A Statement to Members of Ananda
Paramhansa Yogananda brought to the world a whole new style of singing to God. His chants are NOT like traditional Indian chanting. Yogananda’s mission was to spiritualize America and the West, not to Indianize us. He himself loved Indian music, and was exceptionally well versed in the Indian style of playing and singing.
Even so, he didn’t involve Western audiences in it, and from all I can tell he even sought to inspire the audiences in India with his new style of chanting. We are disciples of a new ray, and within that ray a new kind of music has been produced. I think we should honor this fact, and emphasize it more.
Another point needs to be said: Yogananda never played Indian chants for group singing. Even in India, the only story I heard of his chanting in a group was of one night when he sang and danced all night. And the chant he sang on that occasion—in Bengali—was “Door of My Heart.”
Most Ananda members were raised on emotional music, so it comes naturally. There is bound to be a tendency to like sounds that remind us of the music we grew up with. And this means liking, and then wanting, the emotional side of chanting and singing.
I worry about this fact, because music is so much more than entertainment. It doesn’t merely reflect a state of consciousness: It also generates it. A taste for emotional music, if it is too much encouraged, will almost certainly change Ananda’s very state of consciousness, in time—its underlying vibration.
There are three ways of expressing emotions musically: through melody, chords, and rhythm. Even an uplifting melody can be dragged down by chords that are too emotional, and by a heavy rhythm. Chords, if too heavily emphasized, can keep the music on an emotional level. And too heavy a downbeat in the strumming of the guitars will also emphasize the emotions, and feelings that strengthen the ego with their implied affirmation, “I want! I like! I don’t like!”
How much should we use chords? I’d say, don’t feel that chords are essential to our chanting. Melody is what’s essential.
People who find chords easier to play, and who therefore skimp on playing the melody or omit it altogether, ought to try to learn to play the melodies, and to play them correctly. It isn’t enough only to sing them. The practice of playing chords without melody is getting too far away from Yogananda’s style of chanting.
Second, it would help, as you get deeper into a chant, to get away from playing the chords altogether and concentrate entirely on the melody. Through the melody you’ll find it easier to attune yourself to AUM than you will by continuing to emphasize the emotional feelings awakened by chords.
Stronger strumming at the beginning of a chant session can yield to gentle finger-picking as the chanting gets deeper. Outer exuberance should be replaced gradually by inward depth. Sankirtans should include short, then long and then gradually longer periods of meditation. The purpose of all chanting is to take us inside, not to keep us shouting out loud to God.
Let’s be careful that we select chants that uplift us, not those merely that stir us with sweet sentiments. Let us try to use them as a means of internalizing our consciousness—in other words, as a path to God. Let’s try our best to follow Yogananda’s way, and to tune in to the divine ray he has brought into our lives. The more we do so, the faster we’ll all grow spiritually.