Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The magic of Singing

Everyone knows that the breath is used to regulate and work with the internal energies of the subtle body. Not as many people give as much thought to the way that the voice does as well. In Tibetan Buddhism, they make a lot of reference to Body, Speech, and Mind. Most of the time, they are not referring to actual speech, but to the winds, channels, drops and so on, or perhaps even various energy bodies. Speech is used in this context because it is linked to this level of work. A lot of people are familiar with the chanting of monks, especially Tibetan Overtone Chanting. Ngakpas and Naljorpas (non-monastic Yogis) however are less into chanting and more into singing.

The Singing of sacred songs is believed by some to be a great practice for clearing blockages in the energy body, and a lively object for meditation. One reason that many westerners choose to do some practices in their original language rather than in translation is that often there is a meter that is not translatable. The greek "song of the serpent" that I give in TSS is like this, as is a lot of Buddhist Sadhanas. One pratice that I (and most Nyingma) do several times a day is the 7 Line Prayer to Padmadambhava. I have chanted it, but prefer singing it. I know several different melodies. In Christmas 09 we taught a group of monks to sing it to the tune of "Hark the Herold Angels Sing", which they seemed to enjoy a lot. - Hey its no worse than Amazing Grace to the tune of Gilligans Island...

Anyway, this weeks bathroom reading was reading "Stars of Wisdom" by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, who is a specialist in Yogic Songs. He has composed several himself and teaches widely on the Songs of Milarepa. There was a footnote in the book to check out a link for melodies to some of the songs, sung in English:

Its strange. I love to sing these types of things in other languages, but any time I do them in English it feels Corney, or too much like church. I have no problem singing the Song of the Serpent in Greek, but I hate doing the Sodality Songs that William Gray wrote for the equinoxes and solstices. Go figure. I have however been known to just start singing various pop tunes, and occasionally make up some lyrics on the spot.

What kind of singing do you do in your work, if any?

I leave you with one of Khenpo's Songs called "Auspiciousness That Lights up the Universe

Namo Guru Hasa Vajra Ye!
You see that everything in samsara and nirvana
Is merely dependently arisen
You see the dharmata, the true being
That is the essence of all dependent arising
The power of your great insight
Fills the universe with auspicious light
Oh mighty Shepa Dorje
Please rise up now from within my heart.
Ground's basic nature transcends conceptuality
And like watermoons, appearances arise dependently
May everyone realize that this is true
And dispel the darkness cast by doubt and wrong view
And may their realization's auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!
The vision of Your wisdom is amazing
You see just how things are, You see everything
As parents love their children, so You love all beings
You bring us benefit and happiness
Your power makes disciples out of Your enemies—
May Your auspiciousness light up the universe!
For samsara's cause, clinging to "I" and "me",
The Dharma realizing selflessness is the greatest remedy
May all beings use it to pacify
Their confused belief that there is an "I"
And by the power of this great happening
May auspiciousness light up the universe!
The ways of ordinary beings, you have left behind—
Noble ones who realize reality, the true nature of mind
May you lead all ordinary beings
Who have not yet entered, to the path of peace
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!
May the yidams who bestow the siddhis
And the protectors who clear obstacles away
Eliminate all harmful conditions—
Everything adverse to the path
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!
May the noble path of non-violence
Flourish in all the worlds there are
When beings meet and interact
May the connections they make be filled with love
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!

At the twilight of this century
That has been one of such prosperity
May struggle over wealth and gain
Disappear and not be seen again
Free from strife and violence
May all enjoy great abundance
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!
This has been a century
When science has advanced incredibly
Amazing and wondrous, these new machines
That have brought the gods' enjoyments to human beings
May they be used with skill supreme
To end violence and cause peace to reign
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!
May the sciences that explore outside
Be joined with the inner science of the mind
To excellently put an end
To mistaken views and confusion
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!
The source of all this auspiciousness
Is the true nature of mind, so luminous!
So may realization of mind, just as it is
Set the universe ablaze with auspicious excellence!
Through all of this auspiciousness
Wherever its light may be seen
With the love and the compassion
That make bodhicitta mind supreme
May this thought arise in everyone:
"Other beings' happiness is as important as my own"
And may excellent virtue and auspiciousness
Always increase, never diminish!

