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Volume II - The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word

Part II: Music

Chapter X


The attraction one finds in color and in sound makes one wonder if there is a mystery hidden behind them, if there is a language of color and sound which could be learned. And the answer is that the language of color and sound is the language of the soul, and that it is our outer language which makes us confused as to the meaning of that inner language. Color and sound are the language of life. Life expresses itself on all the different planes of existence in the form of color and sound. But the outer manifestations of life are so rigid and dense that the secret of their nature and character is buried underneath.

Why is the world called an illusion by the mystics? Because the nature of manifestation is such that it envelops its own secret within itself, and appears in such a rigid form that the fineness, beauty and mystery of its character are hidden. Therefore the seekers after the truth of life, the students of life, are of two opposite kinds. The one wishes to learn from outward appearance. The other wishes to find out the secret that is hidden behind it. The one who learns from the external gets the knowledge from the external, which we call science. The one who finds out from the within, from what is hidden in this manifestation, is the mystic. The knowledge he gains is mysticism.

The first question that arises in the mind of the intelligent person is: what is it in sound and color that appeals to man? It is the tone and rhythm of color as well as of sound which have an influence on the tone and rhythm of our being. Our being is our capacity for the resonance of tone and rhythm which comes from sound and color. This capacity enables us to be influenced by sound and color. Thus some have a liking for a certain color, others have a liking for another color, and some are attracted to a certain kind of sound. In singing some are attracted to a baritone or a bass voice, others to a tenor or soprano. There are souls to whom the deep sounds of the cello appeal. There are others who are interested in the sound of the violin. Some enjoy the sound of the horn and the trombone. And others prefer the flute. What does this show? It shows that there is a certain capacity in our hearts, in our beings, and it depends upon that particular capacity what kind of sound appeals to us.

At the same time it depends upon man's grade of evolution, his character, his nature, whether he is gross or fine. Also upon his temperament, whether he has a practical nature or is dreamy, whether he loves the drama of life or whether he is absorbed in the ordinary things of life. According to man's condition, his temperament and his evolution, color and sound affect him. And the proof of this is that he often changes his fancy in regard to color. There are times when he takes a fancy to blue or he craves for yellow or for orange. There are some who like deep colors, others like light colors. It all depends on their temperament and their grade of evolution.

Music of every kind appeals to some person. The best or the worst, somebody likes it. Does one not see how children can enjoy themselves with a little tin can and a stick? The rhythm comes within their capacity of enjoyment. Human nature is like that. It takes in everything, from the highest to the lowest. It has such a wide capacity that there is nothing left out. Everything has its place and everything is assimilated by human nature. At the same time there is action and inaction. It is not only the grade of evolution that makes man change his fancy for different colors and tones, but it is also the different colors and tones that help him in his evolution. And they change the speed of his evolution.

Very often man gives such great importance to color and tone that he forgets what is behind them, and that leads him to many superstitions, fancies and imaginations. Many have fooled simple people by telling them what color belonged to their souls, or what note belonged to their lives. Man is always ready to respond to anything that can puzzle him and confuse his mind. He is always willing to be fooled. He enjoys it so much when someone tells him his color is yellow or green, or his note is C, D or F, that he does not care to find out why. It is like telling somebody that Wednesday is his day and Thursday some other person's!

In point of fact all days are ours, all colors are ours. It is man who is the master of all manifestation. It is for man to use all colors and tones. They are at his disposal, for him to make the best use of. It would be a great pity if we were subject to one color or tone. There would be no life in this; it would be a form of death. The staircase is made for us to ascend, and not to remain standing on one step. Every step is our step, if we could only take it.

Coming to the mystical point of view, the first aspect that makes Intelligence conscious of manifestations is sound. The next aspect is light (color). The proof of this can be found in the Bible, as well as in the Vedanta. The Bible says, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.' And it also says that first was the Word and then came the Light.

What is color? It is an aspect of light. We read in the Vedanta, that the first aspect of the Creator, the source from which the whole creation was made, was sound. In the Quran it is said, 'The first command was 'Be,' and it became.'

In explaining the process of creation all the mystics and prophets and great thinkers of the world, at all periods of history, have given the first place to sound. And the scientist of today says the same. He will speak of rays, atoms, electrons. And after going through all the different atoms of substance he arrives at something he calls movement. Movement is vibration. It is only the effect of movement which we call sound. Movement speaks and we call speech sound when it is audible. When it is not audible, it is because there is no sufficient capacity. But the cause of sound is movement. And movement is always there. This shows that the existence of the movement does not depend upon capacity.

Color also is movement. And its capacity makes color concrete to our vision. At the same time, although we may call a color green or red or yellow, every color is different to each person. In fine shades of color people do not see alike because the capacity is different in each of them. The tone is according to the capacity. In other words tones or colors have not got different values, but to us they become different when we sense them or feel them. In relation to us they are different.

