The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan
The Effect of Sound on the Physical Body
Wind instruments, instruments with gut strings and with steel wire and the two instruments of percussion, drums and cymbals, have each a distinct, different, and particular effect on the physical body. There was a time when thinkers knew this and used sound for healing and for spiritual purposes. It was on that principle that the music of India was based. The different Ragas and the modes which these Ragas contain were supposed to produce a certain healing and elevating effect.
When we consider single notes or sounds - their effect upon the physical body leads us to think deeply on the subject. There are snake charmers, mostly to be found in India, who by playing their instrument, a wind instrument called pungi, attract cobras and other snakes from their vicinity. Often and often this experiment has been made, and one has always found that all kinds of snakes, or cobras, are attracted on hearing the sound of the pungi. First they come out of the holes in which they live and there is a certain effect on their nervous system which draws them closer and closer to the sound of the pungi. They forget that instinct which is seen in every creature to protect itself from the attack of man or of other creatures. At that time they absolutely forget, they do not see anyone or anything. Then they are aroused to ecstasy: a cobra begins to raise its head and to move it right and left, and as long as this instrument is played the cobra continues to move in ecstasy. This shows us that, apart from the psychical effect and apart from the spiritual effect that sound has on mankind, there is a physical effect also.
From a metaphysical point of view breath is the life current, prana. This life current exists also in things, such as the gut or the string or the skin of the drums. There is also a part of life in these things, and it is to that extent that their life current becomes audible, and that it touches the life current of the living creatures and gives it an added life. It is for this reason that the most primitive tribes who have only a drum to play, or an instrument to blow, get into such a condition by that continual playing of the drum that they enjoy the state of ecstasy.
Apart from this, how does the great success of jazz come about? It comes from the same principle. It does not give the brain much to think about in the technicality of music, it does not trouble the soul to think of spiritual things, it does not trouble the heart to feel deeply. Without troubling the heart or the soul it touches the physical body. It gives a renewed strength by the continuity of a particular rhythm and a particular sound that give people - I mean the generality a greater strength and vigor and interest than music that strains the mind making it think. Those who do not wish to be spiritually elevated, who do not believe in spiritual things and do not wish
to trouble, the jazz-band leaves alone, yet touching everyone who hears it.
When one compares the voice with the instrument, there is no real comparison, because the voice is life itself. The movement, the glance, the touch, even the breath that comes from the nostrils do not reach so far, not as far as the voice reaches.
There are three degrees of breath current. One degree is the simple breath that is inhaled and exhaled by the nostrils. This current reaches outside and has a certain effect. A greater degree of it is blowing. When a person blows from his lips, then that breath current is more intensely directed; therefore healers who have understood this principle make use of it. The third degree - in which the breath is most intense - is sound, because in that degree the breath, coming in the form of sound, is vitalized.
In the Near East, among Orthodox Christians and among Armenians, there is a custom not to use an organ in the church; they use a chord or sound made by ten or twelve persons sitting there with closed lips. Anyone who has heard it, will say that they are right. The sound of the organ is most artificial in comparison with the sound that the voices of ten or twelve persons produce with closed lips. This has such a wonderfully magic effect, it reaches so far and so deeply into the heart of man, and it produces such a religious atmosphere among them, that one feels that there is no necessity for an organ: this is a natural organ which God has made.
Brahmins, when they study the Vedas, even now do not study only what is written there or the meaning of it: they study the pronunciation of each syllable, of each word, of each sound, and they study for years and years. It is not that the Brahmin hears the sound once with the ears and thinks: 'I have learned it'. No. He thinks that a thousand repetitions of the word will one day produce that magnetism, that electricity, that life current which is necessary, and which only comes by repetition.
Now this life current that comes through the breath and manifests through the voice and touches another person what action does it take? It touches the five senses: the sense of sight, the sense of hearing, the sense of smell, the sense of taste, and the sense of touch, although it comes directly through the sense of hearing. It is not true that a person hears sound only through his ears; he hears sound through every little pore of his body. It permeates through his whole being, and according to its particular influence it either slows the rhythm or it quickens the rhythm of the blood circulation; it either wakens the nervous system or it soothes it; it arouses a person to higher passions or it calms him by bringing him peace. In accordance with the sound and its influence a certain effect is produced.
Therefore the knowledge of sound can place in the hand of a person a magical instrument with which to wind, tune, control and utilize the life of another person to the best advantage. The ancient singers used to experience the effect of their spiritual practices upon themselves first. They used to sing one note for about half an hour and observe the effect of the same note upon all the different centers of their own body, noting what life current it produced, how it opened the intuitive faculties, how it created enthusiasm, how it gave added energy, how it soothed and how it healed. So for them it was not a theory, it was an experience.
When this is not understood and when people only know that sound has something to do with the body, they think that they must make some use of it, and instead of making the right use of it they make the wrong use! The Maharaja of Baroda, heating of this science, thought that he should introduce music into the hospitals. Singers were sent there who had never learned what effect sound or song has. When the singers began their technical traditional songs while the patients were suffering pains and tortures, the patients said: 'Oh, take them away, take them away! Throw them into the river!' But it was the Maharaja's order that the singers were to sing. After a week the patients were far more ill, and the Maharaja had to send another order: 'No more music is wanted'.
In my travels I have seen now the same thing. There are some people here and there who think that music has a great effect upon patients, on health, but instead of using the right music, they use the wrong music, and its effect is to make people more ill.
