I have been a musician for some 40 odd years now. I have always had a love for music so if I am not playing it I am usually listening to it. I have always been amazed by how if you are listening to the music that happens to match your mood that it can connect to your heart and spirit unlike anything else. I love to listen to all the little details and how all the instruments interact and harmonize with each other. The interactions of the rhythms, melodies, and harmonies are an audio reflection of how the entire universe interacts on a grand scale. The notes are our small “self” and the composition is our “Universal Self”, all totally related and dependent on the others. If we can begin to appreciate this we can begin to understand the mysteries of the universe. I cannot say it better than the very amazing and underappreciated scientist, inventor, and visionary Nikola Tesla said:
“If you wish to understand the universe, think of energy, frequency and vibration”
About three days ago I was at work and a co-worker turned on some music on his computer to pass the time. As soon as the music started I knew that something was not right. Over my time as a musician I have developed a pretty keen sense of pitch. Something was terribly wrong with this music as many of the instruments sounded out of tune with each other. This was most prominent in the lower frequencies. I asked him “What is wrong with your music?” He replied that he didn’t hear anything wrong. Now he is a little bit of an older gentleman and I know that his hearing is not the best either. So I went over to his computer to hear what was going on in more detail. Without a doubt it sounded like some of the instruments were out of tune. He was using youtube so I just went to a different song and it was doing the same thing. So I moved to a different computer and brought up youtube and went to a different channel entirely. It was the same! Then I started wondering if youtube had done something to their software or maybe the player had been upgraded and there was a bug. The whole time my co-worker kept insisting that he thought that it sounded fine. In the end I had to turn the music off because it bothered me so much to listen to the instruments out of tune that it actually started making me feel sick to my stomach. 😦
A few hours later the next shift arrived. One of my co-workers that was coming on shift had a fairly deep voice. When he started talking I was shocked that I heard, mixed into his voice, what sounded like a Cylon (a robot/android character from a 70’s T.V. series, I believe Battle Star Galactica)! This was very surreal and I have to admit a bit scary. I did not hear this when my other co-worker with a bit higher voice spoke. At this point I was very confused and a little bit worried. So when I went home I put some music on my stereo and found that I was hearing the same out of tune instruments, it just didn’t make sense. Finally I started wondering if something could be wrong with my hearing? So I did a google search of hearing problems related to frequency. A disorder called Diplacusis came up. When I read the symptoms they were exactly like what I am experiencing. So I have made an appointment to see the hearing specialist tomorrow. Hopefully they can figure out if this is what I have or is it something else. Needless to say I was heartbroken. 😦
When I was on my recent trip to Laos we went to see a place they call the “Buddha Park”. It was a really nice park filled with various Buddhist statues and other figures. One section that caught my eye was a set of statues that showed different stages of a person’s life. The statues were sort of basic but a bit on the whimsical side. The showed a man and a woman as little children, then grown up, then getting married. Then there was what to most westerners would seem very odd (but actually still happens here), it was when the man took on a second wife! Lastly they showed the couple in old age and then in death. After seeing this I got to thinking about the different ways westerners, like me, and Asian Buddhist view life. Asian Buddhist see death as just another part of life. It is very different and one of the many reasons that westerners have some difficulty trying to understand Buddhism and often see it as negative in its outlook, maybe even morbid.
We in the west are accustomed to a way of thinking and hear phrases form a very young age like, “Look on the bright side”, “Think Positive”, and “There’s always a cloud with a silver lining”. When you were young if you asked your mother something like “Gramma’s getting old, when do you think she will die?” Something that would certainly come out of a youngster’s mouth. Your mother would likely chastise you and say “Don’t ever say things like that, it’s not nice!” In fact I would bet that most of you from the west, when you were young your parents probably never talked about death unless someone in the family actually died. The response when they found out that Uncle Joe who was 80 years old died would be” I can’t believe he is gone” “How could this have happened to him, he seemed so healthy?”
