The Sweetness of Chanting

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59. Sakala-buvana-srstih

kalpitasesapustir,

Nikhila-nigama-drstih

sampadam vyarthadrstih;

Avaguna-parimarstis

tat-padarthaika-drstir,

Bhava-guna-paramestir

moksa-margaika-drstih.                       (missing the diacritical marks)

(May the divine glance of the Guru ever dwell upon me.  It creates all worlds.  It brings all nourishment.  It has the viewpoint of all holy scriptures.  It regards wealth as useless.  It removes faults.  It remains focused on the Ultimate.  It is the highest ruler of the three gunas,  which constitute the world.  Its only goal is (to lead others on) the path of liberation.)

If you’ve ever read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, you might remember her ranting on and on about the early morning chant called the Guru Gita.  It’s one of my favorite parts of her book, because I, too, have felt the weight of those 182 verses.  And yet, I’ve been chanting those verses on and off for more than thirty years.

Only last week, on another quiet COVID-19 Sunday morning, we finished our regular meditation and decided we might as well chant the Guru Gita.  

What a fortunate decision!  With nowhere to go, and nobody around to distract me, I sank into the familiar chant as if sinking into a warm, fragrant bath.  The Sanskrit tasted good in my mouth, like ripe, juicy fruit.  It felt like coming home. Why had it taken me four months of social isolation to start chanting? I wondered.

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Later, I recalled something that (I think) was said by  Swami Muktananda. If your mind is too agitated for meditation, chant instead.

Chanting was what brought me into Siddha Yoga.  I still choose to listen to kirtan with Alexa or Spotify.  If the chant sticks in my head (I’m susceptible to ear worms), I don’t mind because the continuous repetition of names of the Divine is preferable to pop lyrics.

In Gilbert’s memoir, she solves her battle with the Guru Gita by dedicating it to her nephew.  The corona virus seems to have reopened a path for me.

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My Musical Ambitions

dulcimer

When I was ten years old, I told my mother, “I don’t want to take piano lessons anymore.” She answered that she’d let me stop lessons, but added, “You’ll regret it when you’re older.”

Truer words…

At age nine, I had already begun playing guitar. After a few lessons from a college student, I learned to play enough chords to accompany myself as I sang. Although I’ve never gotten much better, the guitar has been a mainstay. But spurred by fantasies–I kept acquiring other instruments.

Sometime during college I bought a cheap dulcimer. It was little more than a trapezoid box with four strings. I tried hard but unsuccessfully to figure out the chords Joni Mitchell used in her recordings. Later, my first husband gave me an exquisite dulcimer. Made in Asheville, N.C., it had a matched wood back and friction tuning pegs (tricky). Its beauty did not improve my playing.

During my college years, I also bought a saz. What was I thinking? I probably got it because it was so pretty. This I never learned to play.

saz

Another instrument attempt was a violin. I may have traded in my classical Aria guitar for the fiddle. I even took lessons from a master fiddler. My cat would be stretched out in a patch of sun. When I opened the violin case, he’d sit up in alarm. Then he’d bolt for the nearest exit.

Now let me pause here and say that I did actually practice these instruments—for a while. The desire to play didn’t carry over into the rigor of daily scales. My interest wasn’t focused and I’d drift away.

By this time, I knew quite well that musical proficiency requires obsessive practice. It didn’t stop my musical dreams. In Ireland, I bought a couple of pennywhistles and a bodhran (round Irish drum). At home in New York, a little red concertina caught my eye.

My most recent indulgence was a harmonium. I intended to accompany the chanting of kirtan. The instrument still sits in the corner of the living room under a yellow quilted cover. To play this particular harmonium, it must be lifted out of its box to rest on two tiny supports. That in itself makes access difficult. Soon after I bought it, the harmonium developed a sticky key. It’s not hard to pick out simple melodies on the keyboard. But, as with all my musical acquisitions, the harmonium languishes in the corner while I engage in my preferred creative pursuits.

We sold most of the other instruments when we downsized to the apartment. I still have my guitar, the harmonium, and a couple of pennywhistles. In my next lifetime, if I can’t be enlightened, I hope to become a proficient musician.

harmonium