Meditating with The Radiance Sutras
Sutra 18 The rapture of music
By Dr. Lorin Roche
In a song, in the space of a few minutes, we can let go, lose ourselves, and then return, refreshed, with a deeper sense of self. Listening to music, we ride our passions into the vibrating core of energy from which they arise. Life is rhythm, and music invites us to surrender to the rhythm of life and love.
On the surface, one would think that rocking out and meditation are opposites. Totally incompatible. Fortunately we are yogis, and Yoga is the art of making harmony between opposites. Yoga is the action of yoking things together, developing union between body and soul, sound and silence, individuality and universality, passion and serenity.
The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra sings of the interplay of song and silence, calling attention to the musical qualities of the life force, pranashakti, flowing in our nerves.
This is Sutra 18, Verse 43:
Immerse yourself in the rapture of music,
You know what you love. Go there.
Tend to each note, each chord,
Rising up from silence and dissolving again.
Vibrating strings draw us
Into the spacious resonance of the heart.
The body becomes light as the sky
And you, one with the Great Musician,
Who is even now singing us
tantryādivādyaśabdeṣu dīrgheṣu kramasaṃsthiteḥ |
ananyacetāḥ pratyante paravyomavapur bhavet || 41 ||
Or, for those of us who do not enjoy diacritical marks and do enjoy spaces between words:
tantri aadi vaadya-shabdeshu deergheshu krama-sam-sthiteh
ananya–chetaah pra-tyante para–vyoma vapuh bhavet
Looking in the marvelous Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English dictionary we see:
tantri - musical stringed instruments, also the strings of the heart, or any tubular vessel of the body; vadya - aloud, to be played or spoken aloud, also, music instrument or instrumental music; shabda - sound, OM, the Eternal Word; dirghesu - prolonged (continuous), krama – series, order, method, arrangement, step-by-step; samsthiteh - is established; ananya - single focus, without deviation; chetah – awareness; pratyante - in the end; para vyoma - the transcendental sky, the spiritual sky, (associated in Tantra with parabrahman and Shiva); vapuh - the body, having form or a beautiful form, embodied, wonderful, nature, essence; bhavet - becomes.
The text invites us to begin by listening to external music and then follow the impulses into the inner world. People who love music already know the truth of this sutra, and they are surprised and delighted to see it affirmed in a classic yoga text.
Any form through which we can hear music is wonderful, but live music is especially powerful for this dharana (concentration). Go to that concert, listen to that band. Find the music that strikes a chord in you, and immerse yourself in it. When a song ends, the silence throbs, and we can follow that throbbing into a silence louder than the music.
In the late 1960s and much of the 70s, I missed out on the full power of this dharana because I didn’t go to concerts. I was spending every penny on meditation teacher training, and one concert ticket was the same price as two days on retreat. Also, I didn’t do drugs or smoke anything, and in those days, the group would be deeply offended if you did not take a toke off the joint. Concerts started around the time I usually went to sleep, so I missed all those legendary performances. I did get the Dawn Patrol, though. I got up each day around 4 AM, practiced yoga, meditated, did my homework, then drove to the beach to be in the ocean by first light and catch a few waves before the day began. To do that, I had to be in bed by 9 PM.
One evening in 1976 I went to a great concert, and realized what I had been missing. Some friends called me up and said, “Come on Lorin, let’s go to the Hollywood Bowl and hear Leonard somebody conducting the something orchestra, playing the something concerto. We have tickets.” I was so utterly into all things Indian that I had not been paying attention to Western culture at all, except for science. I’d never heard of these people so I had no idea what was about to happen to me.
The conductor walked out, raised his arms and then the first notes hit the silence and sent a wave of thrill through the air. In a moment, I was transported into deep meditation, similar to where I would get after maybe a month of a silent retreat, but this was combined with an awareness of the outer world. The woven texture of sound was so divinely intelligent and evocative that I was able to hear an ocean of silence and simultaneously witness each note arising, playing around and then dissolving.
After an hour, the thought came to me, “Oh, if this brilliance is happening, there must be a current of revelation, a tradition of wisdom in Western culture.” This was news to me. The conductor was Leonard Bernstein, the band was the New York Philharmonic, and Yehudi Menuhin was on lead violin. These were masters, and they were playing the Brandenburg Concertos. This was one of the great performances, and I remain permanently changed. The world is a larger and better place for me because of attending this event.
I am one of those people who require a Yoga practice to stay tuned enough to fully appreciate music and enter the rapture with every cell of my body. I need to approach music from both sides – from silence coming to music, and from outer music leading me toward silence. If I don’t meditate every day, engage in pranayama, and do asana, I slowly lose my “attunement” and after awhile music does not touch me so deeply. What a shame that would be.
What methods tune your body and nerves so that you are able to enter music with the mind of a yogi? What is the music you love so much you want to dissolve into it? What music is so ravishing that it leaves you in a stunned and pulsating silence, the “aesthetic arrest” James Joyce identified, in which your mind goes silent in awe of the presence of great beauty?
The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra describes 112 Yogas of wonder and delight for touching the divine in the midst of daily life. The teaching is framed as a conversation between lovers, Shakti and Shiva, the Goddess Who is the Creative Power of the Universe, and the God who is the Consciousness That Permeates Everywhere.
Dr. Lorin Roche has been practicing and teaching these methods since 1968. He has a PhD from the University of California at Irvine, where his research focused on the language meditators generate to describe their inner experiences. The Radiance Sutras, a new version of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, is available from Lorin’s website, lorinroche.com. Feel free to email your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.