Reading Red Pine’s Poems of the Masters: China’s Classic Anthology of T’ang and Sung Dynasty Verse, I come to a line by Hsieh Fang-te that runs: “Until the fourth watch the cuckoo cries.” At the same moment I hear the cry of the nightjar equivalent in our locale, the whip-poor-will, singing in the evening darkness. The translator explains the intended hour as one of the five two-hour watches in urban China, adding that the cuckoo’s cry (in Chinese as pu-ju-kuei-ch’u) means “better go home.” In Japan, the hototogisu or cuckoo or nightingale, calls out its own name, too, a sad sound suggestive to tradition of a lost soul trying to find its way home. Perhaps the American “whip-poor-will” with its similar plaintive cry should be renamed something like “weep until.”
How many of us regret wasted years, time spent doing stupid things, relating to wrong people. But we must realize that we were where we had to be given our state of consciousness. Everything is the product of circumstances and conditions which brought us to that point. Neither blame nor shame (as the saying goes) should label the past. We are like a fruit that cannot be ripe until an inevitable passage of time (or consciousness) has come to be, like a flower that cannot bloom until the right moment. And that time or moment varies with each of us and should not be rued, anymore than the time for the fruit or flower should be rued. We should remember, too, that when they ripen or bloom, it will only be for a little while before the fruit decays and the flower withers.
Music is a form of creativity not only for the composer but also for the performer and for the listener who participates over and over in the creative expression of the composer. And while there is a lot of utilitarian music written for money and effect, true music like any art has no real “purpose” except as pure creativity. In this sense, music is a form of devotion, of bhakti. What is celebrated, worshipped, or expressed varies with the music itself, of course. It transforms the listener successfully according to the object of worship or celebration, or does so artificially or not at all with utilitarian music.
Which is probably why great traditions of meditation are based on silence. Music echoes in the mind long after the chords of instrument or voice are silent. The melodies want to continue the act of creation (or manipulation) in our minds, to continue the expression of devotion. But in meditation, the mind, emptied of thoughts, needs now to be emptied of feelings, too. Feelings every bit as strong as those aroused by thoughts — and by music.