Music is a vast ocean. Just as there is no beginning or end in the spiritual realm, so it is with music, because there is no difference between the spiritual experience and the ecstatic experience of great music. In the history of music, Narada Maharishi is considered the ancient preceptor of the classical musicians. Once Narada asked Lord Vishnu, 'Do you reside here in Vaikuntha or in the heart of yogis?' Whereupon Vishnu replied, 'I reside where my devotees sing.'
According to classical music the number of ragas is equal to the number of nerves in the human body. These ragas were discovered by great musicians like Thyagaraja and Swathithirunal, who lived during different times. However, only a limited number of ragas were known even to such great musicians. Nowhere in history can we find a single musician who could master the entire range of classical music, or whose mastery of ragas exceeded more than seventy thousand (equivalent to the number of nerves in the body). This just goes to prove the infinitude of the classical musical world.
If we try to analyse the source of music, we can understand that it will lead us to the world of 'eternal reality'. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (5:98) it is said that, "Just as fire burning in a piece of wood subsides along with the wood, so also the mind directed to nada is absorbed along with it" That is why music was recognised as a spiritual path even in ancient times. The study of music is one of the 'upasanas' for spiritual growth of the mind. When we look at the lives of great musicians in any century we can see clearly how they reached the peak of fulfilment by being absorbed in the sound of music.
The process of learning and studying music moulds the mind in such a way that it becomes completely in tune with, and a part of the music, just as other meditation practices prepare and concentrate the mind so that it becomes in tune with the universe. Sound is man's inner nature. If we concentrate on this, the consciousness can expand from its normal field of perception.
All music lovers have experienced this at some time. When we sing or hear a beautiful song, we can totally forget our worldly problems and circumstances, and even our own selves. Awareness of time and space is lost and we can touch the eternal ocean of happiness and reality. But nobody thinks much about this experience later.
Analyse this experience in relation to the practices of meditation and you will find there is basically no difference. Meditation requires some formal point of focus for the mind like a flower, the form of the guru or ishta devata. Similarly, music is the tool which enables the mind to reach higher states of consciousness. Ultimately we must come to the source and reality of the symbol. It is here that the identity of music and meditation is experienced.
The effects of music are so profound that the influence is carried through to each and every cell in the body. Music can elate and invigorate a sad person and vice versa. Some musicians have even been able to show how certain music and tone can help alleviate the problems of so called 'incurable' illnesses. Today, in South India, a famous Karnatic musician performs 'music therapy' with great success.
Of course this is a mere side benefit. As the mind and body attain purer and more refined states, the perceptive field of the mind also increases. Music can bring showers of rain, just as it can light a lamp. Thus, the power of music can capture and enrapture the wandering mind and raise it to such a level of concentration that musical ecstasy becomes a meditation. Here there is no difference between the accomplished yogi or musician, because of the realisation that the great force and power pervading all sentient beings is the same. When the individuality of the yogi and musician merges into the ocean of eternal vibration beyond time and space, then there is only:
Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.