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Volume II - The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word

Part I: The Mysticism of Sound

Chapter VII

When we pay attention to nature's music, we find that every thing on the earth contributes to its harmony. The trees joyously wave their branches in rhythm with the wind; the sound of the sea, the murmuring of the breeze, the whistling of the wind through rocks, hills and mountains; the flash of the lightning, and the crash of the thunder, the harmony of the sun and moon, the movements of the stars and planets, the blooming of the flower, the fading of the leaf, the regular alternation of morning, evening, noon, and night, all reveal to the seer the music of nature.

The insects have their concerts and ballets, and the choirs of birds chant in unison their hymns of praise. Dogs and cats have their orgies, foxes and wolves have their soirees musicales in the forest, while tigers and lions hold their operas in the wilderness. Music is the only means of understanding among birds and beasts. This may be seen by the graduation of pitch and the volume of tone, the manner of tune, the number of repetitions, and the duration of their various sounds; these convey to their fellow-creatures the time for joining the flock, the warning of coming danger, the declaration of war, the feeling of love, and the sense of sympathy, displeasure, passion, anger, fear, and jealousy, making a language of itself.

In man breath is a constant tone, and the beat of the heart, pulse, and head keeps the rhythm continuously. An infant responds to music before it has learnt how to speak; it moves its hands and feet in time, and expresses its pleasure and pain in different tones.

In the beginning of human creation, no language such as we now have existed, but only music. Man first expressed his thoughts and feelings by low and high, short and prolonged sounds. The depth of his tone showed his strength and power, and the height of his pitch expressed love and wisdom. Man conveyed his sincerity, insincerity, inclination, disinclination, pleasure or displeasure by the variety of his musical expressions.

The tongue touching various points in the mouth, and the opening and the closing of the lips in different ways, produced the variety of sounds. The grouping of the sounds made words conveying different meanings in their various modes of expression. This gradually transformed music into a language, but language could never free itself from music.

A word spoken in a certain tone shows subservience, and the same word spoken in a different tone expresses command; a word spoken in a certain pitch shows kindness, and the same word spoken in a different pitch expresses coldness. Words spoken in a certain rhythm show willingness, and the same words express unwillingness when spoken at a different degree of speed. Up to the present day the ancient languages Sanskrit, Arabic and Hebrew cannot be mastered by simply learning the words, pronunciation and grammar, because a particular rhythmic and tonal expression is needed. The word in itself is frequently insufficient to express the meaning clearly. The student of language by keen study can discover this. Even modern languages are but a simplification of music. No words of any language can be spoken in one and the same way without the distinction of tone, pitch, rhythm, accent, pause and rest. A language however simple cannot exist without music in it; music gives it a concrete expression. For this reason a foreign language is rarely spoken perfectly; the words are learnt, but the music is not mastered.

Language may be called the simplification of music; music is hidden within it as the soul is hidden in the body; at each step toward simplification the language has lost some of its music. A study of ancient traditions reveals that the first divine messages were given in song, as were the Psalms of David, the Song of Solomon, the Gathas of Zoroaster and the Gita of Krishna.

When language became more complex, it closed as it were one wing, the sense of tone; keeping the other wing, the sense of rhythm, outspread. This made poetry a subject distinct and separate from music. In ancient times religions, philosophies, sciences and arts were expressed in poetry. Parts of the Vedas, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Zend-Avesta, Kabbala, and Bible are to be found in verse, as well as different arts and sciences in the ancient languages. Among the scriptures only the Quran is entirely in prose, and even this is not devoid of poetry. In the East, even in recent times, not only manuscripts of science, art and literature were written in poetry, but the learned even discoursed in verse. In the next stage, man freed the language from the bond of rhythm and made prose out of poetry. Although man has tried to free language from the trammels of tone and rhythm, yet in spite of this the spirit of music still exists. Man prefers to hear poetry recited and prose well read, which is in itself a proof of the soul seeking music even in the spoken word.

