What Makes Music Spiritual?

Does Culture Make Music Spiritual?
Does Culture Make Music Spiritual?

Have been exploring this question deeply since decades. It cannot be culture, as spiritual music exists in all cultures that you may feel, even if you may not understand the language or the culture. Even more true if it is instrumental music that is spiritual.

Does Language Make Music Spiritual?
Does Language Make Music Spiritual?

So if it is beyond language, then what they sing about definitely may not necessarily make it ‘spiritual’. In fact, it may just be religious music. I draw a distinction between ‘spiritualism’ and ‘religion’. That’s for another post some day. How often have I heard priests from different religions mindlessly chanting prayers, often with such discordance and lack of sensitivity to sound and scale that they inadvertently create more disturbance than peace.

Does Religion Make Music Spiritual?
Does Religion Make Music Spiritual?

Would it then be the genre of music? Not that either. Contemporaries thought the singing of Saint Meera was rather ribald for her times. I have frequently been startled by how moving the spiritual quotient is in music from original sound tracks Take Hans Zimmer for example.

Angèlia Grace – Time (Inception) by Hans Zimmer [cover]

Here is Angélia Grace, singing a cover version of the music by Hans Zimmer for the film ‘Inception’. This gives me goosebumps every time I listen to this. And my eyes close in deep contemplation. What is this music?

Does Genre Make Music Spiritual?
Does Genre Make Music Spiritual?

Is it music filled with acute, strained emotions and complex or complicated arrangements? That’s just technical artistry for me.
Is it close to the genre of romantic music? Sufi ishq music for instance is majorly expressed through metaphors and allegories of romance and love. It could be, but the spiritual payload is implied. I find myself wading through emotional storms stirred by passion and romance to break into the clear skies of spiritualism above, and I fail often more than I succeed, so slippery is this path.

Does Emotion Make Music Spiritual?
Does Emotion Make Music Spiritual?

Has it to do with a slow tempo, long, sustaining notes, and a soft, dulcet voice? I’ve been conducting meditation sessions with extraordinarily wild tribal dance music. A techno-trance album composed by a musician who I later discovered is a fellow-meditator, quite literally sent me into a trance when I first heard it 23 years ago. It still remains one of my favourite albums for spiritual music.

Does Rasa Make Music Spiritual?
Does Rasa Make Music Spiritual?

I feel the answer may just be alluded to in our ‘Rasa’ theory of art and music from classical India, which is on the discipline of aesthetics. ‘Santam rasa’, which means ‘the aesthetics of peace’ (Shanti), was added after great debate over centuries to the eight existing rasas. And also ‘bhaavas’. More intriguingly, it is described not as one with equal measure and footing with the other rasas. More like an invisible thread that strings the exotic pearls of all the other rasas and bhaavas. How beautiful is that?

Speaking of pearls. As an example of music that I find deeply spiritual, last week I shared Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing ‘Sason Kee Mala Pe Simroo Pee Ka Naam’. From hist rich heart-traditions of Middle-Eastern-influenced cultures, let’s move to the rarefied and invigorating cold air of the majestic Himalayan mountains.

Ani Choying Drolma singing a Buddhist hymn in her Nepali language. I understand not a word, but her music and voice touches me spiritually, stirs something that feels forgotten deep within me

From the heart of the innocent child within you, untainted by religion, cultures, knowledge, and prejudice, what is spiritual music?

The New ‘Avatar’ of Mysticism

Neyetri from Avatar 3D, with bioluminescent points on her face.

Look carefully. The Na’vi people portrayed in James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ sit cross-legged on the ground, hold hands, and rotate their bodies from their bellies in a circular movement. All this in a deeply-meditative trance under the guidance of their chief Shaman and High-Priestess.

Mandala Meditation

The sequence closely resembles an actual technique of meditation, devised by Osho called Mandala. From its official website:

“Mandala means circle. Every circle contains a center. The aim of this technique is to create a circle of energy so that centering results naturally. At the end, one is left in absolute stillness, absolute silence.”

The specific technique is in the second stage of this meditation, described as follows:

“Sit with your eyes closed and mouth open and loose. Gently rotate your body from the belly, like a reed blowing in the wind. Feel the wind blowing you from side to side, back and forth, around and around. This will bring your awakened energies to the navel center.”

Meridien Points of Acupressure

As darkness falls, or during moments of dramatic stress, the beautiful blue-toned bodies of the avatars gently glow with tiny points of bioluminescent light. In some scenes these points appear on the face, in other scenes on the forearm, or on the torso. These points are reminiscent of ‘meridien points’ from traditional Chinese acupuncture. According to wikipedia:

“The meridian … is a concept central to traditional Chinese medical techniques such as acupuncture, and to martial arts such as tai chi and qigong. According to these practices, there are channels along which the energy or qi of the psychophysical system is considered to flow. Such techniques are said to achieve their effects by manipulation and, ideally, balancing of the energy running through a network of complex bodily patterns.”

Deep Forest

While immersed in 3D, keep your ears wide open. You will hear several types of tribal instruments playing soothing, calming, and rather evocative tribal music, even during the call for war. Pay attention to the didjiridoo, which plays for a short while but at the most pertinent moment. Something uncannily familiar about the music kept haunting me, like a fading memory. A few days later, in the silence of the night, I suddenly remembered! This music reminds me of my favourite album from 1998, ‘Deep Forest’, an album on which I’ve danced and meditated through several years of my life, all the way till 2006-ish. Early the next morning I rummaged through my collection, pulled it out, and danced for an hour in my room, delighted to have re-discovered it through a regression into my past from a 3D-conjured future.

The movie has several other allusions to mystical concepts and practices, but I leave the joy of more discovery to your search. At a more basic level, the film also alludes to many Hindu philosophy and religious concepts, starting from the obvious concept of the ‘avatar’. The astral-body and astral-travel of hinduism and buddhism is re-invented by Cameron as a DNA-mutated 10-feet tall living organism. Plugging into other living beings through the ‘queue’, which are the neural strands within the hair-braid of the Na’vi, is a creative interpretation of the ‘hara’ point in zen and buddhism.

The genius of the film lies not just in its technological-marvel, but in James Cameron as a shaman of our new age, channeling truths through a conjured world, unplugging us from the rigor-mortis of mankind’s decaying religions and spirital-values, navigating us in 3D back to our present-day world to our eternal truths.

This is the mark of genius, the revolution of consciousness over computers and CGI.