhaps infinite! - ways in which one can perfect oneself through musical practice. One gets better at discipline through music, because regular practice is the only - or at least the quickest and most effective - to create good music. One's ability to recognize patterns, think spatially, memorize, and exercise fine motor skills is improved by learning new compositions, writing down the improvisations sung by the teacher, and finally reproducing all of this oneself without the aid of written materials. One gets better at thinking creatively within a fixed systems (of rhythm, scale and note combination), which by extension could make one a better team member and participant in any arena that requires both cooperation and innovation.
Such devotion to the perfection of music gradually leads to a holistic sense of devotion in one's life, for to fully reap the fruits of music, one must be positive in all those areas that affect it. One thus does yoga to increase one's energy, one meditates to increase one's concentration, one studies philosophy to imbue the music with the poetry of substantial lessons, and generally one strives for integrity, good relations, and all positive karma because this results in the positive feelings that will inevitably show up in the music (which affects all those who hear it). To give a sense of what the process is in perfecting ourselves and music, a master Drupad singer told me, "It is the move from phemona to noumena, existentialism to essentialism, finite to infinite, diversity to unity, mundane to transcendent"
Music is also a medium deeply connected with our emotions and thus a lot of the work we do with it is emotional. One cannot manifest a rasa if one cannot deeply feel that rasa in oneself; therefore one has to do a lot of (inter)personal work with issues of feeling and giving love, being courageous enough to be heroic, bold enough to be furious, light enough to laugh, alive enough feel disgust, sensible enough to fear, compassionate with oneself and others, young and free enough to wonder, accepting of oneself and the world enough to be tranquil, loving of one's parents, and lastly devoted to God. In all these areas - and surely more - one has to release blockages in feeling if one is to be a good musician; in turn, music – like theater - is therapy, and doubly so because it is public.
In the end, I think whatever area one focuses on in music - and any similarly reflective medium - is that which one develops; furthermore, since music can be used for so many functions (prayer, celebration, communication, etc.), perfecting one's ability to manifest music in its highest form and simultaneously oneself allows one access to all of these functions. Ultimately this can lead to enlightenment and receptiveness to God. A famous singer in Banaras told me, "Religion and music have the same purposes. Thus music is, or is at least a part of, religion."
Beauty Nourishes Consciousness
¨As when you hear sweet song, smell sweet scents, feel a gentle loving caress… what is happening, if you fall away from being in the middle of things [stream of though constructs] and in the heart feel a subtle pulsation, throb, thrill [ananda], is the action of your aesthetic sense.¨(Tantra Loka verse 3)
“Aesthetic experience is about being sensitive. If you’re not sensitive, even Bhimsen Joshi is just gurgling.” -Mark Dyczkowski
How I would explain this moment of aesthetic ecstacy is as follows: sometimes you taste something really good and get to fully appreciate it, so much that you go into its flavor; for example, if you were stuck on top of a mountain with nothing but water for several days, the moment you finally got down to eat, you would savor every morsel, the confluence of elements of sweet, spice, and salt, and nothing else would exist in your world but that taste and perhaps your appreciation of it. Now imagine if situations were normal, how talented that chef would have to be, how open to feeling the person eating, and you get a sense of the job of the performer and that of the audience member, or rasika
What happens in this moment is complete identification between the experiencer and the experienced; in other words, one´s concentration, desire, every feeling one has, becomes so wrapped up in that which one is experiencing that one is effectivey that which is being experienced. We could think of Descartes saying, ¨I think therefore I am¨ in this moment more as ¨My thought is this, therefore I am this¨. Thus depending on their degree of identification, people become what they eat/perceive and so too does the chef/performer, though in a very codependent way if they are only offering to the audience and so identifying with their experience. In other words there forms a union between subject and object, a union between the performer, performed, and audience, since all are self-identifying as the same thing.
The next inevitable step in this process is that the performer learns their craft better because the more they learn, the more these blissful moments of union come. Even without the drive of such expectation, inevitably when something comes into your life and casts a spell of love on you, your curiosity, bodily hunger, soul´s fire, drives you to follow it, learn everything you can about. It is just like when you love someone and want to know their every thought and feeling, of their family and dreams, every inch of their body; you make love with them and crave to feel how they feel. In every step closer to union you are rewarded.
Eventually, through the practice of discerning beauty in music - or whatever your craft is - you expand to perceive more and more beauty in the world, until eventually you can perceive the beauty in all things and be moved by them. Since you crave and are practiced at self-identification with beauty (at bridging this gap between subject and object) you experience it as you do yourself, and thus are not only more connected with the world, but are more appreciative of it/yourself. Since the world is nothing other than God´s creation, your vision of its magnitude, connection with its purposes, and appreciation of its beauty grows in step with the depth of your learning/practice and its accompanying perceptive ability. In turn, from this depth of sensitivity towards beauty - which eventually comes to fill your consciousness with thoughts, feelings, and understandings of beauty - manifests an art that encourages the senses of others to wake up and similarly follow this path of appreciation turned emodyment turned creation of beauty in the world.
