There’s a musician, I hear, who has continuously recorded the sounds of nature, who claims that there is a mysterious moment around four in the morning when all birds and insects enter a momentary silence. In this moment, this in-breath preceding the Lauds of creation, there is utter stillness and quiet. And then,
Well, I was late for that particular moment but I was up at 4ish going down to the river, over the rickety bridge and into the magic forest. Cool twilight clung to my skin like a garment; the first flush of light, scarlet, rose on the eastern horizon, the morning star twinkled. As I entered the forest, the intense early morning fragrance of jasmine slowed my steps. The hush of morning vibrated with a gentle buzz of insects soulfully welcoming the day. (Lauds had evidently begun!) In the near distance were the dulcet tones of shakuhachi piping up the sun, soft waves of solemnity and joy, accompanied by the plucked strings of the Japanese harp, the koto. I was on my way to the ceremonial Lotus opening.
Once a year gatherings are held from four in the morning for admirers to come and tune in to hear the flowers blooming. In Japan it is said that the moment a lotus flower opens up, it makes a “pop” sound. This is not the kind of sound that you hear with your ears. It is the kind that you sense in the body and hear with your heart. I was struck by people’s dress: a semi-formal affair it seemed, special but welcoming, rather like church. (Kimonos aplenty!) Standing around the lotus ponds, thick with leaves as big as elephants’ ears, voices were lowered: the holy was nigh.
In Buddhist tradition, the lotus flower is as central a symbol as the lily is to the Christian. Significantly, each flower is associated with messages to the mothers of the Buddha and Jesus. The lotus symbolises insight and enlightenment. The lily is said to be a symbol of purity and innocence and virginity but I don’t know how those associations came to be (without a good dose of ‘mansplaining‘); they certainly are not where I’d intuitively go with the lily. For one thing, the scent is a siren. I rather like it but acknowledge it can be overpowering. The lily reminds me of trumpet: an ear trumpet, perhaps. It may sound a bit wacky, but why not? The lily as herald and human-sized antenna: God chose the ear.
I was thinking, with a light and simple morning mind about sound in a kind of a cosmic way.The hard buds of the lotus open up all at once, hence the pop. Ancient yogic texts call the Big Bang the blooming of the primal lotus.
I was thinking, too, about the physicists at the Bell Labs in the 60s, who discovered that the incessant hiss their equipment was picking up that they just could not get rid of, came from the Big Bang’s photons tickling their antenna’s receiver (a.k.a. Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation). Yes, people of planet Earth: Behold and Be Amazed! We can hear that primal sound. [I also rather liked this one]. How marvelous is this?
These cosmic sound waves are 30,000 light-years wide and are 55 octaves below what humans can hear. But when they are shifted to regions of the audible spectrum, the cry from the birth of the cosmos can be heard. [Source: BBC]
The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict is ‘Listen!’; ‘Shema!’ (Hear!) the Jewish prayer proclaims.
Image, NY MetMuseum, Salvador Dali, Madonna (1958)
Summer sizzles in Japan and from this one personal perspective it is most welcome. The ringing in my ears (Big Bang Photons? Why not?!) gets a host of critters to sizzle, buzz and aum along with. I am positively vibrant with the sounds of the universe! There is the Worshipful Company of Cicadas whose daytime antics, creaking and quacking and shimmering and jangling, unfailingly lift my spirits into pure joy (and often hilarity). There is, too, the Worshipful Company of Crickets whose lullaby is like no other I know for its comfort and encouragement.
That early morning in the Garden I sat at the poets’ pavilion beside the running stream and felt cooled by the sounds. My notebook was giving off the most wonderful wafts of scent having been crammed into my backpack against a little sachet of (real) incense. At sun up the pigeons began to growl and splashes of colour became apparent among the sea of green leaves on the ponds. The musicians, facing east, continued to play until the sun was truly riz’n.