This interview was conducted with Sri Karunamayee in 2001 by Joan Allekotte, director of Sur Laya Sangam, and Marsha Maslan. a psychotherapist with a special interest in the relationship between the creative arts, healing, and spiritual practice.
Joan: We’re hearing a lot here in the west about healing and sound so I would like to ask a basic question. What is “healing Music”?
Sri Karunamayee: Music & Healing! Well that is a very vital question. What I feel is that healing presupposes wound. Unless there isn’t any wound there is no question of healing. I feel that Music is the basis of existence, rather substance itself. So it is very natural for Music to play the role of healing. For example, if we are making some thing with a fabric and there is some hole which we have to make up, it is with that very fabric it is covered up suitably and supported. We all know that this world is made up of five elements. According to the healers in the system of naturopathy, they take earth and use it on the spot for healing purposes of body ailments because it goes immediately and soothes. So music is the nectar of life. It composes life. It is the very basis of life. Wherever there is any wound, healing is done integrally by that. But where there is no wound it takes life quality forward. Maybe in the West people are becoming more and more conscious of the wounded aspect of life. So Music is showing its face as the supreme healer. Music always liberates. Music is our natural karma, like life-breath we are made up of music. We cannot go out of music. This is what I feel.
Marsha: Can you talk about how you were led to that realization and your experiences with healing and Music?
K: I will try to put it in words. You see, nobody can have a tailored life. When we are on the earth born into a world and we have to grow up with certain things in us and in the given environment, even if it is supportive it is always challenging too. So how one meets that challenge, from where can you get that unfailing sustenance? I, for myself always found sustenance in Music, the point of my own self, which merged with the source. It always charged my energies. My earliest memories are still very vivid. When I was one, two and three years of age I would be humming softly to myself endlessly. I was always immersed in myself. I was always very happy as a fish in the ocean of life with the help of music. I found naturally simple ways and with that, I always kept my contact with infinity through music. And it was always new and new like a wave when it forms. I knew even in my early childhood that it will never form the same way again. I also remember my first poem in my first level class which I could not read without hearing its’ music. So I found that I was slow in reading the prescribed poems in our course because immediately as I saw the text before me I would start hearing the Music. I always felt it, the poetry and melody, as totality. So this gift of realization has been always there. In fact Music is something of oceanic nature in its contribution to life richness. It gives so much sense of release and so much inner freedom and also so much joy to all concerned. You can not have any mood say even sorrow coming back to you unless it is felt in terms of Music. It is Music that highlights it and by highlighting even negative feelings of sorrow or sadness it provides catharsis also. So Music as foretaste of the Sound, provides that ‘sound-ground’ for sublimation. You rise above the sting of initial sorrow. It gives you a sense of aloofness and inner detachment. You are helped to rise above what seemed to engulf and submerge you with the help of music. The world no longer remains so difficult and so challenging as it first appeared. As soon as you take up even a simple note in any music and start humming, ‘Aumming,’ you start as if in a boat and start making your own journey in the current of life.
J: You’re speaking of a real elevation of spirit. There are many kinds of Music and your expertise is in Indian Vocal Classical.
K: Yes it has been Classical Indian Music, basically vocal. When I sing I like to incorporate the principle of harmony as far as it can go to highlight the Music. I find it is a very good experience. You see, in Music for healing a lot of stress is given to individual improvisation. Now, one can give voice to their own feelings and not only just replay and fulfill the work of masters, by reading and playing. But now you take one line and you can project it from different angles with your own improvisations. This freedom gives everybody an intimate feeling of active involvement. Now in Music you have the creative role also. It is something always new, something always arising. It is not fixed in a frame, howsoever beautiful it may be. But it is living. That is what gives it special healing quality.
You well know that Indian music is basically always very creative, very, very subjective and very, very individualistic in feeling and expression, so you give vent to your inspiration, the individual state of consciousness where you are at the moment. And as you go forward you take all the elements which may not have progressed to that level and when your performance of one Raga reaches its consummation point, everything has been taken into account and you find that a kind of climax is built. The apex holds everything. You see the best of it has been carried and contained in the last point at the summit. You reach a certain summit, which becomes the starting point of your next journey so it is a kind of evolutionary experience.
M: How would you describe the unique contribution that Indian Vocal Music has to offer us in the West?
K: You see Music has been the greatest gift of God anywhere upon earth and here [in the West] people are realizing it more and more. There is a universal spiritual basis in the form of the heartbeat, pulse. There is the rhythm, and this movement goes to the planetary level which holds all Cosmic Life together. Even if this cup is lying in the plate, the earth’s movement is still going on and yet, the cup, it is not falling, and I can sip my tea when I want to. There is great motion and because it is so fast it appears static and this is how we are able to hold ourselves. And we feel that we are moving towards a direction. There is a total cosmic movement of the Dance of Shiva, Nataraj’s Dance. And now, mine or anybody’s position in that is just like one atom in this Cosmic Dance of Shiva. But also, when we are talking like this and when we are thinking like this, we are blessed with consciousness of the Whole and in it our infinitesimally small role! The more you know the secrets of God and His Creation, the more of it comes back enriching to you, your own self. So it is a very rewarding experience.