The crooning song of the mother soothes the infant and makes it sleep, and lively music gives it an inclination to dance. It is music which doubles the courage and strength of a soldier when marching towards the field of battle. In the East, when the caravans travel from place to place on a pilgrimage, they sing as they go,. In India the coolies sing when at work, and the rhythm of the music makes the hardest labor become easy for them.

An ancient legend tells how the angels sang at the command of God to induce the unwilling soul to enter the body of Adam. The soul, intoxicated by the song of the angels, entered the body which is regarded as a prison.

All spiritualists who have really sounded the depths of spiritualism have realized that there is no better means of attracting the spirits from their plane of freedom to the outer plane than by music. They make use of different instruments which appeal to certain spirits, and sing songs that have a special effect upon the particular spirit with whom they wish to communicate. There is no magic like music for making an effect upon the human soul.

The taste for music is inborn in man, and it first shows in the infant. Music is known to a child from its cradle, but as it grows in this world of delusion its mind becomes absorbed in so many and various objects, that it loses the aptitude for music which its soul possessed. When grown-up man enjoys and appreciates music in accordance with his grade of evolution, and with the surroundings in which he has been born and brought up; the man of the wilderness sings his wild lays, and the man of the city his popular song. The more refined man becomes, the finer the music he enjoys. The character in every man creates a tendency for music akin to it; in other words the gay man enjoys light music, while the serious-minded person prefers classical; the intellectual man takes delight in technique, while the simpleton is satisfied with his drum.

There are five different aspects of the art of music: popular, hat which induces motion of the body; technical, that which satisfies the intellect; artistic, that which has beauty and grace; appealing, that which pierces the heart; uplifting, that in which the soul hears the music of the spheres.

The effect of music depends not only on the proficiency, but also upon the evolution of the performer. Its effect upon the listener is in accordance with his knowledge and evolution; for this reason the value of music differs with each individual. For a self-satisfied person there is no chance of progress, because he clings contentedly to his taste according to his state of evolution, refusing to advance a step higher than his present level. He who gradually progresses along the path of music, in the end attains to the highest perfection. No other art can inspire and sweeten the personality like music; the lover of music attains sooner or later to the most sublime field of thought.

India has preserved the mysticism of tone and pitch discovered by the ancients, and its music itself signifies this.

The Indian music is based upon the principle of the raga which shows it to be akin to nature. It has avoided limitations of technique by adopting a purely inspirational method.

The ragas are derived from five different sources: the mathematical law of variety, the inspiration of the mystics, the imagination of the musicians, the natural lays peculiar to the people residing in different parts of the land, and the idealization of the poets; these made a world of ragas, calling one rag, the male, another ragini, the female, and others putra, sons, and bharja, daughters-in-law.

Raga is called the male theme because of its creative and positive nature; ragini is called the female theme on account of its responsive and fine quality. Putras are such themes as are derived from the mingling of ragas and raginis; in them can be found a likeness to the raga and the ragini from which they are derived. Bharja is the theme which responds to the putra. There are six ragas and thirty-six raginis, six belonging to each raga; and forty-eight putras and forty-eight bharjas which constitute this family.

Each raga has an administration of its own, including a chief, Mukhya, the key-note; Wadi, a king, a principal note; Samwadi a minister, a subordinate note; Anuwadi, a servant, an assonant note; Viwadi, an enemy, a dissonant note. This gives to the student of the raga a clear conception of its use. Each raga has its image distinct from the other. This shows the highest reach of imagination.

The poets have depicted the images of ragas just as the picture of each aspect of life is clear in the imagination of the intelligent. The ancient gods and goddesses were simply images of the different aspects of life, and in order to teach the worship of the immanence of God in nature these various images were placed in the temples, in order that God in His every aspect of manifestation might be worshipped. The same idea has been worked out in the images of ragas, which create with delicate imagination the type, form, figure, action, expression and effect of the idea.

Every hour of the day and night, every day, week, month and season has its influence upon man's physical and mental condition. In the same way each raga has power upon the atmosphere, as well as upon the health and mind of man; the same effect as that shown by the different times in life, subject to the cosmic law. By the knowledge of both time and raga the wise have connected them to suit each other.

