Tuesday, 30 September 2014

In sight of sound

"Silence is the loudest form of prayer"  

Swami Vivekananda

It has long been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Maybe the power of images comes precisely from the fact that it is devoid of the noise of a thousand words and that in silence something beyond intellectual understanding or superficial cognition can be communicated and yet if we look further it is not so easy to separate sound from silence.
The Cosmic Mandala found at Punakha Dzhong in Bhutan is an incredibly peaceful image to look upon. It symbolises the cosmos, giving a universal perspective on all things. It tells us of the basic elements of fire, wind, water and earth and all the emerging forms that can be created. A fifth element ether represents the all pervading condition and source of all the elements that fill space. 
Knowledge of this symbolism is not needed to sense the peace and unity that can be felt from this harmonious work of art.  Somehow it transmits the feeling of the ultimate 'big picture' perspective without dialogue, bypassing the intellect and talking straight to the heart-mind within. Stillness follows and no words are needed. But, is not the image curiously reminiscent of sound projected into matter - just as a rain drops create ripples in a pond?

In all cultures art and spirituality have provided support and guidance for humans as they live out there lives facing the sufferings and joys that accompany us on our way from birth to death.  My own personal leaning is towards Advaita and Buddhism ...philosophies that have spoken to me from my mid teens but across the globe, throughout belief systems old and new, art is used to inspire, to soothe and to tell wisdom tales.  
Being born and brought up in Australia I am keenly aware of the huge roll art plays in the Aboriginal culture. The mesmerising and time consuming paintings that tell the Dreamtime tales of their culture. 

Galya Pwerle's painting style is often carried out in two stages:  first the secret iconography, and then a  magnificent overdotting technique


Storytelling is an integral part of life for Indigenous Australians. From an early age, storytelling plays a vital role in educating children. The stories help to explain how the land came to be shaped and inhabited; how to behave and why; where to find certain foods, etc.
Gathered around the camp fire in the evening, elders told tales of the Dreamtime.
 Story telling is a part of human culture across the globe. Traditional storytelling is often synonymous with song, chant, music, or epic poetry. Stories may be sung or chanted or spoken with musical accompaniment. Folk music had it roots in such places and were in the past as much storytellers as they were musicians.  Names such as bards, ashiks, jyrau, griots reflect their roles which at the time meant they were not only historians and tradition bearers but also spiritual teachers and  healers, for which the stories and music were vehicles.  In Central Asia, the word bakhshi means instrumentalist, singer, and storyteller as well as healer and shaman.
"Like the shaman, the storyteller is a walker between the worlds, a mediator between our known world and that of the unknown – a communer with dragons and elves, with faeries and angels, with magical and mythical beasts, with Gods and Goddesses, heroes and demons, able to pass freely from this world into those above and those below and to help us to experience those other realms for ourselves. He or she is an intensely powerful invoker of elemental powers, of the powers of absolute transformation, who can show us how to confront our most deeply-engrained fears, or teach us how to experience ecstasy or bring us face to face with death or terror of the spirit – with the infinite and incomprehensible. He is not only the archetypal magician but also the archetypal guide." Michael Berman

 In days gone by a skilled storyteller would weave his fireside magic - silence and sound, light and shadow were his tools.  His voice, the crackling fire, worked with silence, as his gestures and facial expressions played in the glow and shadow of the flames. Effortlessly creating emotion and imagery within and without of the listeners.  These were our teaching methods, methods that could be adapted to each audience intuitively to bring about the most powerful response. A master storyteller is keenly aware of the depth  and layers of each moment, artistically pulling strings of words into being and following them with rounded silence. His awareness that each is included in the other brings us to a feeling of non-dualism which is where great healing, wisdom and peace can occur.

In Tibet sacred paintings are also regarded as story telling and healing tools and as much good karma or merit (bsod nams) was believed to be created by commissioning a painting as there was in painting it. Viewed as a wholesome manifestation that can be directed to improve a situation or produce a desired good both in this life and the next they are seen as a physical supports for enlightenment.
Tibetans were often advised by religious teachers and leaders to commission paintings for removal of physical or mental obstacles ( bar chad sel bar) or for a long life ( zhabs brtan ).

White tara is the embodiment of compassion. An image of Tara is effective in removing obstacles and granting protection.

Amitayas bestowes long life.

Thangkas were also painted after the death of a relative or dear one to help create the conditions necessary for a happy rebirrth. Lamas determined which deity was to be depicted sometimes by using astrological information or their own insight into the life of the deceased.

