Swarupa - Your Inner Form

Your inner form is called Swarupa. Nothingness is the true form of our nature as a human being. Because it is nothingness, nothing is there. It is always in a very peaceful or paramashant state. Vices are all a result of thought. We need a tool that can help us manage the control of our thoughts. That is meditation. If we did not need to learn to control our thoughts we wouldn’t need meditation. Meditation is a system that helps you rediscover your true form; your true Swarupa. How can this be done? You unknowingly lost your Swarupa. This is because of ignorance. Let’s investigate this concept.

Because of ignorance, you live in a doing state rather than a state of being. And because of this, ego comes into play. Because of ego, attachment comes, because of attachment greed comes, because of greed anger comes. This is how we wrap ourselves in layers like a cocoon. These layers cover your true form. Paramaswarupa, your true form, gets covered in all of these layers. This is the root of suffering.

Because of ego there is duality. Nature and creator you see as different, while in actuality they are one. Nature is the body of the creator. Everything that you visualize you visualize as nature, or as matter. But you need to visualize the pure existence behind the matter! But you don’t know how to visualize nature as a pure existence, rather you see it as separate, confined by names and forms. Because of this approach of looking at things, all forms of the same true existence appear different. The question is how to go back and recognize our True form. Somehow we have become detached from our true form. How do you change your state of mind from a doer state to a viewer state?

The connection we have to our minds makes us limited, because the mind by nature is limited because it is matter. Because it is matter it has no capacity to unite with a limitless state. Mind is the same as the ego. We understand our mind through thoughts; thoughts of our ego i. This is what creates confusion. You are considering your ego as your real i, real Self, True Self, Atman Self. That eternal peaceful divine Self that you want to experience is there, but you have to make an effort to come out from the i that is ego. One way to do this is through deductive reasoning. By removing everything that you are NOT, you can isolate what is the True you. I am not a body. I am not a mind. I am not thoughts. I am not breath. Whatever you can say is mine is not the True Self.

Just like a tree, the True form may be lost behind all of the branches and leaves. All of these little branches and leaves will shed and regrow and change, but they are not the Real tree. You have to look at what is behind everything.

It’s as if you are playing tintal (16 beat rhythm cycle) on the Indian drum, the tabla, many compositions. If you are just trying to learn the compositions, your focus will only be on the mechanics of the music, but you will not understand what is behind it. If you want to have a deeper experience, you will understand that there is one continuous and behind it. That is the True beauty of the tinta. The composition is the movie playing on the screen that is nad. We have a habit of focusing on the moving pictures projected on the screen rather than the actual screen. The screen is what is real. This is due to ignorance. If you learn to see the screen, all of the confusion lessens. The films may change; today’s tintal is tomorrow’s rupak tal (7 beat rhythm cycle).

The screen that remains the same is the same as the True Self. However we focus all of our attention on the thoughts that are the changing films. Often we are not even aware that there is a screen. The mind is a mass production factory of thoughts. These thoughts have you running here and there in search of worldly pleasures. And because of ignorance, you see thought in a sequence. But thoughts are not actually moving in sequence, rather they are still frames played in sequence. In between all of these thoughts, or all of these still frames, are small spaces of nothingness. That gap is where you need to focus. If you focus on these gaps you can see the screen. This is the place where your Self is sitting forever. As you learn to focus on the gaps rather than on the pictures, over time you no longer focus on the pictures. If there are no pictures, then you are in a paramashanta state.

It is only because of habit that we look at the pictures and fail to see the gap or the screen. Once you can train yourself to have a habit of focusing on the gap, you will no longer see the pictures. This is how you come out from the grip of the mind and reconnect with the True Self.

When you come out from the grip of your i state, you will immediately connect with the True I state that is a viewer state, not a doer state. The viewer state is there by default, but the cloud of your i is covering it with a dark shadow. This prevents you from seeing your True I. As you remove that cloud, you will be showered in the light of your True Existence, your True Self. And the nature of that True Self is Anand. This is where you find pure bliss.

When we do the experiment of Nati, which means the deductive reasoning of what you are not, what do we find? When we take away everything that is not I, it allows us to find the True I. But it can never take you farther than “I am not my breath.” Why will it never take it beyond your breath? Because our intellect cannot go further than the breath. The process of Nati is dependent on your intellect which is what is saying “I am not this, I am that.”

So with your intellect you can deny everything that is not I until you get to your breath. But when you state that you are not your breath, the i that makes that statement is the ego, and that ego will remain. The thought of your ego i is the first thing that corrupted you when you began in an absolutely true being form. That must be the first thought of your ego i. And from that ego i all other i’s come; all other thoughts. When you reach the last level of your ego i, what needs to be done? You have to understand from where that ego was born. So we know that only the ego i remains, so how do we get rid of that? In order to do that we need to understand from where it came; how it was created.

