Sacred as sacredness can be

By Lim Kooi Fong, The Buddhist Channel, Jan 17, 2005

The Musical offerings in aid of Tsunami victims offered more than just a get together of inspired musicians and sacred music. It taught listeners about deep listening and being sensitive to the sounds of suffering

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Let?s talk about the soft breeze embracing a warm and tender night. What sort of talk is that, if it does not involve the act of embracing? What kind of act is that, if one is not physically there with the wind?

<< The Wayfarers, led by Datuk Victor Wee rolls off rhythms of holiness.

The idea of existence, says the wise, is to be conscious of the awareness of oneself and the environment. Some people call this living in the moment. Some say it is mindfulness.

Wise teachers say that when we are aware of such a consciousness that acknowledges the presence of the moment within the immediate surrounding, it is called being at peace with where we are. In other words, peace of mind and in life means to be in sync with our immediate world - the colors, sound, smell, taste and touch created by our senses.

Being in sync. Being at peace. How could we tell this to the tsunami victims? When all they could hear are the thundering roar of dark, angry waves? When all they could do was to cling onto branches and rooftops while being pulled asunder by the swirling waters that turned roads into marauding rivers?

Let?s talk about the scent of death that clings on to the air amidst rotting corpses under the burning sun. What sort of scent is that, if we are not there? What kind of thoughts do we conjure in our minds, when confusion and wild imaginings betray our sense of peace and orderliness?

And so the Musical offerings in aid of Tsunami victims concert held here in the midst of warm and tender night might seem a little inappropriate at a glance. What are the sound of a soothing sita and the grace of angelic voices against the wail and hysterical shrieks of those suffocating in the nick of death wrought by ferocious waves? And yet such incongruence holds much teaching for all of us. In life, there is both the soothing sita and the saw of death. Every moment, we are exposed to spiritual uplifts of pious chanting and wail of hopelessness. Such incongruence is a matter of fact, a fact that we only wish to see just one side of it.

The master of ceremony warned the audience against taking the event as sombre mourning, even though it was dedicated to the victims. Instead, he requested us to be embraced by the celebration of hallowed sound, so that the peace of mind within us which had been rudely shaken by the devastating tsunamis is brought back to balance. Within the plush, acoustic hall of the Malaysian Tourism Centre, where patrons are dressed in their best, it was easy to be embraced by such a wish. But could the musicians pull it off? Could they muster the energy and sensitivity to caress music and turn it into a healing media?

Rhythm of holiness

The sweeteners were first served by the D2Y Group with a simple voice rehash of Annie?s ?Tomorrow? and Michael Jackson?s ?Heal the world?. Nothing Buddhistic by name perhaps, but the brace served as a perfect tune-up to what was deemed as holy later on.

The KL Bhajan group next delivered musical chants inspired by the teachings of Sai Baba. To heal the world, as their music suggests, is to spread love far and wide. Rhythmic beats of the tabla (Indian drums) echoes the beat of love, and a gentle clang of the manjira (antique cymbals) resonate kindness and compassion. While being immersed in its Indian rhythm, we were reminded that Bhajans are prayers in song form. It is sung wholeheartedly, totally identified with the emotion of longing for the vision of the Divine - an experience akin to blissful meditation. Sacred as sacredness can be, the Bhajan helped the audience traverse across time to re-evaluate the roots of Buddhism, of its Indian birth.

Oh Kim Leng's rendition of "Suffering >>
world" brought the tragedy of the Tsunami disaster to fore

And while the Bhajan helped somewhat to lay our Buddhist identity in perspective, the next presentation starkly brought out the true meaning embedded by the theme of the concert. Oh Kim Leng, a paraplegic due his close shave with death in a fall nearly 20 years ago, and his pal Raymond rendered the closest thing to the tsunami that reminded us of the truth of suffering. A multimedia show reeling off images of pain and sorrow from Aceh, Phuket and Sri Lanka accompanied the pair?s rendition of the Buddha?s famed Noble Truths. It made it look as though the wheelchair bound Kim Leng sang from afar watching over faces of defeat. ?Oh suffering world, you shall not come back again?? It was a wish that was emotionally shared by many.

Sacred as sacredness can be, once and many times over

<< A Naad artiste with his elegant sita

As the night passed on, the audiences were entertained by the immensely talented singer, M.V. Nathan. He gave his heart to belt out a personal "reflection of the Buddha" (Buddhanusati), a song from his latest album "Love, Kindness and Forgiveness".

Further illumination came in the likes of Naad (meaning, sound), through the haunting and uplifting rhythmic strings of the inspirational sita, creating ?Waves of compassion.? Next, the Amma Society of Malaysia rendered another Bhajan performance. Established by the "hugging saint" known as Amma, the Bhajan encapsulated compassion, kindness and empathy through the hugs of Amma.

Datuk Victor Wee (who is currently the Secretary General of Tourism, Ministry of Tourism Malaysia), founder of the first ever Buddhist hymn singing group in Malaysia commented on how happy he was to note that after 25 years, more groups have since sprung up. If secular sacredness was the hallmark of the Wayfarers, then younger groups such as the Xpounders and i-Gemz have certainly fine tuned their renditions to cater to a more contemporary generation of today.

And here we are talking about the evolution of Buddhist songs sprinkled with verses from the Dharma. We are talking about modes of deliveries that include rap, pop-jazz and rhythmic blues. And who could blame a pretty Su Ling from i-Gemz who sweetly danced away in tune with ?Cradle in Buddha?s arm? or Tan Siew Chan's nippy "My Beautiful Friend" or even a rapper from Xpounders urging all to ?Share Your love?. How could we not embrace such change?

Of course, who could miss out the Wayfarers, the group that started it all. When the guitars were brought out and hung over the hallowed shoulders of lead singers Datuk Victor Wee and Raymond, a time bygone was relived when folks in their forties and fifties began to relapse back into their twenties. Yes, 25 years were wounded back to the first song of the group?s first compilation, ?The Wheel of Life?. ?How high is the mountain, how deep is the sea, how long must one learn to be free?? the chorus went.

If there was any craving for the night to go on and on, then the lesson of spiritual liberty would be lost. The Buddha teaches us that despite all that we have, and all that we will attain, it is subject to repeated cycles of birth and death. Music is no longer music if there was no pause. The rising of a beautiful tune is accompanied by its demise. Music is rhythm, just ever as life itself.

?If sacred as sacredness can be? means to be aware of the spirit of rising and falling as demonstrated by the sounds of melody, then music as a healing medium has played its role well a night ago. Indeed, the Musical offerings in aid of Tsunami victims offered more than just a get together of inspired musicians and sacred music. It taught listeners about deep listening and being sensitive to the sounds of suffering. Dare we hope for a bigger concert in the future that embraces such creativity? A Festival of Sacred Music perhaps? BC

The Musical offerings in aid of Tsunami victims, organized by Sukhi Hotu was held at the Malaysian Tourism Centre in Kuala Lumpur on January 16, 2005. Proceeds and donations collected were forwarded to the relevant relief agencies reponsible for bringing aid to affected areas in Aceh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

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