Transcending All Separations in Sound

Cover Picture
 The energy of sound and its perception is an ancient force which has mostly been overwhelmed and replaced by visual energy in modern times. Today, people cannot often surrender themselves entirely to listening, to soaking up pure sound for its own sake, without meaning or pictures or associations, or to listening to each other wholeheartedly without judging.

It is intellectually accepted that the energy of sound is composed of vibrations, but how many people regard sound in this way? Opening oneself so that the vibrational patterns of incoming sound can merge with one’s personal vibrational receptors and then allowing the physiology to react without blocking, is rare. This ‘allowing’ oneself to be touched and moved by vibrational patterns is an important dimension of healing, or apprehending the invisible world, of being fully alive. 

In this way, we can maintain contact with the universe and the magical forces of Nature. Receiving sound and merging with it is our true energetic nature. It balances, it moves with our energies, never remaining still. This is the expression of pure life. Buddhists call it the Dharma, Chinese chi, Christians spirit, the ancients, Harmonices Mundi – the Music of the Spheres. We can see this balance and dynamics in the design of this magnificent temple Byodo-in below.

The ancients, our ancestors, were closely in touch with sound. They knew that if they could produce it in certain skillful ways, they would be able to balance not only the immediate environment and the sensing beings in it, but also contribute to the massive banks of sound of indestructible energy stored in the universe. 

Today, sound tends to be a fashion statement, mass-produced, elitist, wallpaper, an accompaniment to images, an escape from reality and natural life. Urban environments are populated by people pursuing status and wealth who spend their leisure time plugged into devices which receive sound, but are they truly listening and not just using ‘their’ sound to shield them from reality and assert their individuality and separateness? Some might say that plugging in and becoming impervious to others or the natural universe is a violent act of arrogance or deliberate isolation from others, a refusal to be aware.

Sound has nowadays become a commodity listed in a ‘purchases’ category, or downloaded to ‘my playlist,’ or even stolen from its producer without rightful payment. We are the consumer, pinning down what we have paid for, appropriating it and turning it into our knowledge and materials to build our profile with. This is a travesty of sound. It is not a commodity.

Ancient Chinese philosophy and medical systems viewed all life in terms of Yin and Yang, the opposites of energy or matter, which are never static but in a constantly changing relationship of balance. The four seasons are a notable example of this. Others are darkness and light, sun and moon, feminine and masculine. The five elements of the universe, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, are essential to balance also. Fully cognizant of this, ancient people strived to make musical instruments, which would fulfill this need.

In Korea, the zither was created according to these principles. There were two types: one which is known as the female and the other the male. The I Ching, an ancient Chinese text used for divination, refers to them as instruments reflecting the ‘resilience of woman’ and ‘the braveness of man.’ Modern discontented people may object to this seeming gender discrimination or segregation, but it is a fact that the universe operates on such contrasts. 

It is only in the mundane visible world that we make such differences, such separations. In the ‘invisible’ world of sound and spirit, there is no real separation into genders, no attachment to differences: so, we can and must transcend such separations. 

The female Gayageum has silk strings plucked and struck with the bare hands to give a range of sensitive sounds. The male Geomungo also has silk strings, thicker to produce a lower tone, 16 frets, and is struck with a bamboo stick to produce a percussive sound. Two different qualities can harmonize together to create a whole. 

The shapes of both instruments are strongly influenced by Yin and Yang. Both the Gayageum and Geomungo have a prominent rounded front representing the vault of the heavens, while the back is flat, representing the Earth; the front is constructed from softwood of the Paulownia tree, while the back is made from hardwood of the chestnut tree. The hollow interior of the Gayageum represents the 6 directions, 4 cardinal compass points and up and down, and its 12 strings the calendar. Flat versus rounded, soft versus hard, plucked versus strummed: all of these are aspects of Yin and Yang, and all necessary for balance.

