Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Van and Hinduism

All religions and philosophies can be made fun of

Van has been a spiritual seeker for virtually his whole life.  He has been to church services, esoteric lectures and demonstrations and has read widely across a range of religious writings, including from sacred texts.   While many religions and philosophies have tried to claim Van as an adherent, he has frustrated them all.   Several years ago he admitted to Don Imus that he doesn't believe in God anymore.   
Van has been asked a number of times about his religious beliefs.  In one interview a journalist asked the question, “there was much speculation about your religious beliefs in the '80s. Did that unduly bother you?”
 Van's answer was "Well, what happened is that people would take things I said at face value and say, "Oh, he's being a dilettante".  What it's really about is that, if you study knowledge, then you really have to study knowledge. You don't just study one thing. You can't just say, "OK, I'm going, to study Hinduism:' If you're going to study knowledge then you have to study the whole field. You need to get an overview and you have to look at the whole picture. That's what people are getting at when they say that my music was about the mystical or that it was about searching for something. That's how it's been interpreted. But, when one studies knowledge, one gets influenced by things. Again, the songs come out of things that you are being influenced by at the time you're studying. For me, that's what that '80s phase was."
His spiritual investigations may not have provided him with the enlightenment or contentment he craved, but they have provided a rich vein to mine for his song lyrics.  Van's lyrics hint at an incredibly wide range of spiritual or philosophical paths.  One of the lesser known connections is Hinduism.   
Let's examine some of Van's lyrics to assess a Hindu influence.      

  1.  From Satisfied Van sings:  "You know, baby, cause and effect,  I got my karma from here right to New York."
'Karma' is a Sanskrit term used with some variations in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist philosophies.  Supposedly, 'Karma' is the sum of all that an individual has done, is currently doing and will do. The results or "fruits" of actions are called 'karma-phala'.  'Karma' is not about retribution, vengeance, punishment or reward, 'karma' simply deals with what is.

   2.  In the song Daring Night,there is a refrain about the “Lord of the Dance”: 
                             With the Lord of the Dance in the daring night
                             With the lord of the dance and the great Goddess
                             Of the eternal wisdom
                             Standing by the light of the moon in the daring night
These lyrics are clearly influenced by Hinduism or Buddhism.

  3.  The lyrics of Piper at the Gates of Dawn hints that he is singing about 'Krishna':
                              The coolness of the riverbank, and the whispering of the reeds
                              Daybreak is not so very far away
                              Enchanted and spellbound, in the silence they lingered
                              And rowed the boat as the light grew steadily strong
                              And the birds were silent, as they listened for the heavenly music
                              And the river played the song
The wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn
                              The wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn

If one uses some imagination Pan, without the cloven hooves could easily be Krishna.  But then again the lyrics might be drawing influence from pre-Christian era Pagan religions.

  4.  Then there is the song Dweller on the Threshold:
                               I'm a dweller on the threshold

According to one website, the term “dweller on the threshold” originated with “English mystic and novelist Sir Bulwer Lytton” and represents the “ghosts of the dead men that the present man formerly was.” More specifically, it “refers to the embodied karmic consequences or results of the man's past, haunting the thresholds which the initiate must pass before he can advance or progress into a higher degree of initiation.”

   5.  Burning Ground from The Healing Game:

                              And I cross some burning ground

                              And I'll go down to the water
                              Let the great illusion drown

The burning ground is clearly a Hindu symbol representing death, purification by fire and the coming rebirth.  In other lyrics he wants to go down to the river to drown the great illusion. Great illusion sounds like Maya, another Hindu concept.  In Hinduism, Maya or illusion must be seen through in order to achieve moksha (liberation of the soul from the cycle of death and rebirth). Therefore, Dweller on the Threshold becomes a song about a man trying to break out of the Karmic cycle.
Van has been a Dweller on the threshold for a long time.  In an interview Van Morrison once said, “I've also investigated Buddhism, Hinduism . . . various forms of Christianity, mystical Christianity, esoteric Christianity . . . I don't believe in myths anymore. If I could find a religion that worked . . ."
(Information in this post mostly comes from a Hindu blog.)

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