famous musician and composer Nitin Sawhney was invited by the Gyalwang Karmapa
to perform at this year’s Marme Monlam, the spectacular end to the 34th Kagyu
Monlam. In a break between rehearsals, Nitin responded to questions about his
spiritual path and his music, how he came to be at the Marme Monlam, and his
thoughts about the Karmapa.
like to ask you first about your childhood. There’s a spiritual current in your
work and I wonder if you can trace that back to your family and its influence.
mum comes from a very strong, ancient Hindu background and had an interest in
ancient Hindu philosophy. She’s a Brahmin and used to recite prayers with us
every Tuesday. She taught me a lot about the Vedas, even mathematics and also
yoga. She would talk to us about ideas from the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the
Bhagavad Gita. I’m always interested in that heritage, which was quite strong
in my family.
it influence what you’re writing now?
very much. What’s interesting is that the second piece we’re playing tonight is
a piece I wrote calledRiver
Pulse, which is the only piece I’ve ever written that has to do
with anything Buddhist. When I wrote it, I had the image in my mind of the
Buddha sitting under the Bodhi Tree and the idea that the pulse of the river
gave him enlightenment. Of all the songs proposed to him, the Karmapa asked me
to play this piece, and he had no way of knowing that I wrote it purely about
the Buddha’s enlightenment. The fact that he chose it is the main thing that
made me want to come here, as I thought, “Well then, it’s supposed to happen.”
there are a lot of stories around this. Just before I came Bodh Gaya, I was
staying at a yoga retreat that gave me time to prepare myself mentally and
spiritually for being here. There was ayurvedic and yogic practice as well as different
exposures to Indian classical music. I even read a book about Buddha while I
terms of my childhood, I think my mum and dad gave me their perspective on what
Hinduism meant to them. In some ways I think religion has been difficult for me
because sometimes it can get in the way of spirituality, so the two can be in
conflict. But the way my mum and dad taught me about Hinduism, there was no
conflict. I felt very much at peace with the idea of spirituality and the
essence of it.
that because their approach was more experiential?
I think so. And also music has been a very, very good way for me to find a lot
of truth. I think music is the voice of the universe. In my perspective, OM was
the first word that was uttered. That’s very powerful, as I think it manifests
itself when we’re playing “River Pulse” or even “Sunset.” There’s the concept
of playing in a key, which is actually the implied OM that is around us all the
time. We’re playing from that beginning always. It resembles an idea from
Pandit Ravi Shankar who said, “You’re a vessel to be filled with the feeling
and the sound of the universe.” It comes through you and you’re just a medium
for it to manifest. I really liked this idea.
also interested in the idea of being in tune with yourself. As a musician, you
have to tune your guitar, and when you play with other people, you have to tune
to them. I think it’s the same when you come to a new country or place. You
might be in tune with yourself, but you have to tune again to the place you’re
in and to the people around you. I don’t really go with the morality kind of
concept of right and wrong or good and evil—this is too much of a dichotomy.
I’m much more into the idea that we flow with discord or not. If we are
discordant with what is around us, then it feels wrong, it doesn’t work. But if
you are in tune with yourself and what’s around you, then everything flows very
Buddhism, there are the concepts of the ultimate and the relative, which are
inseparable. You can move from the relative into the ultimate, and through the
dynamic compassion, the ultimate becomes embodied as the relative.
right. It’s the dynamic of compassion. And to be compassionate, you have to be
in tune with yourself first. Compassion cannot come from someone who is not at
ease with themself, who is insecure, worried, or anxious.
like music. If you’re playing music and the notes are not in tune, you just
automatically stop playing because it doesn’t feel like it’s working. It’s the
same thing with the way we are – I guess.
is also interesting for its ontological status. It’s not a solid thing like
this table and yet it’s not nothing either. It occupies a space somewhere in
interesting that you should say that. There’s a mathematician named G. H. Hardy
who once said that the only true reality was mathematics, because it’s
something that never changes. Like you said, the table appears to be solid, but
actually 100,000th of diameter of each atom is the nucleus and that’s where
most of the matter is, so actually everything we see around us is mainly
is like this too. Einstein said that relativity came to him through musical
intuition, so it’s actually his realization of what the universe was. This
understanding of the universe came to him through musical feeling, so I think
music is a very powerful voice of the universe.
