The Breath On Which It Floats|
by Daniel K. Statnekov
Copyright ©1981 Daniel K. Statnekov
The following is an unfinished manuscript presenting a distillation of understanding
regarding the nature of sound, breath, and music. All of the information has been
published elsewhere in disparate forms. Much of it comes from the teachings of the
Sufi teacher, Hazrat Inayat Khan. The material is being presented in the hope that it
will help the reader more clearly understand fundamental principles of sound, and in the
hope that the essay will one day be finished.|
In the tradition of the mystery schools as well as conventional religious
text, sound and music are believed to be the foundation of the
physical world. Both the Bible and the Vedanta ascribe sound to be
the first aspect of the Creator and the source of the Creation. "In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was God," says the Bible, and
according to the Atharva Veda, Brahma (original movement), formed
the universe from vibrations. This is the basis for the ancient Hindu word,
"Nada-Brahma," which translates as, "sound, the Creator God."|
The underlying myth is that the fundamental tone of the universe was
sounded out and then split itself into subtones or harmonics resulting in
an orchestra of complex differentiation. Robert Lawlor, a philosopher
and writer on sacred geometry, expands the acoustical metaphor in
explaining that the external universe may be viewed as an interwoven
configuration of wave patterns, resonating (re-sounding) with the
inner world of consciousness. All material forms are cosmic resonators,
complexions of interference waves that are interpreted by the billions
of neurons in the brain wherein they are given definition. Every activity
of vibration produces a certain sound according to its shape and density
and upon this rests the underlying idea of "Nada-Brahma."
Ancient musical cosmology considered the whole of the perceptible
world of sound and light to be an emanation from an imperceptible
metaphysical reality. This unseen world is believed to be the
undertone and overtone of our existence. All of space is filled with
it and it has been named "Abstract sound," or the "sound of the
Absolute." It is sometimes called by the people of India the "anahata,"
which means, "the unstruck sound."
"Nadam" is the word these same people use to describe the orchestation
of every electron, planet, and star, whirling in the majestic harmony of
the Absolute. This "unstruck sound" of "Nadam" is believed to be
the same sound that Moses heard on Mt. Sinai and Mohammad heard
in the cave of Ghar-e Hira. It is also thought to be the sound that
Christ heard when absorbed in his Heavenly Father in the wilderness
and Shiva heard upon achieving Samadhi in the cave of the Himalayas.
Numerous cultures have devised rhythmic formulas that are intended
to bring about the harmonization of the different elements of a person's
being. Mantras and chants are well-known examples of these rhythmic
formulas, but the Australian aborigine who twirls a "bullroarer" in a cave
has the same objective: to find a vibration that is capable of opening
up a communication with a "higher state" of their own being. This is,
generally speaking, the essential and primordial purpose of all rites.
The bells and gongs of the Temples and Churches are meant to
suggest to the contemplative the same sacred sound leading toward
the inner life. Mystics look for this sound within themselves, most often
in solitude. Yogis play a variety of instruments and Mayan priests
played a double flute to awaken within themselves the tone which
mirrors the unstruck sound of the "anahata."
* * *
* * * *
The most immediate underlying medium of a word is the breath on which
it floats. In Sanskirt, the word for breath is "prana," which also signifies the
energizing life principle in constant pulse with the environment. For this
reason, there is no expression of life more vital than a person's words, for
what we call a word is only a more pronounced utterance of breath fashioned
by the mouth and tongue.
In the spoken word the vibrations of the air are important to convey from
one person to another the thoughts in the mind. However, it is the breath
supporting the words and the level of harmony of the person expressing
themselves that gives a force to what is said. The spoken word not only
makes an impression upon another person but also upon oneself, and every
word one says has its effect not only upon one's body, but also upon one's
mind and spirit. This begins to explain the incomparable value ascribed
to a blessing that is bestowed by a saint or realized Being.
The resonance (re-sounding) phenomenon whereby equal pitches set
each other in motion is known as "sympathetic vibration." Just as there
is a resonance for every sound, so too, the human body is a living resonator
for various sound vibrations. Sound has an effect on each atom of the body,
for each atom resounds, as does each cell, each organ, and indeed each
A person not only hears sound through his ears, he hears it through every
pore of his body. Sound permeates the entire being and according to its vibration
affects the circulatory and nervous systems. Drums and bugles may inspire to
action, the disordered cacophony of city traffic or the sound of a bagpipe might
"jangle" one's nerves, while the soft tones of a lullaby may sooth a child to sleep.
