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#1498 - Sunday, July 20, 2003 - Editor: Gloria Lee
are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror
that reflects it."
-- Edith Wharton
Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again
on an open sky.
has to be
so you can find
the one line
Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out
someone has written
in the ashes of your life.
You are not leaving
you are arriving.
Mary Bianco ~ NDS News
James MacMillan on the role of music in our 'post-religious' times
Saturday July 19, 2003
"Religion is music", "the breath of the flute is the path to enlightenment", and "a sermon is better made with sounds". These are mottos spread by the itinerant priests of the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism in 17th-century Japan.
One of the most lasting legacies of this particular spiritual tradition is a rich repertoire for the shakuhachi, a five-holed bamboo flute capable of producing some of the most haunting sounds known to human ears - a lonely, desolate beauty. This is music that springs from the spiritual and liturgical functions of prayer, devotion, incense-burning, confession, contemplation, the search for peace, enlightenment and the identification with the power of absolute love. More about Japan later.
It is not only in Asia that we find this close intertwining of music and spirituality. In the west, a centuries-long relationship has endured between them, which has outlived the formal sponsorship of the established churches..
In our "post-religious" secular society, even the most agnostic and sceptically inclined music-lovers will lapse into quasi-spiritual terminology to account for the impact of music on their lives. Many people will still refer to music as the most spiritual of the arts. One hears of lives being transformed by music, of moods and perspectives being altered, of attitudes shifting and renewed meaning and purposefulness taking root in lives touched by music.
The serious, open and active form of listening (necessary for classical music, for example) is analogous to prayer in the way it demands our time. The complex, large-scale forms of serious music unfold their narratives in time with an authority that cannot be hurried. Something of the essence of ourselves is sacrificed to music. Whether we are performers, composers or listeners, we are required to give something up, something of our humanity.
Music helps give us a vision that is well beyond the horizons of the materialism and consumerism of our contemporary society. What is music after all? You can't see it, you can't touch it, you can't eat it, but its palpable presence always makes itself felt: not just in a physical way, but in a way that reaches down into the crevices of our souls.
What is music? Is it simply the notes on the page? If so, how can we equate those strange, black static symbols with the vivid, and sometimes convulsive emotions provoked when music enters our ears, our brains, our bodies, our deepest secret selves? Music is fundamentally immaterial, and cannot be consumed in the sense of being bought and owned. It is this numinous quality of music that issues such a direct, counter-cultural challenge to the values of our age.
The Scottish Jesuit John McDade has written: "Music may be the closest human analogue to the mystery of the direct and effective communication of grace." This suggests that music is a phenomenon connected to the work of God in the way it touches something deep in our souls and releases a divine force.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in a sermon some years ago for the Three Choirs Festival, said: "To listen seriously to music and to perform it are among our most potent ways of learning what it is to live with and before God, learning a service that is a perfect freedom... In this 'obedience' of listening and following, we are stretched and deepened, physically challenged as performers, imaginatively as listeners. The time we have renounced, given up, is given back to us as a time in which we have become more human, more real, even when we can't say what we have learned, only that we have changed."
But it is not only theologians who see a wider context for the discussion of music. The English composer and agnostic Michael Tippett several times made the bold claim that there was a connection between music and compassion. This is fascinating since that was precisely the belief of the medieval music guilds of Europe, which venerated Job as the patron saint of music before Saint Cecilia came along.
Music was seen as a comfort to the suffering, and musicians were depicted in contemporary paintings and woodcuts as visiting Job to soothe his physical and spiritual pains. To see a spiritual umbilical cord between music and compassion, between music and the work of God, reminds us of the Fuke Buddhist identification of the shakuhachi with the power of absolute love.
The Fuke sect was most active in Japan at the very time when the Catholic church forged its most intimate and vexed relationships with Japanese society. The early 17th century is the subject of one of the greatest novels of modern Japanese literature, Silence, by Shusaku Endo, who died in 1996. His book asks profound philosophical and uncomfortable questions and resonates with one of the most anguished questions, asked 2,000 years ago: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"
Endo's silence is the silence of God, who stands back from us dispassionately as we endure our greatest trials - torture, genocide and Holocaust. After experiencing the brutal repression of Japanese Christians, one of Endo's characters, a Jesuit priest, writes: "I cannot bear the monotonous sound of the dark sea gnawing at the shore. Behind the depressing silence of the sea, the silence of God... the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish, God remains with folded arms, silent."
For Endo, though, this silence is not absence but presence. It is the silence of accompaniment rather than nihil. Music itself grows out of silence. Every composer knows that the pre-creative silence is not empty but pregnant with possibility. For Endo, it is the powerless, ineffectual Jesus, lover of the forsaken, which fills his silence. It is a shocking reminder that God's power is not of this place but something other. It is presence as absence; absence as presence; which is precisely what music is. The umbilical cord between silence and music is the umbilical cord between heaven and earth.
· James MacMillan's
Third Symphony, Silence (dedicated to the memory of Shusaku Endo)
will receive its European premiere on July 24 at the BBC Proms,
Royal Albert Hall, performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra,
conducted by the composer, and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and
BBC 4 TV. MacMillan will give a pre-Prom talk in the Royal Albert
Hall at 6pm.
Prom 9: James MacMillan
International shakuhachi society
Mainichi.com: Shusaku Endo
From the beginning all beings are Buddha.
Like water and ice, without water no ice, outside us no Buddhas.
How near the truth, yet how far we seek.
Like one in water crying, "I thirst!"
Like the son of a rich man wand'ring poor on this earth we endlessly circle the six worlds.
The cause of our sorrow is ego delusion.
From dark path to dark path we've wandered in darkness,
how can we be freed from the wheel of samsara?
The gateway to freedom is zazen Samadhi.
Beyond exaltation, beyond all our praises the pure Mahayana.
Observing the Precepts, Repentance and Giving,
the countless good deeds and the Way of Right Living, all come from zazen.
Thus one true Samadhi extinguishes evils. It purifies karma, dissolving obstructions.
Then where are the dark paths to lead us astray?
The Pure Lotus Land is not far away.
Hearing this truth, heart humble and grateful.
To praise and embrace it, to practice its Wisdom,
brings unending blessings. bring mountains of merit.
And if we turn inward and prove our True Nature, that
True Self is no-self, our own self is no-self, we go beyond ego and past clever words.
Then the gate to the oneness of cause-and-effect is thrown open.
Not two and not three, straight ahead runs the Way.
Our form now being no-form, in going and returning we never leave home.
Our thought now being no-thought, our dancing and songs are the Voice of the Dharma.
How vast is the heaven of boundless Samadhi!
How bright and transparent the moonlight of wisdom!
What is there outside us? What is there we lack?
Nirvana is openly shown to our eyes.
This earth where we stand is the pure lotus land!
And this very body, the body of Buddha.
Mary Bianco ~ NDS
balance with me
on the rim of this
let us follow
the same compass
the gossamer seed
on the wind
of the dying breath
the exhaled breath no longer has an ego,
yet it nourishes
with its spoken but silent words
travel with me
aloft that mindful wish
bowing to its source
and poised in this
is all that
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