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Volume XII - The Divinity of the Human Soul

Part II: Confessions

Chapter 3

'The world shall live in me, not I in it.'
   - Akhlaq-i Jalali.

GLORY be to God that this universal belief saved me from falling into the crooked paths of bigotry and prejudice, on which so many children of God pass the night of life like a flock of ignorant sheep. They walk in herds unto the very gates of death, unaware of their Why and Whither, while even the voice of immortality cannot recall them, and they are lost unto the ages!

When Maulabakhsh, my grandfather, died I was in deep despair. I grieved for a very long time over the loss of my musical guide and inspiration, realizing the uncertainty of this life, and that my own existence was only worth enduring if I could be of some use to the world. I appreciated the great service Maulabakhsh had rendered to India by giving its music a feasible system of notation, and wondered how I could carry on his work.

At one period music in India was regarded not only as a medium for perfecting humanity, but also as a spiritual manifestation. My grandfather, with his intense feeling for both his art and his people, believed that music could only be raised from its present degeneration by using it as a teacher of morals and a prophet of the Lord's glory.

Once, in my utter despair at my futility in comparison with him, I broke down completely, crying, 'Allah! If our people had lost only their wealth and power it would not have been so grievous to bear, since these temporal things are always changing hands in the mazes of Maya. But the inheritance of our race, the music of the Divine, is also leaving us through our own negligence, and that is a loss my heart cannot sustain!'

I invoked the name of Sharda, the goddess of music, and prayed her to protect her sacred art.

And thus it came about that I left my home with the view of creating a universal system of music. I started out on this mission when I was eighteen years old, and was welcomed at the courts of Rajas and Maharajas who greatly encouraged and rewarded me for my efforts. From all the leading cities of India I received addresses and medals in recognition and appreciation of my music, and thus increased the number of my friends, pupils, and sympathizers throughout India.

'He who though dressed in fine apparel exercises tranquility, is quiet, subdued, restrained, chaste, and has ceased to find fault with others, he indeed is a Brahman, an ascetic, a friar.'
   - Dhammapada

The Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mahbub 'Ali Khan, a great mystic ruler of India and a devotee of music and poetry showed me special favor. Several times my playing moved the Nizam to tears; and when I was done he asked curiously, what mystery lay in my music?

Then, answering him, I explained, 'Your Highness, as sound is the highest source of manifestation, it is mysterious within itself, and whosoever has the knowledge of sound, he indeed knows the secret of the universe. My music is my thought, and my thought is my emotion; the deeper I dive into the ocean of feeling, the more beautiful are the pearls I bring forth in the form of melodies. Thus my music creates feeling within me even before others feel it. My music is my religion; therefore worldly success can never be a proper price for it, and my sole object in music is to achieve perfection.'

This explanation, together with my playing, charmed the Nizam so much that he presented me with a purse full of golden coins, and placing his own precious emerald ring upon my finger named me 'Tansen', after the great Indian singer of the past. This incident brought me gifts and titles from all parts of India. But honors for myself did not really satisfy me. How could I be content with my own exalted position when my fellow musicians were looked upon with contempt by conservative India?

Naturally I realized that it was due partly to the musicians themselves, who are as a rule illiterate and who look to the princes and potentates for support, feeding their false pride with flattery and subservience, and thus losing the independence and inspiration of their art. Then again, the masses are untrained in the subject, while the educated classes are far too busy adopting Western ideas and sacrificing literature, philosophy, and music to polo, cricket, and tennis. I met many of the latter, who made it a boast that they knew nothing about the music of their own country, furnishing their homes with blaring gramophones and hiding their sitars away in disgrace.

'O Thou whose kingdom passes not away, pity him whose kingdom is passing away!'
   - dying words of Caliph Vathek

To my amazement and horror, all the medals and decorations which I had gathered as emblems of my professional success, and which are a source of pride to me, gained as they were by so much endeavor, enthusiasm, and the labor of many years spent in constant wandering from place to place, were in a single instant snatched away from me forever. In a moment of abstraction they were left in a car, which could not be traced despite all my efforts. But in place of the disappointment, which at first oppressed me, a revelation from God touched the hidden chords of my mind and opened my eyes to the truth.

I said to myself, 'It matters not how much time you have spent to gain that which never belonged to you but which you called your own; today you understand it is yours no longer. And it is the same with all you possess in life, your property, friends, relations; even your own body and mind. All that you call 'my', not being your true property, will leave you, and only that which you name 'I', which is absolutely disconnected with all that is called 'my', will remain. Why not go forth and strive for that which is worth gaining in life? Why not thus attain to true glory, instead of wasting your valuable opportunities in vain greed for wealth, fame, reputation, and those worldly honors which are here today and forgotten tomorrow?'

I knelt down and thanked God for the loss of my medals, crying, 'Let all be lost from my imperfect vision but Thy true Self, Ya Allah!'

I then set forth in pursuit of philosophy, visiting every mystic I could on my journeys to different Indian cities. I traveled through jungles, across mountains, and along riverbanks in search of mystics and hermits, playing and singing before them until they also sought my society.

It was in Nepal, during the pilgrimage of Pashpathinath, that I met a Muni among several sages. He was a Mahatma of the Himalayas and lived in a mountain cave, and untouched by the earthly contact, ambitions, and environments, he seemed to be the happiest man in the world. After I had entertained him with my music he, without seeming to notice, revealed to me the mysticism of sound, and unveiled before my sight the inner mystery of music. I thereafter met other mystics, with whom I discoursed on different subjects, and whose blessings I obtained through my art.

checked 18-Oct-2005