I have a friend, a musical virtuoso who is a master of the guitar, to which he has dedicated a lifetime of discipline and practice. He is also a chelah of the Dalai Lama and an adept of Eastern meditation, which has afforded him special insights and talents. His skill set puts my amateurish deficiencies to shame. Yet he tells me that he is determined to figure out how to “really play the guitar” and is only now starting to understand the instrument. He tells me humbly of the many hours each day he invests into his practice and how, occasionally, he achieves a few moments of musical grace.
Yikes! I say to myself. Where does such a prodigy of enviable dexterity coupled with so impressive a performance of self-deprecation leave me? How can I even begin to approximate his awesome complexities? If a veritable magister cithari has only now, after numberless years of passionate devotion, begun to plumb the mystery and nature of a six-stringed instrument, I might as well hang up my Takamine for good. But before proceeding to so extreme a venture, I decided to consult my favorite instrument for chordophone guidance and advice. What follows is a transcript of my recent conversation with the Venerable Tak.
I bowed before the guitar stand, wai’d several times, reprised my friend’s message, and addressed Khun Tak reverently.
Me: Khun Tak, if you permit, I wish to inquire into the mysteries of your nature.
Me: I know that your nature is impenetrable to all but the greatest masters, and perhaps not even to them, but I would beg your indulgence.
Tak: Speak, most respectful acolyte.
Me: Khun Tak, although your strings are imposed from without, how do you integrate them into the wholeness of your embodiment?
Tak: This is a secret of our kind, closely guarded, and rarely confided. You must think of the guitar as a mystical body that has absorbed its material constituents into a visionary configuration. My physical transience does not occlude my supersensible permanence, except to the uninitiated and the purveyors of bravado. When you have completed your apprenticeship, you may begin to understand for yourself.
Me: I stand chastised. I shall be patient.
Tak: Well said, paragon of supplication.
Me: May I proceed further?
Tak: You may.
Me: Well then. Is high austerity amenable to democratic inclusiveness? By which I mean, are all genres welcome on your fretboard?
Tak: Indeed they are.
Me: Khun Tak, I have read in a notable author, a self-proclaimed Magister, that country music is an inferior mode that expresses only the culture of resentment and poverty, that it is “whining, nasal and querulous.” Is he correct?
Tak: No, my son. His arrant elitism is to be resolutely eschewed. The fingers of the country guitarist are nimbly balletic and the music expresses the living soul of a people. This Magister, of whom I have never heard, is, regrettably, a snob.
Me: I’m glad to hear it. May I continue?
Me: Are you, like your disciples, subject to the inclemencies of weather?
Tak: I am, but only in my concrete element. The wood is weak, but the spirit is strong and travels freely from one dimension to another. As I have labored to explain, my essential form abides in a higher realm, blissfully at rest yet never dormant. This is part of my mystery.
Me: The wood of which you are made, does it sing inwardly, even when the strings are not plucked?
Tak: The wood of the tree sings wistfully in the forest for it longs to fulfill its journey into the body of a greater resonance. Once the transformation is accomplished, it communes perpetually with itself and the echo of self-consummation vibrates imperceptibly with every string equally, from highest to lowest. This is common knowledge to the wise.
Me: I see. Will the acquisition of new techniques lead to wisdom?
Tak: It would lead to expertise, but not necessarily to enlightenment.
Me: The great sage David Hawkins in his book Along the Path to Enlightenment defines enlightenment as “A state of unusual awareness that replaces ordinary consciousness.” Will not constant immersion open up more chords, scales, arpeggios, licks, dynamic levels and rhythmic variations, leading to this condition of unusual awareness? Do not new sound combinations arise spontaneously out of that condition, as my friend claims, comparable to deep meditation or alpha wave states, which eclipse anything that came before?
Tak: Possibly to a degree, but only in the case of a soul prepared and fumetted for abundant yield. Nevertheless, you must remember that novelty is not transcendence and ability is not enlightenment.
Me: I have pondered this question at length, in particular, how it is that one can occasionally find oneself “in the zone.” Is it possible, as some have affirmed, to call up the zone at will?
Tak: No, it is not. A special dispensation cannot be summoned. It is a gift, which I have been known to confer at my discretion. It, too, is a mystery.
Me: What must I do, then, in order not only to achieve proficiency but to gain insight into the depths of your mystery?
Tak: You must emulate your friend, if he is, as you say, a master of the instrument and a seasoned hand at meditation, perhaps a veritable tulku. Like him, you must complete a cycle of hundreds or thousands of years of condign rebirth.
Me: This sounds like a daunting process.
Tak: Yet it is necessary. After innumerable transmigrations from germ to insect to beast to primitive human, you must eventually be incarnated in the bodies of masters who have tamed less demanding instruments, for example: the oboe, an ill woodwind that nobody blows well, a grand piano once played in the Russian Exhibition in Mexico City, and a Jew’s harp of infinite gradations.
Me: Will I have arrived at my destination then?
Tak: No. Afterwards, you must await a final incarnation into the quintessence of perfection, as your friend appears to have done. You must meditate for one year over the body of the instrument without touching the strings, like the emanation of a deceased master. After thirty more years, when the instrument has become a corporeal extension of your spirit, you may begin your quest for knowledge, a task which your friend has so modestly undertaken. However, I fear it is too late for you in your current manifestation.
Me: Khun Tak, I am aware of my inadequacies and limitations. I seek only to understand.
Tak: O simple one, I appreciate your diffidence, if not your playing.
Me: What shall I do next?
Tak: You may inquire of your friend, if he has indeed approached the peak of so demanding a craft. Excellence of spirit and the privilege of mastery are seldom to be found. Culmination is not readily accessible and the hero’s exploits are always to be applauded. One climbs the ladder of purity and merit rung by rung. This is not given to all, not even to Eddie Van Halen. It is, however, encouraging to observe that your friend has scaled the summit of humility. For such is the sign of the perfected soul.
Me: I marvel at both his technical prowess and his spiritual self-abasement. This is a level of sublimity my arrogant nature can never hope to attain. The honor of Tae Ryoung Sun Kak Tosa will forever elude me. But I will henceforth confine my exasperations to myself and never take issue with the instrument or my betters.
Tak: Prudently said.
Me: I am grateful, Khun Tak, for your candor.
Tak: It is nothing, my son. Merely party on.
As I turned away, feeling properly chastened, I seemed to hear a low but disconcerting chuckle from the direction of the guitar stand.
David’s new book, Reflections on Music, Poetry & Politics, is now available in both e-book and paperback format at Amazon.