There are instances in ancient tradition when birds and animals were charmed by the flute of Krishna, rocks were melted by the song of Orpheus; and the Dipak Raga sung by Tansen lighted all the torches, while he himself was burnt by reason of the inner fire is song produced. Even today the snakes are charmed by the Pungi of the snake-charmers in India. All this shows us how the ancients must have dived into the most mysterious ocean of music.

The secret of composition lies in sustaining the tone as solidly and as long as possible through all its different degrees; a break destroys its life, grace, power and magnetism, just as the breath holds life, and has all grace, power and magnetism. There are some notes that need a longer life than others, according to their character and purpose.

In a true composition a miniature of nature's music is seen. The effects of thunder, rain, and storm, and the pictures of hills and rivers make music a real art. Although art is an improvisation on nature, yet it is only genuine when it keeps close to nature. The music which expresses the nature and character of individuals, nations or races it still higher. The highest and most ideal form of composition is that which expresses life, character, emotions and feelings, for this is the inner world which is only seen by the eye of mind. A genius uses music as a language to express fully, without the help of words, whatever he may wish to make known; for music, a perfect and universal language, can express feeling more comprehensively than any tongue.

Music loses its freedom by being subject to the laws of technique, but mystics in their sacred music, regardless of the world's opinion, free both their composition and improvisations from the limitations of technicality.

The art of music in the East is called Kala, and has three aspects: vocal, instrumental, and expressing movement.

Vocal music is considered to be the highest, for it is natural; the effect produced by an instrument which is merely a machine cannot be compared with that of the human voice. However perfect strings may be, they cannot make the same impression on the listener as the voice which comes direct from the soul as breath, and has been brought to the surface through the medium of the mind and the vocal organs of the body. When the soul desires to express itself in the voice, it first causes an activity in the mind; and the mind by means of thought projects finer vibrations in the mental plane; these in due course develop and run as breath through the regions of the abdomen, lungs, mouth, throat, and nasal organs, causing the air to vibrate all through, until they manifest on the surface as voice. The voice therefore naturally expresses the attitude of mind whether true or false, sincere or insincere.

The voice has all the magnetism which an instrument lacks; for voice is nature's ideal instrument, upon which all other instruments of the world are modeled.

The effect produced by singing depends upon the depth of feeling of the singer. The voice of a sympathetic singer is quite different from that of one who is heartless. However artificially cultivated a voice may be, it will never produce feeling, grace and beauty unless the heart be cultivated also. Singing has a twofold source of interest, the grace of music and the beauty of poetry. In proportion as the singer feels the words he sings, an effect is produced upon the listeners; his heart, so to speak, accompanies the song.

Although the sound produced by an instrument cannot be produced by the voice, yet the instrument is absolutely dependent upon man. This explains clearly how the soul makes use of the mind, and how the mind rules the body; yet it seems as though the body works, not the mind, and the soul is left out. When man hears the sound of the instrument and sees the hand of the player at work, he does not see the mind working behind, nor the phenomenon of the soul.

At each step from the inner being to the surface there is an apparent improvement, which appears to be more positive; yet every step towards the surface entails limitation and dependence.

There is nothing which is unable to serve as a medium for sound, although tone manifests more clearly through a sonorous body than through a solid one, the former being open to vibrations while the latter is closed. All things which give a clear sound show life, while solid bodies choked up with substance seem dead. Resonance is the preserving of tone, in other words it is the rebound of tone which produces an echo. On this principle all instruments are made, the difference lying in the quality and quantity of the tone, which depend upon the construction of the instrument. The instruments of percussion such as the tabla, or the drum, are suitable for practical music, and stringed instruments like the sitar, violin or harp are meant for artistic music. The vina is especially constructed to concentrate the vibrations; as it gives a faint sound, sometimes only audible to the player, it is used in meditation.

