Thursday, September 01, 2016
Monday, March 07, 2016
Shiva and Parvati riding on Nandi, Ink and gouache and gold c. 1820 - 40
A man comes to himself
When he wakes from sleep.
Likewise, I have perceived the God and Goddess
By waking from my ego.
When salt dissolves,
It becomes one with the ocean;
When my ego dissolved,
I became one with Shiva and Shakti.
- Shri Jnaneshwara (Dnyaneshwar, Dnanadeva), 13th century
Monday, February 15, 2016
"Lay a virtuous path.
Feel the Shakti flowing within you."
- Shri Mataji, Sankranti 2008
The Shakti, the manifest power of the all-pervading Divine Self, can be felt within as the Kundalini energy.
The Kundalini corresponds to the astrological sign Aquarius. Aquarius is depicted by a figure pouring out water from a vessel (Kumbha in Sanskrit) but it also represents the release of spiritual energy.
Aquarius by Jake Baddeley
Aquarius by Jake Baddeley
Monday, October 19, 2015
Monday, September 07, 2015
The ground-breaking jazz musician, John Coltrane, was deeply influenced by Indian spirituality. According to Bill Cole, the jazz musician and ethnomusicologist, he was a practitioner of yoga. By 'yoga', he almost certainly meant, not the system of physical postures, but the spiritual practice aimed at Self-realisation.
Raised a Methodist Christian, Coltrane came to believe in the truth of all religions. His first wife was Muslim, and his second wife, Alice, was a devotee of Indian spirituality who later established a Vedantic centre in California. It was probably at least partly due to Alice's influence that Coltrane also developed a strong interest in Eastern philosophy, and studied Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita.
The Indian spiritual concept of 'raga' fascinated him in particular because of its application to his own music. 'Raga' (also spelled 'rag') can be translated as 'emotional state'. The word also refers to the ancient musical scales used to invoke specific moods, and associated seasons or times of day.
Mian Tansen, the famous 16th century Indian master musician, had the power, according to legend, to influence nature by playing the appropriate raga. For instance, when he played Rag Deepak (named after a burning lamp), the weather would become hot, or lamps would magically light themselves. His performance of Rag Megha (cloud) was said to have summoned rain.
Coltrane was aware of the potential power of raga. He once said in an interview:
"I would like to discover a method so that if I want it to rain, it will start right away to rain. If one of my friends is ill, I’d like to play a certain song and he will be cured; when he’d be broke, I’d bring out a different sound and immediately he’d receive all the money he needed. But what are these pieces and what is the road to travel to attain a knowledge of them, that I don’t know. The true powers of music are still unknown. To be able to control them must be, I believe, the goal of every musician. I’m passionate about understanding these forces. I would like to provoke reactions in the listeners to my music, to create a real atmosphere. It’s in that direction that I want to commit myself and to go as far as possible,"
The Indian influence is obvious In the posthumously released album 'Om', named after the syllable sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism and other Indian religions. The track titles are references to Indian spiritual concepts, and the recording even features chanting from Hindu and Buddhist texts.
Coltrane described Om as the "first syllable, the primal word, the word of power". For him, this universal sound preceded and formed the basis of musical creativity. In Yoga philosophy, with its system of chakras, the Om is embodied as Shri Ganesha in the Mooladhara Chakra. This chakra is the basis of the whole subtle system, and is prerequisite for the existence of the second Chakra, the Swadisthana, which is the seat of artistic creativity. The Swadisthana is the domain of the Goddess Saraswati, often depicted playing a vina, an Indian stringed instrument.
Not long before he died in 1967, Coltrane had intended to spend six months studying Indian music in depth with Ravi Shankar. Shankar had already met Coltrane in 1964 and taught him the basics, noting his intense interest in the subject. It would have been interesting to hear how his music might have changed, had this training occurred.
Coltrane's music is Jazz, not Indian classical music, but he no doubt drew from the spirit of the raga, and other traditions, in his own personal way. Specifically, he sometimes used an underlying drone, like the continuous tampura sound that supports the melody of the raga. He often improvised around a very limited set of notes, even focussing on a single note, as Indian musicians do when playing ragas. His time signatures often resemble the Indian rhythmic patterns known as 'tals'. Generally he moved from the conventional chord changes of jazz to a modal way of playing, similar to the raga, in which a single emotion is evoked.
Many jazz musicians have been deeply influenced by Coltrane and have also explored Indian music and spirituality with varying degrees of success.
