A zen Buddhist myself—though, um, not one any zen organization on the face of the Earth would recognize, thank goodness; hence my favoring of Ikkyu—I've always held a fascination of high regard for the Vedas and Upanishads, the source of all Buddhism, zen included, though, really, The Big Z is as much militant taoism as The Awakened One's wisdom, perhaps more so. The Upanishads actually represent some of the oldest science on this otherwise sad sphere, and though I've never gotten very far into the panoplies of liturgy, I've been quite attracted to both disciplines' viewpoint of God concepts as basest idiocy, even though, paradoxically, much was made by them of Brahman and the atman. Consider further that the older Upanishads look upon any worship of deities other than Self as laughable, the actions of an animal…but then, what is Self? Quick! Flee to the Mumonkan, the answer's important!
True Upanishads are also called Vedanta, the 'end of the Vedas', which are the oldest scriptures in India, but the term 'Upanishad' is as much indicative of people as texts, and practitioners past and present have very often eschewn all forms of ritual, an admirably anarchic mindset to say the least, well preceding Godwin and much admired by Schopenhauer, Emerson, Thoreau, and others. More, the philosophies of the various schools were and still are monistic, dualistic, and panoplistic, allowing for much the same accommodations to personality and viewpoint as pre-(and I suppose post-)Judaic paganism in the West. "Okay," you, dear reader, may be thinking, "so what? What's that got to do with the price of vindaloo in Calcutta, and what the hell are you driveling on about, Mr. Critic Man?"
Merely this, o chela: this soft, mellow, atmospheric CD collection of what are obviously devotionals would seem to contradict my earlier citation of rituallessness, wouldn't it? Yes, it would, but then paradox is the very living breathing soul of all esoteric knowledge just as much as the inability to even speak of what constitutes true wisdom in what zen calls 'the void' (which, o thou Jews and Christers, actually refers to the basic nature of reality as void of static form or true content). 'Member the Buddha holding a lotus blossom?
Just as Jews eschew tikun olam every chance they get, and Christians haven't a clue about the anarchist nature of their "savior" Jesus, so too do Buddhists forget that one of Siddhartha Gotama's profoundest admonitions to devotees was to find out whatever was true for them, even should it lie well outside The Enlightened One's teachings. I prefer to put it more succinctly: Whatever works, works. And if you obtain your enlightenment (there is no such thing, there is only existence) from books, as I have, preferring to pass by guru morons and moneygrubbing priests / abbots / yogis / avatars / whatevers, then that's more than sufficient.
You've lived trillions of lifetimes, and you will continue to do so from this moment forward, there's no choice otherwise, so you may as well try everything. That's what this 'life' thing is about, no matter where it's lived, here on Earth, on Tau Ceti, or in realms we can't even begin to imagine. Thus, why not settle into the soothing musical ruminations of Nadaka and Gopika?
To my mind, Surya - Chants of Light is a ghazalesque approach to religiously irreligious music and meditation, or to temporary samadhi while living in this hell realm, or even just manneredly hedonistic aesthete indulgence as valid as any form art can imbue. Composed of spare airy usages by two musicians of voice, synthesizer (guitar synth), and guitar abetted by sessioneers on percussion, violin, and sampling—again: very judiciously restrained—there's more than ample room and opportunity to calm oneself and expand, to quell the mind's monkey chatter and begin to locate reality behind deafening illusive thinkery, to integrate what seems to be disparate into its true Oneness. Too much for your Western brain?
Perhaps not. Mind is neither Eastern nor Western, it just is, but you won't know that until you de-link from the various false consciousnesses indoctrinated into you. To return to Schopenhauer, or to visit Rabindranath Tagore if you prefer, art is the absolute best way to do that. Here, in Surya, we have the perplexity of ritual in order to transcend ritual, especially in Dakshinam, a wonderland of subtly understated transmogrifications in Gopika's guitar playing.
As to the chanting both employ, look upon it as rhapsodic, incidentalist, melismic, or whatever suits your need, Surya Namaskar a highly adagistic form suffused with light. I find in the CD aspects of what can be located in Hari Deuter, Laraaji, David Hykes, and others. Then there's the paced grandeur of the dramatic closer, Chidakash. In the end, hopefully what you come to realize is the ultimate paradox: discipline is requisite to what Nisargadatta Maharaj has called "destroying the world in which you live". That world is not reality, and one must marshal one's core to pursue the goal to its end, if indeed there is goal or end, but the Kalistic chaos of complete and total disincorporation isn't at all necessary, not yet anyway, though entertaining. First start by peeking behind the veil. You can do that here, and the discipline involved is very very mild, not at all burdensome. It's my contention that you'll surprise yourself with what you find.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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