The conception of the five elements, which the mystics have always had, cannot be explained in scientific terms, because the mystics have their own peculiar meaning. Although the elements may be called earth, water, fire, air and ether, this must not be taken literally. Their nature and character, according to the mystics, are different. But, as words are few, one cannot give other names to these elements, although in Sanskrit we have distinctive words for them. 'Ether' is not ether in the scientific sense. It is capacity. 'Water' is not water as we understand it in everyday language. It is liquidity. 'Fire' is understood differently. It means glow or heat, dryness, radiance, all that is living. All of these words suggest something more than is ordinarily meant by them.

The working of these five elements is distinguished by different colors and sounds. The five elements are represented by sound. In the musical scales or ragas of India and China, the raga of five notes is considered the most appealing. And my own experience is that the scale of five notes is much more appealing than the scale of seven notes. The scale of seven notes lacks some vital influence which the scale of five notes possesses.

There is a relation between sound and color. In reality they are one. They are two aspects of life. Life and light are one. Life is light and light is life, and so color is sound and sound color. Only, when sound is color it is most visible and least audible, and when color is sound it is most audible and least visible. One can find the unity of color and sound by studying and practicing the science of breath. When one hears something one's first tendency is to open one's eyes, to try to see the color of it. That is not the way to see it, although color is a language. The very life which is audible is visible also. But where? It is visible on the inner plane. The mistake is that man looks for it on the outer plane. When he hears music he wants to see the color before him. Every activity of the outer world is a kind of reaction; in other words a shadow of the activity which is behind it and which we do not see. And there is a difference in time. An activity which may have taken place twelve hours earlier is now visible in color on the outer plane. This is also the explanation of the effect of dreams on life. Of something that one has seen in a dream at night, one may perhaps see the effect in the morning, or even a week later. This shows that there is some activity which takes place behind the scenes. And it is reflected on the outer life according to how the activities of the outer life are directed.

This is the reason why a seer or mystic is very often able to know beforehand his own condition and the condition of others, what is coming or what has passed, or what is going on at a distance. For he knows the language of sound and color. And now the question is, on which plane does he know the language of sound and color? In what way does it manifest to him? One cannot restrict it by a certain law, yet at the same time it follows a certain law. And where does he see it? He sees it in his breath.

Therefore the whole culture of spiritual development is based upon the science of breath. What made the Yogis, the mystics, able to see happenings of the past, present and future? Some law behind creation. A certain working of the mechanism, which is a finer mechanism. And how can it be seen? By opening one's vision to one's self.

According to the mystics there are five capacities of one's being, which may be called five Akashas. The one capacity which everybody knows and is conscious of is what may be called the receptacle of food, the body. And the other which is more or less recognized is the receptacle of the sense, which resides in the sense. And the third capacity is a world in itself, where one is conscious of the finer forces of life, which are working within oneself. They can convey to one a sense of the past, present and future, for the reason that they are clear to one's vision. One sees them.

But you may ask, 'How can someone find out the condition of another?' It is not because he knows more about others, for a person is made to know most about himself. But many are unconscious of the third receptacle, that of life. The one who is conscious of this receptacle of life is able to empty the capacity he has and make it possible for the life of another person to reflect upon it. He does it by focusing his mind upon the life of another, and by that he discovers that past, present and future. Only he has to put the camera in the right place.

It is exactly like photography. The plate is there. It is clear because its own capacity is empty. And the black cloth which the photographer puts over the camera and over his own head is concentration. When man has mastered concentration, he becomes the photographer. He can focus all the light upon one spot. It is all scientific when we understand it in this way. It only becomes a puzzle when it is put before us as a mystery. Everything is a mystery when we do not know it. When we know it everything is simple. The true seekers after truth are lovers of simplicity. The right road is simple, clear, distinct. There is nothing vague about it. And the more one follows this path of the mystery of life, the more life is revealed to one. Life begins to express its secret, its nature. What is required of man is an honest following of life's law. Nothing in this world is more important than the knowledge of human nature and the study of human life, and this study lies in the study of self. It is the study of self which is really the study of God.


Both from the point of view of the Sufi and that of all mystics, the original state of the whole creation is vibration, and vibration manifests in two forms, or stages. In its original condition vibration is inaudible and invisible, but in its first stage towards manifestation it becomes audible, and in its next step visible.

In its audible stage it is called Nada in Vedantic terms - a word which means sound - or Nada Brahma which represents: Sound the Creator, Sound the creative Spirit. The next stage is called Jata Nada - a word which means light. It is the different degrees of that light and their comparison with one another which give rise to the various colors. Colors are only the different shades of light; compared with one another they are colors, but in reality the light makes all colors. This is shown by the light of the sun which has no particular color of its own, but the light of which plants partake manifests in the colors of their flowers. These colors seem to be the colors of flowers, vegetables and leaves, whereas in reality they are the colors of the sun.

In the case of souls we may also realize that the manifestation of such a variety among them is an illusion too. One forgets that all the various faces and endless forms of human beings belong to one Spirit and are the manifestations of that one Spirit. When one begins to understand the theory of color and sound, one can begin to understand that too. For instance, what is sound? The different notes are the various degrees of breath: human breath, or the echo coming from a vessel, an instrument, or a bell, for that also is breath the breath of human beings as well as the breath of objects. From the one breath many sounds manifest; so that takes one back again to the idea of unity. All this variety of colors and forms and sounds proceeds from one single source.