The effect of instrumental music also depends upon the evolution of man who expresses with the tips of his fingers upon the instrument his grade of evolution; in other words his soul speaks through the instrument. Man's state of mind can be read by his touch upon any instrument; for however great an expert he may be, he cannot produce by mere skill, without a developed feeling within himself, the grace and beauty which appeal to the heart.

Wind instruments, like the flute and the algosa, especially express the heart quality, for they are played with the breath which is the very life; therefore they kindle the heart's fire.

Instruments stringed with gut have a living effect, for they come from a living creature which once had a heart; those stringed with wire have a thrilling effect; and the instruments of percussion such as the drum have a stimulating and animating effect upon man.

After vocal and instrumental music comes the motional music of the dance. Motion is the nature of vibration. Every motion contains within itself a thought and feeling. This art is innate in man; an infant's first pleasure in life is to amuse himself with the movement of hands and feet; a child on hearing music begins to move. Even beasts and birds express their joy in motion. The peacock proud in the vision of his beauty displays his vanity in dance; likewise the cobra unfolds his hood and rocks his body on hearing the music of the pungi. All this proves that motion is the sign of life, and when accompanied with music it sets both the performer and onlooker in motion.

The mystics have always looked upon this subject as a sacred art. In the Hebrew scriptures we find David dancing before the Lord; and the gods and goddesses of the Greeks, Egyptians, Buddhists, and Brahmans are represented in different poses, all having a certain meaning and philosophy, relating to the great cosmic dance which is evolution.

Even up to the present time among Sufis in the East dancing takes place at their sacred meetings called Sama, for dancing is the outcome of joy; the dervishes at the Sama give an outlet to their ecstasy in Raqs which is regarded with great respect and reverence by those present, and is in itself a sacred ceremony.

The art of dancing has greatly degenerated owing to its misuse. People for the most part dance either for the sake of amusement or exercise, often abusing the art in their frivolity.

Tune and rhythm tend to produce an inclination for dance. To sum up, dancing may be said to be a graceful expression of thought and feeling without uttering a word. It may be used also to impress the Soul by movement, by producing an ideal picture before it. When beauty of movement is taken as the presentment of the divine ideal, then the dance becomes sacred.

The music of life shows its melody and harmony in our daily experiences. Every spoken word is either a true or a false note, according to the scale of our ideal. The tone of one personality is hard like a horn; while the tone of another is soft like the high notes of a flute.

The gradual progress of all creation from a lower to a higher evolution, its change from one aspect to another, is shown as in music where a melody is transposed from one key into another. The friendship and enmity among men, and their likes and dislikes, are as chords and discords. The harmony of human nature, and the human tendency to attraction and repulsion, are like the effect of the consonant and dissonant intervals in music.

In tenderness of heart the tone turns into a half-tone; and with the breaking of the heart the tone breaks into microtones. The more tender the heart becomes, the fuller the tone becomes; the harder the heart grows, the more dead it sounds.

Each note, each scale, and each strain expires at the appointed time; and at the end of the soul's experience here the finale comes; but the impression remains, as a concert in a dream, before the radiant vision of the consciousness.

With the music of the Absolute the bass, the undertone, is going on continuously; but on the surface beneath the various keys of all the instruments of nature's music, the undertone is hidden and subdued. Every being with life comes to the surface and again returns whence it came, as each note has its return to the ocean of sound. The undertone of this existence is the loudest and the softest, the highest and the lowest; it overwhelms all instruments of soft or loud, high or low tone, until all gradually merge in it; this undertone always is, and always will be.

The mystery of sound is mysticism; the harmony of life is religion. The knowledge of vibrations is metaphysics, and the analysis of atoms science; and their harmonious grouping is art. The rhythm of form is poetry, and the rhythm of sound is music. This shows that music is the art of arts and the science of all sciences; and it contains the fountain of all knowledge within itself.

Music is called a divine or celestial art, not only because of its use in religion and devotion, and because it is in itself a universal religion, but because of its fineness in comparison with all other arts and sciences. Every sacred scripture, holy picture or spoken word, produces the impression of its identity upon the mirror of the soul; but music stands before the soul without producing any impression of this objective world, in either name or form, thus preparing the soul to realize the Infinite.