In other words, when deeply perceiving and creating beautiful things we let their innate powers move us, and thus become more beautiful and refined; this beauty brings us back to God, His experience in which everything is art and can be appreciated. Such is a state is of boundlessness, gratitude of the world and the order of things, and a feeling that one is an inextricable part of this unity. Empty of ego, distraction, and doubt, one is able to give and express all, much like still water is able to reflect the sun and all above it. The musician becomes to music what a devotee is to God; thus paintings and poetry exist for the ragas just as they exist for Krishna and Rama, because this allows one to relate more to the ragas/gods and thus deepens the potential for identification with them.
Perhaps it is because of this identification, this experience and embracement of a fundamental unity (when the subjective and objective worlds merge), gleaned through many years of devoted study, that all of the people I spoke with about music - even when I was not asking philosophical questions - would quickly broach the topic of religion, often using it as a more defined model from which the dynamics of musical creation could be seen. This was often actually the only way to talk about music, for with this sort of transcendent musical experience, only the academic could possibly speak in reductive terms. Thus musicians guided my questions to more religious content, to areas that could not be dissected with intellectual scalpel and tweezer; one most wise academic told me, "This music is like a science but it is expansive rather than reductive. Reductionism is killing the world, keeping us in separation and illusion, away from supreme consciousness." So in order to understand this music from the inside out, from the perspective from which it sees itself, one not only has to switch one's mode of thinking (from reductive to holistic) but one must achieve aesthetic experience oneself, know what it is to feel such union. Reaching wisdom concerning this music is thus having a broad consciousness of the qualities and interconnections between things; it is knowing the self and God intimately enough to be able to enroll one and please the other.
In antithesis to this philosophy of the appreciation of beauty are those schools of thought - such as Buddhism - that stress detachment, and think aesthetic philosophy and its practice to be nothing more than a sophisticated form of hedonism. They reject music, because it helps create an attachment to the world of transitory, dualistic, and thus illusory things. Their belief is that when we dissipate our senses, lose our focus and get distracted, so do we necessarily suffer and dissipate our life force; wrestlers in India are celibate for this reason. If we do this repeatedly then we may progressively stray from our true natures, even to the point that we falsely identify our eternal selves with temporal objects, and get conditioned to a world of illusion. In rebuttal I say that music is a medium - much like meditation - to hone one´s concentration, to discern between good and bad forces, and to come to know wisdom eternal. If one learns from a good Guru and practices pure of heart and mind, music can only lead one to higher consciousness and action.
After over two months spent in exclusively in Banaras learning and practicing as much of Hindustani music and its philosophy as I could, it was about time to get out and see greater India. So my friend and I went to experience Rajastan and seek out the rich and intense music I had heard about, Qawwali in particular. After many hours in trains and buses, talks with strangers, pujas, bhajans, and glorious scenery, we got to Jodhpur and went to check out the fort that dwarfed our guest house. Word of mouth led us to a competition between Bhopa folk musicians (some of which you can hear in the music player). Counting our lucky stars, we attended this impromptu performance. Long story short, following friendly musicians and their beautiful words, the next night we spent in the desert reveling in music and conversation.
They taught me a song, played many about their Hero-God Pabuiji, and in some mixture of Rajasthani, Hindi, English, gesture and psychic communication, explained His story (the entire account of which takes a whole night of performance and ritual).
As for what I learned about their music, there are two basic points. First, which is similar to Bhajan, is that their music is offering. It embodies their devotional feeling, honors their God, and brings an awareness of and faith in Pabuji to the world.
Secondly, let me introduce to you this second aspect of their devotion as I came to discover it. All day and night, my main informant – “Guruji” – would drop these beautiful phrases; breathing in deep, he languidly blew the words “Music is my breath”, looking up at the stars, he said in a spell, “That’s where we come from… that’s where music comes from”, lapsing into a shrug of humility he said “When I sing it is God’s voice”, and finally, when we were about to eat, he smiled broadly saying, “You eat, I will play; music is my food”. I wanted to take this all as some crazed, romantic obsession –perhaps projecting some of my feelings about music on him – but the more and more I talked to him, in a constant effort to pry musical philosophy from his lips, I realized that his relationship with music was more fundamental to his very existence than this. Indeed, music was all these most essential parts of his life, because music was his livelihood, and there was no better option than continuing the career he started as a kid.