Was it created in the brain? No. It is born in your heart. The first thought always comes from the heart – not the physical heart, but the mind heart. Today’s science is beginning to speak a lot about the mind heart. So the first thought of your ego i was born in your mind heart. We get confused by words, semantics. Because of words we don’t know how to see things properly. You may think that Existence is Truth and that the world is Maya. At the same time, you say that whatever exists has existence and is Truth. The means that the whole concept of your Maya came from nothing. If you just see each and every creature as a being with Existence, then it is no longer Maya. If you see each creature as matter, then it remains as Maya. This duality comes from ignorance. Otherwise there is no point to have to have two names for the same things. Everything is pure existence. But because of ignorance you have made it into two.

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What is Sadhna?

What is Sadhna?

The word sadhna comes from the word sadhya, which means to achieve; or to aim or focus. Any intense practice that is done with 100% focus is called sadhna.

Sadhna is a long path. To do sadhna requires great patience. Sadhna can be done of any subject, be it music, yoga, archery or any other practical art. The goal of sadhna is to become one with the subject; to reach a point where there is no distinction between the subject and the practitioner. For this, you have to focus all your energy on the subject that is to be mastered or achieved.

To become one with the subject, one must go to the beej or seed of the subject, from where it emerges.

The beej of the subject is the purest state of the subject, it’s root. For example, in music, the root of any instrument is pure sound or in the language of Vedanta – Aum. From there, everything that is music emerges. This beej of music – pure sound, like the beej of any other subject can be called by many names – Truth, Ultimate Reality, Existence, etc. Thus, if one goes to the root of a subject through sadhna, one experiences ultimate knowledge or Truth. So we can also say that the highest goal of sadhna is to experience Truth. The subject is the medium and gaining mastery over it a practical outcome. The sadhna or intense practice of a subject takes the sadhak or practitioner from the material level to higher spiritual levels, where he can ultimately go to the subject’s root and experience Truth.

Truth is not something that can be taught. It is something that is be experienced or self-realized. Unfortunately, in today’s society, the education practice is such that we are given ready-made information that we have to accept rather than discovering them through our own understanding. It is a system that creates more believers than seekers.

Truth needs no belief, Truth is being. It is eternal – shashwata. Even if Truth itself comes to you and tells you to believe, you must not believe. Because that belief will make that Truth a lie. Truth itself is not a lie, but your belief of it without experience is wrong. Truth never creates beliefs. Truth is Truth. When you have any experience, your belief turns into knowledge and that is Truth.

What are the obstacles that come in the way of experiencing Truth?
The biggest obstacle is your mind. Everything – your beliefs, ideas, concepts, thoughts and information are all the clouds that cover the Truth from you. Until you disconnect from these things, you cannot experience Truth, it can only be experienced in a mindless condition. It is through sadhna that one can reach a mindless condition.

As mentioned before, one can do sadhna of many different topics. But the ultimate goal is one and the same: the experience of Truth, which occurs in a mindless condition. The three most direct paths to reach a mindless condition are yoga, music and tantra. It is important to understand that there is not one single path or sadhna that everyone can do. Each person is unique and so their path is unique, but there are similar experiences that sadhaks share as they move towards a common goal.

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State of Today’s Indian Classical Music Concerts

State of Today’s Indian Classical Music Concerts

A musician needs two types of people in the audience – those who really understand the depth of the music and those who may not understand its full depth, but offer financial support for the musician.

Commercial music concerts of Indian classical music have changed over the last two to three decades. On the good side, it is becoming more financially possible to be a classical musician, on the bad side, audiences with a deep understanding of music are decreasing.

There was a time, when the first five rows of commercial concerts were filled with people who understood music, the people in suits and rich kurtas were behind these rows. Only then did the artist get into the mood to play real music because there were people who understood it.

I remember one concert that happened in Ahmedabad 20-30 years ago. It was a concert of a well-known musician who was travelling abroad. A short time into the concert, the audience had stopped the concert. Five people were on stage. They asked the musician not to play paltas. If he was to play, he had to play real music or there was no need for the concert. This was the strength of the audience. There was no room for gimmicks. The audience understood Indian classical music and did not accept anything less than true playing.

Today, things have changed. Today, in many commercial concerts, the financial supporters, who often do not have a very deep understanding, are the ones who occupy the front rows, while those who understand music, the students and connoisseurs end up sitting in some corner. The demand for high-quality has decreased and the artist consequentially does not play that music as it is not required.

