Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Movement, Echoes and Awakening Playlist by Bodhiron

This playlist begins softly with the beautiful a cappella voice of Deva Premal slowly and richly chanting a famous verse from the Heart Sutra: Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha. This mantra within the Heart Sutra is said to relate to the Buddha’s experience of enlightenment. It translates roughly as: Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond, Gone Completely Beyond, Hail this great Awakening! It sets an excellent meditative tone for the beginning of a class. By "Gone Beyond" is meant turning the attention away from the distractions of everyday mind and entering into the sacred space that is always available when we go beyond discursive thought.

A slightly more up tempo rhythmic beat from Gabrielle Roth follows, a piece called Prairie Ruin from her album Ritual. Roth composed music for the five tempos of her groundbreaking sacred movement practice she called Sweat Your Prayers. I personally attended these religiously in Portland for quite a while, and probably a million other people as well danced themselves into emptiness of a Sunday morning listening to her songs. The beat of the music and even the title of the album Ritual hint at the possibility of being seized by some archetypal force.

From the great album by Girish called Shiva Machine I have taken the cut called Sita Ram. A tasty bass line bounces this piece along at a steady clip and a yogi can imagine opening up into a few big Sun Salutes as the female backup singers enter the mix. Girish is a Hindu name which means "lord of the mountain" in Sanskrit. Girish the musician spent years chanting these songs as a monk in a spiritual ashram in the mountains of Tennessee and his work rings with that element of authenticity. He is also a drummer and that sense of rhythm naturally pervades the whole album. The "Sita" and "Ram" of the cut title refers to the hero and heroine of the great Hindu epic the Ramayana, itself a great read in several English translations.

Girish was a sideman for Krishna Das at one time, Krishna Das being the pre-eminent Kirtan chanter who received his early spiritual training and name from Neem Karoli Baba, also famously the teacher of Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now and Bhagavan Das, American teacher and musician. Krishna Das told his teacher he would show his devotion back in the U.S. by singing songs. This selection called Township Krishna is a sweet mash of reggae beat and the Hare Krishna or Maha Mantra. I have seen Krishna Das a couple of times in Portland, first in a packed performance at the Old Church and then again with Deva Premal, Miten and Manose at the Crystal Ballroom on upper Burnside. That venue was also packed. Krishna Das masterfully was able to involve the audience, effectively turning us into enthusiastic participants in the call and response of this traditional devotional style.

Donna De Lory came out of the background as a vocalist for Madonna and has moved to the forefront of yoga beat music with a light but sure touch as she demonstrates on this next cut, He Ma Durga. This Sanskrit chant means roughly "Hail to the great dark mother," in this case dark, meaning powerful, rich and full of all capacities. I love that the word "Ma" as we have it in English and so many other languages is cognate to the ancient Indo-European version, and so means maybe the universal mother but also the real, great and nurturing Mom that raised up each one of us.

Less traditional perhaps but very popular on Jango Radio where I have it uploaded is my own composition Thunder, Flute, Monk and Loon in Kyoto. This piece is more of a soundscape that might take place in a Japanese Zen Garden where a few musicians and other characters have randomly gathered on a cloudy day for an impromptu meditation. I was also thinking of a Basho Haiku poem I like: "Although I dwell in Kyoto, when the Cuckoo sings, I long for Kyoto." Kyoto was the actual capitol of Japan for hundreds of years. I substituted the loon call for the cuckoo bird in my piece, but each is equally as evocative. For me the poem hints at the nostalgia we can feel for a place called home, even while we may be in our physical home, and this feeling implies another level of presence that is possible. And maybe it is really being connected with that deeper presence that makes a place home in the sacred sense, or helps us to feel at home wherever and whenever we might be.

I met Sura of the Temple Bhajan Band when I attended a harmonium workshop he offered at the Yoga Shala of Portland, near my own physical home. His generous spirit was evident in that class as it is obvious in the caliber of the musicians he has gathered around himself for his chant band. This cut in the playlist titled Bhakti Seva or loving service gives a mellow taste of the gritty and skillful kirtan the L.A. performers can cook up.

Eckhart Tolle is the number one spiritual leader in the world, has written at least a couple of best-selling books, gives excellent talks on his internet TV channel, and also apparently has great taste in music. This soothing and shavasana-inspiring track by Kip Mazuy is called Now is Forever, and appears on Eckhart’s release, Music to Quiet the Mind. If Eckhart says it’s so, it is so, but of course the listener can and must experience the very transcendent quality of this composition for him or her self. I realize it also echoes the earlier but more rousing Kyoto tune in the playlist. As I listen, it reminds me of the difficulty one faces in turning the attention away from the unwanted chatter of the mind, and of the reason sages have said shavasana might be the most difficult pose of all, as mental conditioning can arise again as we reach the end of a class.

I close the set with the music I usually use to end my classes in Portland, my own composition called Whistle & Om. I think it has become familiar to people who take my classes, and therefore it has an element of ritual for us that comes from mindful repetition. But they might be surprised to find if they read this that I wrote it, since I seldom mention it, and don’t want them to be distracted from their relaxation, and like sneaking it in, like a gift from an unknown benefactor.

Written by Bodhiron Johnson

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