THEOSOPHY, Vol. 42, No. 4, February, 1954
(Pages 175-179; Size: 14K)

MUSIC--A DIVINE ART(1)

All sounds are a part of Him who wears a garment of Sound. 

--Vishnu Purana
BOTH man and his universe are one, all parts are but the various players and their instruments. The law of harmony holds all united, each slightest tone having its related sub- and overtones, its essential modulations. The universe is a temple of eternal symphonic harmony, composed of seven Tones. This is the doctrine of the Music of the Spheres, from Lemuria to Pythagoras, showing that there are seven powers of terrestrial and sublunary nature, and seven great Forces. According to this doctrine the world was itself called forth out of Chaos by Sound or Harmony, and constructed according to the principles of musical proportion. Evolution, above and below, proceeds in seven ways; these seven ways or tones are also the seven notes of the musical scale, which are the principles of Sound.

The Secret Doctrine avers that ancient peoples knew more of the secret side of music than has passed to posterity. Adept-kings and divine teachers, at periods too remote for the historian, were the first Instructors of the human family in the arts and sciences. Every ancient legend ascribes magic power to music, "the most divine and spiritual of the arts," asserting that music is a gift and science "coming straight from the gods." The Hindus, more especially, attribute to divine revelation all the arts and sciences. But with them music stands at the head of everything else. Their Mantra Shastra has for its subject matter the force or power of letters, speech, or music in all its manifestations. Sound (tonal modulations) may be produced of such a nature that the pyramid of Cheops could be raised in the air ... or a dying man be revived and filled with new energy and vigor.

"What," asks Scipio in his ancient vision, "is this mighty and sweet harmony which fills my ears?" The voice replies, "This melody of unequal intervals, yet proportionately harmonized, is produced by the impulse and motion of the spheres themselves, which by blending high and low tones produces uniformly divers symphonies. Mortals have become deaf to those sounds, by having their ears continually filled with them ... and so this sound, which is generated by the exceedingly rapid revolution of the whole Cosmos, is so stupendous that mortal ears cannot contain it." Two millenniums later, in our own time, the Vision of Scipio is restated in scientific terms: "Vibration which controls the forms into which matter shapes itself is considered as the common factor for the appearance of the Cosmos in all its details. The Cosmos may with exactness be considered an acoustical phenomenon, only an infinitesimal fraction of its full scope of vibration being within the range of our hearing or other senses. The material world is the pattern of a cosmical orchestral score in progress of being performed. Truly the 'night is filled with music' and the 'stars sing together'. They are all indeed held, revolved, and rotated by the vibrations of a great song." (New York Herald-Tribune, 1941.)

With the elder Chinese, music was in close affinity with religion. They built their world upon the harmonious action of heaven and earth. They regarded the animation of all nature, the movement of the stars and the changes of seasons, as "grand world-music," in which everything keeps steadfastly to its appointed course. This, they felt, taught to mankind a wholesome lesson. "Would'st thou know if a people be well governed, if its manners be good or bad?" asks Confucius. "Examine the music it produces!" The Yao Chi states that "In the ancestral temples, rulers and ministers, high and low, listen together to music, and all is harmony and deference. Within the gates of the family, fathers and sons, brothers and cousins, listen together, and all is harmony and affection. In this way fathers and sons, rulers and subjects, were once united in harmony, and the people of the myriad states were associated in love. Such was the method of the ancient kings when they framed their music."

Said the Egyptian Hermes: "As for true music, to know this is to have a knowledge of the order of all things. For the order of each separate thing when set together in one key for all, by means of skilful reason, will make the sweetest and truest music." In Plato's Academy, music was the first subject presented to his pupils, as he considered this art to be the one offering the best preparation for the study of philosophy. In the Republic (III) he says, "Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony enter into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated, graceful." Again, in the Shu-King, the Emperor commands his minister: "K'wei, I appoint you to be director of music, and to teach our sons, so that the straightforward shall be mild; the gentle, dignified; the strong, not tyrannical; the impetuous, not arrogant."

The music of nature has everywhere been the first step to the music of art. In the Indian system, their melodies allow no sounds that cannot be classified among the living voices of nature. Indian music is, in the highest sense, pantheistic; but at the same time it is highly scientific. They of the early Aryan races, first to attain to manhood, listened to the voice of nature, and concluded that melody, as well as harmony, are both contained in the great common mother. The Hindus, the Northern Buddhists, and all the Chinese, some thousands of years preceding the discoveries of modern Western science, found that all the sounds of nature make only one tone, which is the middle F, the fundamental tone of nature. This we can all hear, if we know how to listen, in the eternal rustle of the foliage of great forests, in the murmur of waters, in the roar of the storming ocean, and even in the distant roll of a great city. In the Hindu as in Chinese music, the middle F, called Kung or Emperor tone, is the keynote, the starting point, around which are grouped all the other sounds.

