Involvement of the senses are vital for experiences involving the presence of higher deities due to the personal importance we acquire from a completely involved perception of a certain happening. Religion is a perfect example of how people are able to open oneself to beliefs instilling acts of goodwill and strong faith in individual connection with God(s). My experience at the Nithyanandeshwara Vedic Temple of Oklahoma exemplifies such experiences with visual and audible representations key to the Hindu faith. Hannuman, Parvati, and Krishna stood tall raising all who came to great them; however, sounds of driving drums, singing bowls, and chant to deepen one’s connection to the practice at hand.
During my stay, I was privileged to chat with Bhanu and Kalpesh, leaders in charge of the temple who were kind enough to explain to mean backstory of multiple Gods associated with the faith. After some explanation, we moved to a guided meditation that incorporated many different sounds. The first stage of meditation consisted of all cooperating to sit on their knees with their hands on their hips, opening our lungs, and chaotically breathing in through our nose and out through our mouths. Intense hand drums beat and the sound of chant in the background of the audio track playing. Hearing breathing from all around the room was quite satisfying, as if we were all a same machine’s parts moving collectively. By hearing sounds and normalizing extreme breathing for a brief period of time was extremely weird to take part in, but it sure did jolt me out of my self-doubting and placed me in the presence of bliss.
The next stage involved closed mouth humming, as loud as one can, from the diaphragm. This was my favorite part because the goal was to be as loud as possible, loosening up our bodies with the constant vibrations going through it. After about ten minutes of doing so, I began to have thoughts comparing this experience to the experience of a Catholic church (a service I am familiar with since the age of three) and found that I began to question the decisions of which religion people follow. I believe that there is more to it than which version of God(s) one thinks it true, but instead it is the process of giving worship to the deities. A bell chimed and I returned back to the present.
Stage three and four did not have us make any physical sound, instead we sat in silence as audio of droning major keys were lightly played behind the voice bringing awareness to each of the seven chakra centers. We started at the root, taking our time to progress to the crown center where different modes accompanied each center. Following was silence for ten minutes with very, very light droning in the background. At this stage, the focus was to involve oneself in practices of sitting with oneself whether that be for reassurance or relaxation.
Becoming acquainted with practices of another religion got me hooked on the stimulation of the senses; the auditory stimulation leading the meditation more so than voice is the sole reason for completely diving in. I found this interesting because I have experienced sermons from the Christian faith, but to hear religious music that is quite literally what I like to listen to with friends was very thought provoking and perfectly natural to inspire any creative thoughts had during such an intimate moment with oneself. .
The service I had contributed to was quite unforgettable, however talking to the religious center’s founders and main worship leaders based in Bidadi, Bengaluru, was quite intriguing. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a meditative experience lead by said leaders whom skyped in and blessed the temple as well as lead meditation.
During this special event, similar aspects of my original visit to the temple were prominently found (i.e. chanting of mantras, sounds from bells and bowls, and singing) except for one new sound, actual sacred compositions of music from modern and deceased composers. The usage of previously mentioned sounds I experienced before is quite intentional and have meaning in every small detail of the creation of the sound. Unlike those sounds, compositions from musicians staying at the temple were played as we meditated. Many of these compositions require mantras to be a key benefactor in the intentional process of such practice. I learned that many of these composers give themselves a small time frame, therefore limiting sounds they can use.
The expedited process of sound I think is extremely important because they are able to use more context from Vedas as well as mantras that are situational for individuals. To have a library spanning sacred text with an accompanied flavor of modernism is extremely important in the spread of said religion to future generations. The biggest think I took from this experience with a few of their leaders is that the formality of novelties in an established religion are often viewed as more serious and important than progressive movements wanting to incorporate the younger generations on their terms. My experience with religion was a forced basis of associating faith with my family. Because my family was religious, I was grandfathered into their traditional beliefs and practices. This is exemplified in these new compositions because the younger generation is the one creating these compositions for peoples recently discovering new ways of worship and practice.
In conclusion, parallels are drawn from every religious practice when determining the future for participation the younger generation. No matter the religion, the use of sounds helps determine interest in any faith when coming from a choice of participation from all parties. Knowing that there is much more progress is both terrifying and exhilarating at once, but life unfolds how it should as we continue to forge our lives based on the premise of being consistently diligent amongst the practices of our own individual experiences.
By Calogero Miceli