Though he said it in an alluring manner and with the symbolic gesture of refusing food to play music until everyone else had eaten, the phrase, “Music is my food” is literal, for the quality of his music is reflected in the quality and quantity of his food. His prayer before performances for the health of his family and for a good show is at least psychologically a means for enrolling the entirety of his effort. He sought to let his music be a medium for God to manifest because this energy empowers his performance, gives the audience the transcendent pleasure and overwhelming experience that turns into his money. His very faith in God was functional, a means for empowering his music, providing him a singular entity to direct his prayers, and guiding him to the achievement of that state of single-pointed attention and passion which creates the richest music. Thus music in this context is sacred not only because of its religious content, but because it is the source of the health, happiness, education, and general well-being of several human lives. Too as regarding God and music, the assistance provided by one entity reinforces one’s commitment to the other.
Evil in Music and the concept of ¨Non-difference¨
I first started thinking about the capacity of Music to be evil when I was in Udaipur, Rajastan going to performances and concerts for tourists with my friend, because there was just about nothing else to do. What it amounts to is the use of music for ends that are evil and/or not doing Music, in and of itself, justice.
The first concert - which I ended up seeing on two nights, since I thought the program at the venue would vary - was profane because its origins were sacred and from my perspective they did not honor them. One performance was something like a shamanic ritual on stage, with fast, intense polyrhythms, an overtone trumpet feverishly played, and dancing, yelling, and offerance made as if in ecstacy. The yells that imitated what happens when one becomes overwhelmed, possessed, enraptured in the spirit of the divine - or whatever else one offers to - were exactly the same on both nights. There was no enrollment of the ignorant, possibly skeptical, uninitiated audience towards whom the ritual was being performed. After doing, seeing, and experiencing how a real offering feels, this one seemed profoundly fake. In turn this performance faked something divine and brought it into the world of entertainment. It is like kissing your lover while thinking of another, like going through habitual motions of making love without feeling anything. For this reason - the master it serves - I would label this music is evil, grotesque in what it perpetuates.
The other concert we went to was just plain bad, a sitar and tabla duo at this ostentatiously opulent hotel in the middle of nowhere. Playing for what must have been unknowledgeable hotel guests (if they could stand the mistakes, incorrect strokes, and generally uninspiring nature of the music), the duo plunked and banged for longer than we could take. Sure, maybe the audience was not sensitive enough to hear the mistakes, or at least they were too complicit to leave; regardless they sacrificed a lot of their money and time to reward performers who I think could do much better. Since this music was unworthy to be offered to God or even anyone with a refined ear, it did not carry high vibration. Even if it could have carried positive energy, I wonder how much a drinking and talking audience could fully appreciate it; in turn I wonder if such an audience could encourage the performers to be much better.
Sure, in both of these examples I am - perhaps pretentiously - negating the possibility for positive experience to result from such performance, but I think there is something wrong with parading around that which is divine, for assaulting the senses and beings of innocents with discord and disharmony, for getting into the habit of performing mediocrity, and perhaps most of all for representing one's culture in a way that does not honor it. All of these things lack gratitude for everything except money.
Another anecdote of music from the dark side came from my own voice. After attending an all-night bhajan I had to go to my lesson with minimal practice and energy, and lo and behold my lesson was double booked with one of the wisest and most giving teachers of musical philosophy I had in Banaras, who had to wait and watch my lesson since it had already started. He and I had always spoke of the perfect form of music, of it as divine, and the importance of practice and good energy in performance, and there I was a mess, an ever-festering pile of nerves. My tone was not right, I messed up even the easy improvisations that I thought I perfected days ago, and generally every sound that issued from my voice said, "This is horrible. I am sorry I am even here." These gurus knowing what was up, my lesson ended early and his began in what was effectively my dirty bathwater, the three of us being affected by identification with my weak performance. I stayed and sat to listen to this man sing - who while an exceptional sitarist, had only started vocal lessons a few years earlier - and from my stupor of self-pity judged every slight slip just to make myself feel better; I swear the more I judged the worse his ability became. The confluence of the bad moods of us three and this man's ailing health made it unbearable for him, and when I got up to leave, even though his lesson had just begun, he too was ready to go. Thus what I think happened was a feedbck loop between bad mood and bad music, the virus of one reproducing in the cells of the other.
Everyone I spoke with said how much music has the ability to affect the feelings of the audience, depending on the music itself and the performer's mood. Aesthetically this is easily explained since we identify with the music and thus whatever happens to it, we feel ourselves. There are, however other modes of explanation far more esoteric; everything bases its existence - or at least depends significantly - on vibration and thus negative ones may cause something of a forced resonance, and create disharmony in nature.
