Thursday, November 20, 2014

I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent

I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my pursuit after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop at the dissolution of the flesh. What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment, and therefore when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the later of the two on the same subject'
Those words by Mahatma Gandhi prefaced his writings published by the Navijan Trust. I am posting them On An Overgrown Path as I enter what Gandhi called old age, but which I more decorously call becoming a state pensioner. But the call of Truth still beckons, and in a few days I am off travelling on the path of a master musician and spiritual master who met Gandhi in London in 1914. Hazrat Inayat Khan taught that growing inward involved 'unlearning', and explained that "the more wise one becomes, the more one is able to contradict one's own ideas". His book The Mysticism of Sound and Music, which was published in 1923, remains influential to this day. The book's revelations about the fundamental role of vibrations have influenced many great minds including Jonathan Harvey, who in an interview explained how: "We all know about the soprano shattering the wine glass. It’s all vibrations, I mean music and the world, everything is oscillation".

Hazrat Inayat Khan believed that the practice of unlearning - contradicting one's own ideas - is an essential part of inward growth, and this teaching is very relevant not only to musicians but also to audiences. In another wisdom tradition Ostad Elahi, a Persian philosopher (follower of Ahl-e Haqq not Islam), jurist and master of the sacred lute (New Yorkers please note), expounded on the "necessity of antipodal states" in both music and the soul. Antipodal states are what is missing from classical music today, with an unhealthy obsession with consistency complementing, not contradicting, established thinking. Unlearning is another form of the 'beginner's mind' taught by Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, who explained that: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few... this is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner". Or, to put it another way: my world and my music are never one and the same.

Photo was taken by me at the deeply moving Gandhi Smriti in New Delhi earlier this year. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

And do not think of the fruit of action.
Fare Forward.

Philip Amos said...

Emerson: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds...". Part of the rest of that quotation reminded me of what Al Capp, the creator of the very political cartoon, Li'l Abner, said in the late 1960s when charged with inconsistency because he had pursued McCarthyites in the 50s, but similarly went after militant student groups during the Vietnam era. My gun, he said, is pointing in the same direction -- it's the targets that change. He pursued the student rioters, but at the same time supported gay rights and MLK's campaign for civil rights. And here again the charge of inconsistency, but is it justified?

I'd be appalled if I thought that my views had not changed quite drastically re certain issues during forty years of research and writing in a world now hardly recognizable v. as it was when I was young. Why? I've been told I've 'changed'. I haven't. But the world has most radically and this it is that demands we change our opinions. It is those who cling to a paradigm in which they have invested their lives, those for truly fear the collapse of that paradigm, who refuse to risk the usually mistaken charge of inconsistently. Thus, my opinions have changed drastically at times, radically in the 1980s and after 2000, but I don't think I've been inconsistent. I'm an historian of ideas and my chosen field, my approach to it, is of great breadth. I must think it would be mighty boring, perhaps redundant, if the ideas and historical figures I trace never changed. But those changes are always inextricable from the changing times, events, contingencies that make necessary development.