Recognizing this, the Sufi names music Ghiza-i Ruh, the food of the soul, and uses it as a source of spiritual perfection; for music fans the fire of the heart, and the flame arising from it illumines the soul. The Sufi derives much more benefit from music in his meditations than from anything else. His devotional and meditative attitude makes him responsive to music, which helps him in his spiritual unfoldment. The consciousness, by the help of music, first frees itself from the body and them from the mind. This once accomplished, only one step more is needed to attain spiritual perfection.

Sufis in all ages have taken a keen interest in music, in whatever land they may have dwelt; Rumi especially adopted this art by reason of his great devotion. He listened to the verses of the mystics on love and truth, sung by the Qawwals, the musicians, to the accompaniment of the flute.

The Sufi visualizes the object of his devotion in his mind, which is reflected upon the mirror of his soul. The heart, the factor of feeling, is possessed by everyone, although with everyone it is not a living heart. This heart is made alive by the Sufi who gives an outlet to his intense feelings in tears and in sighs. By so doing the clouds of Jalal, the power which gathers with his psychic development, fall in tears as drops of rain; and the sky of his heart is clear, allowing the soul to shine. This condition is regarded by Sufis as the sacred ecstasy.

Since the time of Rumi music has become a part of the devotions in the Mevlevi Order of the Sufis. The masses in general, owing to their narrow orthodox views, have cast out the Sufis, and opposed them for their freedom of thought; thus misinterpreting the Prophet's teaching, which prohibited the abuse of music, not music in the real sense of the word. For this reason a language of music was made by Sufis, so that only the initiated could understand the meaning of the songs. Many in the East hear and enjoy these songs not understanding what they really mean.

A branch of this order came to India in ancient times, and was known as the Chishtiyya school of Sufis; it was brought to great glory by Khwaja  Muinuddin Chishti, one of the greatest mystics ever known to the world. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he actually lived on music; and even at the present time, although his body has been in the tomb at Ajmer for many centuries, yet at his shrine there is always music given by the best singers and musicians in the land. This shows the glory of a poverty-stricken sage, compared with the poverty of a glorious king; the one during his life had all things, which ceased at his death, while the glory of the sage is ever-increasing. At the present time music is prevalent in the school of the Chishtis who hold meditative musical assemblies called Sama or Qawwali. During these they meditate on the ideal of their devotion, which is in accordance with their grade of evolution, and they increase the fire of their devotion while listening to the music.

Wajd, the sacred ecstasy which the Sufis experience at Sama, may be said to be union with the Desired One. There are three aspects of this union which are experienced by Sufis of different stages of evolution. The first is the union with the revered ideal from that plane of earth present before the devotee, either the objective plane or the plane of thought. The heart of the devotee, filled with love, admiration and gratitude then becomes capable of visualizing the form of his ideal of devotion whilst listening to the music.

The second step in ecstasy, and the higher aspect of union, is union with the beauty of character of the ideal, irrespective of form. The song in praise of the ideal character helps the love of the devotee to gush forth and overflow.

The third stage in ecstasy is union with the divine Beloved, the highest ideal, who is beyond the limitation of name and form, virtue or merit; with whom it has constantly sought union and whom the soul has finally found. This joy is unexplainable. When the words of those souls who have already attained union with the divine Beloved are sung before the one who is treading the path of divine love, he sees all the signs on the path described in those verses, and it is a great comfort to him. The praise of the One so idealized, so unlike the ideal of the world in general, fills him with joy beyond words.

Ecstasy manifests in various aspects. Sometimes a Sufi may be in tears, sometimes he will sigh, sometimes it expresses itself in Raqs, motion. All this is regarded with respect and reverence by those present at the Sama assembly, as ecstasy is considered to be divine bliss. The sighing of the devotee clears a path for him into the world unseen, and his tears wash away the sins of ages. All revelation follows the ecstasy; all knowledge that a book can never contain, that a language can never express, nor a teacher teach, comes to him of itself.

checked 18-Oct-2005