Thursday, August 09, 2007

A complete yoga must make us all-embracing: outwardly active and committed to life but inwardly surrendered

Hindustani Classical Music is in Good Health by Lalit Uniyal
Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 33 Wednesday 8 August 2007
I have dealt with the technique of cricket in such detail because the point about core technique is relevant also to the realm of yoga, to which I now turn. Of course, I do not refer to the purely physical yoga which is so popular today, but only to the truer and deeper spiritual yoga. Traditionally, yoga was learnt under a highly demanding guru who, even more than in music sometimes exacted extreme personal service. But the modern masters, especially Vivekananda and Aurobindo, who were also modern men in every sense, have changed all that. Vivekananda’s basic opposition to traditionalists of all religions was expressed in his saying that it was good to be born into a religion but bad to die in one. He almost preached a religion appropriate to each individual, to be discovered by each one himself. Each soul is potentially divine, he declared; the goal is to manifest this divinity within. Doctrines or dogmas, or rituals or books, or temples or forms, are but secondary details, he asserted. Aurobindo was influenced by Vivekananda, had a life-span double that of Vivekananda, and had opportunity to fully articulate the humanistic and integral yoga that Vivekananda had first suggested.
All the traditional yogas are specialisations, said Aurobindo; they demand an abnormal concentration on some facet of the personality or a certain aspect of life; generally they take us entirely away from the world. A complete yoga, he declared, must make us all-embracing: outwardly active and committed to life like everyone else, but inwardly surrendered to the divine. In other wards, the core practice in yoga is to surrender to the divine, and in this is also implicit the end or goal of yoga.
This is not ‘yoga made easy’, because it is an extremely difficult sadhana, requiring the paring off of layer after layer of the personal self. What it accomplishes is of great consequence however. It focuses on the real intent of yoga and not its traditional trappings, like mechanically repeating a given mantra one lakh and eight times at one sitting. The effect of this clarity is to cut through masses of confusion and needless torture and unnecessary hardships. Consequently yoga comes across as a meaningful activity, acceptable to contemporary man. Moreover, both these great yogis maintained extremely informal relations with their disciples. It is well known that, in their letters to Aurobindo, some of his intimate disciples addressed him as “Dear Guru”. The traditionalists have not dared to censure either of these great yogis because of the immense spiritual authority they possess and the reverence they universally command.

WE may now return to the realm of classical music, which is our main concern. Here too the real issue is to meet the challenge of change with wisdom, by laying emphasis on the core of the musical sadhana, not its conventional trappings. The traditional gharanas were not quite what the purists make them out to be. At times they were less interested in the advance of classical music than in the jealous concealment of their special excellences. Similarly, personal service to the guru was always liable to gross abuse and could be destructive of the personality of the student. It is a common error in the understanding of the guru-shishya parampara to suppose that personal service is a right of the guru. Wherever a relationship is authentic, personal service will flow automatically out of the love and devotion of the shishya, once he has become conscious of being the recipient of treasures of incomparable value. The spiritual apprenticeship of Vivekananda under Ramakrishna is a prime example of this truth. In an authentic relationship, it is for the shishya to take the decision to undertake personal service, not for the guru to command it. To say that the student today does not offer personal service is to confess that there are no teachers capable of giving out treasures to their students—which is the exact opposite of what Arindam Mukherjee seeks to suggest. Classical music will be threatened only if two things happen simultaneously: first, if the core sadhana of music is forgotten in the midst of unintelligent efforts to blindly uphold traditional but non-essential details; and secondly, if non-classical musicians begin to imagine themselves musically superior to classical musicians and the latter succumb to this humbug.
What is the core of the musical sadhana?
Music is built out of the notes produced in a certain order. But those notes are fixed, hence non-livng. The sadhana of Indian music aims to impart life to those notes by penetrating into their inner, living side, which is called swara. The process of seeking the swara transforms a person’s inner world and takes him deeper into his own true self, towards what is unique and indestructible in him. Therefore the acquisition of the swara by a musician, or his entry into it, gives his music an altogether different quality of integrity and certitude and imparts to it an undying appeal.
Obviously, the first step in musical training is the development of certain essential skills. The notes must be practised in sequence up and down the scale, and then in various altered sequence. The intention here is to train the voice inter alia to move smoothly from one note to the other, without any abruptness or ‘jump’ in the movement, and to open up or ‘stretch’ the voice so that it can proceed to the highest as well as the lowest notes of the scale with relative ease, and in different ascending and descending combinations. Next comes the bandish (sutra or proto-raga), which requires the accompaniment of the tabla. Finally, there is the entry into the realm of the raga proper and its exploration and elaboration.
All this is extremely hard work, but it is still not sadhana proper. The wrestler too works untiringly to develop his skills, but no one supposes him to be engaged in sadhana. Sadhana is activity leading towards transformation of the inner being. What transforms the musician is the relentless pursuit of the swara, the inner and living side of the note, and this pursuit is the true sadhana of music. The distinction between skill development and sadhana can be understood by means of an analogy from yoga. In yoga practice too there are skills to be learnt, the first being physical techniques by which the restlessness of the body is overcome. Then there are the mental techniques, loosely and popularly called meditation, which are intended to diminish the restlessness of the mind. A person may become reasonably adept at these techniques and yet not be doing the sadhana of yoga. This will happen if, for example, the person’s aim is merely to become an effective executive or to become better equipped to face the tensions of daily life. But when a real aspiration for the divine exists the sadhana of yoga is truly set in motion. To be sure, techniques or skills do indeed present pathways, but proficiency in them does not by itself make one a genuine yogi or musician. For the path is in fact traversed only when there is a motive force driving the person ahead. And that motive force lies in the sense of the divine, or of the swara and the insistent seeking for it. The pursuit of the swara through all changes of history is the great strength of our classical music. Since this is an inner process, it is not under threat from external forces, but only from within. If the sadhana of music gets lost in the dreary sands of dead habit, then indeed all will be over with classical music.

CLASSICAL music has always been subject to change. Dhrupad is on the decline; Khayal and Thumri have become far more important, and some people prefer the Drut Khayal to the Vilambit variety. All living activity has its ups and downs: there are times when several great musicians seem to emerge out of nowhere, and there are times when the truly great are few. This is not a cause for despair.
Arindam Mukherjee makes much of the absence of successors to the top musicians of the day. Why the children of the great are not great is a question that has interested philosophers: Plato discusses it in the Protagoras. But where achievements based in sadhana are at issue, we need not ask the philosophers to explain the reason to us, because the reason is obvious. The actions and effects of sadhana are all intimately personal and cannot be externally transmitted by another person. In this realm, therefore, no one is born great, and no one can have greatness thrust upon him. Greatness has to be achieved by each musician on the strength of his or her own sadhana. It is slander to declare that the newer generation is not willing to take up the sadhana of music. Many of them have much the same passion for music as the earlier generation, only they face a unique set of new difficulties, which demand a response at the state-social level. It is certainly a good idea to have a DD channel dedicated to classical musical music. But difficulties will not stop the real seeker.

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