Sound becomes visible in the form of radiance. This shows that the same energy which goes into the form of sound, before it becomes visible is absorbed by the physical body. In that way the physical body recuperates and becomes charged with new magnetism. By a keen study of psychology you will find that singers have a greater magnetism than the average person: because of their own practicing their voice makes an effect upon themselves and they produce electricity in themselves. In that way they are charged with a new magnetism every time they practice. This is the secret of the singer's magnetism.
As to the question which is the wrong and which is the right use of sound, it all depends upon the particular case. In one case a certain sound may be rightly used, in another case the same sound may be wrongly used, but whether it was right or wrong will be seen by the harmonious and inharmonious effects it produces. When a pitch is a natural pitch of the voice; and a person sings a note in that pitch in any pitch which is quite natural to him - that will be a source of that person's own healing as well as that of others. But the person who has found out the key note of his own voice, has the key to his whole life. That person, through the key note of his own voice, can then wind his own being and can help others. There are, however, many occasions when this much knowledge is not enough, because this knowledge only concerns oneself: one knows what is one's own note and the natural pitch of one's voice.
The great drawback today in the world of song is that people are going far away from what is called the natural voice, and this is brought about by commercialism. They have made a hall for one hundred persons, then for five hundred, and then for five thousand persons. A man must shout in order to make five thousand people hear him, in order to have a success - a success that can be had at the ticket office! But that magic charm of the voice is in the natural voice.
Every person is gifted. God has given him a certain pitch, a natural note, and if that pitch develops and he develops that natural note, it is a magic, he can perform a miracle. But he must think about the hall where he has to sing, and of how loud he must shout!
There was a man from India visiting Paris. For the first time in his life he went to the opera to hear the music and he was trying hard to enjoy it. The first thing he heard was a soprano who was doing her best, and then came the tenor, or the baritone, and he had to sing with her. So this man became very annoyed and said: 'Now look, he has come to spoil it!'
When we come to the essence and the inner principle of sound, the closer to nature we keep it, the more powerful, the more magical it becomes. Every man and woman has a certain pitch of voice. Then the voice producer says: 'No, this is alto, soprano, tenor, baritone, or bass'. He limits that which cannot be limited.
How can there be so many voices? There are as many voices as there are souls; they cannot be classified. As soon as he is classified, that person is obliged to sing in that pitch. If his pitch is different, he does not know it; if his voice is higher, he does not sing in that pitch. Because the voice producer says: 'This is a soprano', that person cannot be anything else. Besides that, a person has to depend upon what the composer has written. The composer never knew the voice of that particular person, the composer wrote only for a distinct pitch, either this one or that one. When a person has to sing in the pitch that is prescribed, then he loses the natural pitch he had.
Apart from singing, even in speaking, among one hundred persons you will find one who speaks in his natural voice, and ninety-nine who imitate. They imitate someone else; they do not know it. The same thing that you find in grown-up people you will find in little children. The tendency in a little child is to change and to imitate. Every five or ten days, every month a child changes his way of speaking; his voice, his words, many things he changes. And where does he learn it? From the children in school. He sees a child walking in some way, or making gestures, or frowning, or he hears it speaking in a certain way. He does not realize it, but he has heard it and he does the same thing; so he goes on changing.
In the same way every person - also without knowing it changes his voice, and so the natural voice is lost. To retain one's natural voice is a great power in itself, but one cannot always retain it. In order to have a great, a good, a powerful effect with one's voice and sound, one does not have to be a singer. What one has to do is to practice the breath in different ways. One must first know how to breathe; one must then know how to blow; one must then learn how to make a sound, how to say a word. If one practices in these three ways, one will attain that power which is latent in every soul.
One need not be a singer, but for every person it is necessary that he should give some part of the day - even the shortest time he can give: five, ten, or fifteen minutes to his voice, to the development of his voice.
Question: How does one find one's key note once it is lost. Answer: But where is it lost? It is only lost from one's view. It is not altogether lost. It is just the same when people say that a person has lost his soul. But the person himself is the soul! How can the soul be lost? The key note is there, one must discover it, one must find it. Just as the soul is there but hardly one person among so many finds it.
Question: How can one find one's key note? Answer: By trying to find it.
Question: How can one be sure that the note one believes to be the key note of one's being is really the key note? Answer: Belief is the first truth, and faith is the last truth. You must begin from the first, and end with the last.
Question: Has not every nerve its own sound. Answer: Yes, it has its own vibration. You may call it sound.
Question: Does the sound we hear on the radio produce the same effect as the natural sound. Answer: Yes. It is the natural sound just the same. Coming through a medium, coming through an instrument, that much is lost from it, but it is a natural sound just the same.
Question: How can one best check the tendency to imitate. Answer: The tendency to imitate has some use also. If we did not imitate, we should not know the language; if we did not imitate, we should not be what we are. Therefore imitating is not a bad thing as long as we do not imitate too much. One must know what to imitate and what not to imitate. If one went blindly imitating anything one saw, then one would imitate both right and wrong.
Question: If a singer strains his voice it is heard easily and it spoils everything. Answer: That is quite true. But to strain the voice is one thing, and to develop the voice - if it can be called a development to make an unnatural voice out of a natural voice - is a different thing. It is not a question of straining the voice, it is making the voice quite different from what was given by nature. Then the magic is lost. Nature has given a certain kind of voice; that voice represents the spirit, the soul, the heart, the intellect, everything that is in man. Evolution in man is to be seen in his voice, and when that voice is changed, then it is different. One need not strain one's voice in order to become unnatural; it is very easy to become unnatural!
Question: Is not the voice developed by dhikr (zikar)? Answer: Well, that is the best way one can do it.