The Geomungo has only 6 strings each with a name: the two outer strings are bungen, the civilian, and bugen, the soldier, characters or types which appear in the I Ching. If their conflicts can be harmonized, then the glories of music have triumphed over the lower minds of humans. The Geomungo gradually was withdrawn from use as a concert instrument to entertain an audience to be employed solely as an aid to spiritual elevation.

Sound is sacred. If we live our daily lives with this awareness, it will help us to live naturally, without friction in our interactions with others, or in our general performance in the visible world. 

Kind words, sincerity and unconditional love need to be the main constituent of our vocal utterances in everyday transactions. This combined with the gift of truly listening to each other, to genuinely receiving the sound utterances of others, will once again create balance in the wider perspective.

Images: Courtesy of Megapyxl –

Byodo-in Temple in Kyoto, Japan – <b>© <a href=”https://www.megapixl.com/sepavo-stock-images-videos-portfolio”>Sepavo</a&gt; | <a href=”https://www.megapixl.com/&#8221; title=”Premium Stock Photos”>Megapixl.com</a></b>

Beautiful Peacock Roof Design – <b>© <a href=”https://www.megapixl.com/lucyinsisu-stock-images-videos-portfolio”>Lucyinsisu</a&gt; | <a href=”https://www.megapixl.com/&#8221; title=”Premium Stock Photos”>Megapixl.com</a></b> of megapxyl.com and Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments, Japan.

Sound Healer’s web banner – <b>© <a href=”https://www.megapixl.com/nikkizalewski-stock-images-videos-portfolio”>Nikkizalewski</a&gt; | <a href=”https://www.megapixl.com/&#8221; title=”Premium Stock Photos”>Megapixl.com</a></b>

Zithers and player copyright: Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments, Japan.

Temple Chronicle: 29th February

look no further 1

The light of day comes and it goes from my personal theatre. Objects and people come and they go, they wax and wane, as I watch from the gallery. This appearance and evanescence can affect me in two ways, but I am free to choose only one of them.

Either I can swallow the beauty I see as it glimmers and gurgles, calmly enjoying, marveling, weeping, smiling in the centre of the moment, and moving smoothly without flinching on to the next to supersede. I look and listen in absolute trust at these arisings and descendings because I know and accept that they are finite, that they will run only for a limited number of seasons. My indestructible essence of love is the lubricant which brought me to the theatre and will convey me back to the ether high above the lit streets.

Alternatively, I can hold the beauty in my mouth, refusing to let it go, to swallow it, wanting to immortalize it and make it permanent, to possess it so that no-one else can have it. The emotions that arise as a result of the stimulus are negative, inverted, flinching so that they separate me away form everyone else in the world, from my race and from the natural world. They are rooted in my fear that the supply of beauty will end, and so I must create my own stores because I have no shred of trust. My love essence has brought me this far smoothly, but I sabotage it deliberately so that I do not have to leave, and put it aside as spent fuel.

In the same way, I can accept that my form is imperfect as it ages, becoming worn and weathered. I can humbly embrace its decay in concert with all things in the universe, accepting this physical withdrawal of flesh and bone, but constantly delighting at the sights and sounds that flow around me now and here. There is no astringent peak of the taste of fear, just a subdued broad flavor to savour. Everything is exactly as it is. There is no friction of ownership or cloying. I gently polish myself, restrained, quiet – disturbing no-one, content to cherish my steady but gradual evanescence along with that of everything in the universe.

As a saboteur, the taste of fear though momentarily thrilling and rousing will never allow me to feel contentment, will always block the free flow of the essence of love, my spiritual essence. It will always isolate me, remove me from now and here so that I am likely to miss the show entirely. I will become marooned in my archives, dependent on my storehouse, and unable to embody the love that I was endowed with. I will never trust and will live outside the theatre of all life on the wet streets, unable to believe even in the blue ether.

Which will you choose?

uchu-A
This is the final post of this series ‘Temple Chronicle’ for the whole month of February 2016. Each daily entry will be combined into a single continuous document entitled ‘Temple Chronicle: February 2016’ to be stored in the main menu of the site should you want to look back at them.
It is snowing intermittently here in western Japan as the winter austerities come to an end. Spring will be welcomed on 20th March and the year ahead looks bright when viewed from the very centre of the moment in this very spot on the Earth’s crust.