You can clearly see the changes in commercial concerts. Commercial concerts of a single artist used to begin at 8pm and end at least 3-4 hours later. Now they finish in a span of 45 – 90 minutes. The alaap alone used to last 1 – 2 hours. Now, we hear perhaps a 5 minute alaap and 2-3 raags in that time period. It’s not necessarily that the artist is not able to give these long concerts. In the younger generation there might not be many (as the concert demand has changed), but we still do have artists who can perform these real concerts. The audience though is not ready or trained to listen to and enjoy these concerts.

The training of an audience will not happen overnight. It requires regular exposure to high-quality musicians. Those who have an understanding should not be afraid to demand high-quality music, while those who are developing an understanding should not simply accept whatever the market is giving them to be the best.

The development of an audience takes time and commitment, but if it is not done, there will be a very small chance of hearing a real Indian classical music concert in the future.

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Rhythm in Plants, Laya in Everything

Rhythm in Plants, Laya in Everything

I always tell my students that music has to be digested. Laya (variations of rhythm) have to become a part of you. The experience that one gets when music becomes apart of your being is incredibly beautiful.

Today, I was re-designing the layout of my garden. I have over 200 potted plants in my garden. As I worked with my gardener sorting the plants, I was examining each of my plants and was mesmerised by the rhythm that each plant had.
Each plant was unique, each had its own laya. One had a straight branch that had three offshoots at the end; in it I saw adi-laya. On another plant, there was seven leaves, a flower and then seven leaves again; in it I could see a laya of 8 beats. The leaves represented the laya and the flower represented the sum. The cycle of 7 (leaves) came to the sum (flower) and continued on. Each branch of one of my palms was split into 13. The plant had a laya of 13. In this way, I saw the rhythm in each plant.

Everything is rhythm. Everything has its own natural rhythm. The disruption of natural rhythm leads to things breaking down, but when something runs in its natural rhythm, it is in harmony, with itself, with its surroundings, with nature.

Music and rhythm are to be digested. When it is, one can see it in everything.

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Finding a Tabla Teacher

Finding a Tabla Teacher

Today, a young man and his father came to my music school. The son wanted to take tabla lessons at our institute and he had been referred to me by a music friend of mine. At Rhythm Riders, we take very few new local students as a quality control measure more than anything else. I told him this, yet the father persisted saying that his son wanted to learn more seriously . His son had been learning from someone else for 4 years, but now finding a tabla teacher who could take him forward was very important. I could see that the boy was talented and very interested in music, so I conceded and gave him a chance to play.

Once our general class has thinned out, I called the boy to me with a pair of tabla. What happened afterwards on one hand, saddened me and on the other hand, invoked no response as I had seen this so many times over the years.

The boy’s basic hand was incorrect, meaning that his hand placement and movement to play basic bols was incorrect. Four years of carelessness or incompetency on the part of his teacher and potentially the boy had led to damage that is essentially irreversible. If I took this boy as a student at our school, we would first ask him to forget everything he has been taught and start from the absolute basics, that too though, would never led to a perfectly set hand (like that of our other students, who began their training with us) as it is near impossible to forget what has become ingrained in the hands over the course of 4 years.

This scene is not new to me, I have experienced it time and time again. It angers me and saddens me – the lack of effort/ research that is put into finding a tabla teacher.

Indian classical music has the potential to spiritually uplift the musician and listener. It is a vidya (art/ knowledge) whose learning is said to carry forth from one birth to the next. It has the ability to heal and empower and do so much more, yet when someone seeks to learn this art, they often spend less time on finding a teacher than they do on buying a shirt.

For example, I have seen people start learning from a particular teacher simply because their neighbour also learns from them. They start without asking any questions and doing any research. When we choose what school to send our child to, we look at the quality of the education, the caliber of its graduates, etc, so why not for training in Indian classical music?

Quality should not be excused for the sake of convenience. I understand that in today’s day and age, time is viewed as an increasingly limited commodity, but does that extra 30 minute drive take precedence over you losing the opportunity to reach a certain level of mastery? (as in the example at the start, the young man has now has no or very limited options to learn from a genuine tabla teacher as his hand is damaged).

The caliber and qualifications of a teacher are crucial considerations. One does not necessarily have to begin learning from a maestro. (In fact, most maestros do not take beginner students, but rather take students of their students once a certain level of competency is displayed). Maestro or no maestro, one has to look at the level of competency the teacher has in their own playing and/or knowledge. The caliber of a teacher can be gauged by the caliber of his students. If a teacher does not have any (or very few) students that play very is well or have a good grasp of the art, how can one assume that your training will be any better?