it’s used in all spiritual traditions. They all chant and sing. There’s also
something about the vibrations of our own voice or a musical instrument
lightening the solid sense our body, so it’s easier to tune into what’s called
the body of light.
agree. I think that’s very true. When you play music there’s a transformation
of your normal self into more of an extension of the universe, rather than just
being an isolated being. That’s why I love playing with other musicians,
because you’re communing together with the voice of the universe.
there a sense also of flowing out to the audience?
much. I think there’s electricity that happens between the musicians and
between the musicians and the audience. There’s a feeling that spreads. If you
have a good spirit between you on stage and it’s working, then it’s effortless
for that to spread. You don’t have to try to make it spread; you just feel it
and everyone can feel the same. It’s an infectious feeling rather than a
of your albums is titledOneZero,
which is very Zen, and your aesthetic is also minimalist. That’s quite
different from the profusion of Hinduism.
are different interpretations. Hinduism was originally an oral tradition. The
ornamentation of how temples look or the aesthetic of how Hinduism looks these
days is like the catholic church. It’s like Martin Luther when he broke away
from the catholic church. He said he was justified by faith alone. He turned
around and in 1517 he nailed up theNinety-Five
indulgences at the church in Wittenberg. In a way, the beginning of
Protestantism was a breaking away from all that kind of ornamentation and
opulence that the catholic church demonstrated.
feel that as well about anything that is too demonstrative of opulence. I naturally
shy away from it. I’m much more interested in a pure form of expression that
comes from a feeling which is effortless. You don’t need to have lots of
ornamentation or attempts to beautify anything. What is graceful is
automatically beautiful. In the music you play or whatever you do in life,
there should be a sense of grace to the way it works, and then there’s no
Buddhism, there’s the idea of approaches being elaborate or unelaborate.
Emptiness is described as unelaborate, so it doesn’t have a lot of conceptual
proliferation around it. It’s just very clear and simply is what is.
Absolutely. That’s the thing, and I always like to start everything from
emptiness as much as I can. I like to take time before I begin a track, or
anything really, to just be in the moment without rushing, because the music
should come from that moment and not from panic about what happens next. That’s
the danger. When music doesn’t work for me is when you can hear the panic. For
me music should always come from somewhere that sounds gradual and gentle. Even
if it comes with a lot of energy, the energy comes from somewhere graceful.
meditate a lot through music and I also take time to do yoga every day. During
that I normally do some breathing techniques and just before I start the yoga
session, I’ll have ten to fifteen minutes of silence and meditation.
Sutra has wonderful teachings on the mind, which are similar to Buddhism.
Patanjali talked a lot about ideas that were actually impossible in modern
thinking, like the idea of flying or levitating. I think that is symbolic of
breaking free from or expectations of yourself or limitations you place on
yourself psychologically. Everyone has insecurity about their capabilities or
their context or how they relate to other people. It’s important to find your
own sense of value with yourself.
breeds fear, and fear breeds a need for power. I see this in so many places. I
think this is what is going on in the world right now with certain people. It’s
scary because you can see how much insecurity there is in one person and the
fear that comes from it. There’s paranoia and then the need to impose power on
people. This cycle creates so much hate. So I think it’s important to be at
peace with yourself before you begin anything.
a line in the Heart Sutra that has always fascinated me. It says that since the
bodhisattvas have no afflictions—no ignorance, hatred, attachment, pride,
jealousy, etc.—they have no fear. So if your mind can touch into that inner
purity or emptiness, there is no fear.
found enlightenment by escaping suffering and pain. He transcended the cycle of
suffering and pain that we’re all in.
that suffering comes from these negative afflictions.
And I think this is one of the beautiful things about music. When you are
playing music and you’re in the right space, there’s the sense that, even if
it’s for a short time, you can transcend all those feelings of fear, worry and
anxiety and be genuinely in tune with something much bigger, much larger. It’s
those moments that are very valuable.
one piece I play calledProphesy,
which we are not performing today. I wrote it originally as a homage to the
land that I am in. It’s about listening to the drone of the insects and the
sounds around you. You gradually evolve a piece of music that speeds up in the
Sufi way, like how the whirling dervishes do. They spin faster and faster and
it’s the same concept with the music. There’s something about celebrating the
universal power. Sometimes when you’re playing, it’s like the charging of a
battery. You feel that you’re becoming more and more charged by a universal
spirit that flows through you. It’s really an amazing thing.
whirling there’s a point when the turning takes over and you’re no longer
the same withProphesybecause it’s actually a piece that
speeds up in the same way. You can watch your hands and everything is working
together. I’m aware of Aref on the tablas, and when we’re playing together,
we’re very much as one because we’re both communing with the same thing. It’s a
something similar in mantra practice. A seed syllable is visualized in your
heart and the mantra turns around it. When you’re first working with it, you
have to get used to it, think about the shapes, the colors, and the movement.
