Sing from your heart, listen attentively with love
The founder of the Sikh Way of Life, Guru Nanak, was great believer in the power of singing and utilizing breath (prana) to sing from the soul and connect to the universal spirit’s beauty and virtues. The line quoted above is from the composition called Japji Sahib. Japji Sahib shares the foundation of Sikh Spirituality. In Sikhism, there is an emphasis on working through one’s inner journey and abide by certain key tenets: embrace your individuality, live life virtuously and in service, and understand the purpose of all your actions. The spirit behind all creation is eternal and ephemeral. Singing and listening with love opens the connecting gates for us to this promising truth.
The redemptive effect of soul lifting music was beautifully depicted in the movie Shawshank Redemption. In a depressingly grey atmosphere, the protagonist decides to play opera music. A deeply depressing scene becomes alive as hope dances on the faces of all the inmates.
Guru Nanak knew that singing was present around nature, and was not just a human creation. He was enamored by songs of birds and their affect on human emotions. In the holy book of Sikhs, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the following quote beautifully expresses the love for song birds:
Babiha Amrit Vele Boliya Ta Dar Suni Pukar
Meghe Nuun Furman Hoa Varso Kirpa Dhar
SGGS Page Number 1285,Salok Mahala Teeja, Raga Malaar
(Babiha, the song bird, sang in the nectar hours of early morning and then the universal spirit heard his call, The timeless heard the prayer and ordered the rain ( mercy and compassion) to fall )
Raga Malaar ( Malhar in Hindi) is mainly sung during Monsoon Season.In his book Your Brain on Music, the author Daniel Levitin, shares how the human ear loves bird song, insect chirping, and sound of water falling. During research for this blog, I have pleasantly discovered that the bird Brown Thrasher can sing 2000 songs, and a Horney Chaffinch can sing half a million different tunes with perfect melody in one season. A Hermite Thrush is very special – one could say an Einstein of the world of birds. It sings on a perfect mathematical substrate that follows harmonic intervals in recognizable pitches. We love bird song due to the fact that the receptors for music in the bird and human brains are similar. Bird song has a profound effect on our parasympathetic nerves, creating the relaxing hormone oxytocin. Realizing this phenomena, the BBC network plays Bird Songs for 90 seconds every morning.
In some parts of Africa, a woman before conceiving creates spiritual song and for inspiration by taking daily refuge in the wilderness. Putting faith in the thought that it will provide guidance to the child under all circumstances, she shares the song with all the woman close to her so the song can be sung after the child is born. On every important turn in the child’s life, the song is sung (including the unfortunate case of a child’s death). Research shows that this tradition of song can have a profound positive affect on a child’s journey.
Guru Nanak strongly believed that the best song is the one that extolls the beauty and virtues of the enigmatic mystery. Listening to the song with inner silence and following the instructions received with loving heart primes the soul to discover its true nature. The Guru Granth Sahib is the only religious body of work that is completely organized by musical substrate of ragas. The technical mastery is important but not necessary; it is the loving emotion which counts. Music divorced from emotions is akin to meaningless noise. The included ragas have been purposefully chosen as they do not elicit extreme emotions or excitement or sadness, but rather provide balance. go away. Guru Nank in the next line says:
Dukh Parhar Sukh Ghar Ley Jaaye
(All the sufferings go away and Joy steps in its place)
In the silent space during the active listening, a unique path ideally suited to persons true nature appears. Following the path with loving action makes all the sufferings go away.
Grief and pain are eternally fresh and ever present in our lives. We tend to hopelessly attach to our sufferings, which are born out of attachment to vanity and false pride. Singing, listening and actively following the inspiration ignites million candles of inner prayers spreading a light of contentment, and helps us to come into our true being and becoming. An experience of radiating joy replaces suffering and angst. The wound of the soul heals.
Further he states that in this state of eternal joy, the words of Guru make us experience a cosmic sound of unstruck sound. A sound which originated at the time of creation and like radio signals from galaxies generated by big bang are still reverberating throughout all the creation. In the same line he further states that the word of Guru are wisdom, a guiding light shinning our path.
Connecting with eternal virtues and wisdom by experiencing the unstruck sound and living those virtues with wisdom by Guru’s grace makes our hearts still. The lost soul rediscovers itself and we get freedom from tyranny of judgmental thought. The walls of judgment that separate us from others fall apart. We realize that the entire universe is connected as seamlessly as time. Through the new eyes of our reengineered soul we begin to appreciate that all souls are born from the same creator and all are uniquely gifted. A sense of universal brotherhood dawns. William Yates expressed this transformation in the following poem:
We can make our mind so still like water, that beings gather around us
That they may see their own images,
And so live for a moment with a cleaner perhaps even a fiercer life
Because of our quite when we become still. We become a mirror to our own heart
And mirror to others, we are not caught in judgment.
Guru Nanak was totally enamored by the mystery of universe and was always in a state of wonder. While gazing at the celestial bodies he would get into melodic trance and sing praises of the creative force behind the universe.
During gatherings of spiritual seekers at his place, the congregation would join him in singing while his companion, Mardana, played the rabab (a string instrument). The rise of collective compassion and communion would levitate the earth. All the fear from their hearts from fear of being exhumed would sprint to center core of the earth. Power healing. All sorrows eloped with their underpinnings and loving light rushed in. The ensuing joy radiated a sense of beauty and a feeling that they were an integral part of the beauty, not separate from it.
In the modern era, there is ample proof of the healing power of song. For example, war veterans who attend the singing ceremonies at American Indian Reservations and follow the inspirations are able to handle PTSD a lot better than others. Studies show that the healing effect is powerful and a high percentage stop substance abuse and have far less bouts of violence, as compared to those who undergo conventional treatments.
While thinking about the effect of spiritual singing with active listening and following the inspiration with love, I remembered a hymn which was popularized by a blind hymn singer around 60 years ago. His name was Bhai Gopal Singh and he with his group use to sing at Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh Temple.
Jhim Jhim Verse Amrit Dhara, Man Peevey Sun Shabad Beechara
Anad Binod Kare Din Ratee, Sada Sada Har Kela Jeeo.
Guru Arjan Dev Jee (Fifth Guru)
(As a result of engaged singing with listening) Slowly and gently drop by drop, the stream of nectar of immortality trickles down within. The mind drinks it in by reflecting on the meaning of the wisdom being conveyed)