Sound is ubiquitous. There simply isn’t a quality to our universe that doesn’t vibrate. So all things, including you and I, participate in a grand mysterious symphony. Even the term “universe” is translated into “one song,” which is why many cultures utilized this quality to better understand the process of creation and our place within. What makes sound particularly effective in this arena is its symbolic and metaphoric nature.
Symbols make transparent an underlying reality through the lens of another reality. It does so through an act of radiance, for the symbolized is not present through its essence, only through its radiance…much like an electric lamp is not electricity, but a symbol of its ultimate expression. This becomes important when trying to comprehend realms beyond the bandwidth of physicality. Since our perceptions are limited to certain frequency ranges we are dependent upon symbolic tools to bridge our experiences with circumstances beyond normal perception. So what is “normal” perception?
Let’s use hearing as an example. When sound enters the ear it begins as an acoustic signal, but in order for humans to perceive this, it goes through a series of translations…beginning with mechanical (in the tympanic membrane)…hydraulic (in the cochlea)…chemical (also in the cochlea)…until finally it finds a home as electrical stimuli in the brain. What we hear then is an electrical translation within the brain of that original acoustic source, which implies that our perceived world is nothing more than an interpretation of some mysterious raw material.
We can begin to see why many cultures viewed physicality as a dream…because ultimately what we sense can only make up a fraction of our totality. Our hearing range is between 20 and 20,000 hertz (bats can hear up to 200,000 hertz), we can’t see infrared, and the light we receive from the sun will always be seven minutes old. Think about that last statement. Not only is your perception of the sun a result of complex electrical transmutations, but you will actually never see it in the present moment…because it takes light 7 minutes to reach your eyes from its source. This is why we need powerful symbols to bridge the gap. “Whenever human beings hear and encounter God, the consequences are poetic, visionary, metaphoric, and parabolic.“
Sound offers this bridge due to its association with numbers. “All music is based on the relations between sounds, and a careful study of numbers by which these relations are ruled brings us immediately into the almost forgotten science of numerical symbolism.” Numbers are paradoxical in nature, for they correspond to abstract principles, yet their application to physical reality incorporates absolute and defined laws. The musical experience thus brings together these two aspects of reality for “…the connection between physical reality and metaphysical principles can be felt in music as nowhere else. “
One of the reasons for this can be found within the wisdom of the Amartya tradition, where the senses have a chronological order of manifesting. Within their Chakra science they have hearing and the arena of sound as the first sense being created within the human blueprint (also known as the Devatapratima). This is located within the Vishudha Chakra (throat area) and represents one of the first interfaces to our sensory and physical existence. The Chakra knowledge can be summarized as an understanding of creation, with each Chakra representing an energetic threshold by which life flows through our human structure; always from top (Cosmic) to bottom (physical). So if hearing is our first sense created…then it is also the sense closest to our origins.
This has many implications, which is why the Amartya, along with many other traditions, revered this particular sense and placed it within the center of their developmental processes. “To gain spiritual knowledge, there must first be a heroic act…which requires a fearless willingness to listen.” This was the original definition of Faith; the ability to listen from a state of silence. From this listening comes the ability to discern, which then gives us an understanding of which actions and paradigms are suitable for our awakening.
Here we have sonic symbolism at its finest…for we are taking a routine action like hearing and listening…and then applying it to stimulate deeper understandings of our nature. The Amartya tradition had full comprehension of this…and even had a name for this type of understanding: Sruti knowledge, which translates as heard knowledge.
So the question then becomes, how do we hear these ephemeral vibrations of wisdom? The answer is letting go…to sacrifice all that we consider to be true. According to Marius Schneider, an anthropologist and sonic philosopher, the ability to sacrifice forms man’s greatest power and gift…and that “the start of any true advance must be accompanied by a readiness for sacrifice and involvement.” He later states that sacrifice is a spiritual and vocal process: “a sound sacrifice, a song by which man surrenders his word, which is his innermost substance.“
This song has also been called the “praise song,” for the embodiments of sacrifice and gratitude were considered companions in many theologies. The praise song represented the preparedness to acknowledge and stimulate all things through praise…and formed the power from which everything arose. This is expounded within the Vedic tradition, where the Sanskrit word for singing praise (ark) also denotes achievement and growth. This cosmological reference is emphasized within the Rigveda, where it was said that the “First the gods created the song, then agni (fire), then the dispenser of sacrifice.” Also, within the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:
At the beginning there was nothing here, for this world was shrouded in death and hunger, for death is hunger. He then created Manas (will for existence), for he desired to be a (physical) self. He was transformed while singing praises, because he sang praises, water appears, for he spoke: ‘because I sang praises (ark) I became joyful (ka).‘
Similar sentiments can be found within the Western sphere, where philosophers such as Giorgio Ansemli find meaning within the praise song.