May you have determined exactly what kind of light will you become for the year ahead.

Temple Chronicle: 26th February

let go 4

Materials, possessions, appropriations. Membership. Rivals. Ambition. Boundaries, nationalisms, differences. Ulterior motives, agendas. These are the bywords of life in the world of form. They are either repeated internally consciously or allowed to drone away in the unconscious. They are built into our conditioning and our education, but they are a fabrication, a conspiratorial dream which we are forced to participate in if we want to find human success and respect, and approval from our social witnesses.

700 years ago a small group of Christian mystics moved around Europe defying the dominant Church of Rome and living out the opposites of these bywords in their lives. I was one of them. We had no church, no fabric to ostentatiously display our faith or our liturgies and dogma in; instead, we found secluded meeting places in the mountain passes and forests to listen to those who were ready to receive their final blessings. We had few possessions, needing little to live simply, and our only fabric was understanding. We appropriated nothing for ourselves.

There was no congregation to be a member of and to parade our great virtue in attending regularly, no opportunities to be ‘holy’ before witnesses and then crooked behind the screen. Those who received blessings and joined our numbers themselves did so from their private and total commitment. They did not need encouragement from a group or to feel a sense of belonging in a human way. They had touched their own true nature and realized that spirit is indestructible. They had experienced the full truth of the vast invisible world outside their skin.

We had no personal ambition because we understood that we were only short-stay tenants in our human form. We understood that there was no ‘person’ to have earthly desires, to accumulate and hoard, and so there could be no rivalry with others, no comparisons, no competitions. We understood that our unique spirit wanted nothing except to edify, to build a sacred bridge for each human angel trapped in their body of flesh to escape back into their source.

We served others tirelessly and silently with our unconditional love and compassion. Pure love emanated from each of our precious breaths as we worked behind the scenes of the greatest religious inquisition of all times.

The supreme Church of Love was branded heretical by the materialist Roman Church, by the vendors of expensive pardons and blessings which guaranteed humans entry to heaven. But for us, known as the ‘Good’ Christians, there were no rewards either in the world of form or no-form except for the ineffable joy of being and loving. There was no ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ because hell was this life on earth, and by touching our true nature heaven was possible in this hell. There were no other fictitious realms created by fanatical power-mongers as inducements.

Goodness in human form feels no shame or fear. It is the eternal witness in the oneness of the visible and the invisible. We knew then and we know now that as humans are the world and the way, they will change themselves.

lotus seed pod

Temple Chronicle: 10th February

knowledge 1

It is only the conditioned mind, the bridge or verandah around the house as it is sometimes called, that is sustained by knowledge and cannot tolerate any other kind of sustenance. That clinging, that fastidiousness, is a massive block to freedom.  It is the spoiled child in all of us!

It is impossible to live via knowledge alone, always in its shadow, deeply longing to create it, to possess it, to make it permanent. It is only a ‘means whereby,’ a raft, a rope bridge to cross the roaring torrents threatening to overcome trapped angels. Knowledge consists of useful and fascinating patterns, but it is a digression to make its analysis and amassment our life’s work. Instead, we just need to immerse ourselves in shifting across that unstable bridge and stepping into the infinite field of awareness. Or, simply open the door of the house, and walk inside.

‘Attachment’ needs to be our major concern in our lives as humans. We live mindlessly, constantly searching for a warm place to rest then dozing off there, only to be awakened suddenly by a crisis, a demand, an accusation, a parking ticket, the wisdom of a master. But why do we crave warmth and the oblivion of sleep, intoxication and excess? Why are we desperate for a change of scene, something new, a thrill or the presence of a jester. Dozing and feeding the senses in the pleasure gardens of life is a procrastination, so as Gautauma Buddha and Jesus and all the gurus did, we must go forth now, right now, to find the middle path for ourselves blowing them a kiss as we go.