So to further explain how we could create disharmony in nature with music, let us turn to some good sources:
The Bhagavad-Gita or ¨Song of God¨, which is a summation of much of the wisdom of the Vedas, says “Krishna and Krishna's name are nondifferent. In the absolute status there is no difference between reference and referent"(25), and so “... [chanting] engages the mind and intelligence of Krishna...." (417[ii]). Thus, by chanting Krishna’s name/s, is Krishna not only honored but also evoked, and so by filling oneself with God’s name via the continuous recitation of this mantra, does the being of Krishna actually manifest within the devotee. Likewise, owing to non-difference, one could similarly fill oneself with negative entities by chanting or repetitiously singing them with conviction and intention; if Krishna energizes you though, some dark force just might kill you.
¨Since the theoretical rules governing the structure and style of music, such as the notes (svara) or the scale (jati), the musical modes(raga), metric cycles (tala) and musical compositions (prabandha) are considered to be divine principles rather than products of human creativity, mistakes in the presentation of any of these constituent components of the musical performance represent an offence against eternal law and cannot be simply regarded as mere lapse.¨ (113, Thielemann[iii]).
As to what this “offense against eternal law” implies, to quote the Bhagavad Purana in its speaking of amisrial, or notes that are ‘not mixed’, this, “…undesirable disharmony disturb[s] the cosmic order”. To state one claim as to how this “disturbing the cosmic order” may appear, the student of Ustad Imrat Khantold told me that his teacher attributed the wars, famines, strange weather, and the myriad of other worldly misfortunes to the improper practice of music. Specifically, he referred to the establishment of equal temperment as the tipping point in bringing about the biggest destructive influences of our modern age, since this system by its very nature opposes the natural one and may help detune it, or at least distance us from more natural vibrations.
Learning Hindustani Music
It was as humbling as it was a rewarding experience to learn this music and dig into the philosophy of it.
What I find most beautiful about the system of learning and practicing the music is that it is completely logical and holistic, obviously the product of thousands of years of development between teachers and students. One of my informants likened the process of learning this music to that of building a house, from foundation to frame, to floors and walls, to light and plumbing, to furniture and decoration. One starts by knowing the names of the notes in solfeg - Do re mi fa so la ti do- which in this system is sargam - Sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa- and then practicing increasingly complicated patterns in the scale to improve one's tonal accuracy, comfortability in navigating through it, and knowledge of the qualities of intervallic relationships. Also because one gets used to set notes in the octave, one's ability to hear the relationship between pitches is improved; from practicing a load of patterns one's ability to hear the designs of performers is improved. Once a satisfactory degree of practice is made with the a basic scale - usually Rag Yaman (Lydian mode with certain internal tendencies dictating the acceptable melodies within the scale) or Bilawal - one learns skeletons of a compositions in sargam, then with dictated improvisations, then with words, more complicated improvisations with rhythmic variation, and different expressive options for melodic motion. That is as far as I went in three months, and progressively one gets into territory that requires increasingly sensitive ears and a disciplined voice, such as singing the srutis or microtones which add so much of the emotional richness to this music; though 22 notes in an octave is the general concept, one famous Drupad singer I spoke with sang 7 notes just between C# and D!
Needless to say, Practice is a must. There is no faking it with this music, no getting by on the laurels of good looks and talent. They say the sitar takes seven lifetimes to master. My Guru tells me to practice two hours in the morning and two at night, which is extremely modest in comparison with the supposed sixteen hours he said that his Guru practiced in a day. And to add to that, they say it must be deep practice - not just mechanical - that your mood must be good and your concentration fully there, for this is what allows one to not only be precise with the notes one sings but to imbue them with expressive power, and thus be able to manifest the rag. The reward of good music is obvious, but another benefit of such practice is that one's world gets more musical; the simultaneous and successive sounds on the street, in the house, in other people's voices, and eventually all those things that vibrate are heard and understood as notes; patterns and relations of things start to make sense in musical terms, and in general - as with philosophy - music becomes something that one lives, not just studies.
