The Ancient Music
When one looks at this subject from the Eastern point of view one finds that the Eastern idea of music originated from intuition. But the tradition of any art or even science will tell us the same thing. It is only later that man begins to believe in the outer things and forgets the origin, which is intuition. Music according to the ancient people was not a mechanical science or art; music was the first language. The proof of this can be found even now in the language of the animals and birds, who express their emotions and passions to one another, though there are no words, only sounds. It is the combination of the different sounds of the animals and the birds which also has an effect upon the numberless multitudes of the lower creation. If music was the first expressive thing in the lower creation, so it was in mankind also. And since it was the first expression of the emotions and passions of the heart, it is also the last expression of the emotions and passions; for what art cannot express, poetry explains; and what poetry cannot express, is expressed by music. Therefore to a thinker music in all ages will stand supreme as the highest expression of what is deepest in oneself.
When ancient music is compared with modern music, one will no doubt find a gulf which is too vast to span. But if there is anything which gives one some idea of the original music of the human race, it is Eastern music, which still has traces of the ancient music in it. And if it had been considered in the East only as music, it would perhaps not have been kept intact as it has been; but it has always been taken to be part of religion, and that is how it has been preserved for thousands of years through tradition. One might ask how the music of ancient times can be kept pure, as there is always a tendency in human nature to alter things. The point is, that it was always difficult for the human race to change its religion. Anything else might be changed, but there was one thing that was always kept, and that was religion. The religion of the Hindus has come from the Vedanta; and in the Vedanta the fifth aspect named was music, which was called Sama Veda.
One can trace back in traditions, by the study of Hindu music, that thousands of years ago they already made as fine a distinction of tones as quarter-tones. But it was not only the degree of the sound that was considered in that way, but also the nature and character of the sound was analyzed, just as in chemistry. We can find today in ancient traditions the different effects attached to the different notes, whether dryness or liquidity, whether cold or heat. No doubt it is difficult today to distinguish the sounds which express these different effects, because the distinguishing is now done from the instruments, and in those times it was done only from nature. And yet it is most interesting that we find today in the Sanskrit scriptures the different pitch of sound distinguished in ancient times. In the absence of the piano or of tuning-forks they had to determine the pitch by the sound of different animals and birds; and also the sound was distinguished in different aspects of one special thing. This scientific aspect developed in the same way as the art of the ancient Hindu music. One might wonder about this, thinking it perhaps natural that art should develop thus because these people were so near to nature; but that science was so developed at that time is, in a way, more interesting.
Of the way the art developed among the ancient people references are to be found even now in the East. The idea was that they attached different themes of music to different seasons, and different strains of music to different times of the day and night. And as there is nothing in the world which is without reason, that also was not only an imagination or a fancy; there was a logical reason for attributing certain melodies to certain times. If it had been only a poetic fancy, it would have lasted for a short period and would have influenced only a limited circle. But it has lasted for ages, up till now, and has influenced the whole country; it is a usage which was carried on for thousands of years; and today in the East or West, North or South, the same raga is to be found sung at the same time. When sung out of that time, it is not appealing.
When we look at it from the metaphysical point of view, we shall find that the realization that science has today and will ever have, that vibration is at the root of the whole of creation, was a certainty to these ancient people and was the basis of their whole science. They knew that that which has created and which is holding, the whole manifestation and the whole cosmos, is one power: vibration. And it is because of this that astrological science, which had much to do with the way human beings and different countries were influenced, also arose from that science of vibration. And thus music as a science was known by them to have a great deal to do with the influence of the planets and the continual moving and working of the planets and their action upon the earth were the basis of the ragas on which their music was founded.
In the Sanskrit tradition of ancient times there were verses to be found having relation to certain planets. Therefore according to the influence of the planets and of the cosmos, they made their program; and that program was carried out through the whole year. One might think that these influences would be too vague to perceive, that one could not make a program upon the influence of the planets; nevertheless humanity in all periods has arranged its life according to the planetary influences.
In order to keep their music close to nature it was necessary for them to give liberty to the singer and player to sing and play as they wished. Naturally uniformity was lacking, and a standardized system could not be made. That is why their music always remained an individualistic art, not a general education. The music of the ancient people therefore had its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages were this: that a musician, a singer or a player was never bound to sing in a particular way in order to execute properly the music he wanted to place before people, but was always free to give it according to his inspiration at the time. It gave him full liberty to express his emotions, his passions, without any outward restriction which he should obey. No doubt when there were a number of singers and players it was necessary to set a certain standard. Yet that standard did not restrict them very much. And it is this order which was called music.
The word music, or Sangita in Sanskrit, has three aspects. One aspect is language; the other aspect is playing; and the third aspect is movement. The Hindus have never regarded the science of movement or dance as something separate from music; they have always combined the three aspects of what they called music. As the music of the Eastern people developed, each of these three aspects developed also. For instance, the singing of the more refined people was quite different from that of the peasants; the song of the temple was altogether different from the song of the stage. It was not only that there were particular rules and regulations to be followed, a mechanical difference, but there was also a natural difference.
The most important or valuable thing about the music of the ancient people, which so greatly benefited humanity, was that they distinguished the different aspects of music, and thereby came to realize that there was a certain way of expressing the tone and rhythm which brought about a greater emotion or inclination towards action; and they found out, together with this, that there was a certain use of time and rhythm which brought about a greater equilibrium and a greater poise. This science, developing after many years of practice, formed in itself a special psychological science or art; and this science was called Mantra Yoga.