M: Well, if I’m following you, then the actual healing quality not only in Indian Music, but any Music is that it brings us in touch with the Source which is the Unifying Force.
K: Yes, as much as musicians are able to bring of that inspiration into their work, so as much healing comes first to the musician. They are the first to experience this and then it spreads also. It is contagious.
J: So that brings a question in practical terms then, as far as sound and spiritual practice are concerned. What might be spiritual practice in sound? How do we make it real for ourselves?
K: You see, I will start with a most simple thing. To everyone, the sound which comes through themselves is the most assuring thing. Supposing when someone is going through a dark time and there is no one to support him. What does he do? He starts humming and whistling and this is how he feels reassured of his existence, and he is supported. Sound is light. That is the presence of Divine going through him, and he projects and he feels. So when you hum (and the simple humming that many people do they do not know is a kind of granting) even if you don’t sing, the breath is going deep from where it came. So when you take the breath with music it sustains you. The sustained sound naturally sustains. And you add a kind of mantra, the simplest mantra ‘Aum, Auuuum’ with your breath you go into sound. Breath is very natural. Without breath nobody can live. And this is being one with the ‘Spanda’ – the basic thing that sustains the whole cosmos, creation, which is passing through us also. That principle we make alive to us and it speaks through us. It sounds and it is just like a Shish Mahel. Imagine a room that is fitted with small, small, small, glasses and if it is evening time you may think, what is there? But suddenly, if you light a candle there, the whole thing lights up with as many reflections of light as there are glasses. The sound with a mantra, with consciousness, is just like that. The whole of existence, the whole of our inside, every cell of it becomes that beautiful temple of Divine where we see, feel our own warmth. It emits its own warmth and the sound that soothes, the simplest sound, this everyone can do and everyone can be sustained. It [Aum] does not need anything. Even a dumb person can do it perfectly because it is humming. It is ‘Aummming’ only. It does not involve any consonants. And wherever you feel there is pain, you take that breath with the sound. It will soothe you. It will give you an inner massage where no healers’ hands can go. No acupuncturists’ needle can pierce at that very membrane because you know where it hurts. Where the healing is needed you now can take that breath, then sound the name of Divine, the signature of God. It is one name of God that does not need any initiation. Everybody starts his life with this and the whole of nature is resounding with this, ‘Auuuum, Auuuum, Auuum.’ Then you hear the Sound behind the silence. This is the sound and which is always happening in us. When we turn our energies inside and produce that sound from here, the whole of the body lights up and it is lightened of all the burdens. You see, when we are in the greatest agony, if we do this, we are immediately charged with new energy and all that pain and tension falls from us like old leaves of autumn. Whether one does it consciously or unconsciously it happens. And if we become conscious we can start receiving the healing if healing is needed, and we can be completely free of all the ailments. Then more and more we become conscious. We are breathing from every pore. We are porous beings and we can learn the technique. I think many Yogis must have done it because they were above the need to eat and some of them, they could fly also. These are not just cock and bull stories. [laughter] There were times when people applied their energies in that area so they got those results. Now we have seen in spite of all the comfort which we have got, mastery over nature, hot cold etc., that our innermost need is not yet fulfilled. We find ourselves, you see, suffering even much more. So we are trying to tap those sources which give us infinite joy and which have been tried before but which were given up for sometime. There was industrial revolution and all that, and it gave a lot of gifts to humanity but now it is time that we enrich our life from all the dimensions. And as they say, Divine is the fourth dimension. And Music is fourth dimension.
J: I want to ask, what is the responsibility of the musician or someone who is working as a healer in sound?
K: To me it is very important that before trying to heal others, first you should test your own sound to yourself. How much healing does it bring about to you? How soothing is it to you? Then you can put it across with all the good will, with all the prayer, that it does bring about this effect. Where there is suffering there should be healing and you become an instrument of Divine. That way you are not yourself anything, but you have to keep your channel always clear and in tune and properly played with proper emphasis. All that you have to feel is where it is going and it will go in the right way and it will not hurt. Even the right thing when it is not said in the right way hurts. The Music [as Divine Healer] knows where to sing, what to sing, when to sing, how much to sing, how much not to sing. [The Music comes] through silence also. Unless one dose of medicine is digested in the system, don’t give another because otherwise it will give pressure, unnecessary pressure. You see, singer and listener, healer and healed; the healer has to learn to become the sufferer and to be healed [for healing to take place]. Thus the healer has to become that sensitive. It is a game of love. And ultimately know that “I am nothing, I am only an instrument of Divine action”.
So all the people, [that I teach] I always want, even if they may not aspire to become very great performers, but with the first note which they make, it brings a soothing feeling to themselves. Then it harmonizes their personality where all these angular aspects are taken care of and they are given Peace, Shanti. A basic Shanti is very, very essential. After that you can sow so many seeds whatever. The ground has to be made very, very clean and pure. That is the foundation of Creative Shanti.
