Music. Sound. Vibrations. Dance. These aren't just worldly night club notions. They're also at the root of some of the world's most profound mystical and spiritual traditions.
Yesterday I left a comment on a post, responding to some thoughts from Adam . I said:
Adam, I don't think it's accurate to say that the form of meditation practice you described differentiates RSSB/Sant Mat from all other faiths.
Sant Mat likes to claim that the "sound current" is at the foundation of every deep mystical practice. This is an exaggeration, but I have quite a collection of books that describe meditation practices involving hearing a subtle spiritual sound.
For example, Taoism, the mystical side of it, speaks of an audible energy that permeates all of the cosmos. However, Taoism obviously doesn't believe in the need for a "perfect master" to connect the meditator with this power, because the Tao is considered to be omnipresent -- the root of all things.
So meditation on an inner sound isn't unique to Sant Mat.
Adam replied with, "Brian, How does taoism recommend one be able to hear this audible energy?" Here's an answer.
This morning I reviewed some passages I'd highlighted in Livia Kohn's "Taoist Mystical Philosophy." She describes the teachings of the Xisheng jing ("Scripture of Western Ascension"), a text that dates to about the fifth century.
Here's a central goal of Taoism, understanding that wu wei, effortless effort, isn't aimed at forceful striving but at gently relaxing into what we already are.
To attain oneness with the Tao, one has to abandon all ego personality, blot out the intention and silence the will, go back to the center of the mind, isolate the spirit and make it stable and infused with Tao…Unity in thinking and feeling is attained, the inner spark of the mind joins with the pure cosmic energy of the Tao. Human beings not only intuit the divine reality within and without, but join it with all their being.
…Human beings are within the Tao because the Tao is the enveloping order of the whole universe. But the Tao is also within every human being inasmuch as he or she needs it to be alive, to be himself or herself.
How does a person become one with the Tao? Simple, but maybe not easy. Stop being so separate.
One first examines the structure of one's mind and finds the root of all problems in the development of an ego-identity, which must be abolished and eradicated completely. The process by which this is achieved is called "forgetting": first one forgets to make any distinctions between the various living beings without, then one forgets the value judgments attached to mental classifications within.
Increasingly one merges one's mind with the Tao, the underlying flow of existence as such. In the end there is no more knowing, no more clinging, no more definite identity. When there are no more categories of perception, life and death subjectively cease to exist.
Fully at one with the flow of existence, the mystic is then able to enjoy everything as it is, without ever wishing to change it, without the least desire or regret for anything.
Now we come to a seeming contradiction. I say seeming, because dualistic logic takes a hike in Taoism (as it does in quantum theory). Either-or is supplanted by both-and, or none of the above. On the one hand…
According to these descriptions, the Tao is a force that cannot be grasped, it is invisible, inaudible, and subtle…The realization of the Tao is a state of dissolution, of union where all sensual perception is replaced by the non-seeing and non-hearing qualities of the Tao itself.
On the other hand…
In the cosmology of Taoist mystical philosophy, one may imagine the Tao as a tone of a certain wavelength that pervades and encompasses all there is. Or, as the Taoists themselves have it, a certain quality of qi that underlies and furnishes all existence.
…In terms of Taoist mystical philosophy, this means that the more out of tune any individual is, the more "evil" he is from the point of view of the Tao, the more unhappy he feels, the less fortunate he appears. Such "evil" is not fundamental; it is not rooted in the cosmos. It is merely a deviation, a change in pattern, a different wavelength, an unmatched pitch.
Beings have the potential to be either in tune or out of tune with the true pitch of the Tao. It was the Tao itself that equipped them with the individual power of producing their own tones. The power and beauty of the Taoist universe lies exactly in this freedom that is yet a form of bondage.
The bond of the Tao is an inner tendency, a feeling of belonging, a natural affinity for the right sound, a deep longing for peace and harmony. Never fully free from the all-encompassing flow of nature, all beings feel the need to return to the perfect harmony that they had before they were born. Like fish out of water, they feel estranged away from the Tao.
…The sage, then, is one who has found perfect pitch in all his thoughts and actions. He happily goes along with the piping of the Tao and never adds even a trace of disharmony to the cosmic concert.
Sweet! Tell me more about how to dance with the universal music.
Overall, the more positive and relaxed qualities of human life and mind are therefore associated with the Tao. All violent emotions and tensions of humanity are linked to the conscious mind...Taoist mystical practice, then, reduces and controls the conscious mind in favor of the eternal Tao.
…Yearning and worry are forms of passions and desires; they always go together with fear and joy, anxiety and hope. The activity of the mystic consequently consists of reducing and eventually abandoning this misdirected power of thought, to keep all thinking in the present and on the Tao in a state of meditation.
…Thinking no longer with the mind, the accomplished mystic now lives by the spirit alone…Ordinary knowledge is nothing but a form of ignorance, a foolhardy way of taking outer manifestations of things for real while in truth they are only rippling waves on the surface of the deep and eternal Tao.
The Tao, itself invisible, inaudible, and subtle, is realized fully when all ordinary sensual seeing, hearing, and knowing is completely given up. When the intention dies and becomes a pure stream of consciousness, sensual input is turned into a series of floating images and sounds…Taoist mystics increasingly see themselves confronted with the central issue of epistemology: anything heard or described in human language or common metaphors is not ultimately identical with reality or truth as such.
Now we come to the music of the Tao, which may or may not be metaphor (no one can say, since the Tao can't be spoken).
To prepare one's ears for the Tao, the Xisheng jing continues, one first of all has to abstain from listening to ordinary talk. Very gradually one's senses become softer and finer, more attuned to the subtle movements of the Tao in the world.
The Tao is barely perceptible and its sounds are faint, like the gentle tones of the flute. As one becomes increasingly able to perceive the Tao, whatever it is that one perceives lends itself less and less to considering and naming.
…The tender cosmic melody of the Tao is the purest manifestation of the musical harmony of the universe, but all existence is sound or at least like sound.
I spend about thirty years as a Sant Mat true believer. Now Taoism is my favored philosophy, in part because I absorb it naturally through the Tai Chi that I've been practicing for four years.
The way I see it – and I understand that everyone has a unique vision of how things are – the Taoist notion of a divine melody pervading the universe is a more genuine reflection of Sant Mat's shabd, dhun, or "sound current."
That is, by and large Taoism lacks the religious dogma and metaphysical baggage that organized spiritual faiths carry along.
Taoism and Sant Mat both teach that mental conceptions obscure a wordless primal reality. However, Taoism (like Buddhism) espouses no-mind, not-knowing. Sant Mat, however, is based on an involved belief system. Once someone has bought into the beliefs, further questioning and conceptualizing is supposed to stop.
So while Taoism has no-mind, Sant Mat has locked-in-place mind. The aspiring Taoist mystic seeks to embrace mystery directly; the aspiring Sant Mat mystic considers that cosmic mysteries will be revealed after travelling a well-defined path.
A final Kohn quotation:
The underlying ground is deep within; it is shrouded in darkness. One approaches it by deepening, darkening, closing in…The ideal state of mind is not so much one of joy and freedom, rather it is characterized by innocence and utter simplicity.
Life in the Tao here is a state of purity in the sense of originality. It is unsophisticated, neither brilliant nor radiant. Comparable not a glittering gem, it is more like an uncut block of wood.
Great news! Being a blockhead is just fine for a Taoist.