Music and Nature
“The sounds of musical language are tied to affective elements and act directly on our psychism, creating various emotional states called rasas, such as love, tenderness, sadness, fear, heroism, horror, or peace. Our different forms of perception also correspond to the structures of matter and life, the one only existing in relation to the other. Thus there are parallels between colours and sounds, between planets and the notes of music. These are no arbitrary attributions, but are based on the observation of identical characteristics evoking cosmological principles linked to the very nature of the world... [it] develops within the limitations of certain possibilities, according to a place – that we might term a genetic code – and all its aspects with the same origin necessarily have parallel structural elements. Indeed, it is through these parallelisms that we can get some idea of the nature of the world. They are the object of all research, of all true science. Perception and its object are strictly co-ordinated, come from the same principles, are made for each other and are closely inter-dependent. This is why we possess a distinct sense to perceive each of the states of matter or elements” (192, Danielou)
“The difference between a musical sound and a noise consists in the fact that the former aries from regular vibrations of the air. The only cause that is most essential to give rise to agreeableness is regularity. Regulatiry is the order of nature… planets move around the sun in regularity… round their own axis… years rolls by… the seasons, the tides, the day and the night… birth and death… the plant life and animal life are bound up in their growth and development by strict rules of regularity, obedience to which means pleasure, and disobedience pain.” (3, Rao[iv])
What I have been writing about thus far has been the nature of music and not so much the music of nature, but this exists very much in this tradition as well. Ragas correspond to different energies and times of day, the timing of the music is cyclical, and one of its greatest purposes is to connect and harmonize with the environment.
Though I asked and asked about this topic (the connection of this music to nature) truth be told I did not get so many deep answers; the most profound was actually, ¨What else would one make music of!? When this music started there was only nature.¨ Some people would try and explain how a raga for the winter would have a lot of fast motion and this kinetic motion would bring heat - cause heat is nothing other than molecules moving fast, no? Others would account for the times and seasons in which certain ragas are meant to be played and say that in their experience the mood matched; a few also admitted that that perhaps their experiences were shaped by hearing these ragas played at appropriate times in concerts and films. Perhaps we may have faith that the oral tradition has carried down this wisdom from antiquity, but until one makes magic by matching the time and the music, there is no way to prove whether this correlation is noumenal or phenomenal. Regardless, the overwhelming experience of those I talked to was that the music is intimately connected with nature and helped them connect.
One musician told me of how his good, senstive, concentrated practice enabled him to get into the rag enough to feel its energies, to touch the planets, energies, geometry, and animals associated with it; he said that in this state birds would come and listen to him sing. He also said that after reaching this state he went back into the world - the busy city of Banaras - and felt naked, like he needed protection from the overwhelming stimulus and energy of the city; perhaps this is to say that the natural world with which he connected and that which he stepped into after practice were vastly divergent in their qualities.
In addition to this music having a function of getting in tune with the environment, it also has the effect of getting a group of people on the same wavelength, which can be explained either through their collective association with the mood and time of the raga or through its more objective work in the realm of vibrational interaction and connection with those forces that share such vibration. Perhaps that connection allows people to feel, think, and work more in synch with one another, and if they share the view that they are being connected by the powers of nature - as identification with a music intimately linked with nature would allow - then effectively it is nature that is connecting them and nature that they will serve; to reach the same conclusion, we can say that uniting the people, or really anything, would be the logical consequence of playing the music of nature, for in ecosystems every single entity is directly or indirectly connected with every other.
Otherwise, on a more cosmological level, Hindus believe everything started with the intonation of AUM, which made time and created the various cycles of nature. Thus by making art of vibration - and especially an art that connects with these cycles - one is connecting with and honoring the creation of the Universe. A perfect rendering of the sacred natural with music would be akin to Creation in the most divine sense. I was told by one scholar and musician that this music which has intimate connection with nature is one of the best tools for prayer to heal and clean the environment, to enroll the collective consciousness to make global movement to serve Mother Nature.
Changing Students, Gurus and Music
“It is a well-know fact that the arts and industries of a nation relect its inner life, and we cannot conclude this paper without saying that the scale of music we have been using may be taken as an index of the meaning and purpose of life in this transitory world, as held in Hindu philosophy.¨ (71, Danielou)
There is a parable penned by the poet Kabir Das about a student who encounters the god Govinda and his Guru, at the same time and needs to greet them both, but does not know who to Namaste first. He chooses his Guru first because it is through the Guru that one can even know how to recognize God. This story illustrates the tantamount significance of the Guru and likewise reveals the proper devotion of the disciple; in these days, however, such sacred archaetypal relationships are changing and it is worthwhile to look at the change in character and music character to see where society is heading. Thus can we better decipher the character of others and direct our own behavior, study, and work towards the good.
Firstly I should say that the vast majority of those classically trained students and teachers I met acted with complete respect, integrity, and grace. On the other hand all of the professional musicians I interviewed said was that the tradition was being greatly challenged by the youth, although the wisdom and power of this music was so great that it would continue with purity until the end of time. These musician-teacher informants told me of how they were seeing more students becoming too proud to be good students, that students have begun to have big egos, to challenge the wisdom of their teachers, study under many different Gurus, practice for only an hour or two a day, demand quantity of ragas instead of quality of ragas, and generally pursue this music with intentions of becoming famous rather than manifesting this music at its highest, and so bringing the energy of music divine into the world. I have seen even good students talk during concerts, smoke cigarettes, and flaunt the sort of garishness that challenges authority; perhaps though this has always been more or less the case with certain students who attain a high level of skill in their early years.