J: I know you have had times in your life when you have had physical suffering and have used sound for support. Could you relate some of your own experiences?
K: Oh yes, yes. Life is full of that. I have been held by music as Mother. I will relate an experience. I had a triple fracture in 1965. I was coming from the radio station and I fell from the, well, rather I jumped from the running scooter [because] I saw a small lizard. I thought I had reached my destination and I rolled down. That was my first experience of bone breaking. I broke my elbow, humorous, radius, ulna and wrist so the whole world was changed in a second. I felt that I had fallen in a ditch and my breath was under the ground. It was so painful I can’t tell you. Even if I would take painkillers they would have no effect. At that time I received my greatest support through Music. It was my right hand so I started playing tamboura with the left hand and I enjoyed music so much. With the help of this I learned to go out of my body because my body was so troubled. I thought, ‘let me go out’. After all, the world had not changed. So with the help of Music, I would go and become a kind of drop and in the river I would go. Then sunrays would take me up and I would become part of a cloud and roam around in the skies, singing. And then I felt, let me come upon the earth and then I would go back to the body and let myself feel pain. Quite a lot! ‘Alright’, I thought, ‘I’ll run away again’. So with the help of Music, Consciousness and Yoga (which became One) I became a free bird. I would sometimes enter into the body of a bird and enjoy the whole creation. Or I would be in an apple and enjoy the flow of the whole sap of the tree. And then I would go to a person and enter his body, his consciousness. And then I would go back into this body and feel. Music gave me such a respite. I would enjoy ragas also.
J: You were singing?
J: You were singing your way through the journey?
K Yes, even when those doctors were performing the operation. I was coming from the radio station and we were rehearsing some music that we had to record the next day. All that Music was haunting me. When I came out [of the operation] they said, ‘oh she was entertaining us all the time!’ On the operation table there was a very fine streak of me that was conscious. They gave me anesthesia and all that but with the help of my Music I was keeping a continuous stream of awareness and one time it became too hot when they were giving me plaster. (They give plaster of paris in India.) So I said, ‘oh, it’s too hot, it’s too hot’ and ‘its to tight, its too tight’, and they adjusted but they were very surprised because they had given me anesthesia and I was telling this!!
M: So you maintained consciousness.
K: Yes, this has been my kind of dialogue with Divine. I want to take my consciousness from incarnation to incarnation. I don’t want to lose the string of consciousness and have to start with A,B,C,D and to start and make the same foolish mistakes. I don’t like this.
(laughter) Music can be a great help. It is a kind of protection. You can carry the truth of you without needing the anesthesia of complete forgetfulness of your previous life. That, Music can give and you can sustain yourself.
J: So even in this life when we have painful experiences…
K: We don’t want to be unconscious. Music brings you a kind of great protection because you are so harmonized. Every factor in us, every element in our personality is so nicely harmoniously woven together. [Karunaji picks up a candle.] In the center if you see it burn, just like this, you see there is fire in this candlelight but it cannot finish. The whole, all this wax or the candle, it is glorified by this flame. Our suffering, our joy, it will be our power if we are consciously harmonized with all the elements of our personality, if we have worked with the help of music. Music is a great help to harmonize the different elements of our personality. Give them due time, eh?? You see, some things have to be exhausted out, to be highlighted. We are made up of so many things. We are carrying the ages with us, but with music everything is taken care of. Everything falls in its right place without disturbing the other, without coming in the way of the other. Everything finds its time of fruition and fulfillment.
M: This is a lot. It seems you are saying that we are filled with so very many experiences, emotions, qualities, different states of consciousness and so on, and that you see Music as something that can show us the way to peace, not only within ourselves but in the world also.
K: Yes, because there is that principle of peace, which can have the power to uphold this confusion. That is the ultimate principle and this [the confusion] will exhaust itself, because that which upholds everything is peace. What we see coming in the name of Music, is so much noise, so much cacophony. It is in the name of realism, but this is partial. It is magnified so much and it is projected on rows of televisions and everyone is lying and sitting as if paralyzed before something that does not move, that has no life. What is being projected in the name of realism is the ugly aspect, the weak aspect, which has not given peace even to the Creator. It has been highlighted so much because we have some means of technology, but we have no discrimination. That is how we spread suffering but ultimately we will get tired of it. Nature is much wiser than we may think. She knows how to take care. She gives to us a very long rope. Let us exhaust our foolishness to the pinnacle. Then we ourselves will turn the other way. That is why we are seeking points of peace in our own personalities. All this movement for spiritual emergence everywhere on the earth, it is all HOPE. We are not intimidated by all the noise and we are not ambitious. My friends, it may not be a big number, but they are steady people. They know what they are doing. Our point of satisfaction is the Music itself because it gives us the point of infinity and we are very much recompensed. And so, as much as it spreads, as much as it is needed, it spreads. When people are ready, they get exposed and they receive it. And they feel supported.
M: It’s kind of like His Holiness the Dalai Lama said. “If you find this useful, very good, and if not, just forget all about it.” [Burst of laughter]
J: Thank you for this ray of hope.
K: Thank you very much.