Then slowly, the mantra starts speeding up and turning on its own.
It’s very powerful.
you think that when things go well, this gets communicated to others?
think so. As I said, when you have the right feeling between you, then that
automatically, not necessarily gets communicated, but it effects the room in a
good way like a benign virus. It’s more than communication, which is so linear.
An infection is something that spreads, and the feeling that comes with music
is like that, something that spreads around you, so it can be between people,
between the air. It’s a feeling, an electricity, that’s created in a space.
also been involved in music education. Is it part of your compassionate
involvement in the world?
like to do lots of work with kids, university students, and local communities.
I think it’s important. With me it can be a bit selfish, too, because I learn a
lot from teaching and working with younger people. You can remember what it is
to learn and feel excited about something when it’s experienced for the first
time. I have been showing Kara the singer how to do Vedic mathematics and
mental arithmetic, for example, the 100 times table in her head. She had not
done that before, and she’s been practicing and got very excited, asking me to
test her. It’s nice. You think, “Oh wow. That’s what I used to feel like when I
first was learning.”
reminds you, so you don’t become complacent and take things for granted. I
think it’s one of the most important things. We’re all very privileged to play
music, and to play for the Karmapa in this space is a great privilege. The
moment we forget that is the moment we lose ourselves.
you played for a spiritual teacher before?
but one great thing that happened to me was interviewing Nelson Mandela. I
think he was an amazing human being. I can’t, however, think of any spiritual
teacher off the top of my head.
is the first time then.
I think it probably is. It feels very natural to be here and very good. I like
how relaxed the Karmapa is. How he walks around with humility and with the
sense of being with people. He’s not arrogant or anything like that, which is a
great thing, because he could be but he’s not, which is great to see.
was once asked what his mission was, and he replied, “To bring Buddhism into
the 21st century.”
I can see that. I get that totally. There’s a quotation fromZen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance, in that book it says “Buddhism is not to be
found only in the petals of a flower but also in the console of the computer.”
It’s a great quote. It’s not the idea of pantheism, it’s more that spirituality
is within and everything else is an illusion. The idea that one thing is more
spiritual than the other is crazy. Bringing Buddhism into the 21st century
makes a lot of sense to me. People get buried in tradition and sometimes they
can think that’s where spirituality is. But actually it’s not. It’s in our
everyday life, how we speak to each other, how we respect each other, how we
look at the universe, how we show compassion, how we think and feel. In that
respect I think the Karmapa is saying something very wise.
of the definitions of buddhahood or enlightenment is that there is absolutely
no difference between meditating on a cushion and being out in the world. The
two are equal. When they were planning a new building at the Karmapa’s seat in
New York, he was asked where he wished to have his rooms. One option was on the
quiet side of the structure with a beautiful, long vista of the mountains and a
lake in the distance, and the other overlooked the parking lot. He chose the
later so he could see people.
a lot of sense.
had mentioned a history of coincidences that brought you here. Could you tell
I was sixteen I wrote this piece about the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree. What
happened was, I went to see a play of Garcia Lorca, calledYermaand there was a Punjabi translation of
it, which I thought was fantastic. I felt the performance to be very strong.
Afterward I went back to see the director afterwards who was a woman, called
Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry and I said to her, “If you ever want me to do anything
for your theater company whether it’s playing music, writing it, or even
sweeping floors, I don’t care what it is, I’ll do it.” I asked her, “Where do
work in India,” she replied.
I said, “Maybe one day I can come there.”
“You’d be very welcome.”
months later, I decided that I was going to try and find her, but this was back
in the early 90s, and I had no way of tracking her down. So I went to India and
was staying at my uncle’s house in Gurgaon near Delhi. I said to him, “ Do you
know this person? Her name is Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry and she’s a great
director.” He replied, “ I have no idea how to find her, but your uncle in
Chandigarh might know. I’m going there at 6 o’clock tomorrow morning. Would you
like to join me?” I said, “Sure.” So we were standing on the train platform and
I remember looking up and seeing a monkey silhouetted against the morning sun,
and then a voice next to me said “Nitin.” I turned around and it was Neelam
Mansingh Chowdhry. “How are you?” she asked. I’m all right and surprised you
said, “Yes, I remember. We had a nice conversation.”
