Buddhism and Music

by Rev. Marvin Harada.

Right now I am enjoying attending our fall BEC class on “Buddhism and Music” taught by our guest instructor, Rev. Peter Hata, of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles. Rev. Hata is a most qualified person to be teaching this course. He is the former lead guitarist of the jazz fusion group, “Hiroshima,” that I know many of you are familiar with. Rev. Hata has not only been a professional musician, but after leaving the group Hiroshima, he went on to teach jazz and music at the collegiate level. He is an accomplished musician and is teaching Buddhism through the music that he loves. I think this is a wonderful way of teaching and sharing Buddhism.

As we have been learning in his class, many songs and lyrics express the essential teachings of Buddhism. I was surprised to see the teachings of Buddhism in the music and lyrics of many popular, contemporary singers and musicians, like K.D. Lang, and the Beastie Boys. I was even more surprised to learn that those singers and musicians also claim to be Buddhists themselves. I am sure you have heard on the radio, the song, “Constant Craving,” by K.D. Lang, that was popular some years ago. The lyrics to that song clearly express the Buddhist teachings of attachment and greed, the causes of our suffering. We also studied a song by the Beastie Boys (a group I was not so familiar with), that was totally about the bodhisattva ideal.

I used to dream that someday in the future, we will have “American” Buddhists who will express and share Buddhism through literature, art, poetry, music, or movies. I have learned in this class that that day has already arrived, and that there are contemporary Buddhists who are expressing Buddhism through all kinds of mediums.

I wanted to share with all of you for my article, a favorite song of mine that to me expresses the Buddhist teaching of impermanence. It is the song, “Everything must change.” I first heard this song on a George Benson album, but the original composer and performer was Benard Ighner. I would like to share the lyrics to that song:

 

“Everything Must Change”

Everything must change

Nothing stays the same

Everyone must change

No one stays the same

 

The young become the old

And mysteries do unfold

Cause that’s the way of time

Nothing and no one goes unchanged

 

There are not many things in life

You can be sure of

Except rain comes from the clouds

Sun lights up the sky

And hummingbirds do fly

 

Winter turns to spring

A wounded heart will heal

But never much too soon

Yes everything must change

 

The young become the old

And mysteries do unfold

Cause that’s the way of time

Nothing and no one goes unchanged

 

There are not many things in life

You can be sure of

Except rain comes from the clouds

Sun lights up the sky

And butterflies do fly

 

Rain comes from the clouds

Sun lights up the sky

And music

And music

Makes me cry

 

How true these lyrics speak to our life. The young become the old........How swiftly life passes. The days of our youth seem like yesterday, and now we worry about medicare and our failing health. A wounded heart will heal, but never much too soon.......So beautifully put, isn’t it? We all know that time heals, and that the sadness or tragedy that we might be facing will eventually change, but never too soon for our broken hearts. Yes everything must change....As much as we want things to remain the same, it all changes. Our kids grow up, our parents age, relationships go through changes, our companies and our jobs go through transitions. How do we deal with all the changes? Buddhism says we must accept it, truly accept it, become one with it in our life. Change is neither good nor bad. It simply is the truth of life. Our inability to accept or realize this truth of change will result in our suffering and unhappiness. This is the fundamental teaching of impermanence. 

Namuamidabutsu,

Rev. Marvin Harada