It is stated that thousands of years ago the Chinese possessed a system of octaves a "circle of fifths." Beginning with Hwang-ti, who reigned in 2697 B.C., Chinese music assumes its characteristic form. Hwang-ti sent one of his ministers, Ling Lun, to a place west of the Kuen Lun mountains. There he found Indian musicians who knew the secret he was seeking. He took a bamboo rod, tuned to the kung, and found that the proportion 2:3 gave him the next tone (the perfect fifth). Taking two-thirds of each successive tone, he discovered that twelve tones could be made, the thirteenth leading him back to the original kung. (In their 2:3 proportions as "fifths" the seven notes appear as F, C, G, D, A, E, B.) According to Chinese ideas, music rests on two fundamental principles, the shin-li, or spiritual, immaterial principle, and the chi-i-shu, or substance. Unity is above, it is heaven; plurality is below, it is earth. Some inkling of the part played by music in the life of ancient China may be seen from the following statement found in the book called The Yellow Bell by Chao-mai-pa: "In 1100 B.C., under the Dynasty of Chou, the orchestra was the Festival Orchestra, called Yen-yo. History tells us that the musicians (more than ten thousand in number) were divided into nine groups, playing simultaneously upon 300 different kinds of instruments.)"

Ancient Greece had its Orpheus, who was the son of Apollo, and from the latter received the lyre of seven strings. The seven-stringed lyre symbolizes the sevenfold mystery of initiation. In China the favorite instrument of Confucius was the seven-stringed ch'in. To all the demi-gods, heroes and teachers of the Past, Mythology ascribes wondrous powers in the use of sound. Orpheus played to such perfection that nothing could withstand the charm of his music. Not only his fellow mortals but wild beasts were softened by his strains, and gathering round him laid by their fierceness, entranced by his lay. The trees and rocks were sensible to his charm. Kui, a Chinese musician, says: "When I play my kyng the wild animals hasten to me, ranging themselves in rows, spell-bound by my melody." The Bhagavata Purana speaks of Krishna as the "Eternal Boy, first Master of all the Arts." He began as a flute-player, fascinating the village maids and youths and the animals of the jungle. He ended by giving lessons to great Narada in the art of playing the vina. The Mahabharata describes his complete course of education, saying that he learned the "64 fine arts" including music, in 64 days. "Krishna used often to play his flute in the woods. He made his appearance manifold and danced with the Gopis, he playing the flute and the Gopis their lutes. And as they played, all the gods came down from heaven to see the dancing, and wind and water stood still to listen."

Orpheus came from India, and Orpheus also is the type of the Egyptian Thoth, inventor of the arts and sciences, including music, for Egypt. The Greeks thus owe their knowledge of music primarily to the Hindus. It is also pointed out that the Chinese have a system of music essentially the same as the Greeks, "a scale consisting of two conjunct tetrachords -- the keynote being the fourth of the scale. Other details seem to point to a time in the far-distant past when both races were in contact with one source. Then came a day of disruption -- one race eastward, the other westward, each pursuing their own way." However, as shown in Theosophical works, both nations had recourse to India; in addition to the other fact that "both the Greeks and the Chinese belonged to the seventh sub-race of the Atlanteans." It was the Egyptians who were considered to be the best music teachers in Greece. "There can be no doubt as to the character of Egyptian music. It must have been both solemn and majestic. This would correspond to all the philosophical notions entertained by the Egyptians."

Plato tells us that amongst the melodies sacred to Isis were songs of immense antiquity, as he believed that good music had existed among the Egyptians for 10,000 years without suffering any change. "In their possession," says the Greek philosopher, "are songs having the power to exalt and ennoble mankind, and these could only emanate from gods and god-like men." The Egyptians themselves entertained similar thoughts concerning the origin of these melodies. In the temple of Dakkeh is a picture of Ptah playing on a harp. Osiris was also looked upon as a patron deity of song. In many representations Osiris is accompanied by the nine female singers whom the Greeks subsequently transformed into the "nine muses."

The priests of ancient nations understood the secret power of music not only upon the human spirit, but as well upon the health of the body. They understood, perhaps, that "the vibrations constituting the notes of the musical scale are strictly analogous to the scale of chemical elements, and also to the scale of colour ..." Our modern temples of healing have, in this regard, much ground still to recover. The ancients quite evidently knew what to avoid and what could be safely used in these hidden realms of the new Physics; that "certain kinds of music throw us into frenzy; other kinds exalt the soul to religious aspirations. Some colors excite, others soothe and please." The Odyssey (Book XIX) tells us that after a hunting episode "the wounds of the noble Odysseus they bound up skillfully, and stayed the black blood with a song of healing."

And now, as then: "When we think of music, how it reaches to the height of heaven and embraces the earth; how there is in it communication with the spirit-like processes of nature, we must pronounce its height the highest, its reach the furthest, its depth the most profound, its breadth the greatest. When one has mastered completely the principles of music, the natural, gentle and honest heart is easily developed, and with this development comes joy. This joy merges in a feeling of repose. The man in this constant repose becomes heaven-like, his actions spirit-like. So it is when mastering music. One regulates his mind and heart." (Yao Chi.) Nor is it probable that our dynamic times would suffer from such occasional "repose."


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(1) NOTE:--Collated from Theosophical texts and various sources on mythology and history of music.
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