“Well,” I said, “I came here to find you.”
She didn’t seem that surprised and said, “Well, we’re going to Chandigarh now.
I live there. Is that where you’re going?”
I replied, “Yes, with my uncle.” “Why don’t you join us?”
for the next two weeks, I spent time with her at her amphitheater, and then
lost track of her. Fifteen years later, I was speaking with the Indian film
director called Deepa Mehta, who was talking to me about writing music for
Childrenand I said
I’d love to do it. At the end of our two-hour long conversation, she said,
“There’s one other thing. I really want to introduce you to somebody I know
you’ll get along with.” Without her saying anything else, and even to this day,
I don’t know why I said this, “Is it Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry?” “Yes, she’s my
best friend. How did you know?” “I don’t know,” I replied. Then we talked for a
I was telling this same story to a person named Veer Singh, who had invited me
to stay at the yoga retreat I spoke about before. He said, “That’s amazing.
She’s my aunty. That place you were talking about with the amphitheater its
half owned by my grandmother.” Veer had also had the Dalai Lama stay at
the retreat and in my room there was one of his books on Buddhism I read whilst
I was there. I told Veer I was coming to Bodh Gaya and he knew a lot about the
Karmapa and Buddhism.
was interesting as I had a great experience coming here. It was very purifying,
even literally with detoxing. It’s strange because it feels like a very
interesting path that has led me here that started a long time ago. I have had
many, many coincidences in music that are crazy but this feels related to me
being here in Bodh Gaya with the Karmapa today and interesting that he chose my
trackRiver Pulseto play as he wouldn’t know it was
related to Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree.
December 28, 2016, in a historic letter sent to his Kagyu nunneries in India,
Nepal, and Bhutan, the Karmapa officially announced that the actual process of
establishing full ordination for nuns in the Karma Kamtsang tradition would
begin. He stated that at the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment in Bodh Gaya,
on the auspicious day of the full moon in the Month of Miracles, (the first
month in the Tibetan calendar, falling on March 12, 2107), the shramaneri (getsulma)
vows would be conferred on those nuns wishing to take full ordination. Following
much deliberation, a path to full ordination was established. It was decided
that the nuns would hold these shramaneri vows for a year, after which they
will take the shikshamana (gelopmaor training) vows from Dharmaguptaka
nuns and keep them for two winters or two summers. Finally, they will receive
the bhikshuni (gelongmaor full ordination) vows with the
participation of nuns from the Dharmaguptaka tra…
Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
many preparations are underway for the Getsulma (novice) ordination to be held
during this 4th Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering. The Karmapa plans to hold
the ordination on the auspicious full moon day of Chötrul Duchen, the historic
day that marks fifteen days after Losar and commemorates the time when the
Buddha performed a different miracle each day to instill devotion. As the
Karmapa mentioned during the first day of the Arya Kshema, this year initiates
the historic path to the process of full ordination, which will occur in stages
over several years. This is a well-thought process that grants nuns the
opportunity to practice the authentic vinaya path. They will take the Getsulma
vows in the tradition of a strictly observant tradition of Mahayana Vinaya
nuns, thus garnering respect for their sangha and demonstrating their life-long
commitment to their vows. Since there is no lineage for fully ordained nuns in
SE Report GANGTOK,
March 16: A delegation of monks from various monasteries
of Sikkim staged a sit-in protest outside the BJP national headquarters in New
Delhi today demanding the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje to be allowed to visit
and bless the people of Sikkim.
The delegation led by Denjong Lhadey chanted slogans
demanding and also submitted a memorandum with the demand to the Prime Minister’s
Office through senior officials.
The memorandum reiterates the Denjong Lhadey’s
demand to urgently send the Buddhist spiritual leader to Sikkim. The monks on
dharna outside the BJP office were also detained by Delhi police at Mandir Marg
police station and later released, informs a press release.