Tomorrow? Yesterday? They are figments, contrivances, thrown up by the conditioned mind. ‘Nothing is Permanent!’ we are told, and we know it in our knowledge base, but we never actually experience the raging torrents of the energy river beneath us as the masters have.

There is no logic behind a smile, a loving word, an aria, the aroma of nutmeg. Why would we want to turn them into stone libraries, and probably never look at them again? We have bred cultivated versions of flowers in order to preserve them on our human terms, but they are synthetic when compared with the native species that only botanists record the individuality of. Millions of unique seeds, blooms, dead stalks and roots eternally fluxing through infinity – this is giggling of our natural world.

We can inhabit the natural world and unlearn all the knowledge and experience of the mind world by lingering in the stillness and silence between loving encounters. What a glorious tapestry! Stepping into true nature, stillness, silence and the vibrating pulsing energy of live love.

knowledge 5

NB:  please be sure to let go of these words and go beyond for yourself!

Temple Chronicle: 7th February

healing 4

She dreamed that she was talking to a group of people, looking into the eyes of all her spiritual children, when slowly, outside her control, her own eyelids closed and she could not open them ever again.

There was panic all around, urgent movements, many different fingers touching her arms and shoulders, voices of such tenderness and tears rising in the air.  But she continued to talk from her sincere heart, and gradually the sobs and cries died down. She invited everyone to close their physical eyes as she spoke.

‘We need to close our physical eyes so that our inner spiritual eyes will open. For the physical eye, though a remarkable anatomical evolution and a powerful tool, sees only through the graded lenses of the ego. The material world becomes the only reality that it can perceive.  It is blind to the vast invisible world which is our real home.’

It takes practice to be able to look into the physical world with spiritual eyes.  To gaze without taking possession, without categorising or judging, without accumulating worldly status and merit.  To perceive directly instead of interpreting, making copies. The desperate craving of the worldly human incarcerated in constant suffering while careering towards oblivion in their death is acute.  They cannot let go, always hedging their bets, having reserves, in case they are left with nothing and fall into an abyss created by their terrible fear.

This way of looking can dominate in the presence of sacred images.  The serene Buddha images and altar adornments are rendered permanent by the physical eyes; continual shots are taken by the acquisitive camera and then archived.  The master carved sublime images of all emanations of the Buddha so that disciples could overcome this kind of obsessive greed and self-centred cherishing.   The spirit does not need to rely on memories and labels, or stored images.

We have the choice to gaze on these images without greed so that they connect us firmly to the spiritual world. In this way, the spiritual eyes are wide open. Holy sculptures are manifest as permanent in their gold and bronze inside man-made temples exactly so we do not possess them. This is for our spiritual growth.  The Buddha is mere energy just as we are.  We give this powerful energy the name ‘Buddha’ but that label can be abused. To find enlightenment we need to let go of it and allow the power to merge with our own power. To allow all divisions disintegrate.

When will she have paid all her debts?  Debt is such a negative state which worries and disturbs the natural equilibrium.  Debts to parents, to masters, to husbands and wives, to employers; an endless queue of beneficiaries. They make an elaborate maze in the mind which we get trapped in.  This cannot possibly lead to spiritual liberation. If we are in touch with our divine origins, if the flame is lit, then we naturally give to others, we trust unconditionally, we breathe with a genuine smile, and we truly love people because we are not separate from them.  Debt makes us separate and exacerbates the suffering of samsara.  It suspends us in murky water above the mud so that our lotus cannot bloom freely.

If we are motivated to practice spiritually from our thoughts, then this is flawed.  Thoughts are dead things which obscure the truth: They are worthless in spiritual terms.  Spirituality is living organically, is only being in the great stillness and silence.  If we manufacture thoughts of a religious kind and then use them as our propeller, we are creating everything from our side.  This is not the truth, the suchness, the shinnyo, but we can habitually mistake it as such.

