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
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.
My friends were classy, so we had seats up front, and wine and crackers. The orchestra came out and got settled. Then after awhile the conductor and two guys with violins walked out and greeted everyone.
The conductor raised his arms and then the first notes hit the silence and sent a wave of thrill through the air. Emanating from the conductor, the two violinists, supported by the whole orchestra, was a waterfall of incandescent brilliance. Time stood still, and then danced.
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 and Itzhak Perlman were on lead violin. Clearly 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.
* Longer glossary, (rough, needs editing)
tántrī - the wire or string of a lute, the strings of the heart, any tubular vessel of the body, sinew, vein. [these are all puns on tantra] [- tubes in the body include esphagus, bronchial tubes, nasal passages (sinus). Your wind pipes.]
tāntra - having wires, stringed (a musical instrument), the music of a stringed instrument.
tantrī - A loom, the warp. the leading or principal or essential part , main point , characteristic feature , model , type , system , framework. doctrine , rule , theory , scientific work , chapter of such a work. a class of works teaching magical and mystical formularies (mostly in the form of dialogues between śiva and durgā and said to treat of 5 subjects , 1. the creation , 2. the destruction of the world , 3. the worship of the gods , 4. the attainment of all objects , esp. of 6 superhuman faculties , 5. the 4 modes of union with the supreme spirit by meditation. A spell. Oath or ordeal. A means whcih leads to two or more results, contrivance. A drug (especially one of specific faculties), chief remedy. Wealth. Happiness.
ādi - beginning, commencement. a firstling, first-fruits. Beginning with. The gods beginning with Indra. In the beginning, at first. Beginning with ā.
vādya - to be said or spoken or pronounced or uttered. To be sounded or played (as a musical instrument). A speech. Instrumental music. m. or n. a musical instrument.
vādya - aloud, to be played or spoken aloud, also, music instrument or instrumental music;
śabda - sound, noise, voice, tone, note. A word. Speech. language. The right word, correct expression. The sacred syllable OM. (in gram.) a declinable word or a word-termination, affix. verbal communication or testimony, oral tradition, verbal authority or evidence (as one of the pramāṇas q.v. ). śabdaṃ √ kṛ, to utter a sound, raise the voice, cry aloud. [primal sound]
[shabda - sound, OM, the Eternal Word; shabdeshu - sounds of the instruments]
dirghesu - prolonged (continuous),
dīrgha - long (in space and time) , lofty , high , tall, deep rv av. Long (in prosody). ind. long , for a long time. m. along vowel. m. a mystical N. of the letter A, upanishads
krama – series, order, method, arrangement, step-by-step, gradually.
saṃsthita - standing (as opp. to " lying " or " sitting “). One who has stood or held out (in fight). Placed, resting, lying sitting, being in or on. Abiding, remaining, left standing (for a long time , as food). Lasting, enduring. Imminent, future. Shaped, formed. being in a partic. state or condition, addicted or given to , intent upon. Founded or based upon. Directed towards, fixed upon. Relating to, concerning. Skilled in, acquainted or familiar with. Started, set out for. Frequented, (as a place). Finished, concluded, completed, ready. Perished, died (n. impers). mbh. Near or contiguous to. Heaped, collected.
ananyacetas - giving one's undivided thought to.
ananya - no other, not another, not different, identical. Self. Not having a second, unique. Not more than one, sole. Having no other (object), undistracted. Not attached or devoted to any one else.
cetas - Splendor. Consciousness, intelligence, thinking soul, heart, mind. Will.
pratyante - in the end;
para vyoma - the transcendental sky, the spiritual sky, (associated in Tantra with parabrahman and Shiva);
para - far, distant, remote (in space) , opposite, ulterior, farther than, beyond, on the other or farther side of, extreme, previous (in time), former. Ancient, past. Later, future, next. Following, succeeding, subsequent. Final, last. The Supreme or Absolute Being, the Universal Soul. The highest point or degree. The wider or more extended meaning of a word.
vyoman - heaven, sky, atmosphere, air. Space. ether (as an element). wind or air (of the body). a temple sacred to the sun. preservation , welfare.
[Vyoma usage in Kashmir hymns] (IV. 3): By Vyoma is not meant this elemental ether (or sky) but the formless and subtle beatitude of what is known as the Supreme Self as is enjoined by the Tantras: “The Supreme Self is to be meditated upon as the formless sky, unbound by quarters, where Citsakti-awareness of supreme-consciousness, reveals itself spontaneously. Also declares that by ‘sky’ is meant Parabrahman, Cidakasa and not elemental ether, Bhutakasa. “What is
Parabrahman is understood by giving the name Siva-vyoma”.] in Pancstavi: the Pentad of hymns of Kundaliniyoga by Jankinath Kaul Kamal.
vapuh - the body, having form or a beautiful form, embodied, wonderful, nature, essence;
bhavet - becomes. (becomes one with the vibrant emptiness of consciousness)
bhavet - becomes. (representing a possibility, a hoped-for state, a potential “It could become.”
bhāva - becoming, being, existing, occurring, appearance. Turning or transition into. Continuance. State, condition, true condition. Reality, manner of being, temperament, character. Any state of mind or body, way of thinking or feeling, sentiment, opinion, intention, love, affection, attachment. to feel an affection for; the seat of the feelings or affections, heart, soul, mind; That which is or exists, thing or substance, being or living creature, all earthly objects. Wanton sport, dalliance. (in rhet.) passion, emotion (2 kinds of bhāvas are enumerated, the sthāyin or primary, and vyabhicārin or subordinate; the former are 8 or 9 according as the rasas or sentiments are taken to be 8 or 9; the latter 33 or 34). (in astron.) the state or condition of a planet. An astrological house or lunar mansion. Name of the 8th (42nd) year in Jupiter's cycle of 60 years. (in gram.) the fundamental notion of the verb, the sense conveyed by the abstract noun. Place of birth, the womb. The world, universe. An organ of sense. Superhuman power. The Supreme Being. Advice, instruction. Contemplation, meditation.
Bhu - to become, be, arise, come into being, exist, be found, live, stay, abide, happen, occur. To cherish, foster, animate, enliven, refresh, encourage, promote, further. To addict or devote oneself to, practice. To subdue, control. To manifest, exhibit, show, betray. Becoming, being, existing, springing, arising. The place of being, space, world, or universe. The earth, ground. Soil. Floor. Pavement. A spot or piece of ground.