Monday, September 10, 2007

praying and playing for peace

This will be our reply to violence:
to make music more intensely,
more beautifully,
more devotedly than ever before.
Leonard Bernstein

I wasn't sure when I started this blog if I was going to be able to keep up with this... It seems as if it is much easier when I am on the road sitting in an earthy internet café than when I am home sitting comfortably in the woods. But I am forcing myself to get a few more things on right now, due to the upcoming anniversary, tomorrow, of the terrorist attacks in 2001 (I have some resistance to softening the event into a slogan by referring to it simply as "9/11").

Two friends of mine and I are doing three concerts this week. It comprises mostly music from the east, songs that I am slowly working on and recording for my "dream album," and also songs that have an unabashed hope that we can actually change the world and influence world peace just in their singing. Hence, "Lead Me from Death Into Life," the mantra from the Bridharanyaka Upaishad that was adapted by the World Council of Churches as the World Peace Prayer––our version of the refrain is "Lead me from death into life, / lead me from falsehood to truth, / lead me to hope from despair, / lead me from hatred to love, / lead me from war into peace, / lead me from death into life!"; hence, my friend John Marheineke and my version of Jack Johnson's version of Ben Harper's "(I can Change the World) With My Own Hands,"; and our version of Rev. Heng Sure's setting of the Metta Sutta, "(May All Become) Compassionate and Wise." I am performing with the aforementioned John singing and playing guitar with me (I think the first time that I have worked with another singer guitarist since I was in high school!), and a brilliant (in both senses of the word) local percussionist named Steve Robertson playing mostly tabla and a bit of udu, that is, a clay pot, the African version of a similar instrument from India called a gattam (forgive my spelling if I got it wrong). I am having all kinds of flashbacks of Tiruvanamalai, performing with Theophilus at the foot of Mount Arunachala, the first time working with tabla and guitar, and the the next day performing "My Own Two Hands," complete with hand gestures, with the 3000 Indian school children at the Danish Lutheran Mission School, not to mention two other new pieces that we are doing––"Vedahametam," which began as an instrumental inspired while at Sriramana Ashram and ended up as a setting of the beautiful passages from the Svetasvatara Upanishad and Sri Guru Gita, and "Spirit in the Cave of the Heart," inspired by a bhajan at Shantivanam and performed for the first time also that night in Tiru. Mother India gave me new music during the last trip.

We played our first gig yesterday on an outdoor stage for a parish festival for Our Lady Star of the Sea in Santa Cruz. We went up after a classic rock band and the "La Chicitita" contest, little girls lip-synching, singing and dancing, (Was it George Burns or Jimmy Durante who said that you should never follow child or animal acts?) and right before a Mexican band called T'quila. It was a nice stage and a very competent sound engineer and system, and I thought we played very well, even considering the fact that it is the first time that the three of us had performed together. But the audience was totally underwhelmed by our performance. Only a handful of people even listened, and even fewer applauded. We were definitely out of our proper milieu. It somehow didn't bother me one bit. I believe so much in this music, and I luckily had the two others on stage with me, both of whom seemed to be having a good holy time singing and playing. John and I made up for a bit by stopping on a bench on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz and singing a couple of songs on our way to eat lunch afterwards.

Tomorrow, September 11th itself, we will be in front of a more sympathetic crowd, I firmly believe. Our friend Shannon for the third year now has organized an inter-religious concert in a very fine space in Aptos. We are only doing two numbers, but we are closing the event. I have been encouraging all my friends to be there and to encourage their friends to be there. Then on Saturday we are going to Berekeley where Rev. Heng Sure and his friends are sponsoring an inter-religious festival of the arts at Berkeley Buddhist Monastery. There we will do the whole set.

This is what music is for, at least for this monk-musician: singing hope, encouraging others to continue believing that peace can prevail, building bridges between peoples and traditions, and, most foundationally, fostering an experience of Spirit in the cave of the heart, because, "when your soul is in peace then you are in peace and your soul is in God." I found a surprising and beautiful verse in the Quran that I am going to quote (I checked with me Muslim sources first to make sure that it was no offense for a non-Muslim to read from the Quran), where the Prophet (Peace be upon him!) addresses the other "People of the Book"––that is, Jews and Christians––saying: "Let us concentrate on the things we have in common, belief in the one God." I hope that it will also be of no offense if I broaden that to include all good people of good will who are seeking God in the multitudinous names and forms––let us concentrate first of all on the things we have in common.

I "composed" a little prayer for us to use to begin these performances:

"O Lord of Love revealed in the Scriptures,
may the song on our lips be the song of our hearts,
and may the song in our hearts be the sound of your voice.
May our lives proclaim your goodness
and our voices sing your praise."

Anyway, in case you have never seen it, I am including here below the Assisi Decalogue for Peace. After Pope John Paul II's monumental inter-religious gathering in Assisi in 1986, he reconvened the gathering in 2002, in direct response to the catastrophic events of the previous Fall. This was drafted and passed by delegates of 12 world religions, and 31 Christian communities, at the conclusion of the inter-religious peace summit held on 24 January 2002 in Assisi.
1. We commit ourselves to proclaiming our firm conviction that violence and terrorism are incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion, and, as we condemn every recourse to violence and war in the name of God or of religion, we commit ourselves to doing everything possible to eliminate the root causes of terrorism.

2. We commit ourselves to educating people to mutual respect and esteem, in order to help bring about a peaceful and fraternal coexistence between people of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions.

3. We commit ourselves to fostering the culture of dialogue, so that there will be an increase of understanding and mutual trust between individuals and among peoples, for these are the premise of authentic peace.

4. We commit ourselves to defending the right of everyone to live a decent life in accordance with their own cultural identity, and to form freely a family of his own.

5. We commit ourselves to frank and patient dialogue, refusing to consider our differences as an insurmountable barrier, but recognizing instead that to encounter the diversity of others can become an opportunity for greater reciprocal understanding.

6. We commit ourselves to forgiving one another for past and present errors and prejudices, and to supporting one another in a common effort both to overcome selfishness and arrogance, hatred and violence, and to learn from the past that peace without justice is no true peace.

7. We commit ourselves to taking the side of the poor and the helpless, to speaking out for those who have no voice and to working effectively to change these situations, out of the conviction that no one can be happy alone.

8. We commit ourselves to taking up the cry of those who refuse to be resigned to violence and evil, and we are desire to make every effort possible to offer the men and women of our time real hope for justice and peace.

9. We commit ourselves to encouraging all efforts to promote friendship between peoples, for we are convinced that, in the absence of solidarity and understanding between peoples, technological progress exposes the world to a growing risk of destruction and death.

10. We commit ourselves to urging leaders of nations to make every effort to create and consolidate, on the national and international levels, a world of solidarity and peace based on justice.

Let us concentrate on what we have in common!