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How about Music and spirituality?

December 15, 2008

in Life style

I got a question the other day: a reader had been told his taste in music was bad for him spiritually. What did I think? I told him to listen to whatever music he liked.

I do however agree that our taste in music says something about who we are. My taste for classic 80’s hits was obviously born by listening to that kind of music in my teens. My taste for Carnatic music (a style from India) is said to be a sign of spiritual development. Well – so what?

Mostly I think our culture’s obsession with music is a bit weird. I’ve puzzled for some time on what to answer when online social networks ask about my taste in music. Then I found the very spiritually correct answer – I put in ‘silence’. Because really: I hardly listen to music. I never had a Walkman (which were all the craze when I was about 10). I don’t even know the slang word for portable cd-player and I don’t own either an i-pod or mp3 player. I went without speakers on my pc for years – until I caved this summer. [There are too many youtube video’s about spirituality]

The larger issue isn’t whether one’s taste in music is an expression of spiritual development – I think to some extent it probably is. But that doesn’t mean that it can be reversed: just make teenagers listen to Carnatic music and watch how angelic they become…

What’s more – I don’t think our habits can be used to predict our spiritual development. I’ve written about vegetarianism. I’ve written about addiction. These are important issues – but I don’t think they are a measure of spiritual development. I don’t think every drunk is less spiritually advanced than every sober person.

There is a story about some spiritual teacher and his students – let’s say it was Jesus

Jesus and his disciples were walking down the street. One disciple said: we’ve been discussing who amongst us was the most spiritually advanced. We couldn’t decide. Who do you think is the most spiritually advanced? Jesus answered: that person over there – pointing to a drunk lying outside some pub.

Changing our habits, avoiding meat and alcohol and crowds, are like the rod you place next to a sunflower: you put it there hoping it will not fall under it’s own weight. For those of us who are consciously working at our spiritual growth, those things become necessary disciplines.

But ultimately spiritual growth is about what happens in our soul.

When pride gets stuck there – proud of being a vegetarian, proud of not smoking, proud of abstaining from alcohol, proud of listening only to spiritual music – there is something seriously wrong. Spirituality should be about learning to see the best in everyone. We should learn to look beyond the superficial and be able to see the spiritual in that drunk on the street, or that beggar. And if we don’t yet have that ability to see where someone is at spiritually (I certainly don’t) – let’s not replace it with the fake version. Let’s not pretend spiritual growth is like a grade in school: points taken off for every bad habit.

For me listening to trance music doesn’t even count as a bad habit – though whether the trance invoked is a healthy spiritual state is a debate for another day.


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