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The Meeting of Techno and Buddhist Scriptures
It may be a new instrument. It may be a unique vocalization style. The first listen of the album Zenbient is momentarily startling in its foreign sound. Listen a little closer to the vocal melody flowing within the electronic rhythm and...Ah, it is the Great Dharani. With the backdrop of fast tempo rock or electric guitar, the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Heart Sutra among other Sutras are being recited. This unique new sound has got me listening again and again and soon, I find myself humming along to the sutras. I feel as though I should not dance to the sutras. In elation, I am unsure what to do. The voice behind the sutras is Ven. Munjong of Bulguang Temple in New York. This is his attempt at speaking the language of the second generation Korean American youths who are unfamiliar with Buddhim. He is hoping to make sutras easier to understand for the young generation. This Buddhist album created for the emerging generation of Buddhists has been titled in the combination of Zen (Seon) and the German word ‘bient’ (environment). Seon and environment; it is the essence of Buddhism. The track titles give clarity as well: Dancing Raindrops, Pure Land, Clear Water... Gaining in popularity, the music has been played at the Zen Fashion Show and was released in Japan. The experimental album is a collaborative work of Tsutomo Nishimura, a music producer, K.Park, a fashion designer, and Ven. Munjong.
Some may wonder, “Why Techno Buddhism?” For 2500 years, individuals have worked towards enlightenment through various means. The Buddhist community largely consists of practitioners in India and Asia, although it has recently has gained followers in Europe and North America. As Western Buddhist practitioners adapt to the new strains of practice, Buddhist tradition based on the ideas of the Buddha expands and changes. As the West turns to the East for new approaches to spirituality, the new Buddhists have begun to adopt Buddhist teachings and wisdom into their culture and make it their own. Music is often one of the strongest elements of a given culture and study of music can play one of potentially large importance in the study of the Buddhist movement’s evolution and expansion.
Music plays a very special role in our lives because it gives us the capacity to express the deepest feelings within our soul. It can lift our minds to an almost ecstatic state, thus play an important role in propagating the Dharma. In fact, the Buddha mentioned music on different occasions. In the Amitabha Sutra, it is said that heavenly chants are heard all throughout the day and night in the Pure Land, as flower petals softly rain down from the heavens. It is also said that gentle breeze, which bring movements to the jewel trees sounds as though if thousands of gentle tunes are being played together in harmony. Upon hearing these sounds, we can immediately become mindful of the Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha. The Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra (Treatise on the Perfection of Great Wisdom) also states, “The Bodhisattvas make use of beautiful music to soften people’s hearts. With their softened hearts, people’s minds become receptive to the teachings, thus it is easier to educate and transform people. For this reason, music has been established as one of the auspicious offerings made to the Buddha.” As such, all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are thought to be skillful in utilizing music as a tool to guide sentient beings to enlightenment.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the popularity of Buddhist Music as a means to promote the Dharma. Buddhist songs have been composed in a way for people to be deeply inspired, yet easy enough for the average person to sing along with. There are times when the “traditionalists” strongly oppose this new inspirational tool, saying that such methods could destroy Buddhism. But, strategies best fitted to the minds of people (especially in this degenerative era) could not only encourage, but transform people to enter into the Buddhist path. At the very least, people will be exposed to the words of the Dharma. At a time when novel teaching tools for the second generation Buddhist Koreans living abroad are in need, it is hoped such new experimentations and creations may open the next chapter of the Buddhist communities and allow talented youth to become active in Buddhism. So, provided artists have right intention, young talented souls should record Buddhist music inspired by the dharma. As such, the Venerable Master Hsing Yun stated in “Sounds of the Dharma: Buddhism and Music (2005)” the following five guidelines:
1. Buddhist Music should not be something unique to temples and monastic life, but should move towards spreading out to the general public.
2. In addition to Buddhist verses and chanted prayers, we need to continue creating more and more new musical pieces.
3. Those propagating Buddhism should from now on do more to advocate the use of music, and should use music to attract the public to study Buddhism.
4. Buddhists can start to form bands, choirs, orchestras, classical music troupes, etc. to use music to spread and teach the Dharma.
5. I hope that from this day on, we can see new musical talent make a mark in Buddhist history in the same mold of the likes of Asvaghosa Bodhisattva.
Pic. Ven. Munjong renunciated in 1995 under Ven. Chungu. He has been engaged in practice and Buddhist propagation in the New York area since 2004.
< Articles from Buddha Link Vol. 1 website address is http://www.zenbient.jp/