Jazz-Indian fusion music doesn't always work for me. When it doesn't work, it's because only a superficial flavour of indian-ness has been adopted, rather than a deep understanding of the spiritual ideas underlying Indian music. Coltrane's universal spirituality touches the same depths as that of the Indian masters, without adopting Indian styles in a literal way.
Coltrane said that one day he had a very distinct spiritual awakening which changed him fundamentally. An overwhelming experience of joy led him to give up an addiction to drugs overnight, and prompted him to asked the Divine for the ability to spread this joy to others. For Coltrane, as it is in India, music was much more than a form of entertainment; it was a way to the attainment of truth.
Monday, June 15, 2015
Saturday, June 06, 2015
I don’t really know whether art can exist without a certain degree of tranquillity or spiritual poise; without a certain amount of quiet you can have neither philosophy nor religion nor painting nor poetry. And as one of the specialties of modern life is to abolish this quiet, we are in danger of losing our arts together with the quiet of the soul that art demands.
- Saul Bellow
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Deborah Stevenson, Time out of Mind, paper collage.
Image used with kind permission of the artist.
See more of her work at deborahstevenson.com
Try to meditate.
Meditate more, so that you reach that inner being.
And this inner being is the vast ocean of bliss
which exists inside every one of us.
-Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, 1983
According to several Indian teachings, including that of Guru Nanaka, the founder of the Sikh religion, the inner Self and the universe "outside" are one and the same. No part of the infinite cosmos, with all it's countless swirling galaxies, is outside the ambit of who you are.
One of the main obstacles to meditation is the mind's objection to being quietened - something it tends to see as a form of limitation. However, contrary to the mind's expectations, genuine states of meditation are characterised by a sense of expansiveness in consciousness; something Buddhists call the Vast Mind.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Thursday, October 02, 2014
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
"Just imagine to yourself that the purpose of your life is your happiness only - and then life becomes a cruel and senseless thing. You have to embrace what the wisdom of humanity, your intellect and your heart all tell you - that the meaning of life is to serve the divine will which sent you into this world: then life will become a constant joy."
Tolstoy reading, by Ilya Repin
Sunday, August 03, 2014
Sunday, July 06, 2014
The American writer and opponent of slavery, Henry David Thoreau, was influenced by the ancient spiritual texts of India.
He wrote that the waters of his beloved Walden Pond "mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges".
He adopted some of the precepts of yoga philosophy, and even considered himself a yogi.
He was particularly drawn to the Bhagavad Gita, the Song of Lord Krishna, deity of the Americas, and the Visshuddhi (throat) Chakra. Thoreau played the flute; also the favourite pastime of Krishna.
Free in this world as the birds in the air, disengaged from every kind of chains, those who practice yoga gather in Brahma the certain fruits of their works. Depend upon it that, rude and careless as I am, I would fain practice the yoga faithfully. The yogi, absorbed in contemplation, contributes in his degree to creation; he breathes a divine perfume, he hears wonderful things. Divine forms traverse him without tearing him, and united to the nature which is proper to him, he goes, he acts as animating original matter. To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogi.
Thoreau's birthday is coming up on the 12th of July (a sensitive retiring Cancerian). He was born almost 200 years ago.
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Saturday, July 05, 2014
... Innocence is often thought of as a quality projected outward. It means, literally, ‘not harm’. If a person is innocent, they aren’t going to harm you. But another way to consider the idea of harmlessness is that which is unharmed. It is a place within our own self, untouched by harm. Hans Christian Andersen believed in an untouched innocence at the core of every person. “She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has,” says the Finn woman of Gerda in The Snow Queen, “which consists in her own purity and innocence of heart.”
Children had special access to this innocence – animals and grandmothers did as well – but the innocence was inside everyone. Innocence could be hidden and emerge, or it could be apparent and then corrupted. See, for example, the devil’s mirror in The Snow Queen, which had the peculiar power to make everything good and beautiful seem like nothing. The loveliest landscapes looked like boiled spinach and the very best people became hideous or stood on their heads and had no stomachs.
To be wholly innocent was rare. To be wholly innocent, for Andersen, meant to be wholly yourself. It meant that you were free from the distorted reality of the devil’s mirror. There is a connection in Andersen’s work between innocence and reality, then, because innocence is truth. And just as truth is eternal, so is innocence. Though many of Andersen’s tales are tragedies, ending in death or humiliation, they all affirm the importance of a life lived toward an eternal, personal truth. This is what Andersen meant when he said, “Every man’s life is a fairytale, written by God's fingers.” This doesn’t mean that every man’s life is a fantasy. It means that every man’s life is a quest toward reality.
- Stefany Anne Golberg
Rie Cramer's 1931 illustration for The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen