by Srikanth S.

I have some points for discussion regarding Tuesday’s class on “Mysticism of sound and music” and hopefully someone may get interested to drop in his/her views about these.
Swamiji presented that the sense of taste is more or less available in all, whereas the sense for music is not. I humbly disagree with this view. Over 99% of humanity listens to some kind of music but only the genres differ. So one who likes classical music will find it difficult to appreciate rock music and vice versa. Similarly not everyone likes a particular food item. Some foods can be appreciated only after taste has been acquired over repeated attempts. So the sense of appreciation of music and taste is prevalent amongst almost all, but only they are directed towards a particular kind in each human being. Swamiji supported his viewpoint, stating that the nuances of musical notes are lost on many untrained people. But the same can be said about taste also: many nuances of taste in the food are lost to the untrained people. Just like there are virtuosos in music, so there are in taste field too: the big bucks that restaurants pay to such trained minds in taste is a pointer.

In this context, I began to wonder why we glorify this sense perception of sound whereas the same is not accorded for taste, touch, smell or sight. There are terminologies like Nada-Brahma etc. but no such terminologies exist regarding other sense perceptions. Being a bit more detailed, if one is attached to music (again to only a particular genre called classical music and that too preferably Indian) he or she will be respected in spiritual field, whereas if one is attached to a good sight or taste or smell or touch of any particular object or place, it is called attachment and could be seen as a psychological problem. Why? One strong reason could be that most of the classical music composers in India were devotional and also the players borrowed lyrics written by saints. So the classical music and spirituality got intertwined. Such mechanism was absent for music in other parts of the world. Hence Indian classical music and spirituality are seen as synonymous by many. But does it mean there is no trance-like state achievable in other sense perceptions or genres of music similar to the one achieved through Indian classical music? I doubt it. To state only one particular type of sense perception originating only in one geographical place as superior to others in spiritual context is somewhat untenable. So can we reach God through rock music?


  1. My second thoughts:

    The "sound" used in this context of mysticism is not the sound felt as a sense perception, but it is a fundamental entity that constitutes every object including all sense perceptions: sound, light, taste, touch, smell. Light is also used fairly well in this context. However, you could still argue why the word "sound" was picked fpr this fundamental unit and not any other sense perception word such as "taste" or "touch" or "smell".

    Regarding music being given an exalted position in spiritual context over say a beautiful scenery or a delicious food, I am guessing the effect of sense perception on a person has got to do something with this. Not all sense perceptions would have the same effect on a given state of mind. Swami Vivekananda mentions about a beautiful scenery that could inspire someone to meditate very deeply: his own life exemplifies it. Sri Ramakrishna also had profound states of mind triggered by mundane incidents. So music is not the only vehicle. But for a vast majority of humanity perhaps music is the best means to sooth the mind as compared to other sense perceptions. Also amongst different genres of music, classical suits the most people to quieten the mind. Rock music may also lead to the same exalted state of mind to a person just as classical does to another person, but again by and large we see
    classical music having such spiritually beneficial effect on more people
    than other music genres. So simply put, classical music gets importance
    in spiritual context over other sense perceptions and genres of music
    purely due to statistical evidence of having observed their effects on
    lives of all people till now in the context of spirituality.

  2. This comment pertains to both – the original blog and the 'second thoughts'. I agree that sense of music too is present in all human beings like the sense of taste, there is a difference in the degree. In that class of Swami Yogatmananda, there was discussion on the the Vedantic understanding of how the sense of sound is involved in all other sensations like tactile, sight, taste and smell as the 'materials' for all these senses are evolved from akasha – which has the property of 'sound'. So it has to be appreciated only by the organ 'ear'. When one is appreciating the 'touch', while the organ of touch is predominant, the organ 'ear' too has a role to play. In 'sight' appreciation, the 'eye' gets the inputs from ear as well as touch. for taste – 4 organs are at work and for smell all 5 organs play a role. To put it simply, sound is the 'purest' sensation, being unmixed with other senses. The mixture goes on becoming more complex as one moves from touch to smell. The sense of taste and smell are so closely mixed together that sometimes it is difficult to tell what exactly is being liked or disliked. Whether one is liking (or disliking) the feel or taste or smell of fish is not easy to separately tell. The 'taste' of food therefore is a mixture of the looks of the plates/cups/silver/table, the warmness, coldness, softness or crunchy feel, the aroma, the level of hunger, the friends around, the ambiance of the place etc.So the 'food' -appreciation is done by all senses. It is also connected with survival, and with protection against harmful matter getting into the body. Appreciation of 'sound' (music=beautification of sound) does not involve any other organ, it is not 'need' for survival. The cultivation of the sense of music is therefore a matter of choice, it is not a 'must'. So the statement 'appreciation of music is much less than that of food stuff', it is from this point. There is actually a lot to think/speak about this; one can see all 'thought' and language is associated with sound (so with music too). The scope of music is therefore tremendously vast and profound. There is some valuable literature available to help understand these ideas. Swami Prajnanananda's works are very nice.

  3. Thank you for your insights in explaining why the sound perception has predominance over other sense perceptions.
    Could you also kindly provide your thoughts if any genre of music has some inherent characteristic that gives it a superior position over other genres in spiritual context?

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