As well, I have heard several stories of gurus that similarly become victims of pride, who ask for a lot of money for lessons but only teach a few little things at a time and do not focus (drinking tea, talking with their families, going to the bathroom, etc.) in the time that they should be teaching. Genuinely bad and untrained gurus with good advertising skills can also get well-paid, because there are just enough foreigners and ignorant people that can be fooled by lavish displays of wealth, pictures with masters on the wall, and lessons that only teach the basics. Even some well intentioned Gurus have had to change their ways to keep their students satisfied or to keep them at all; one man I spoke with said how he always advised his students the best he could but that he started obliging their demands for more, and more advanced ragas even when they were not ready.
So why are students and teachers changing like this... I think the simple answer is that these are the woes of modernization. For instance, work, study, time commuting, on the internet, phone, and television coupled with worship, family, and peer relationships make time scarce and distraction a major temptation; even some of the most exceptional musicians I spoke with said that they felt distracted in the city - even just with all its noises and activity - and that they did not have regular practice because they were too busy teaching, working, or writing theses. As for the pride of students, maybe this could be explained by the influence of the stars and divas of Bollywood and the greater scheme of pop culture, which conflates fame with worth through the medium of false idols that spur consumerism; in turn students who want to become professionals may mimic the behavior and consumption habits of stars to parade around a culturally recognized symptom of skill achieved.
As for the Gurus that do minimal work for maximum income, we can perhaps blame the capitalist ethic and its incompatibility in such a system of learning. Traditionally, students in this system provided everything to their Gurus, from food to work to medical support, and while this still exists in some circles, it is far more common to pay a set rate to the Guru. Thus, regardless of the continued performance of the Guru, the student is obliged to pay the amount initially deemed fair for the exchange of their work. Additionally, the move to cash greatly complicates - and possibly corrupts - the sense of value held by both Guru and disciple:
Will the haves that do business with the have-nots give less? (The rich Guru who gives less to the poor disciple/the rich disciple who pays and practices less for the poor Guru)
Will the have-nots that do business with the haves give too much? (The poor Guru who obliges the demands of the disciple in spite of their better knowledge/the poor student who works many extra hours and even practices less to pay the Guru)
Can the haves that work with the haves find value for anything? Can the have-nots working with the have-nots even sustain themselves and their families?
There really is no telling one way or the other, but my point is that the use of solely money as a means for valuing one`s work and that of others greatly skews the work that the Guru and disciple do for one another, because it provides an influential intermediary which more often than not has no relation to their evolving relationship. The traditional way of giving much better suits this tradition, from the ability of the disciple (who could give rich fruits or clean the floors, because both services are appreciated) to the need of the Guru (who would give their best focus and wisdom to students based on their readiness for it).
Lastly, what is the effect of the modern world on the music produced? With ego, music loses its ability to connect to people, for it obscures performers from themselves and thus their ability to tap into rasa, those universal emotions whose display inspires our healing and growth. In going to many Gurus for the same thing, one develops a style that is neither here nor there; similarly, with combining musics or even one’s focus in life, one comes out with something that does not reach the heights of any one system (once again quantity of interests/music’s but not quality in any one. In combining musical genres without understanding them, as it is popular to do, one violates the rules of the systems without systematic reason; as one musician said, “Fusion is confusion. Where is the feeling – the rus - in it?¨ With distraction, music gets less accurate, becomes imprecise (like when a poet lacks words), and so loses its power to affect people and the environment. The noises of the city - car horns, jackhammers, the buzzing of fluorescent lights, and the like - may desensitize us from natural sounds, just as adapting to loud, boisterous music may desensitize us from soft, subtle music. With the support of a Guru in an estblished tradition and consistent effortful practice, however, one has a method to transcend the ego, become humble, and perpetuate a music and attitude that fills the world with beauty. And then if we are able to create peace and beauty with electronic music, equal temperament, and fusion, I would say that there is hope for us in our electronic, industrialized, and global world.
This classical music system first of all insures that one honors the tradition; only after leaning the goals, rules, and aesthetics is creativity valuable to this specialized community of musicians, as working wthin its framework helps continue and evolve the system from within. This is perhaps reminiscent of how we humans must learn the ways of the earth in order to act creatively within it, whether in science, art, or any work involving relationship. Thus to establish ourselves and gain roots, we need good Gurus and guides, humility and an unwavering will to grow. Otherwise, it is easy to make mediocrity, undo beauty with convenience, misrepresent ourselves and whatever culture we represent, and make civilization in spite of nature.
