No Sad Song, Please!

Swami Sangeetananda Saraswati

"Only let me make my life simple and straight Like a reed for thee to fill with music." (Tagore)

Music is the expression of our soul. The divine dwells in everything and in all cultures of the world. Music is used to express our innermost feelings of joy and adoration to the infinite.

Creation is believed to have sprung forth from sound and music is often used as the vehicle to return to that source. In primitive cultures that have no written language, all forms of musical expression are used to convey the mysteries and knowledge of life. Australian aborigines sing songs into their infant's mouth, transmitting the knowledge of creation, healing, hunting, dreams, death and all modes of life.

Whether one believes in the personal God or the universal life force, music allows one to become in tune with his ultimate realisation. Wanting to be closer, longing for communication with the personal God has been the theme of many devotional songs, Mirabai, the great mystic of India, sang the praise of Krishna. The sincerity and sweetness of the songs uplifted people from all over the country to the same love of divine inspiration and adoration, "My heart sings; you are closer than all, my quest, my hope, my breath, my light..."

Arjuna also expresses to Krishna, "It is right, O God, that people sing thy praises and that they feel glad and rejoice in thee... thou who art all that is and all that is not and all that is beyond." (BG. 11)

A spark of divine creativity drives one forth to express an Immortal symphony or simple devotional song. Music is one energy, one expression, one expansive art form that can never be destroyed. Symphonies , hymns, chants and bhajans that were composed centuries ago still exist today as fresh as the day they emerged.

Bhajans, songs of adoration, have been passed on for centuries in India (where many great saints of music took birth). Chaitanya, the Bengali mystic, pours out his heart in song, "I pray not for wealth, I pray not for honour, I pray not for pleasures or even the joys of poetry. I only pray that during my life I may have love, that I may have pure love to love Thee."

Kirtan, the spiritual practice of singing simple chants, is a very powerful form of yoga. To a devotional or emotional person chanting simple mantras helps elevate the mind and generates an energy that is both physically and mentally purifying. Kirtan is used extensively in bhakti yoga (the path of devotion) but it is not an exclusive practice. Aspirants of gyana yoga (path of self knowledge) follow kirtans with great exuberance. The bhakta in surrendering his ego will sing, "Ram dhuni lagee re, Gopala dhuni lagee" (let me become intoxicated in the experience of bliss which comes from the repetition of your name). The gyani in his search for the supreme knowledge sings, "Shivoham, Shivoham, Shivoham" (that omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient self I am), and thereby acknowledging all, he disintegrates his ego. There are very few people who have no devotion to something or someone. If one can hate, one can also love. The devotional path is open to all.

Kirtan has a powerful effect on the emotions, purging and giving a total release which culminates in a feeling of deep relaxation. With the devotional aspect, kirtan becomes an external form of meditation. While singing one becomes totally one pointed, searching, surging forth towards one's symbol, one's purpose in life. Kirtan can have a cleansing effect on the whole personality, like the salt water in shankhaprakshalana has on the physical body.

The glory of God and creation is manifested in nature. Music has therefore developed as a reflection of Mother Nature and as praise for her infinite beauty. Primitive music exemplifies nature in imitation of bird calls, the gurgling of streams, the gentle movement of a breeze, the sound of insects, thundering of a storm, and light in the sun, moon and fire. Many times we have stood breathlessly before a magnificent natural wonder, the ocean, a deep green valley, a dazzling river, a spreading tree, our hearts open and longing to know the source of the creation and its creator, and feeling thankful for the part we play. In a simple song St. Francis of Assisi sings, "Glory be to thee, my God, for our brother fire, by whom thou dost illumine the night, and is beautiful and youthful and strong and full of power."

Music is a joy, a universal language of love, hope and happiness. We all seek joy, and in music our hearts expand so that the pure essence within surges forth. In yoga the asanas purify our body, meditation cleanses our mind, and kirtan opens our heart.

"Oh thou hast made my heart captive in the endless meshes of thy music, my master." (Tagore)