Our lives are shaped by the good or bad teachers we’ve had. Not only our school teachers but by anybody that taught us something big and of lasting importance. I want to say something about my music teacher, Nada Brahmananda. My experience of this man was like no other.
One day in the course of a lesson, he mounted an attack on paper as being useless. The only knowledge worth having is what you know “by heart.” He showed me a book listing 460 ragas, melodic lyrics evoking the gods and their moods, meanings, and vibes. They contained a large part of Vedic and Upanishadic philosophy. Nada told me he had them all memorized, the themes, stories, rhythms. He had access to two and a half thousand years of experience inside himself.
He told me that he never read a book in his life. He sings his truth and drums his vision of life. His arguments are vibrations that melt the ego and open the gates of perception. Music for him was the way to transcend the Kali Yuga—the age of conflicts. Music is a boat to a higher form of consciousness, a way to enter a world of ecstatic transcendence.
I asked Nada about the god Krishna portrayed with a flute in his hand. Nada told me stories of Krishna and his flute. When the god arrives and blows on his flute, everybody stops working and ordinary life comes to a stop. He explained to me how each note on Krishna’s flute (six of them) represents one of the human passions, like desire, anger, love, greed, being too critical, and so forth. The point is to sublimate all those inferior passions into the highest forms of consciousness through music. Practice of your art form becomes practice for your freedom and enlightenment.
No less important, the sacred music enchants wild animals, and violence is magically transformed into peace. Sound useful? Instead of ferocity, amity? We need to remind ourselves if the daily news fails to inform us. It really is a mystery. Why is the most evolved species of life on earth—human beings? Why are they the most violent and murderous creatures on the planet? Age of Kali indeed!
Music is made of rhythm and harmony, a source of transforming power. Music is a wand of hope in the Age of Kali. The main teaching I got from Nada: Music, art, harmony are metaphors of how to live, how to be with yourself, and how to unite with the whole of living nature.
The great challenge for every person is to discover the ‘music’ and ‘harmony’ in their daily living. Every experience has its own rhythm and harmony. Learn to riff on the harmonics of whatever you experience, especially the small things and unexpected encounters. Harmony is the meme we need, an antidote to the ceaseless stream of horrors we daily hear about or must endure.
Knock on the wrong door or accidentally step on somebody’s toe and you may get blown away by an AR-15. Everyday life in America has become precarious. We need to invoke the spirit of the Muses to calm the gun-crazy paranoiacs who prefer the blast of guns to the music of the spheres.