An often overlooked question – How long have they been learning?

In my years abroad, I have seen countless tabla players come to me who learnt tabla in India (or elsewhere) for a few years (most likely, not seriously but as a hobby) and then migrated abroad. One of the first things they do upon migration is teach tabla. Why? Because with a few hours of work in the evening, they can cover their basic expenses at the least. To me, this is an absolute crime. They are not necessarily even qualified performers, let alone, qualified teachers. But they do it and get away with it because they can find the students – people who did not do their research and decided to learn from the person closest to them.

How long have they been teaching? If they don’t have many years of experience, do they have someone who is monitoring their teaching? Teaching Indian classical music is not an innate capability, but one that has to be developed.

Who did they learn from? If they have learned from 5 unrelated teachers in a period of 3 years, a question should arise in terms of the teacher’s grounding in the art as their own learning has been “all over the place”.

Is there a potential for growth? Once you have reached a certain level, can you access a more knowledgeable teacher – ie the teacher of your teacher? This question is particularly important if you are considering learning Indian classical music seriously. The concept of lineage loyalty, while diluted, still exists to a certain degree.

It is important to note here also that a great performer is not necessarily an equally qualified teacher. Teaching and performing require different qualities to be successful. For example, the smartest student in the class may not be the best tutor. Well-renowned artists also pose a general disadvantage to the student with regards to time.

Time and level of attention or love are also important considerations. How much face to face time will your teacher give you? A frequent performer may not be able to sit with you every week, but when they do sit with you, do they give you their full attention with love and affection? The feelings of love and affection are very important in guru-shishya parampara, which is the way that Indian classical music is supposed to be taught. Also, if the teacher is not able to give you regular attention, does a senior student of his/her sit with you on a regular basis? Regular contact/ supervision is important as that is the way only way to prevent bad habits from developing. I know of many people who took lessons for some time and then practiced on their own for a period of time. That unsupervised practice led to damage in their hand as no one was correcting them.

The level of supervision must also be considered. Even if you sit with a teacher regularly, are you being corrected or simply given more and more material and minimal corrections? By watching videos of maestros, even a beginner, without understanding the complicated patterns, can get a sense of basic practices. You can see how basic notes are played, where hand placement is, etc. For example, in terms of tabla, you can get an idea of how teentaal is played, as it is played with similar movements by all maestros, regardless of gharana. You can make out the difference between tin and tun just by watching videos.

For tabla students, you can find countless videos online of maestros to get an understanding of basic bols and hand positioning, I call this “standard playing”. Some names include: Ustad Allarakha (Abbaji), Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Swapan Chauduri, Pandit Anindo Chatterjee, Pandit Sharda Sahai and many more.

There are many other things one can consider, but I have covered the major points here. In short, learning Indian classical music or any vidya is (or can be) a lifelong journey that can open up many beautiful worlds. When embarking on this journey, your guide or teacher is of utmost importance, so do take the task of deciding upon a teacher seriously. Please do your research and find a good teacher. A good teacher can unlock the doors to a wonderful world. A bad teacher can potentially bar the chances of the doors to this world opening. If a standard or good teacher is not available to fit your convenience, I would not suggest learning that instrument/ form at that time from a substandard teacher. At the same time, once you have found a teacher, it is your responsibility as a student to follow their instructions very carefully. Carelessness on the part of the student also leads poor or slow results.

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Candlelight Practice

Candlelight Practice (Jyoti riyaaz)

In olden times, many ustads and pandits used to do candlelight practice, also known as jyoti riyaaz.

Two major concepts should be kept in mind when doing candlelight practice:

1) you must play one composition until the candle burns out
2) you must stare into the flame jyoti while practicing

Candlelight practice should not be done in a very fast speed. It is better to take a taal versus a particular composition (ie. teentaal or jhaptaal theka versus a kayda).

It is also very important to have the taanpura drone and perfectly tuned tabla during candlelight practice.

Fire has four basic elements: heat, sound, light and darkness. This is why fire is worshiped in traditions around the world.

Staring into the fire is called tratak. When playing a theka and doing this, after some time (after weeks in fact), one feels that the taal and the flame elements begin to merge and drive one into unknown areas. Its a kind of experience that cannot be described in words.

Sometimes one feels that the sound of the theka disappears and reappears. Sometimes one feels that the flame appears and disappears. Sometimes one feels that both disappears and reappears. That is the time when you meet total emptiness – the gap where all secrets reside.

I strongly recommend that anyone who has the mood to go for any experience of music, but do this practice. You will not be disappointed.

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