In November of 2015, during the 6th Khoryug Conference, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa set the aspiration that all Khoryug monasteries and nunneries should develop practical skills and knowledge for disaster preparedness and response. He later explained that “We were all affected greatly by the earthquake in Nepal and wanted to know how we could help so that in the future we are not just taken by fear but prepared to be useful and deal skillfully with the situation.…
His Holiness reflected on the part ofGeshe
Potowa’s Long Soliloquy, which had virtue in monasteries as its
focal point. He encouraged everyone to nurture enthusiasm and bodhicitta, the
essence of which is the union of emptiness and compassion, to guide our efforts
to benefit others. Following a short instruction, he concluded with a
meditation session. Though he had completed this year’s Monlam teaching, he had
not exhausted the content of the whole text and announced that the teaching on
the text would extend for one or two more Monlams.
Karmapa read Geshe Potowa’s accounts of visiting monasteries. When he inquired
after fine individuals, he was often told that these fine individuals, the
life-blood of the monastery, were the wealthy ones, with much gold, turquoise
and cattle. Equating wealth with virtue meant they were immersed solely in the
matters of this life. “You should leave that place” Geshe Potowa urges “just as
a bird leav…
Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
the second half of his teachings this morning, the Karmapa shared his research
into the history of nuns and their status. He began by explaining the
background of the name “Arya Kshema,” given to the Winter Dharma Gathering. He
noted that among the disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha, there were his eight
greatest male monastic disciples, known for their prajna (supreme wisdom) or
miracles and so forth. Likewise, there were female master disciples who were
greatest at miracles or known for their prajna and other outstanding qualities.
Arya Kshema is one of these and she is described in theSutra of the Wise and
greatest in wisdom and confidence, so the Winter Dharma Gathering is named
after her. “In
giving this name,” the Karmapa explained, “we are also following the saying,
‘Later disciples should practice the example of past masters.’ Previously,
during the time of the Buddha Shakyamuni, there were woman arhats, bhikshu…
the third year in succession, the Taiwan Health Corps has been working with
Kagyu nuns during the Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering. Twenty-one
nuns from eight nunneries—Ralang, Tilokpur and Palpung Yeshe Rabgye Ling in
India, Karma Leksheyling, Tara Abbey, Osel Karma Thekchöling and Samten
Ling in Nepal, and Drubde Palmo Chökyi Dingkhang in Bhutan– have
successfully completed a nine-day training in basic health care. Dr
Jeffrey Chen, CEO of the Taiwanese based NGO Taiwan Health Corps, first
responded to a request from the Gyalwang Karmapa to develop initiatives to
improve the health and healthcare of nuns more than three years ago. This year
he has returned for a third time with a team of six health professionals to
provide basic training for a new batch of nuns. The team comprises Professor
Kuo Su Chen, a specialist in Women’s Health, Dr Chin Min Yi, a doctor of
traditional Chinese medicine, Dr Wei Cheng Chou, urologist and surgeon, Hsin-Yu
Awards for the 20th Kagyu Gunchoe A lively
demonstration by monks from the 20th Kagyu Gunchoe of their debating skills on
the topicTurning the Wheel of Dharma preceded the awards for the
Gunchoe debate competition. This was followed by a long dedication monologue
delivered by Lhagpa Yeshe, a monk from Benchen Shedra. This composition
containing sections in both verse and prose is the traditional way to finish a debate
and is known as the Noble Words [Tib.Tsig Zang].
Then came the
awards themselves. The winners received a trophy, a certificate and a cheque to
be spent by their shedra.
for Collected Topics (Dudra) was awarded to Lava Shedra. They received a trophy depicting
a pecha atop a lotus and stem, and a cheque for 100,000 Indian rupees.
for Collected Topics went to Benchen Shedra. They received a trophy of Manjushri’s Sword
of Wisdom and a check for 50,000 Indian rupees.
afternoon of the 34th Kagyu Mönlam started slightly earlier than usual with a
Medicine Buddha tsok practice according to the Concise Ritual of
Offering to the Seven Tathagatas, compiled by the 6th Sharmapa. Tsok, in
the form of small bags of fruit, was distributed to each and every participant,
sangha and lay followers alike, and money offerings traditionally known in
Tibet as 'kunki' were also given to the sangha.
At the end of
the afternoon break, His Holiness Karmapa came onto the stage and the session
on the Appreciation of the Sponsors opened with the procession for the mandala
offering, led by the sponsors who then sat on the stage for the blessings that
would follow. Appreciation of the Sponsors is an opportunity to share and
dedicate virtue, and His Holiness spoke at some length on the importance of
generosity as a means for generating virtue, and on the equal indispensability
of the dedication of the virtue generated.