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The way I see it, music (like everything else?) is empty of inherent existence. This is not obvious. Plato and Aristotle believed that harmonies and rythm express/represents "charachters". Contrary to the Greek champions, I do not think musical harmonies and rythms express or represent anything in and of themselves. The "meaning" and interpretation of music is dependent on causes and conditions, dependent on its parts, and imputed by mind. Music is empty.

My question is how this emptiness of music can be incorporated into my practice. In stead of giving up music because I want to spend my time with meditation, I am wondering if the emptiness of music might in stead and in addition be used as a "mantric device" in mediatative practice.

Here's the idea. I play bass. Me and my fellow musicians love minimalist repetition. Some say practicing an instrument is boring because you have to to the same thing again and again, but I don't agree. I think playing the same bass line over and over (alone or with others) is giving the same experience as meditation with mantras. When you play a simple line hundresds of times, you don't have to think about playing. And after a while you don't know where the line starts and ends, it's circular. The mantra is in my fingers and not my mouth. In the end, both mouth and fingers are in the mind anyway.

It may be a long shot, but I wonder if this way of using repetition is used as a meditation device in any Buddhist practices. What schools of Buddhism is most open to this kind of idea?

  • I fail to understand where you are trying to get, what antidote you wish to generate, what mind you are trying to oppose. This being said, generally speaking, it is better to take a virtuous object and it is "ok" to take a neutral object (such as the breath) but definitely not an object of attachment. – Tenzin Dorje Dec 21 '15 at 11:07
  • It's not really clear to what you mean by generate antidote/trying to oppose a mind when I ask about using very simple sound patterns as mantras? Can you please elaborate? – Mr. Concept Dec 21 '15 at 11:22
  • One meditates to cultivate non-attachment to oppose attachment, or to cultivate love or patience in order to oppose anger, or to cultivate a realization of emptiness to oppose all afflictions altogether. The other types of meditation are merely steps in between. How do you mean to tame your mind? – Tenzin Dorje Dec 21 '15 at 12:20
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    I choose to have to. And it's a bass – Mr. Concept Dec 21 '15 at 16:11
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    Everything is music – Lowbrow Dec 22 '15 at 4:44
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The biggest issue with music is:

  • you can get attached to it
  • can created mental recitation of the lyrics which in turn creates verbal fabrications

Hence best is to resort to more conservative meditation pratice. Having said this Richard Shankman of Metta Dharma Foundation teachers mindfulness of sound as an alternative meditation technique. Excerpted from “The Art and Skill of Buddhist Meditation”:

Mindfulness of Sound

In the instructions for mindfulness of breathing we let all other experiences stay in the background of our awareness, not forcing or pushing them away but bringing a gentle sense of allowing them to be in the background while giving some preference or predominance to awareness of our breathing. In the same way, with this practice we allow other experiences to stay in the background and we give preference or predominance to the experience of sound. You may feel a natural draw or pull to awareness of hearing, and this practice can be very calming and settling. Those for whom mindfulness of sound works well commonly report it as an easily accessible and even compelling meditation object. You may be drawn to awareness of the sounds themselves or you may be more naturally aware of the act or the process of listening or hearing.

Mindfulness of sound entails working with either inner or outer sound. Even though it may be very quiet where you are meditating, you may feel drawn to rest your awareness in listening to however many or few sounds may be present at any time. Other people hear an inner sound, a clear perception of ringing or some other sound, experienced not through the ears but in the mind. You can see if you have such an experience and if you are drawn to rest in awareness of inner or outer sound.

If you are working with mental noting, you can mentally repeat hearing or sound if that helps keep you stay connected and centered with the auditory experience. If you practice mindfulness of sound, just substitute hearing every time I use the terms breath or breathing.

Since you seem to like music the main question would be how you can do this without attachment in order to make this effective, i.e., using music as a means to meditate.


Also perhaps the following might might help you (thanks to @ThiagoSilva for point out): Indriya Bhāvanā Sutta

  • This very helpful. I am aware of the attachment aspect, and this is one of the reasons for doing meditative practice without words/lyrics and with very very simple sound patterns. I agree completely that this cannot be a substitute for sitting quiet. It is only meant as an addition since I play anyway – Mr. Concept Dec 21 '15 at 11:07
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    +1! I would also recommend the Indriya Bhāvanā Sutta (link to a discussion+translation of this sutta by Piya Tan) for further study on how to train the senses. – Thiago Dec 21 '15 at 17:26
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Two things:
1) repetitive sound has been used for a long time (thousands of years) to promote and reinforce certain mental states which might be regarded as meditative. If you read about Shamanic Journeying, this practice is facilitated by a loud drumbeat of around 120-140 beats per minute. This produces a particular brain wave which alters consciousness.

2) The alpha state is a form of consciousness that people find calming and uplifting, as well as clearing out verbal thoughts.

It is very easy for me to enter an alpha state while driving with music on, or walking with music. So much so, that I now know how to promote this state without music. This allows me to be present to the environment and enjoy the experience of being. To me, this sounds like Vipassana. It generalizes to any conditions where I do not need to speak or use a lot of rational thought.

Is this what you were looking for?

  • Indeed. I'll read about shamanic journeying. And 120-140 bpm is usually the tempo I use too. No wonder I find this meditative. – Mr. Concept Dec 21 '15 at 16:15
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Meditate on your desire to meditate using music as a meditation device. Or on your love for minimalist repition.

That's how I would approach it at least.

Becoming aware of wanting, desire, boredom. And how your mind relates to them.

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The deepest meditation happens in silence. Usually a mantra is given to beginners. The mantra purifies the thoughts, because it possesses a sacred vibration and meaning. This is why most mantras, Buddhist and Hindu are Sanskrit, which is a language which has a very deep resonance to the mind and body. It is unlike mundane music or language. Spiritual music is good and can create devotion and states of meditation, but it does not replace a genuine practice of meditation in silence. All of the masters, no matter what tradition emphasize this. Stillness, silence, erect posture, focusing between the eyebrows. The mantra is used at the beginning for giving something the mind can grasp onto. This is the same principle as the form of music you are talking about. But eventually the goal is to have the mind steady enough it no longer needs to grasp anything, and becomes independently stable without any support. What you are suggesting, I am not trying to imply is bad. It is just not a substitute for the traditional meditation in the sense of Buddhism. Often we want shortcuts or to make things easier, that is natural. But we should stick to the instructions of the masters who have attained the goal.

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