Divine music is simultaneously appealing to the senses and awakening to the spirit.
Music – the universal language of humanity, the ubiquitous source of entertainment, the agency that transforms our moods, the catapult that raises us to higher emotions and experiences, the medium that influences all levels of human existence – physical, psychological and spiritual. Leo Tolstoy succinctly stated, "Music is the shorthand of emotion."
Music entertains us, but can it heal us? In the West, the idea of music as a healing influence on health and behaviour is at least as old as the writings of the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato. Medical interest in music therapy was revived after the two World Wars when thousands of war veterans suffering both physical and emotional trauma found remarkable relief through the performances of community musicians at hospitals.
Subsequently scientific research into music therapy has been increasing and its benefits have been documented by organizations like the American Musical Therapy Association in journals like the Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspective. Presently music therapy has been seen to benefit children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly with mental health needs, developmental and learning disabilities, Alzheimer's disease and other aging related conditions, substance abuse problems, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and acute and chronic pain, including mothers in labour. Thus, in the West, music therapy is now becoming an accepted form of treatment even within orthodox medical practice.
In India, music has been an integral part of Vedic culture since time immemorial. The 'Samveda' is full of melodious music. Music therapy is mentioned in Ayurveda as one of the ways to restore the imbalance of vata (air), pitta (bile), and kapha (mucus), which is considered the root of all diseases. Great composers of Indian classical music administered music therapy especially for the mind through ragas and mantras. The concept of raga, which is unique to India music, blends musical notes with specific time periods, to achieve intensification or pacification of emotions. Ragas, when sung properly, have therapeutic value. Similarly mantras like the Gayatri have been demonstrated to cure ailments otherwise considered chronic or terminal.
The Vedic scriptures harness music therapy for a spiritual purpose far loftier than physical rejuvenation or mental pacification. Indeed, the Vedas assert, that humans who preoccupy themselves with their bodies and minds miss out on their spiritual potentials. As spiritual beings, we are the eternal beloved children of God, the supreme spiritual being and are entitled to an eternal, enlightened, and ecstatic existence (sat-cit-ananda). However being afflicted by spiritual amnesia we are frantically searching for that fullness of life by manipulating matter in newer and newer ways, but to no avail. The modern world, especially the West, is witnessing the alarming consequences of this unfortunate imbalance of material and spiritual values. Individually there is an increase in dissatisfaction, stress, depression, addiction, and suicide and globally there is an increase in unrest, criminality, violence and terrorism. Hence spiritual amnesia is the origin of all our mental, physical and social disorders and spiritual music therapy addresses this root malaise.
Renowned composer Van Beethoven got it right in his observation, "Music is the mediator between the spiritual and sensual life." Divine music – music used to glorify the divine – is simultaneously appealing to the senses and awakening to the spirit. No wonder then that all religious traditions have sacred sound and music as an integral part of their hymns, prayers, songs, and chants – all ultimately meant to cure the soul.
In the Vedic tradition, music is central to the recommended spiritual therapy of harinam sankirtan, congregational chanting of holy names. The names of God being divine power encased in sound comprise the most powerful mantras. Musical singing of mantras like the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is the easiest and effective means to spiritually uplift both the singer and the hearer.
Spiritual music therapy being holistic offers mental and physical benefits too. Our minds experience the deepest peace and joy through divine music. And our bodies become cleansed of all undesirable unhealthy urges like smoking, alcoholism, and drug addiction.
Eminent scholar Professor Stillson Judah, Professor, Graduate Theological Union Library, Berkeley University noted the extraordinary potency of spiritual musicin "turning drug-addicted hippies into devotees of Krsna (God), and servants of mankind."
Some nascent medical theories posit that every bodily cell has its own vibrational frequency. Music which resonates with that frequency activates the vital energy of that cell and thus stimulates intrinsic rejuvenation. Similarly spiritual music that resonates with the nature of our souls activates our latent spiritual potential. With humanity searching for holistic health remedies in view of the disturbing side-effects of conventiona l medications, innovative forms of music therapy hold great promise.
As American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, "Take a music bath once or twice a week and you will find it is to the soul what water bath is to the body."
Caitanya Carana Dasa is a disciple of His Holiness Radhanatha Swami. He holds a degree in electronics & telecommunications engineering and serves full-time at ISKCON Pune. He runs a free cyber magazine, The Spiritual Scientist, which gives a scientific presentation of Krsna conscious philosophy. To receive new issues as they come out, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.