Music should not be 'like this' or 'like that'
Those Six Vajra Verses summarise the Dzogchen teachings of Tibetan Buddhism*, and the diverse Buddharūpa is the work of exiled Tibetan artist Gonkar Gyatso. Doubtless all this touchy-feely stuff means many readers will have departed for tastier click bait; but if I have caught any before they leave, I offer this quote from Dzogchen Ponlop**.
Although apparent phenomenamanifest as diversityyet this diversity is non-dual.And of all the multiplicityof individual things that exist,none can be confined in a limited concept.Staying free from the trap of any attemptto say 'it's like this', or 'like that',it becomes clear that all manifested forms areaspects of the infinite formless,and, indivisible from it,are self-perfected.Seeing that everything is self-perfectedfrom the very beginning,the disease of striving for any achievementis surrendered,and just remaining in the natural stateas it is,the presence of non-dual contemplationcontinuously spontaneously arises
Buddhism is primarily a study of mind. It is spiritual in nature, not religious. Its goal is self-knowledge, not salvation; freedom, not heaven. It relies on reason and analysis, contemplation and meditation, to transform knowledge about something into knowledge that surpasses understanding.Jonathan Harvey understood very well that music should not be 'like this', or 'like that'. It is sadly ironic that his proposal of amplifying classical music to attract young audiences has become reality. Because with concert halls closed during the pandemic, for everyone, including the not so young naysayers, amplified classical music is the new normal. Jonathan was one of many great composers influenced by Buddhist wisdom, and he understood and explored the power of music to surpass quotidian reality. Nowhere is this more so than in his '...towards a pure land' for large orchestra. Here is his note for that work:
…towards a Pure Land: A small string ensemble, hidden on the stage, starts this work and stays peacefully behind the sound for much of the time. It is called the Ensemble of Eternal Sound. The main orchestra moves through varied types of idea until a central point, after which it moves progressively back to the first idea, making an arch, but an arch with developments. The centre itself is not solid, rather it is an emptiness, an empty presence. There is sound but only insubstantial pitch. In the surrounding music, the tempi are often fluid, the ideas are fleeting: things arise, then cease, in an unending flow. To grasp them and fix them would be to distort them falsely. A Pure Land is a state of mind beyond suffering where there is no grasping. It has also been described in Buddhist literature as landscape – a model of the world to which we can aspire. Those who live there do not experience ageing, sickness or any other suffering. There is no poverty or fighting, and no danger from fire, water, wind or earth. The environment is completely pure, clean, and very beautiful, with mountains, lakes, trees and delightful birds revealing the meaning of Dharma. There are also gardens filled with heavenly flowers, bathing pools and exquisite jewels covering the ground which make it completely pure and smooth. ‘Touching it gives rise to bliss’. This work is the first fruit of the composer’s association with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and their principal conductor, Ilan Volkov. It is the first of three commissions from them and is dedicated to them in gratitude.* Translation of Six Vajra Verses is by Brian Beresford and John Shane, and appears in Chögyal Namkhai Norbu's book The Crystal and the Way of Light