On December 28, 1997, in the Garden of Translation near the Great Stupa of Boudhanath, Nepal, this was spoken extemporaneously by the one only called "Khenpo", Tsültrim Gyamtso. Translated by Ari Goldfield.


Brother Christopher said...

My academic education was in music, and I focused my performance on vocal performance. I was fortunate when I found the man who became my high priest in the Minoan Brotherhood, that he was a Composer for a non-profit orchestra in Pasadena, CA. He wrote a number of short melodies for use in our rituals. From his encouragement, I started to sing as part of my regular practice, instead of just speaking.
In my working with runes, I also adapted singing rune names (which is often called rune galdr).
I will also free form melodies while I am working if I have text to work with. One time when I was doing a floor wash I free formed the 23rd Psalm. It felt really good to do that.

Jow said...

Music is high Art, and has an effect that would be all the more amazing if we werent surrounded by music all the damn time! But the reason why we are surrounded by music all the damn time, is because it has such a profound effect, and marketing folks know that.

Deb and I hosted a Kirtan workshop for GoG a while ago, and it really was a powerful experience. It was for Rath Yatra, so many, if not most, of the songs were to Krishna, but when we ended with a devotional song to Shiva (to whom we have our household devotion) the assembled needed a sustained break and some comfort food afterward.

Though I'm not proud of my voice, I do sing often.. usually just making up songs about what I'm doing, or singing mantras on my way to work.. trying different tones, rhythms, etc.

I think when we sing in a different language we can abandon ourselves to the experience more readily. You just let go and let yourself be in the song.

In english.. you know all the words.. and they really have to be well arranged for the song to "work". It's more than just meter and rhyme, its the flow of the piece. Where are the vowels, consonants? where are the pauses?

Most songs translated into english, or made according to the formula, lose the feel of what they are trying to do. Most modern church music does not have that feel to it. The lyrics feel awkward and cobbled together. It's saying what the author wants to say, but it is closer to prose than song, and even then it's not moving prose.

In Art, the spirit and feel of the piece is more important than the words you use. Technical correctness is lovely, but it is better to move an audience to tears.

Amanda Palmer is a great example. Her voice is.. ok. Pretty good. But the force behind it, the words she chooses, and the way she sings more than makes up for lack of technical correctness.

Opera Singers are likely to disagree.

petoskystone said...

given my reations to certain environmental toxins & occ. seasonal alergies my voice isn't dependable enough to incoporate regularly.

Devi, The Danforth Village Witch said...

I've been a singer my whole life, and often feel closest to the Divine when I am singing. So it was natural for me to incorporate song into my work in some way.

I never really got into the NeoPagan chants, though, even when that was my scene. Some are nice, but they never really "did it" for me. Felt cheesy - maybe because it's in Engligh; I'm totally with you on that one, Jason!

For many years I used a great deal of Sanskrit mantra in my work. From time to time, when appropriate, I will sing mantra. Actually, I always sing Ganesha mantras before divining, as I have a close relationship with him and I feel he helps open the way for a clear divination.

In works of healing and blessing work, I will often sing various Hebrew divine and angelic names. The tune is something that sort of comes through me, and is different every time. I start by vibrating the names in the ceremonial fashion, and then allow that to become song. It's very peaceful and powerful.

I use that same spirit-singing method (that's what I've termed it, anyway, for lack of anything more accurate) when I use sound during in-person healing sessions, too. I'll take a bija mantra and then let it come through into song - many times that will just work through vowel sounds with no specific words, though sometimes certain mantras that I was not pre-meditating come through at that point.

I really enjoy the singing in my work!

Miss Sugar said...

Jow beat me to it, but kirtan has been a powerful experience.

Even in a weird way, Rock Band is. There's an energy that gets built up when you're jamming out together and all your voices blend singing your favorite songs. It builds community among friends in a way, with sacramental beer!