The tireless soul of the whole world, indeed, sings with the same [harmony] its ceaseless praise to the eternal, most high and all-benevolent Governor by means of the celestial motions, with which the holy throngs of blessed spirits, sweetly echoing, contend in song and in the ineffable beauty of their rivaling hymns…
Praise and sacrifice are thus intricately linked in our efforts to reveal our humanity…for it is when we give praise that we end up giving back to the source from which all gifts are bestowed. This is important because it enforces the connection between us and our cosmic environment…thus allowing us to serve as a conduit for universal energy. It also allows us to reenact the process of sacrificial creativity in order to better understand the process of our emergence. To best illustrate this point, I would like to refer to a sonic creation myth from the Sufi tradition…one that has been reawakened in the West by musical master and mystic: Hazrat Inayat Khan.
…God made a statue of clay in His own image, and asked the soul to enter into it; but the soul refused to be imprisoned, for its nature is to fly about freely and not to be limited and bound to any sort of capacity. The soul did not wish in the least to enter this prison. Then God asked the angels to play their music, and as the angels played the soul was moved to ecstasy, and through that ecstasy, in order to make the music more clear to itself, it entered this body. And it is told that Hafiz said, ‘People say that the soul, on hearing that song, entered the body; but in reality the soul itself was song!
The lesson becomes very clear: our Soul sacrificed it’s ecstasy to understand itself more clearly, which happened through a revealing of its sonic and vibratory nature.
- Godwin, Joscelyn. Cosmic Music: Musical Keys to the interpretation of Reality; Essays by Marius Schneider, Rudolf Haase, Hans Erhard Lauer. (Inner Traditions International: Rochester, 1989): 39.
- Lass J. Norman and Charles M. Woodford. Hearing Science Fundamentals. (Mosby: Maryland Heights, 2007): 52.
- Saliers, Don, E. Music and Theology. (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2007): 342
- Danielou, Alain. Music and the Power of Sound: The Influence of Tuning and Interval on Consciousness. (Inner Traditions International: Rochester, 1943): 1.
- Ibid, 1.
- Himadra, Aaravindha. Immortal Self. (Sambodha Publications: Deer Harbor, 2013): 78.
- Ibid, 69
- Godwin, Joscelyn. Cosmic Music: Musical Keys to the interpretation of Reality; Essays by Marius Schneider, Rudolf Haase, Hans Erhard Lauer. (Inner Traditions International: Rochester, 1989): 36.
- Ibid, 37.
- Ibid, 37.
- Ibid, 38.
- Ibid, 38.
- Godwin, Joscelyn. The Harmony of the Spheres: A sourcebook of the Pythagorean Traditions. (Inner Traditions International: Rochester, 1993): 342.
- Khan, Hazrat, Inyat. The Mysticism of Sound and Music. (Shambhala: Boston, 1996): 75.
About The Author
Amardev: I’m a philosopher at heart, founder of http://improvpd.com/. Specifically, I am fascinated by the philosophy of the creative process…which is what I explored for my BA and Masters. A big part of that exploration involved meditative techniques…for it became apparent that cultures throughout history utilized these practices to optimize creative endeavors. This has become my life’s passion…and how I wish to be of service to humanity. I wish to facilitate uninhibited creativity…so that individuals and communities can discover joy and self-acceptance in every phase of life.
While my first artistic medium involved the arena of sound and music…I have recently fallen in love with the process of improvised theater. When I took my first improv class, I was completely taken by its universality. It didn’t matter what task I was engaged in…the precepts and principles of improv could…without fail…be applied to the process at hand. It’s no wonder that this meme, appropriately named applied improv, is beginning to spread through professional circles…for its sincerity promotes a creative innocence often lacking in the workplace. Ultimately, humans were designed to play…to have fun in their endeavors so that it becomes second nature to go beyond what was thought to be possible. This is how we embody efficiency and effectiveness…for when we are inspired…our inherent creativity will kick in to handle any task imaginable…or unimaginable. I am delighted to have found this avenue for expression…and to synthesize it with meditation to enhance the lives of others.
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