Gurus help us fight our egos, encourage our focus and dedication; they do not care about your diamond rings or your fame so much as how well you are carrying on the Parampara. Tradition itself is very earth-based. Just as the tree grows strong with deep roots, it makes good seeds. The soil is fertilized by its own fruit along with other organic matter too. Sometimes though a vine - incompatible music system - roots itself near a tree and strangles it; other times a fire comes and burns the forest but makes the ground much more fertile.
¨If you can please that fountainhead of wisdom within yourself, you can please the Guru, if you can please the Guru – who wants parampara - then you can please the audience, if you can please the audience then you can please God.¨ - Professor at Banaras Hindu University
Two Random Journal Entries
“A day on the ghats, moments you stop breathing so much you feel the intense life quaking inside, the exterior pressure of all the air around trying to pump life into you. Our boat driver, a local singer, sang to the people washing laundry, chatting, bathing, praying,– my favorite was to a young boy obviously displeased by this man singing about him pooping on the banks of the sacred river. He improvised words directed to them, about their lives and their relation. When people began to stare at us – bideshis chilling and one helping drive boat, he turned the energy around, sang to them either about the bideshis or what they were doing. He was thus using the inevitable spectacle of his life and ours to perform for others, reflect upon their existence and the shared one. This is part of the bardic experience and the function of poetry, enlightening the experience of life with insight into it, showing a picture big enough to be divine, thus reminding us that we are such.
“I write love songs because this is the last area in the developed world that has yet to be destroyed in me – they have taken my God, poisoned my food, paved nature, and given me so many extremes of too little – in which I cannot find myself, too much in which there is no urdent need to do such, or that happy medium of the Borgeouis, in whose limbo I find myself. I think of human love, its frailty in comparison to that which we feel for purpose, yet my lover reminds me of how much we are capable of loving, of how much force it inspires from within us. So though I have had no church and my family has bought into holidays, love and a sense of the divine have drunkenly stumbled into my life, thrown all my things around and left me to decipher order in reflective songs. So, I sing for that which touches me, I want to sing for God, for mother nature, but this force at times seems elusive and I am even skeptical, used to a life of ignorance of causative relationships, of my ultimate connection to all around me."
 I use the word “God” here to substitute Bhagawan, the equivalent of a Supreme Being – of which Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and their avatars are manifestations - in Hindu cosmology. One is also part of this “God”, when defined as Brahman, the all-pervading force and intelligence of the Universe.
 The exercise of gratitude in one’s devotion can very well be seen in the sophistication of all of our arts and sciences. Before the modern era such development was often done in honor of God, in one form or another. We can see this behind the work of Newton or Bach. We can also see how Arabic script is so highly cultivated because it was used to copy the Qur´an, the word of God (Allah) as spoken by the prophet Muhammad.
 Also, I discovered this wonderful quote on my friend’s package of bidis (Indian cigarettes): “Smoking and any bad habit injurious to health but when you reach the heart of life you shall find beauty in all the things.” Thus, two fold does the appreciation of our sensations of beauty secure us the advantage.
 “The bhajana... is the fundamental Hindu religious song, corresponds to the bacchanalia [in the Dionysian cult] which led to a mystical inebritation, to the ‘mania’ of the bacchants… The northern bhajana, and the Tevaram, of southern India are mystical songs accompanied by an extraordinary elevation of mind and purity of religious feeling. The bhajana can easily become a way of life, and not infrequently the best bhajana singers become wandering monks who sing the glory of the gods on the outskirts of villages.”(Danielou, 122)
 In terms of being a conduit for divine intelligence, such a state of egolessness is ideal because it lacks resistance; it is resistance that causes loss of energy in a current, or more accurately in this case, a circuit.
 This term can also refer to the condition of the soul after death, as it coalesces into the sea of souls.
 Indeed any situation in which one’s intention, and means for manifesting such, is shared by other individuals, the effect of one’s effort is greatly strengthened. This is the case in building houses and political movements alike.
 Music is an art form that demands constant attention from the performer, for without it one quickly makes mistakes; thus it is extremely well suited to devotional activities -such as prayer – and for that matter all other activities that can let one’s mind wander just far enough away to gain a grander awareness yet not be displaced– such as visual art, any type of physical labor, and forms of mental work that require such ¨flow¨.
In Hindi it simply means ¨juice¨, but the word more accurately means ¨essence¨. Traditionally there are eight rasas: love, fury, humor, heroism, compassion, wonder, disgust, and fear. Later peace, parental love, and devotion were added.