And if we merely imitate the masters, cloning ourselves in their likeness, then we are ignorant of our individual mission, our unique spirit. The master engraves Buddha images not only in physical form, one bow for each tap of his chisel but in each disciple’s heart.  We can embody that heart in each moment of our daily lives, living as Buddhas, undistracted by the trivialities of the worldly mind.  This is the only way we can change the suffering world because our environment in the world of flesh is exactly a reflection of our minds. And if our minds expand into the field of consciousness, then the world will truly be a Buddha world.

She is restless in the temple precinct because she is attached to it. It has become her temple and everything is invested in it. Her living space, though full of light and the warmth of loving kindness, has become oppressive because of the outside view.  Beige concrete buildings with identical balconies, impede the view so that she cannot see beyond them to the mountains.  This way of viewing the environment is bedded in her DNA, has been the way of looking of her ancestors for aeons. The view reflects the mind, so she is keen to change it and live in a penthouse. Never content, and she will never be so until she lets go of physical dimensions.

May she put aside her physical eyes, open her spiritual eyes and so live with panoramic vision now and here, plum in the centre of the moment.

May she climb the temple steps of her own divine heart where ownership and mementos are unheard of.

spiritual practice

Temple Chronicle: 5th February

 

higher mind

The objective of all Buddhist training, of any spiritual training, is to first become a better, happier person, and then to look after other sentient beings, developing unwavering respect and compassion in that pursuit. The majority of humans aspire to ascend and so get clarity on themselves and their place in the world. They have deliberately sought a method of getting control of their negative emotions so that they can allow their natural goodness to prevail at every moment.

According to the Buddha, we are each a stupa, a shining tower to house the essence of the Great Truth (Tathata {Skt} Shinnyo {Jpn}), but the divine can only work in us when we are empty of delusions, self-serving desires and attachments. There are numerous ways we can ‘practice’ to realize this emptiness, but there is a danger that we ‘practice’ with ego, becoming attached to the practices themselves, forcing and striving to achieve these states. The word ‘practice’ is unfortunate in many ways because it implies imperfection, apprenticeship, and an impending performance. However, immediate realisations are numerous in the same way that performances can be spontaneous and their performers unknown.

This struggling against the current of the natural, this shouldering and manipulation and grasping by religious means, is perhaps burying our true nature even more deeply. Aspirants in Japan must start from scratch in terms of their faith, so are often initially benefit seekers, believing that they can acquire protection and benefit from the deities. These expectations are ingrained in the popular Shinto practices, and the line between Shintoism and Buddhism is quite blurred. So, they often barge into zealous practice, giving it their best for a probation time, and then, if they are not happier, wealthier and wiser, they may go on to try some other faith path.  These tactics often come from fear and superstition in my experience.

It is interesting and at the same time quite shocking that human beings often long to wipe clean the slate of their beings, to erase everything so that they can be reborn, totally transformed. Many of us view our thinking as flawed so we block it, hide it away; we experience a frisson of guilt at having such thoughts and then bury them, perhaps forever. We have rendered thoughts permanent and visible as everything and everyone else is. But it is possible to just let our thoughts appear, let them surface as detritus or debris in water. We do not need to condemn ourselves for having so-called bad thoughts, in the same way as we do not applaud ourselves for having so-called good thoughts. Thoughts are epehemera.

It is impossible to wipe the slate of our human existence and our spirit entirely clean, unless we synthesize amnesia or undergo brain-washing. Instead, we can adapt and accept – making the effort to free the flow of the water of our life. We humans are essentially beings of light, formless tennants. Water is similarly formless; in its natural state it flows wherever it wants to, wherever it can. Sometimes over-zealous practice can freeze that flow, fixing our nature into a glacier. Emptiness is the free flow of our waters, which are healing and cleansing, refreshing and exuberant.

Once we did not need to make an effort to keep our divine flame alight by spiritual practice. We were truly living out our original nature, flowing freely, merging with the fluid natures of those around us in loving harmony. Then, we learned to utilize the intellectual mind to interfere in this natural process, and our blindness began, leading us to go our own egocentric way towards the secular and personal power.