So when we are trying to learn about Buddhism and there is so much talk of death and suffering it is no surprise that we get uncomfortable and feel that it seems negative. What we have to understand is that the main goal of Buddhism is understanding reality as it truly is. Not how we would like it to be. We have to ask ourselves “Does pretending that everything in life is positive make it so?” “Does not talking about death stop it from happening?” I think that we all know the answers to these questions. So why do we go on pretending?
Does this mean that we should go around focusing on the negative things in life? Does this mean that we should give up because in the end we are all going to die? No, of course not. You need to have a balanced view that is in line with reality. Pretending that life is all a bowl of cherries does not help us or prepare us for life’s challenges. There are immensely beautiful things in life to cherish and enjoy. But at the same time there is much sorrow and suffering as well. Pretending that the negative things in life don’t exist does not keep them from happening. I am not saying we should go around viewing the world in a negative way like Schleprock thinking that we have a cloud over our head! I learned long ago that when our western mind encounters a new Buddhist teaching we often have to turn it on its head so that we can see the beauty in it.
We have re-enforced the notion of our lasting individual self since soon after we are born. So of course when we learn the Buddha’s teaching on Anatta (not-self) it is not an easy thing to accept. We like our “selves”!! 🙂 Why do I have to get rid of me? The answer is simpler than we think. We don’t have to get rid of the “self” because there is no lasting, abiding, permanent “self” to get rid of. The struggle for us because we are so attached to this thing we call the “self” is just to realize with our whole being the truth in this teaching. You may say “Well isn’t it wrong to deny our “self”? No it is not because no matter how much we tell “ourselves” that we do exist, the reality is that we don’t! At least not the way we have conditioned “ourselves” to think we do. What happens when you turn this teaching on it’s head? You realize that the reason that you don’t exist as a separate “self” is that you are connected to everything else in the universe. You are everything in the universe, you are the universe itself! Well some may think “Well that’s nice but I am still sad about losing myself” 😦 What is it that every living thing fears? It is death. If there is no “self” as we know it to be, then there is no death as we know it to be either!! No death, No fear, No suffering! 🙂
Another way to turn what first appears to be negative around is like this. If you go through your life pretending that those you love and care about will be around forever when reality comes and Uncle Joe dies you feel a sense of surprise and shock! How can this be, how could this have happened. If you spend some time considering the reality of what we think of as death it will help minimize the shock and surprise. If it is no longer a surprise then it no longer will be a shock. No it will not stop the pain we feel from the separation of a loved one but having a realistic expectation of death will help to lessen this. The most important thing that will happen from a healthy understanding of the realities of what death truly is that we will get more out of life! The one that we love is still here, all around us! The reason that death comes as such a shock and surprise to us is that we simply pretend that it isn’t going to happen and don’t have a true understanding of what it means. So while these loved ones like Uncle Joe are still with us we take them for granted. Death does not come by old age alone. So it is so important to realize this. Think of all the people that you care about. No matter how difficult it is to think about they could be gone tomorrow. When was the last time you truly told them how much they mean to you? When was the last time you spent any real time with them. I can bet you were thinking that you would get around to it. That is the problem with our way of thinking. It is like the Cinderella song “You never know what you got, until it’s gone”. That is because while they are still here our way of thinking is, “There is always tomorrow, I will tell them how I feel next time I see them, I really should tell them I am sorry, I ought to go see Uncle Joe sometime to see how he is doing”. Isn’t it more sad to realize that you meant to see Uncle Joe for the past few years but didn’t? Now you can’t because the reality is as it has always been and Uncle Joe is dead. Wouldn’t it have been better to realize how lucky we are to have the ones we love and care about right now because we understand that they may not be here tomorrow? Wouldn’t you act differently if you had this understanding? Isn’t taking full advantage of the time you have with them as a result of this understanding a beautiful thing? 🙂
We have to appreciate the fact of the Buddha’s teaching of Impermanence. Nothing last forever. One minute I could listen to the beautiful melodies that spoke to my heart and the next they were a dissonant mess that made me sick to my stomach. Do you think that I am not crushed inside that I did not play my instrument one more time or just listen to one more song? Well I, like you, thought the music would always be there, I never thought about the day when the music died. 😦