Someone asked me recently for a recommendation for “meditation music”. I said, “The sound of the birds right now. That scooter riding past the window on the street outside.”
I don’t “do” background music or ambient music. But I came across this recently, and some friends and I really enjoy it. It is something good for the room for when guests come over. I have only played it once, because I don’t have a chance to play music much. It is recommended to people who have time and the need for such a thing, or they have some exhibition and wish to play such a thing.
I just came across this recording of The Heart Sutra in Medieval Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters. It is very interesting. The original post says that “there are many theories about the pronunciation of Middle Korean and this video cannot represent all of those.” But it certainly gives a clearer sense (to this viewer) the link between the Korean pronunciation we have come to use, and its roots in some of the older expressions of Chinese. (Though this feels as close to Cantonese as it is to Korean!)
I remember, when reading The Canterbury Tales and The Faerie Queen in university, what it was like to experience Old English: the English language in a more chrysalis-like state than its contemporary expression. It gave me a sense of the Latin and French and German inflections that I had never considered, and gave much insight into the subtle feelings and uses of the words and phrases.
This reading gives a sense of the possible feel of this familiar sutra recitation’s continuity with ancient Chinese culture.
Played by the Maestro himself. What a priceless experience, this video, this music, this mind.
As it turns out, “Mad Rush” (not the title that Philip Glass gave it) was written in honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first address in his first visit to North America, in November 1979. Glass describes the piece as “a piece of indefinite length” which could be understood through reference to “the play of the wrathful and peaceful deities” in Tibetan tangkas. I did not know about this ostensibly “Buddhist” context when I first heard it: yet something inside was profoundly “spoken to” (as with most of Glass’s music), and felt deeply familiar with its themes and its voices and its interplay of its voices with its themes and with each other, and so on and so forth, as his music does. Most everything that I have heard of his music strikes the soul in the same way that “sacred music” impacts me: there is this immediate and very palpable sense of being lifted into a higher plane of awareness and heightened inspiration for subtler states of consciousness.
I had the great fortune to have a private one-hour conversation with Philip Glass in about 2010 or 2011, at Tibet House in New York City. Just one-to-one, in a hushed library room. We spoke about Buddhism, about Zen, about practice. I spoke with him about how he had come to make the music for Kundun. Needless to say, you can only sit there in total awe of him, this absolutely indescribable mind. I only had that same feeling when meeting with a few masters in the East — only three or four. He was like that: this vast, open, borderless consciousness without shape or edge. During the entire conversation, I had the overwhelming feeling that I did not belong in the same room with him, much less the same conversation. He was very very clear and just absolutely present. I was not really familiar with his music at the time: I had really only encountered his music first through a viewing of Koyaanisqatsi in a theater in the East Village back in the 80s (whereupon I immediately got a recording of that extraordinary soundtrack, and played it over and over again). I next encountered his music for Kundun and Mishima: both of them are among my favorite pieces of any kind of music, of anyone and anytime. I have listened to them countless times.
Yet this piece, and Metamorphoses, the Third Symphony, and that absolutely mind-blowing Violin Concerto No. 1 were as yet completely unknown to me at the time.
While looking for some things recently, I came across this version of Koyaanisqatsi. There is no substitute for seeing this filmic masterpiece on the big screen. But the film doesn’t really play anywhere, at least in the cities I’ve lived for the last 25 years. At least the opening of this, from Glass’s first organ notes… It is burned forever in the mind. It was like a dark spiritual experience.
If you have a few minutes, watch at least the first 5-10 minutes. It is a meditation — a truly dystopic meditation, to be sure. But Glass’s music is there, and he is Zen, and so that is okay.
I am traveling to Athens tomorrow to begin two weeks of Zen practice and Ashtanga training, at two wonderful yoga shalas: Synthesis Yoga (Athens) and Prajna Shala (Thessaloniki). During that time, supporting our sitting practice, we will be practicing the chanting of “The Heart Sutra,” in the Greek language. This is a powerful chant, in any language, and every language version has its own unique power and rhythm. I really like chanting this in Greek, because the rolling, wave-like feel of the chant actually does feel like waves in an infinite ocean.
This is a recording we made last year (2018) in Thessaloniki. We were joined by a group of over 20 Koreans, so the depth and texture is, well, unique and nuanced in unexpected ways.
Here is the chant, followed by the anglicized text. Chant your hearts out:
Maha Prajna Paramita Hrdiya Sutra
O botisatva Avalokiteshvara
me ti vathia askisi tis Prajna Paramita siniditopi-ise pos ta pente sti-hi-a ine kena, dinontas telos se kathe pono.
I morfi den thyaferi apo tin kenotita,
i kenotita den thyaferi apo tin morfi
i morfi ine kenotita, i kenotita ine morfi.
To ithio is-hi-i ke gya ta alla tessera sti-hia, tin esthisi, tin adilipsi, tin thyakrisi, tin sinidisi.
O Sariputra, ola ta dharma ine kena, diladi den e-hun ute arhi ute telos. Den ine ute akatharta ute agna,
ute afxanonte ute miononte, epomenos, ola ta pragmata ine kena.
Den iparhi ute morfi, ute esthisi, ute adilipsi,
ute parormisi, ute sinidisi.
Den iparhi orasi, a-ko-i, osfrisi, logos, soma, nus.
Den iparhi ute hroma, ute ihos, mi-ro-thya, gefsi, afi, fenomena. Den iparhi ute o kosmos tis orasis, ute o kosmos tis sinidisis.
Den iparhi to skotadi tis agnias, ute telos se afto. Ute giras ute thanatos,
ute telos sto giras ke sto thanato.
Den iparhun i tesseris alithyes.
O ponos, i e-ti-a tu ponu,
to telos tu ponu, to oktaplo monopati, Den iparhi sofia,
ute pro-odos stin opia iparhi epitefxi.
O Bodisatva thya mesu tis Prajna Paramita xeperna ola ta ebodia ke ine eleftheros. Ontas eleftheros den iparhi pya fovos,
ta lathi ke i pse-vthe-sthi-sis fevgun makria, ke pragmatonete i nirvana.
Oli i Vudes tu parelthodos,
tu parodos ke tu mellodos thya mesu tis Prajna Paramita e-pi-tin-ha-nun tin telia fotisi.
Ya afto to mantra tis Prajna Paramita ine to megalo mantra,
to mantra tis megalis thya-vgi-as,
to anipervlito mantra,
to asigrito mantra.
Dio-chni makria kathe odini. Ine alithya ke ohi psema.
Gate gate paragate para sam gate bodhi svaha gate gate paragate para sam gate bodhi svaha gate gate paragate para sam gate bodhi svaha
(“Prajna Paramita” can be translated as “meditation”, Zen)