There is a definite rhythm to the organic processes of our life: a rhythm of
the pulse and to the heartbeat, a rhythm to the inhalation and exhalation of
the breath, and an electrical rhythm to the brain. Mystery schools and yoga
teach that the breath orchestrates these various rhythms and that the whole of
life is balanced upon it. As Hazrat Inayat Khan elaborates, the music of life
shows its melody and harmony in our daily experiences. Every spoken word is
either a true or a false note, according to the scale of our ideal.
The tone of one personality is hard like a horn; the tone of another soft like
the high notes of a flute, while still another is melodic as a lyrical harmony.
The friendships and enmity among men, and their likes and dislikes, are as
chords and discords. It is the harmony of human nature, and its tendency to
attraction (or its contrary) which may be likened to the effect of the consonant
and dissonant intervals in music.
For thousands of years, the science of medicine has largely depended upon
finding out the physical complaints of the body by observation of its rhythms
and by observation of the breath. Healers understand well-being
to be the outcome of an overall harmony (harmony meaning right proportion,
right rhythm). Good health may be encouraged by recognizing the nature of
a complaint and the resultant disharmony, and then making an adjustment
to the body by changing its rhythm accordingly.
Good health is a condition of right rhythm and tone. [Health is defined in
Webster's Dictionary as: "n. soundness of body;..."] When a person's
"health" is in disorder their inner harmony is disrupted. The existence of illness
in the body may be viewed as a shadow of the true illness which is the experience
of an irregularity of rhythm and harmony in the mind. Sound has a physical
influence upon the human body and with the help of harmony, rhythm, and
tone, disturbed vibrations may be altered in such a way as to restore the
rhythmic balance of the whole.
The ancients discerned that when a person is disquieted by egotism and
emotions their breathing becomes rhythmically uneven.
Regardless of cause, however, a person could regain their fundamental
harmony by means of their breath. Through a conscious awareness of the
breathing process and by regulating the breathing rhythm, a person can
regain their inherent sense of harmony and well-being.
Similarly, these ancient people distinguished the different aspects of music,
and came to realize that there were certain tones and rhythms which brought
about a greater emotion or inclination towards action, and rhythms which
brought about a greater equilibrium or poise.
The ancient masters catalogued various combinations of sounds which when
pronounced aloud, both modulated the breath's rhythm as well as affected,
through "resonation," the inner vibrations. The result was the orchestration
of the harmony of the whole person, and the resultant science of this
understanding of sound and breath is known as "Mantra-Yoga." The ideal of
this practice was to initiate a realization of profound understanding, the
prelude to a new way of Being.
Hazrat Inayat Khan taught that sound, in addition to creating its resonance
in the physical body, makes a particular impression upon the essence
or innermost Being of man. Music is a bridge over the gulf between the
exterior form of man and the formless world of the spirit. Although it suggests
no outward form, music creates a resonance which vibrates through every atom
of a person's Being, momentarily lifting thought beyond the denseness of matter.
That is why music is considered by the Sufis to be "the food of the soul," and
is employed by every religious tradition as a source of inspiration.
Realized musicians reach the deepest levels in their listeners by
consciously expressing their relationship to their audience through an
ever-changing sense of harmony. The first thing that a player of Hindu
music does is tune his tambura (a stringed instrument). While doing so, the
musician is tuning his innermost Being to the quintessential moment to moment,
and this of course, has a great effect upon his listeners. The audience can wait patiently,
often for considerable lengths of time, until the musician feels perfectly
and wholly in tune with the entirety of his or her environment.
A person with a sensitive heart listening to this will perceive the way in which
the musician tunes his own spirit, the way that he modulates his voice into the
chord that he has chosen to play. By the time the performer is concentrated,
he has tuned himself to all who are present. Not only has he tuned his instrument,
but the musician has "felt" the need of every soul in the audience, and as he begins
to play, it seems to touch everyone who is listening.
This music is the answer to the demand of all of the souls gathered
to listen. There is no program in a performance of this nature, the
musician can not know in advance what he will play. Each performance
is inspired by the entirety of the moment, and ideally, is a flowing model
of harmonious Being. The musician is in fact the instrument of the whole
cosmic system, open to all inspiration and at one with the audience.
When a musician has reached this level of sympathy it is not only music
that he plays, but spiritual phenomena that he brings to life...
( to be finished someday...) DKS 1-22-97