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"Dhamma Gita: Music of Young Practitioners Inspired by The Dhamma" by Hanuman Goleman

4 May 2010

An alternative rock song calls us to bring full awareness to the reality of life’s difficult experience with the line, “If your heart is aching, let it ache.”

The lyrics for a modern ballad are a poem by the 13th century Tibetan mystic, Milarepa, about the inner wealth found through practice.

A musician influenced by the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious makes fun of ego-clinging, likening the reality the self to horns on a rabbit.

These are among the musical expressions of Buddha’s legacy in these times collected in Dhamma Gita, a compilation of songs by young musicians who have been inspired by their Dharma practice.

These musicians give voice to insights and powerful experiences during retreat and study. Their songs represent the depth to which Buddhist practice has been integrated into American society – this is a new generation of music that is not bound by any traditional forms or cultural limits. This album of modern Buddhist music represents the unique voice of a new generation of practitioners. While Dhamma Gita in no way represents all Buddhist music in the West, it offers a glimpse of the diverse array of sub-cultures that have been touched by Buddhist practice and thought.

Over 100 songs were submitted for this album. The only guideline was “that the song writer/composer recognizes the origin as insight through Buddhist practice or study. These songs do not need to be explicitly “Buddhist” in any way. They do not even need to be recognized as “Buddhist” by a listener.

The quiet stillness of a meditation retreat is a very rich creative space. The opportunity for reflection and listening are fertile ground for deeply moving art to arise. Retreat has historically been largely the realm of monastics, and so, was transmitted to the West along with largely monastic ideals – including not playing music. For this reason creative musical expressions have not gotten attention in balance with their importance to practitioners. This CD is an early step toward letting practitioner’s musical offerings be heard.

Buddhism has been adopted by many countries and cultures throughout its history, finding its way into the arts of each new environment. Dhamma Gita represents transmission of Buddha’s teachings to a new place and people.

For a full century after the first Buddhist temple was constructed in San Francisco in the mid 1800s Buddhism in the U.S. was effectively practiced solely within Asian American communities. Even so, other seeds for further integration had already been planted. Witness the works of American transcendentalists like Thoreau and Emerson, who read some of the first Buddhist texts to be translated into English in the early 19th century.

In the first years of the 20th century, Japanese Buddhist temples were built in America, sowing the seeds of a Buddhist sensibility that was synthesized by Beat writers of the 50s and 60s like Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder – the first time Buddhism influenced the art of an American movement in a major way. Dhamma Gita signals a next wave and a new depth of saturation for Buddhism in the Western world. 

In this wave people whose families are not historically Buddhist are being exposed to these teachings and practices, even at a very young age. The diversity on this compilation reveals Buddhist influence across genres and backgrounds – it is inclusive, connective and inspiring.

One strength of Buddhism has always been that its essence is adaptable, seamlessly integrating with native forms, practices and religions. Now, as it has blossomed in the West, Buddhism is morphing again.

From these songs we get a sense of how Buddhism in the West might look – and sound – in the decades to come.

Hanuman became interested in audio recording through music. Traveling in undeveloped areas of the world opened his eyes to the need for preservation of traditions as technology penetrates an area and inevitably changes the lifestyle. With cultural preservation in mind, Hanuman developed the website www.audioarcheology.com as a repository for his recordings of elders singing their childhood songs. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute he worked as an audio engineer on the production of Molecularium, a planetarium shown in venues across the U.S. In 2004 he developed and participated in The Wisdom Preservation Project recording interviews with Buddhist masters in Myanmar. Hanuman is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. After getting his M.A. in Media Arts from Emerson College he started More Than Sound Productions.


Major funding provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by: the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Shinnyo-en Foundation, the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Bumper Foundation, and viewers like you.