Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Music in the Age of Conflicts

According to a Hindu teaching, we’re at the tail end of the Kali Yuga, the Age of Conflicts.  Unfortunately, we can see for ourselves the discords and conflicts that pervade life on earth today. Conflict is rife in impoverished as well as advanced countries  like the United States.   This so-called  reign of Kali is evident in at least three ways.


The first is within ourselves.  Our inner conflicts are real enough and can dominate our lives. Perhaps one clear indicator of being in conflict with oneself is suicide.   The data is complicated, but suicide is a leading cause of death among children and teenagers in America, a country ruled by the cult of the gun and the worship of money.  The happiest nations have the higher rates of suicide, but it’s the people at the bottom that mostly kill themselves.  Needless to say, suicide is the most extreme symptom of inner conflict.  Most of us experience our inner conflicts in less extreme ways that we call neurosis and psychosis.


The second place is on the field of murderous battle—between groups of people, sometimes between nations.  Accounts vary but about forty wars are at present underway on our polluted planet, the most perilous the one the Russians are waging against Ukraine, a war in danger of mushrooming into atomic conflict.  Conflicts are rooted in ideological differences.  In the United States, the conflict is between the two governing parties, marked by further divisions in the factions themselves, that spill over into forms of mutual annihilation.  Kali’s hand is at work in family life, in news media and platforms, and in the entertainment industries.


There’s a third category of conflict that only recently has become horribly evident. This is the conflict between humans and the natural environment.  The assault on nature has been catastrophic—the result of flooding the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.  Habitat destruction and species extinction are off the charts.  Droughts, floods, tornadoes, water shortage, killer heat waves, pollution of rivers and seas, new pandemics pending, food shortage, and so on.  The third category is worsening by the hour.


So, we’re in conflict with ourselves, with other human beings, and full scale with all aspects of the natural world.  How could music make a difference?  The connecting link between music and conflict is harmony and rhythm. Music, in a deep metaphoric sense, is any way we can harmonize with our experience, with ourselves, with the people and world around us.  In this sense, music is the art of living in harmony, in rhythmic accord, with all the categories of possible experience.   



Understanding music in this way, life itself becomes the instrument we use to make our ‘music.’ This more comprehensive  idea of music requires that we practice and learn to improvise.  Every situation of life presents an opportunity to make ‘music’ in the creative way we attempt to conduct ourselves.  This expanded idea of music reminds us of the Muses, the Greek goddesses that dwell on Mount Helicon who inspire all forms of creativity—artistic, moral,  and scientific. 


There is a sense of music I want to entertain that takes us back to Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher, born in Samos around 560 BC, a mathematician who discovered the theorem after his name. He also was the first to discover the mathematics of vibration, the scales and intervals of music.  Pythagoras spoke of the so-called “music of the spheres,” based probably on an unusual experience of transcendent music he is said to have had.


There is a well known phenomenon I describe in the Yoga of Sound, sometimes reported in near-death experiences, a kind of multi-voice chorus of ecstatic music.  Scott Rogo wrote two books on the subject, full of first-person accounts of this amazing experience, which occurs in various circumstances.


Pythagoras devised a model of science that went out of fashion with the rise of mechanistic science and modern technology. He believed in reincarnation, and founded a vegetarian community.  Music and science were stepping stones toward a life of peace and friendship, and the good life was based on harmonic values and practices.  


This Pythagorean is the exact opposite of the prevailing paradigm of science today.  Science today is the absolute, cringing, no-cost-barred servant of two things that are destroying our planet: militarism and consumerism.  The  U.S. 2023 military budget, with an upgrade of our world-destroying nuclear arsenal, is $886 billion.  Pythagoras would have us use that $886 billion and all military personnel to clean up the environment; educate, feed, heal the needy and the forgotten: indeed, aim to create a paradise for all life forms.  But the possibility of this depends on getting rid of the prevailing materialist mindset.  


As far then as music and the Age of Kali, two points are worth recalling. First, no matter what the future may bring, music, in the wide sense suggested above, can serve as and ally in the art of living.  But the power of the alliance depends on how much of us we invest in our chosen life-affirming practice.


The sayings and stories in my book about Nada Brahmananda make good company.   His message was, no matter who you are or where you are, you can always be learning to tune into the infinite vibe that is deep within us all.   Just keep tapping with your foot, your mind on the one point of light.

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