When talking about the different law in the universe and how they manifest themselves, one commonality is a kind of rhythmical vibration. You might say that all matter and energy obey these laws in particular ways. So when you chant Nam myoho renge kyo, for instance, the idea is that you are getting your whole life into rhythm with the fundamental law of life. It’s that sound, that vibration, that is bringing you into that rhythm. In some ways, it’s the entrance point.
Listening is a really important part of anybody’s practice. Before I started chanting, I could not sing in public. I was just much too self-conscious and kind of ashamed of my voice. When I began chanting, I came to realize that one of the reasons one makes music is to create value. Listening to different components in chanting has given me a much deeper appreciation of what can be conveyed with a single note. Often you can say so much more with one note than fifty.
In my Buddhist practice I tend to be chanting the vast majority of the time. When you chant, after reciting the sutras you stop for a moment and in silence formulate a specific prayer. When you’re in that silence your intention is really powerful, and the silence helps to focus your intention. Then you pick up and chant again for a certain period of time. Actually, you stop at five different points in the morning chant and three points at night.
As a musician, I’ve learned that silence is one of the most powerful things you can play. If, say, you’re going along within a composition and get to a point where all the sound is gone, it can be transformative. Certain pieces of music that use silence inspire me. I’m a big fan of the work of Mark Hollis, who will often have these moments of silence. And John Cage’s 4’33’’ expressed on of the super-important ideas of the twentieth century—that we think of the world as this kind of material, tangible reality, but underlying that reality at a subatomic level, there is nothing there but energy and vibration. Those ideas come from physics and have had a big influence on my spiritual thought.
It’s incredibly difficult to have an experience of no sound. At Bell Labs in New Jersey, they have an anechoic chamber, which is totally sealed off, where you can actually hear real silence, and when you’re in there, you can only hear your blood circulating and your heartbeat.
The closest I’ve come to that is, say, when I’m out in nature. Once in Utah, I was snowboarding, and after the lift stopped I had to hike another half-mile to get to the top of the mountain, and when I finally got there, the wind was blowing so hard I had to put on my goggles and ski mask and hood. So I was totally curled up with everything covered, and there was nothing but the sound of the wind.
Definitely at that moment I had the experience of realizing, “here is the entire universe, all of the forces of the universe, and I and everyone else are part of that.”
So when you come away from something like that, hopefully you become a more compassionate person. Ultimately, I hope my music conveys this—that is brings joy and alleviates suffering.
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