We may meditate, we may reflect, we may take empowerments and initiations, we may doggedly follow the letter of our teacher’s advice, but we must not lose sight of the truth, the suchness, which is deep inside ourselves, inside our unique stupa. We must not rule out the possibility that our ancestors were divine beings who handed on their divinity through the generations to us, and that in simply being, sitting with ourselves exactly as we are, that spark will burst into joyful flame once again.

The master invites us to appreciate ourselves, our inner beauty, while at the same time making certain we are completely honest with ourselves.  What are we really feeling?  What are we imagining we are feeling?  What are we hoping we will feel?  This is the true basis and function of meditation. Before embarking on a spiritual path, we must come face to face with our deep selves, naked, so that our true nature will be revealed.

Do we truly feel the icy stab of the first pail of water poured over our own warm flesh? Or do we feel it vicariously as our Master pours it? Do we rise before dawn with our entire consciousness, 100% present, in order to watch the reality of the sun rise in the sky, the sun rising inside our sky? Is it really our true nature which takes the prayer beads now, in the centre of the moment, completing it with all our might? Is our stupa dedicated and perfectly purified in order to embody the light of the great truth?

Mindfullness engenders enlightenment.

stupa

Temple Chronicle: 4th February

sorin 1

There is no escape from suffering for Japanese Buddhist lay practitioners. Daily life and stark reality are the anchor of life here: no time for dreams and personal ambitions. Endless conversations about how foreigners practise the teachings of Nirvana often lead to the subject of retreats. Only monastic practitioners here have that opportunity.

The wide temple halls are filled with neat kneelings, the corridors polished with slippers, and escalators well trodden by hordes of attendees who travel long distances. Mass purification is advocated by the founder, the cutting of negative karma achieved in countless ways of purification. Vigorous practice takes on many forms. There is so much to do here to let the clouds of Dharma float freely, the traces of so much massacre and ritual suicide vanish.
Today is the embarkation day for the Masters so it is marks every year at this time. They followed their hearts and their mission to act on their compassion for all beings, giving up their comfortable way of life and of fulfilling the expectations of society. They had no idea what each day would bring for themselves or their children, but they shared the journey totally, supporting each other no matter what. This is what Buddha Shakyamuni did also, in the firm belief that he could overcome anything by walking away from creature comforts, from his family. Cutting off his long hair and giving his princely robes to his servant, he set off into the unknown. There was no belief system to support him, and there were no fellow-travellers. He had only his compassion and his knowledge that suffering was a tool to reach true liberation from the stranglehold of the mind.

We can renounce every day. In your mind, you can die a little death, the death or extinguishing of human craving, human fear. Fear can die and wither away just like the body does, and with that, true nature reveals itself. Fear narrows the spirit, roping it in, forcing the poison of greed and ignorance and hatred through the veins. By letting go of everything we have ever known, standing naked, blind, deaf, decommissioned, in the great stillness and silence, our original goodness can fragrance everything. We become able to wear physical death like a veil, and human life a tunic.

Living with no system or framework to slip unconsciously into: Living full-time in our individual temples of goodness and beauty: Here and Now, truly settled in the dead centre of each second of man’s time with no thought of being anywhere or anyone else, the mists and dust clouds clear so that we embody the divine light. It shines eternally thanks to the enveloping darkness.

Especially here in Japan, the land of the collective conscience, individual and diverse lights are badly needed, and the inner beauty of each soul is bursting to emerge. The fear of not-conforming and being undutiful is a paralysis. The fear of not wearing the masks of ‘following’ or ‘accepting’ are prohibitive to the true flourishing of Buddha Nature, to catching the lightning glimpses of enlightenment which persistently suffuse in the air. The joy of actually overcoming the extreme difficulties of human birth and all hardships to follow is our contentment.

The master gently invites us to put aside duty and compulsion to conform so that our true nature can shine out.

The lotus blooms only when its roots anchor in mud.

reclining Buddha