 “…the modal system… tends to form an increasingly tenuous lacework of sounds, whose effect on a sensitivity quickened by the repeated hammering of the intervals becomes gradually more and more intense. This explains why theoreticians of modal music insist to such an extent on prudence in using certain modes and intervals, precautions that appear as absurd superstitions to the harmonic musician. This is because, in actual fact, by using the modes, it is possible to produce an extraordinary effect on a listener of crowd and, without their even paying attention, put them all into the same extremely intense state of mind. By repeatedly using the appropriate sound ratios, it is actually possible to lead a person to the deepest melancholy or even suicide, just as he can be galvanized for action, rather similar to the effect of certain modern drugs. The educational influence attributed to music by the Greeks is thus no exaggeration, since the habitual practice of certain modes is a sure training towards vertain kinds of thought and feeling.” (111, Danielou)
 Bhajan too does this, in the rememberance of a leader’s melody and words
 “It is not a rare occurrence that at still hours the mewing of cats is often mistaken for the cry of little babies and rouses tender feelings. The sound ooo (moan) proceeds generally from a person who is suffering from some acutre pain. It reminds of the previous experience and causes pain to the hearer even when the sound proceeds from some other source. It reminds of the previous experince and causes pain to the hearer even when the sound proceeds from some other source… when sounds of varying curvature in pitch are introduced into music, associations which these sounds convey in real life are called up, and suitable feelings are expressed by means of the reflex reaction, giving vent to sighs, sobs, throes, laughs or tears. --The will may not know the real origin of sound full well, but it may or may not be able to control the muscle. Hence association and reflex action play the most important part in music, in converting sensations of sound into those of feelings and emotions, and every sound in music carries with it a train of associated feelings, which affect the heart most by their sweet indefiniteness of expression.” (7, The Psychology of Music)
 This is a scholar of Kashmiri Shaivism who gives lectures in Banaras and around the world. A lot of my insights in this section can be directly traced to my meetings with this incredible font of wisdom.
 A conossieur, like one who savors every minute flavor of fine wine, knows what country it is from, the kind of wood in which it was stored,and is in love with his experience of such. These are highly educated kings who love art, eat from gold, wipe with silk, and can appreciate with orgasmic pleasure. It is for him that this music has evolved.
 They understood and communicated a lot without words and seemed to have a heightened awareness of human expression and experience, gleaned from a lifestyle in which people are constantly interacting on an intimate basis.
 I am reminded of a wonderful musician in Norway whose beauty was also undone by convenience, similarly because the state provided him such support that he got lazy with his practice.
 This conception is similar to yoik in that repetition allows one to be filled with that which one sings.
 This is the equal division of the frequencies of 12 notes within the octave (easy to visualize on a keyboard) which makes transposition between keys and mass production of certain instruments much easier.
 With a simple phrase like "come here", one can express many different things with the name notes; one can sing with a thin tone to indicate longing or a fat one to be more demanding, slide between notes to make it more smooth or sultry, add some tremor or vibrato to add tension, etc.
 I think eventually one's ears become so sensitive and intelligent that they become one's teacher. Just as there is a point at which one can play or sing new melodic patterns as accurately and quickly as previously learned ones, one can hear players and know exactly what they are doing; thus one can learn from the greats simply by hearing them.
 “Gu” meaning dark and “ru” meaning light, Guru means one who takes the disciple form darkness to lightness.
 This greeting translates roughly as ,¨The Divine in me salutes the divine in you.¨
 A lot of what I have been seeing in the world in terms of our priorities has gone towards the quantity side of this dialectic. We live in more places but connect less with the land and space, we have more “friends” and lovers but they are not true, there is more food to choose from but it is GMO and pesticide laden, there are more “goods” but nothing beautiful or special about them except efficience. There is no scapegoat and no magic bullet, but perhaps a part of this has to do with the dependence on paper and digital money that lacks a gold standard. Without it our system of valuing even each others’ services to the world is dependent on relationships based on quantity of money without quality to back it up, except a strained collective agreement that there is value in such numbers.
[i] Daniélou, Alain. Sacred music its origins, powers, and future : traditional music in today's world. Varanasi: Indica, 2003. Print. Pg. 104.
[ii] Bhagavad-Gåıtā as it is with the original Sanskrit text, Roman transliteration, English equivalents, translation and elaborate purports. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1986. Print.
[iii] Thielemann, Selina. Sounds of the sacred religious music in India. New Delhi: A.P.H. Pub., 1998. Print.
[iv] Rao, H.P. Krishna. The Psychology of Music. Delhi. Low Price Pub. 1984. Print.