Twice in the last month, on two separate occasions in completely different contexts, I have listened to performers singing deep, guttural chants of the sort that makes you wonder whether it comes from the your own insides or the outside. You may wonder whether I have joined a spiritual sect, but no. I was simply struck by the coincidence, and now I begin to wonder whether there is a pattern. Is there something that is happening to humans that evokes the need for chanting in different places at this particular juncture in history?
Tibetan chanting is mostly a preparation for entering a state of meditation where there is emptiness and no duality. Without duality there is no fight, no hubris, no reason for fear or greatness, no reason for fretfully seeking meaning through violence. There is no 'other.' In fact, when you listen to it, you can feel yourself falling into a million light particles that are one and the same with the shining universe. It seemed a dream or a wish, but in the fifteen minutes that I listened to it, it was real, and all of the division we see in the world today was no more than a dreadful illusion. I glanced down the rows in the audience. Even those whom I knew to be grey-suited officials by day, willingly succumbed in the darkness of the performance to the beckoning, which was no beckoning at all.
A few weeks later I sat in a concert hall where the otherwise light and playful summer concert began with a single-voice rendition of the Dies Irae, a Latin hymn about the Day of Wrath created by western monks during the thirteenth century. It became the most quoted melody in musical literature. As the soloist walked down the aisle towards the stage drilling the sound into us and evoking it from us (I don't know which), the Eastern chanting of the few weeks' before ran into the West's hymn about the Day of Judgement, when souls gathered before the throne of God to be sent to heaven or to burn in the flames of hell. It is hardly a unifying legend, and the chant of the East seemed at first to laugh at the folly of western division before readily forming a continuity of sound from East to West that overcame this sorry tale, a by-product of the perceived need to divide in order to rule. This is the oldest trick in the book exercised by those who aspire to power and those who are paranoid about the loss of it, and an alarming number of humans seem to fall for it throughout time.
Yet, what stays with me from these experiences of the spring as, like everyone else, I have watched and listened to what seems like the unraveling of the world, is the unstoppable blending of two sounds that really are a single sound coming from deep within the human spirit. It is the chant of humanity which is the excruciating pain of division, our suffering, and the never-ending hope of one.