Every religion or spiritual faith depends on music to create an atmosphere of spiritual longing, beauty and refinement. This kind of music can be ennoble and inspire our spirit to divine aspirations and express our longing to live a more spiritually conscious life in the physical world.
No matter what religion, physical setting , or language in which a religious service or spiritual meeting may be conducted, spiritual music is used in the same way and for the same reasons throughout religious and spiritual groups throughout the world. The greatest musical compositions are those that celebrate God, building a melodious bridge between the human being and the divine spirit. Music that speak of God’s glory or expresses our deepest spiritual aspirations can elevate and center our attention in the divine.
The Greek philosophers, Plato, Plotinus and Pythagoras, in their writings described the existence of a universal harmony called ” The Music Of The Spheres”. They believed that the planets, as they orbited throughout the universe, produced a perfect music that could be heard by the enlightened beings. Those whose lives were lived in the harmony with divine laws could ” tune in” to this universal music. Many philosophers since then have also theorized about the music of the spheres.
In the 17th century, the great English playwright, William Shakespeare, made reference to the Music Of The Spheres in his romantic comedy, The Merchant Of Venice. At the end of the play, one of the main character laments that this divine music can only be heard by ” immortal souls “, but those who are constrained inside the human body are unable to hear it.
Religion has two aspects, an inner or esoteric side and an outer or exoteric side. The inner or esoteric side of religion is the aspect that deals with the spiritual experience in which our soul recognizes itself and reunites with the God. It is reached through inner spiritual practices such as meditation, prayer, or inverting one’s attention within to contact the divine. By going within through meditation we can connect with the inner light and sound, or celestial music of God, called the word, naam, the light and sound current, harmony of harmonies, nad, jyoti and sruti, kalma or voice of silence. It is a music or sound that emanates from God and is not made by any instrument. It is the vibratory principle of God that created all religions of creation, this physical world, all life, including the human beings, and resounds within each being. To listen to it requires inner spiritual practices such as meditation.
Each religion also has an outer or exoteric side, which involves rites, rituals, outer services, outer recitation of prayers, and various customs. Outer music is often an integral part of the outer aspect of any religion. It forms the part of the many of the customs, religious services, or rites and rituals in various religions. It also has the effect of inspiring, creating a spiritual mood, and helping to focus attention on spiritual goals.
Devotional music is always performed in Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist religious services. Such music is considered an offering to the divine, or to deities, Gods and goddesses- an offering that is believed to summon the grace and protection of God or any chosen deity. These hymns are called shabds or shabads, bhajans and kirtan are integral to private and group worship. Another aspect of Eastern spiritual music, in Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism particularly, is the role of mantras. A mantra is a ” sacred utterance”- a syllable, a word, or a verse considered to posses great mystical power. Some mantras are intoned out loud and others are repeated silently, by the ” tongue of the thought”. Some mantras have no apparent meaning in terms of the human language and yet are thought to carry a deep spiritual significance. Some mantras are repeated until they produce a trans-like state. Those mantras that are considered to be the most powerful are those given verbally by a spiritual master.
Buddhist music revolves around the Buddhist traditions. In general, Buddhist monks encourage music related to one’s spiritual exercises. Buddhist chants, especially Tibetan chants are famous for producing vocal overtones and harmonies with the use of drums.
Christian spiritual music covers a vast field. During a religious service, spiritual hymns from the Bible are sung. There are also original songs that are sung and accompanied by the music written on the christian themes.
The holy scripture in the Islam is the Koran. Music in Islam centers mostly on the chanting of the Koran in the forms of call to prayer, pilgrimage chants, eulogy chants of praise, and other noble themes. The Koran is written in Arabic, so the reading of the scriptures, done in the melodious way, is also in Arabic.
Music of the Sikhs is largely devotional, often accompanied by the harmonium and tablas. These hymns prepare one for meditation and simran.