Can Music Become Yoga?
“The quality of the music is not just with the musician. It is mainly in the audience – how keenly one can listen.”
Music listeners can attest to the impact of music on thought and emotion. But is music capable of making a deeper impact on an individual? Below, Sadhguru explores the mathematical and mystical structures of music and its effect on one’s innermost core.
Q: Namaskaram. Since sound and energy are connected, by listening or playing different ragas, do we change the way our energy behaves, and in turn our thoughts and feelings? Is music a kind of kriya yoga itself?
Sadhguru: The word “kriya” means “internal action”. Sound, or nada, is largely an external action. Largely for most human beings, sound or expression of sound is a karma, not a kriya. It is an external action, not an internal action. There is a wonderful saying in the Kannada language in southern India, which says that whatever karma somebody else does, just by talking about it, it will become yours. Let’s say somebody committed murder. Whatever the karmic impact of such a violent act, by talking about it, it could become yours.
It is from this context that society was cultured so that you must talk about that which is pleasant for yourself and everyone around you. We are not trying to brush unpleasant things under the carpet. We are conscious of them, but life need not be an act of avoiding these things. Life should be a pursuit of the pleasant. Life is not a pursuit of avoiding the unpleasant. This is the fundamental difference between consciousness and morality. Morality means “thou shall not,” or how to avoid the unpleasant. Consciousness means creating the pleasant. If you do certain things, a pleasant structure forms around yourself and within yourself. If you do certain other things, the structures and patterns of unpleasantness will manifest within you and around you. Kriya means to do something about manifesting the internal structure beyond the physicality and psychological structure of who you are.
Impacting the Innermost Core
Kriya means to consciously structure the inner structure of your being – to do that act which impacts who you really are, not what you have gathered. The psychological and physiological structure is formed by the stuff you gathered from outside. But the innermost core, life itself, to impact this with the right kind of structure is kriya. What would be the ultimate structure? That kind of structure which leads to ultimate freedom and liberation is the only structure which is meaningful for the innermost core. Right now, all the distortions of life have happened to us because of the external layer that we have gathered, not because of the inner core of who we are.
Blueprint of Existence
Your question was, “Can we perform kriya yoga by uttering sounds or listening to sounds?” – I am using the word sound and not music because music is just a certain arrangement of sounds.
Of the seven notes that we normally know of, which are related to the seven colors and the seven chakras within the system, the twenty-two shrutis are micro-notes – these are the notes between the notes! The numbers that make up the ratios on the string are multiples of the prime numbers – one, two, three and five – this also represents the four elements, leaving out the element of space.
These twenty-two shrutis, these unifying prime numbers, this pattern that it forms, is a citadel by itself. You need to understand, an Indian classical musician is not singing set pieces. They start off with a raga, which is a certain basic pattern. Over that, depending upon the skill of the individual musician, he builds a whole citadel, and this citadel has a mathematical basis. We know today, as per modern science, that every structure in the universe can be reduced to a mathematical structure. That is the backbone or the blueprint of the existence.
This is the reason why when Indian classical music is being played, people will be counting numbers on their fingers and trying to understand the structure that the musician is trying to build. It is not only the aesthetic of it, it is the mathematics of it – the existential structures that are being built. Or in other words, by using music in a specific way, you can change the very structure of who you are. The very physiological and psychological structure can be transformed.
Going Beyond Color
Let us say we create a mathematical structure of compassion by uttering the right sounds, or we create a mathematical structure of love. If you sit here, No words or sappy things need to be said. Just using the sound, you will see tears of love, tears of ecstasy, tears of compassion, tears of grief – all these things will happen within a person.
There are phenomenal legends of sages and seers of this country. For example, Thirunavukkarasar sang certain chants through which he unlocked a temple’s doors. In those days, the locks were made of a single lever. By uttering the right sounds, he opened the locks.
There are also fantastic things said about Tansen and his guru Haridas – they could light lamps by singing a particular raga and they could generate heat in their system. We know by yogic practice how much heat you can generate in the system simply by uttering a sound. Irrespective of the weather, you can start sweating. Sweating is just a physical manifestation, but by experience you clearly know you can either create ushna or sheeta. The words “heat” and “cold” do not accurately represent what ushna and sheeta are. But because of lack of English vocabulary we will talk about ushna and sheeta as heat and coolness. Both can be generated in the system.
By using different sounds, we represent different seasons. There are six seasons in the Tamil calendar. Every two months is considered a different season. For each one of them, there is a raga.
So, is uttering sounds or listening to music or doing music in a specific way a kriya yoga? Right now you are uttering sounds as karma, which means external manifestation. The same thing can become an internal manifestation, creating an inner format for your own liberation. This is what I said when I told you to listen to these five chants of Vairagya. To go beyond color also means to go beyond karma, because karma is a kind of color.
When I say “colorless”, you may understand it as something negative – “Oh, nobody wants to be colorless.” Let us use the word “transparence”, because something that is colorless is also transparent. That which is transparent can take on any color.
Right now, the glass upon the window is useful only because it is colorless. Whatever the color of what is outside, you can see it simply because the glass is transparent or colorless. In the same way, if you bring yourself to a state where your vision is not colored, your eyes become colorless – they are not influenced by the past memory to give it a certain color. Only if your mind is not colored, if your intelligence is in a state of vairagya – that means it is transparent – that is when your intelligence will take you towards liberation. If your intelligence is colored, whatever you do, it will lead towards entanglement.
A Keen Ear
This is what the word “vairagya” means. “Vairag” literally means colorless, but what it is saying is transparence. If your mind becomes transparent, uninfluenced by whatever karmic colors you have gathered, you naturally move towards liberation because your intelligence will open the doorways to the Divine.
So is music a kriya yoga? It definitely can be transformed into a kriya if the listener is of a certain quality. The quality of the music is not just with the musician. It is mainly in the audience – how keenly one can listen. You must understand this – if your listening becomes very keen, then listening is not just in your eardrums. The reverberation of the eardrums are not the whole thing – every cell in your body will reverberate.
This is why the cobra is held as the height of perception because he has his ears to the ground. A snake is stone-deaf – it has no hearing mechanism, but he hears everything because he puts his whole body to the ground and listens. To the extent that it is necessary for him, he knows everything that happens in the planet because he has literally got the ear to the ground – the whole body is listening. If your whole body can listen, what is just entertainment can become kriya yoga for sure.