Tune In and Listen
What a huge part music plays in our lives! There is music for every emotion and every occasion – celebrations, funerals, weddings and parties – and it is often played in the background of our everyday lives.
It seems that music is a universal language, expressing what words cannot. Although so many types of music are played throughout the world, people in all cultures are moved by music in similar ways, finding inspiration, release and comfort. John Denver, an American singer-songwriter, explains this when he says:
Music … allows us to experience the same emotions. People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language we speak, what colour we are (no matter what our faith) music proves we are the same.
We find music present in all our places of worship, touching our hearts as it uplifts our spirits. However, Maharaj Jagat Singh says that “the outer music does not feed the soul, but only the mind…. Our aim should be to develop and be one with the heavenly music within.” The mystics tell us about another type of music – they say the whole universe came into being because of Sound and it is this divine melody that reverberates throughout creation. Shams-i-Tabriz says, “The universe was manifested out of the Divine Sound; from it came into being the Light.”
All life in the universe is continuously vibrating – every particle of the entire creation being constantly in motion. This is a scientific fact, and as light and sound are associated with movement, you could say that this sound sings within the entire creation. Saints tell us, based on their own experience, that the divine song is resounding constantly inside every one of us and that contact with it brings deliverance to the soul. Just as it is impossible to describe true love, words can never describe the beauty and power of this music. In the Song of Songs: the Soul and the Divine Beloved, the author tells us:
No song is greater than the song of divine love. It is a melody in the soul and a sweetness of the spirit, a blissful intoxication and an ecstasy of mystic transcendence. It is the power that returns the soul to God, a healing balm that removes all sorrows. It is the one song that eclipses all other songs. Truly, divine love is the song of songs. The loves of this world pale to insignificance by comparison.
The poet John Milton suggests we should blame our own impotent ears if we cannot catch this song:
For how can we, whose spirits are warped earthward, and are defective in every heavenly element, be sensitive to that celestial sound? If our hearts were pure, our ears would resound and be filled with that supremely lovely music of the wheeling stars. Then indeed all things would seem to return to the age of gold. Then we should be immune to pain, and we should enjoy the blessing of a peace that the gods themselves might envy.
The saints confirm that a sound does indeed live within all creation but it is not the physical ears which are able to hear that spiritual sound, it is the listening power of the soul. The problem for us is that the soul is bound up with the mind, the mind is attached to the senses, and the senses are attached to the physical creation. Our minds are so busy listening to the creation that we are not aware of the continual flow of this grand symphony.
This symphony, reverberating within us, is also referred to as ‘the audible life stream’, heard with the ears of the soul. Our soul is a particle of that audible life stream and is filled with a longing to be part of it – but until we become dissatisfied with the outer music that fills our lives we do not seek the inner sound. As long as we are replete and satisfied with all the world has to offer, the inner path remains hidden. But there comes a point when nothing we find, that nothing we do, nothing we have brings satisfaction. We are filled with an inexplicable yearning, a craving for something we can’t even imagine. We are pining for that divine music that will soothe our soul permanently.
If we want to satisfy the soul’s yearning, we need to learn how to hear the call that is coming to it from its home. In Spiritual Discourses, Vol. II, the Master quotes a verse from Soami Ji, saying, “Attach yourself to the unending music of the Word. Other than the Word there is no way to break from this mortal clay pot.” Saints come into the creation to teach us the technique of attaching our consciousness to this “unending music” so that we can break free from the confines of the body. They tell us that although the music is continually sounding, unless we consciously connect with it we will not become free to experience that bliss within. In Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. IV, Maharaj Sawan Singh explains that this current runs through everything, everywhere:
The currents of the Lord pervade everywhere, like radio-waves. His divine music fills all space. Unless we are correctly tuned to it we cannot hear this music. As we grow more and more subtle, we begin to hear clearly its melodies. Shabd is a string which connects everyone and everything with the Lord.
In having this human form we have the capacity and the ability to connect with the Shabd. But even when we are ‘tuned in’ there are so many things that can prevent us from enjoying the spiritual uplift that could be ours. It’s not, as we may first think, physical worldly noise that deafens us, it’s the noise of our thoughts. Maharaj Sawan Singh tells us in Spiritual Gems how to quieten the mind in order to hear with the ears of the soul:
The aim of spiritual practice is firstly and primarily to make the mind still and motionless so that no thought of any kind may disturb it while it is listening to the Sound. As the vibrations of the mind are made quiet, the sound current will of itself become clearer and clearer without any need of putting pressure on the eyes, ears or brain. And for stilling the vibrations of the mind, all that is necessary is to repeat the five holy names with care and attention, so that the mind does not wander.
As we are often reminded in satsang, simran must be done with love to be effective. Repeating the names with a lack of attention will not be effective. Only devoted simran, simran repeated with love, can quieten the mind. Maharaj Sawan Singh in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. IV, says:
Through the True Word one realizes the truth.
Through the True Word one sings the praises of the Lord.
The saints come to teach us how to hear the music of the True Word through the technique of meditation. Saints ‘sing’ their praises of the Lord - that is, they bestow the gift of Nam as described in the poem above - and we love their singing. It captivates us, enthrals us and it enlivens us, far beyond any music of this world.
In the world, if we want to learn to sing, we go to a maestro, a master musician, to learn the art of song. We do whatever it is that they ask us to do. They subject us to boring scales and exercises, to repeating over and over the notes that will train our voices. We devote ourselves to our lessons because we want to sing as beautifully as they do. We cannot help ourselves – the song itself pulls us. Singing gives concentration, as all of the attention is absorbed and entwined with those beautiful sounds, and it is through that concentration that we find a kind of bliss. The difference between this and our concentration on the inner, spiritual sound is that when we reach that level where we merge into the Shabd, we are not playing it – it plays us.
The Lord is our father, and we are his children. Mothers and fathers sing lullabies to their children. Can we remember that feeling of being sung to by our mother or father? Hearing a parent singing to us gave us a feeling of being safe, and this enabled us, without fear or worry, to let go into sleep. Shabd is the melody that the Lord is singing to us, and he is always there by our side. The true form of the Master, which is the light and sound within, is with us every second of our lives, from our first breath to our last, and beyond. Once we get even a tiny taste of that, it is enough to sustain us for life; we then know that we are totally cared for and secure. What parent would let their child go uncomforted? He is always singing to us.
True is the Word
It is sweet Divine Sound.
Nanak sings the virtues of the True One,
And because of this singing he merges with the Lord.
Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. V