Associated with this there is the question of the mysticism of number. This is the idea of rhythm. Every movement must have its rhythm. There cannot be movement without rhythm. By rhythm we imagine the intervals of time, such as hour or minute, or in music crochet (quarter note), quaver (eighth note), semibreve (whole note). All these arise from our habit of dividing time into rhythm. We do this because our life itself depends on rhythm. The beating of the pulse, of the heart, in the head - all show life's rhythm.

The science of numbers comes from the science of rhythm. A certain number comes to denote a certain duration of time; every action or movement requires a certain time and has a corresponding effect. Every effect which is produced by color, sound or number depends upon their harmonious or inharmonious effect. If the sound is not harmonious, it has not a desirable effect upon us; if a color is not harmonious it also has an undesirable effect. This shows that it is not the particular number or sound which gives the desirable effect, but the harmony. That is why a knowledge of the effect of sound, color or number is insufficient without a development of a sense of harmony in oneself, so that one can understand the harmonious effect of these things.

The mystics have seen five Tattwas, or elements, working behind both the sound and the rhythm, although musicians consider seven notes in a scale. The original scale known to the mystics had five numbers, and there were five kinds of scales among the ancient people, with five different classes of rhythm. They took five colors to represent the five elements.

People often say: 'This color is lucky and that one is unlucky. This number is lucky and that one is unlucky'. But it is not the particular color or number in itself, it is the harmony of the situation which is lucky or unlucky: in what relation do that particular number and color stand to you, to your life's affairs, your own constitution, your stage of evolution. If they stand in harmony with your life then they are harmonious and lucky. If not, they are inharmonious and unlucky. This does not mean that a particular color is inharmonious; it is just how it stands in your life that decides whether it is harmonious or not.

So it is with sounds. But the power of sound is greater than the power of color. Why is this? It is because sound arises from the depth of one's being, and because sound can also touch the depth of one's being. The mantra yoga of the Hindus is based on this principle. The Sufi term for this is Zikr: that is the use of words for the unfoldment of the soul. But it is not merely for bringing about any desired result that words can be used in Zikr. People often make the mistake of using the word without any spiritual idea behind it, simply for the attainment of some magical power. The Sufis of all ages have warned against this mistake, and have constantly taught that there is only one object worth striving for, the essential object of life, namely God. It is only when the science of words is being used for the attainment of truth, that is: for the attainment of God, that it is being used in the right manner. To use it for any other purpose whatever, is just like paying out pearls to buy pebbles.

We must remember the teaching of Christ, how he says: 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that belong to God'. In other words, give to the world what belongs to the world, and give to God what belongs to God, namely: love, worship, reverence, devotion, trust, confidence. All those are due to God, so give them to God. That which belongs to the world is: wealth, money, service, sympathy, kindness, tolerance, forgiveness. All these are due to the world, so give them to the world. We only make a mistake when we give to the world what is for God, and when we do for God what belongs to the world; for instance, when a man flatters another man, and when man depends upon a human being instead of depending upon God. All those things which belong to God and are due to God we fail to give Him, and give them to man instead.

When all things which we gain are used for a selfish purpose, we at once become confronted with difficulties, troubles and disappointments. That is why the same mystical science may be used as a means of attaining God, or may be abused by turning it into a way called black magic. It is not that there is something special called black magic, or that there is something else called white magic; magic is all one and the same. It is how we use it that makes the difference; it is the use of it which makes it right or wrong, good or bad.

A question may be asked regarding the mysticism of color and sound: Can we get our individual color or note? The answer is that in the first place it is not a matter of our own color being good for us. It is whether a number or color is in harmony with us or not that makes it good or not. In the second place, at every moment of our life our evolution changes. A person who was a thief yesterday is not a thief today. So also a given number or color belonging to us at one moment does not belong to us at another moment; it changes every moment. Therefore, to restrict oneself to a certain number or color is like tying one's feet with a chain, so that no more progress can take place. In the third place, were we to settle upon a particular number or color, we might induce a tendency to superstition in our nature, and this we must always avoid. We would always be thinking: What is the number of the house we are going to live in? What is the color of the room I shall occupy? What is the color of the dress? And so on! What would it be then if the person was obliged to live in that particular house, or was obliged to occupy that room in the hotel? If the number was inharmonious, he would think everything would go wrong while staying there!

While it is always well to learn everything one can, it is not good to give in to superstition. Otherwise it would be better never to have known such things at all. The whole aim of the Sufi is to reach to reality, and anything savoring of superstition should be avoided. What is color after all? It is an illusion. What is number? It is an illusion. What are forms? They are illusions too. It is interesting to a certain extent to know about these things and to distinguish them. It gives a certain knowledge. But since these are all illusions, how can it be worthwhile to give oneself absolutely to them and to neglect the unfolding of the self, besides at the same time neglecting the search for the reality, the only aim of the soul? Therefore all other knowledge and all other pursuits should be given a secondary place. Our main pursuit must be after Truth, believing as we do that in the Truth there is God.

checked 24-Oct-2005