The meaning of the word Yoga is unity, or connection; and Mantra Yoga means the sacred union between the outer life and the deeper life. For the Yogis discovered that there are psychological inclinations. For instance, one of the tendencies of the breath is to go outward, and the other inclination is to go inward. And these two tendencies are to be found in nature also, in the ebb and flow, in the sunset and sunrise. One sees these differences in oneself; the vibrations of one’s own body and action are very different in the morning and in the evening. Therefore the yogis regulated the rhythm of the circulation, of the heart, and of every action of the breath, by the help of the vibration of music, of both tone and rhythm. This brought them from the audible vibrations to the inward vibrations, that is to say from sound to breath; and for these the Hindus have one and the same word: Svara, a name for both sound and breath. One thing blends into another, because it is the same thing in the end. It is the breath of an object which may be called sound; and it is the audibility of the breath which may be called voice. And therefore breath and voice are not two things; even breath and sound are not two things if one could understand that both have the same basis.
If there is any explanation of why man rejoices or is impressed by the music played to him it is this. Is it only an amusement or a pastime? No, there is something else besides that. The principal reason is that in man there is a perpetual rhythm going on, which is the sign of life in him; a rhythm which is expressed in his pulsation and his heartbeats, even in his heart. And upon this rhythm depends his health; not only his health, but his moods. Therefore, anywhere, a continued rhythm must have an effect upon every person; and upon each person its effect is distinct and different.
It is amusing and interesting to know that when jazz came into fashion everyone said, ‘Something crazy has come into society’, and yet no one has really resisted. It has come more and more into fashion. Yet however much a person hates it and is prejudiced against its name, he at least likes to stand and listen to it for five minutes. What is the reason? The reason is that in whatever form the rhythm is emphasized, the effect upon both body and mind is psychological. It is said of a very great Persian poet, who was also a mystic, that when he got into a certain mood he used to make circles around a pillar which stood in the middle of his house. Then he would begin to speak, and people would write down what he said, and it would be perfect poetry. And there was a lawyer who, when he could not find an argument at the bar, would turn himself around, and after that he would find the right argument.
But in looking for a mystery we do not need to go to these extreme cases. A person, when he cannot find an idea, taps with his fingers on the table, and the idea comes. And many who cannot get hold of their thoughts, begin to walk about the room; and when they have made two or three circles, their thoughts become clear. If this is true, we come to the realization that the human body is a kind of mechanism which must go on regularly. If this is stopped in some way, there is something stopped in the body or in the mind. This brings one to the understanding that upon rhythm the mood, the health, and the condition of man’s mind depend; not only on the rhythm which he gets from music, but also on the rhythm of his own breath. This rhythm has also a great deal to do with the rhythm of his life.
It is also very true that there are certain kinds of sound which irritate man and have a bad effect upon the nerves; but there are other kinds of rhythm which have a soothing, healing and comforting effect upon the mind.
Music is sound and rhythm. And if sound and rhythm were understood in their nature and character, then music would not only be used as a pastime, but would become a source of healing and upliftment. The Sufis of ancient times, the great mystics, used to develop this art to bring about poise in life after their everyday activity.
Some Sufis who adopt a certain method of progress on the spiritual path and who try to live a life as far away from the world as possible are known as dervishes. They are also often called faqirs, and have great powers of wonder-working and of insight. They are dreamers and lovers of God. They worship God in nature, especially in human nature. Among many ways of spiritual development they have on called Sama, which is listening to music. They listen to music in an assembly of the initiated; no one uninitiated is allowed to enter their assembly. They address one another saying ‘O king of kings, O sovereign if all sovereigns’, and are mostly clad in patched robes or in rags. They never think of tomorrow, their thought is only for the moment; to quench the thirst and to satisfy the hunger of the moment. The care of tomorrow they leave to the morrow; it is just with now that they are concerned, if they are at all concerned with life. They are the ones who are really entitled to enjoy the beauty of music; whose spirit and soul are responsive, with open centers, who make themselves into a medium of resonance for the music they hear; therefore music touches them differently from any other people; music touches the deepest part of their being. Thus moved by music, they manifest various states, termed by Sufis Hal. Anyone among them who is moved by the spirit may manifest ecstasy, Wajd, in the form of tears, sighs, or dance.
This is the reason why those who do not understand the meaning of their dance call them howling dervishes or dancing dervishes. The gold of heaven is dust to the worldly man, and the gold of the earth is dust to the heavenly. To either the gold of the other means nothing but dust; their coins are not interchangeable. Therefore the bliss of the dervish is understood by very few.
But one can learn from this the theory of the whole process of their spiritual development. By making God their Beloved, and by seeing God in the sublimity of nature, they create the presence of God; and as the whole process of daily life consists of both joy and pain, so the life of the dervish is also filled with both joy and pain in the presence of God. By the help of concentration, poetry and music, joy and pain are felt more deeply. Therefore God becomes living to him; His presence is before him in all his moods. When once his pain has had an outlet in some form or other in the Sama, the musical ceremony, the condition that follows it is that of deeper insight into life. Upon whatever object or person he may cast his glance, their deepest nature, character and secret are revealed to his soul; thus the whole life is made clear to his vision in the light of God.
Sama has been the most sacred treasure for the Sufis; the great poets such as Rumi of Persia used to have music for their meditation; and by the help of music they used to still and control the activity of their body and mind.
We see today that there is an increasing tendency to nervousness. It is caused by too much activity in life. Life is becoming more and more artificial every day, and with every step forward man is yet missing that repose which has been as yeast to the human race. Therefore for the betterment and education of humanity today the art of repose, which seems to be lost, greatly needs to be rediscovered.
Hazrat Inayat Khan – The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word/ The Ancient Music