Other reasons for commissioning a Thangka is to aid people in their spiritual practice.  These images are often created by lamas as well as artisans and the creation of Thangkas is regarded as a spiritual act. Though the Thangka painter as a Yogi is largely a misconception, most painters are spirtually minded and many are tantric intiates. Most Thangka painters never sign their work and the process of training removes any egoic motivations so that ultimately the painting is created from peace as an offering for the benefit of all sentient beings. With this as an original intention it is not surprising that they are used to help create  sacred spaces, as focus points for meditation and sometimes to enhance visualisations during meditations. 
Pigments were and sometimes still are ground from natural sources, so that blues are made from lapis, greens from malachite etc. With all that is being discovered and explored about the properties of crystals today it has to be considered as a possibly significant ingredient in the creative process.

Sand mandalas are exquisite representations of the beauty and transience of life.
Like all mandalas they are believed to have the ability to transmit beneficial, healing energies to the environment and the to beings who view them and to the whole world. During the construction of each sand mandala ( which may take weeks to complete ) the monks chant and meditate to invoke the divine energies to reside within the mandala. After completion and some time of viewing further ceremonies and blessings take place as the sand is swept up and offered to flowing water to further share the blessings with all beings.
Monks study both philosophy and art for  about 3 years before making such Mandalas




The medicine men of the Navaho Indians also practice sacred sand painting that like the Tibetan form is also created and then destroyed. Again these artworks are created in a ritualistic manner involving chanting and ceremony to invoke spiritual beings.



It is interesting to observe the intertwining of silence and sound in these practices.  Sound is chanted either aloud or silently as these images are formed, intertwining the energy of mantra and art as it becomes manifest as a visual form. Mantras are known to be effective both when chanted aloud and in silence within mind. 

"Mantras are not small things. Mantas have power. They are the mind
vibration in relationship to the Cosmos. The Science of Mantra is based on
the knowledge that sound is a form of energy having structure, power, and a
definite, predictable effect on the chakras and the human psyche." Yogi Bhajan

The etymology of the word mantra is complex.
  • manā is devotion, atttachment, zeal.
  • manikṛ - to take to heart.
  • manu – wise, intelligent, thinking.
  • maṇ - sounds
  • maṇī is a jewel.

  • tra- protection, and trā a protector
  • traṃs can mean "to speak" or "to shine". 
"From these we can say that: Mantra protects ( tra) the mind (man) from confusion (trap) and so that one is not afraid (tras). A mantra tears (tru) the veil of illusion (māyā). Protection (tra) is born of the mind (manoja) because a well guarded mind protects on from all evil. A mantra is the function (tra-) of the intelligent mind (manas), it speaks (traṃs) intelligently (manu), it shines (traṃs) like a jewel (maṇī). In the final analysis wisdom (manu) is the best protector (trā), because all is mind (manas) "

 For many thousands of years yogis and mystics have used mantras to aid transformation on a spiritual and mental and physical level. The three are not separated in the way Descartian based western science has come to believe. These Mantras are varied, each one having its own quality, rhythm and effect. Just our our thoughts, feelings and physical being has its own vibratory quality so too do the Mantras. Exposing our being to these mantras can direct our minds  to a different or higher frequency. We can remove ourselves from thought inflicted distress and become engulfed in the nature of the mantra and the vibrations that this arouses and experience ourselves as spiritual beings again. Undifferentiated from one-ness we feel whole and at peace.

George Harrison has said of his lifelong Bhakti practice, chanting is “a direct connection with God." When our spiritual identity is awakened, we experience the unity of all life, which consequently awakens our hearts and opens our capacity for compassion, whereupon we may live out our material lives free of animosity, envy and pride." 

From this it is easy to understand how the formation another form of healing art called Likhita Japa came into being 
Just like other forms of healing or spiritual art written Japa or Likhita Japa is pictorial and or written mantras that again benefit the practitioner in the doing the viewer in the seeing and the environment at large. It is is believed to be very powerful.


And so the stillness that is felt as one creates or views these images, this silence that is found within is simultaneously filled with harmonious vibrations that are healing and beneficial on so many levels.

Vibration as form is studied in many different ways. 
Dr Emoto is well known for his studies on the effect of vibration on water. Though the studies have provoked some controversy his findings suggest that words, thoughts, feelings, sound, prayer and surroundings are absorbed by and can effect the structure of water. His studies attempt to illustrate this by freezing water molecules and observing the distinct differences in the crystal patterns that occur.

Over and over the interdependence of sound, vibration and form are repeated throughout the arts. It is not always clear where silence begins and ends. Sounds are born from silence and return to silence. Silence can be loud and overwhelming just as sound can be filled with space and peaceful silence. In this recognition of non-dualism can be found peace and healing. And so again the Arts and Healing find themselves sharing space once more.

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