Words + Music = ???

I love words — all of them. There are no bad words; only bad intentions from those who speak or write them and bad reactions from those who hear or read them. But words alone aren’t up to some tasks.

My teacher, Lama Surya Das, tells a story about Moses. I won’t tell it as well as he does, but it goes something like this:

Moses has a dream in which he comes down from the mountain after communicating with God and sees the Israelites gathered excitedly around tablets with writing on them. He walks up to them and asks what’s going on. They tell him that the tablets contain commandments from God. So Moses walks back up the mountain to ask God about them. God explains that what He had given Moses is beyond words, but what He wrote on the tablets is as close as He can come in language the Israelites would understand.

When it comesPianist Plays Jazz Music to matters of the spirit, words are not enough. We do the best we can with them. We enhance them with meditation, prayer, chanting, dancing, bowing, swaying, singing, visual and auditory art, symbolic gestures, and so on. But in the end spiritual healing, like love, can be experienced, not fully described.

Some religious music takes me into a deep state of spiritual  ecstasy even though the lyrics, taken literally, are far from my beliefs. An example is His Eye Is On the Sparrow, a favorite of mine, which begins:

Why should I be discouraged and why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion, a constant Friend is He,
His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

Listening to this version, for example, moves me even though I grew up Jewish and now follow the Buddha’s path. That’s because I’m hearing the longing and the finding, the universal spiritual wholeness, behind the words. I don’t believe in an external deity who watches over sparrows and me, but I do believe in a force that connects sparrows and me and everything else. I might call it the oneness of all beings, or the Buddha-nature, or the dharma, and others might call it God or Jesus, or nature, but words fail. It’s there and it lifts me from my loneliness.

I thought of that today when I came across another gospel hymn, Rough Side of the Mountain, which you’ll find below. While the Buddha didn’t exactly phrase it this way, the first of his Four Noble Truths is that we’re all on the rough side of the mountain. If you substitute “Buddha” for “Jesus” in the song, it could work. The song doesn’t tell us how to make it “in,” so it could be the Eightfold Path.

OK, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away, but remember that words are not enough. If you’re like me, clicking on the start arrow below will take you someplace sacred, and that’s enough for this moment.

— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)

Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine

2 Comments Add yours

  1. amiezor says:

    Words are never quite sufficient, but words + MUSIC = …
    That something we yearn for. ❤

    I'm so very intrigued by the music that moves you – it differs much from my own! For me, words don't mean as much as the music does. The ring of a Tibetan singing bowl or a string section or a piece with great musical catharsis usually does it for me. Takes me to that place beyond…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      At the winter retreat last month, a wonderful woman came in on Friday afternoon and played the singing bowls, guitar, drums and other instruments. She was amazing. I have her CD but haven’t yet listened to it. Wife took it and I haven’t seen it since. Will need to check with her.

      Liked by 1 person

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