Songs for Awakening


SONGS FOR AWAKENING, 88 pages, illustrated with photographs, calligraphy, woodcuts, drawings, and containing more than 40 songs about the Dharma. AVAILABLE NOW


At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I have seen Chinese and American Buddhists practicing Mahayana Buddhism in the authentic conventional way. Besides that they are working hard to translate Sutras into English, mainly from the Chinese versions. They are also composing English poems and tunes so that the Buddhadharma can be chanted by English-speaking people. I feel that both the verses and tunes are elegant and peaceful. This is a valuable task because it introduces simple and clear ideas to people in a way that can be easily understood by young and old.

-Ch’eng His, Professor of Chinese

Section on Music, Lotus Sutra, Chapter 7


      "...Revered and circumambulated by Gods, Dragon Kings, Gandharvas, Kinnaras, Mahoragas"...


Gandharvas and Kinnaras are music spirits in the court of the Jade Emperor. Gandharva means, "incense inhaler" because they love the smell of incense. When the Jade Emperor wants some music, he just lights some incense and the Gandharvas come flying in. Once they get there, the Jade Emperor says, "You guys make great music. Why don't you play a few tunes for me?" Since they love the incense, they obey the Jade Emperor, and make music for him, sniffing the incense all the while.

Kinnara means "doubtful spirit" because they resemble human beings, except that they have a horn on their heads. When they play music and dance for the Jade Emperor they shake their heads back and forth and around and around, to show off their beautiful horns. At least, they think they are beautiful. They sing, play music, dance, and shake their heads. This all just means that they have no samadhi power. Hah!

The entire eight-fold division is represented in this line of text. They are all very strange. Some have one leg, some have three legs, and some, like the Mahoragas, just crawl an their bellies. Some fly in the sky like the Garudas and the musical spirits. The Gandharvas and Kinnaras work out of the same union, and, if the Jade Emperor calls in the Kinnaras, they will usually demand that the Gandharvas be hired as well so they can jam together—rocking out on the drums, the conch shells, the bells and the gongs. The I-Ching or Book of Changes says, "It appears in heaven as the archetype and manifests in the phenom­enal on earth." Thus, we find music groups and musical instruments among people. Why do we have these music groups and these kinds of musical instruments? It's because some people who had their (five) eyes open took a look into the heavens and say, "Oh, wow, look at those instruments! Let's make some like that!" and so the great treasury of musical science was opened, thanks to the Kinnaras and Gandharvas. This isn't too hard to figure out. People have pretty much imitated the way things are in heaven.

At the beginning of Chapter Three of The Lotus Sutra, titled "A Parable," Sariputra's doubts are cleared away when he finds out that he, too, shall one day become a Buddha. He expresses his delight in verses:

"Hearing the Buddha's compliant voice 

Proclaiming the clear, pure Dharma 

Great is the joy within my heart..."