Essential to an understanding of Buddhist and Hindu cultures, meditative practices, and religious precepts, is a comprehension of resonance. Resonance addresses how even the slightest vibrations transfer energy and subsequently cause movement to spread like ripples until the energy dissipates and the vibrations settle. Resonance also applies to sound studies because of the relationship between sound and movement. Sound waves are caused by movement and even the Brownian motion, the movement of atoms, create sound waves.
Resonance holds a place of great importance when studying these cultures because of the Om and other basic tenets found within these religions. A deep belief in the interconnectedness of the universe lies at the foundations of these two cultures. Understanding the phenomena of resonance is direly important to attaining a state of inner and outer peace is the ultimate goal. By attuning themselves to resonance through use of the Om, meditation, and learning, these peoples are also learning to control the vibrations they cause and to better receive those of others. Resonance is more than just an acoustic property to these cultures; it’s also symbolic of the ebb and flow of life and the universe, of which humans are merely specks within. By exploring resonance within these cultures I will examine these eastern cultures and the sound, mind, and body connections therein from a western intellectual perspective.
The Om is extremely important to meditative and yogic activity in both Hindu and Buddhist culture. This simple sound is intrinsically linked to the very foundations of these two religions, and is representative of the thrumming movement of the universe. This particular video captures a group of Tibetan monks chanting the Om in accompaniment with quiet bells and drums. Though the Om is not always carried out for such an extended period of time, it is often used to denote the beginning and end of different activities like praying, meditating, reciting mantras, or as a preface to a religious text.
East Asian martial arts have been practiced for centuries as both a method of self defense and a meditative spiritual exercise. “Kiai,” an exclamation made during or after an attack, is an important part of the execution of martial arts techniques. The kiai is explained as an outburst of inner spiritual energy, harmonizing the practitioner’s body and mind to press the attack; the practitioner focuses all their energy solely into the strike, and their exclamation has the added effect of intimidating the opponent. Additionally, the physical act of creating the diaphragm-based yell tenses up the muscles and prevents the user from becoming winded or taken by surprise by a counterattack. In this way, the use of kiai in martial arts resonates with our group’s theme of sound connecting the mind and body.
The sample I have included is a video of practitioners of kendo, a practice developed from samurai sword exercises, training. Each individual strikes the dummy opponent and emits kiai in conjunction with the hit. In this case, the syllable on which they are basing the shout is the Japanese word for “head;” in kendo, the kiai’s importance is such that in order to win a match, one must execute kiai for each hit, calling out the part of the opponent which they are striking. In this example, kiai is both a coordinated shout that strengthens and focuses the attack and a required ritual within the cultural and official context of the martial art.
Questions concerning the mind, body, soul triad have for many eons puzzled humans. Consistently throughout history humans have searched for answers and balance within the three, but many to no avail. What is the appeal of these meditative states and capabilities? Well for many, it’s the inner peace and calm that is associated with the practice of such yogi activities.
Now although my research is majorly populated by the relationship aforementioned, it is another, more specific symbiosis of life that I will be examining. The main focus of this research will concern sound, mind, and body, and the interaction between the three through different practices such as meditation and yoga. As well, I will specifically explore the effects of sound, dissect them in terms of various authors, such as Schafer, Atali, Feld, and Veal. To complement my research I will also gather and create a select number of sound replications that might be associated with Buddhist and Hindi meditation.
Using the below mentioned five sources as my foundation, with possible changes to come, I will trace the cultural and spiritual history of these techniques and their sounds. Once the significance has been established and a fair understanding of the narrative of meditation throughout human history is realized, the research will then move towards more recent studies and scientific breakthroughs concerning the sound, mind, and body interaction.
The historical and cultural explorations will focus upon the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as well as the ancient Indian Hindu religion. Both of these “religions” are known to be interpreted more as ways of life, not exactly dictated religious precepts. These ways of life include a great deal of sensory (body) and mind reorientation through meditative practices. The spiritual importance of these beliefs and behaviors stems from the emphasis these ways of life put upon connection and peaceful stasis. In meditation, mind and body, including the sense of hearing, seek equilibrium. This practice has heavily influenced a great many members of this world, and the three religious texts used, Siddhartha, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the Baghavad-gita, will provide thorough and exciting insight into the various cultural backgrounds.
I will also address certain characteristics of sound, namely resonance, dissonance, types of sound, and other various attributes sound may possess. In this way I hope to give my readers a full historical and cultural view of meditation, and then address modern applications and neurological studies. This continuity will provide readers with a lot of interesting information to digest and to come away with. With the inclusion of different sound replications, I am sure that this topic will be easily adapted into a vibrant poster format.
My last hope for this project is that it reveals aspects of sound, mind, and body interaction that I have previously been unaware of. My greatest want is to explore this topic and find something new out. Something that will utterly change the way I think. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, it can just be a small new phenomena that I am made aware of. With this plethora of exceptional literature and research before me, it seems inevitable that new discoveries are bound to occur.
Coleman, Graham; Jinpa, Thupten; Dorje, Gyurme. Meditations on Living, Dying, and Loss. New York: Penguin. 2005. Print
Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha. New York: Penguin, 1999. Print.
Kozasa, Elisa H.; Sato, Joao R.; Lacerda, Shirley S. “Meditation Training Increases Brain Efficiency in an Attention Task”. NeuroImage. 2 January 2012. Vol. 59, Issue 1, Pages 745-749.
Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Bhagavad-gita. California: Krishna Books. 1972. Print.
Zeldan, F., Grant, J.A. “Mindfulness Meditation-Related Pain Relief: Evidence for Unique Brain Mechanisms in the Regulation of Pain”. Neuroscience Letters. 29 June 2012. Vol. 520, Issue 2, Pages 165-173.
Siddhartha – The plot of this novel follows the theoretical first Buddha, Siddhartha Gotama’s, life in his development from a young and impetuous man into a being of patience, compassion, and simplicity. Herman Hesse has written extensively, specifically concerning Eastern religions and philosophies. This source adds to the sense of historical narrative that I am attempting to couple with the modern research techniques of the two scientific articles. It is intended for all, especially those searching for religious, spiritual, and ethical guidance.
“Mindfulness Meditation-Related Pain Relief” – This article focuses upon recent discoveries of the potential for mindfulness and mediation to be employed in pain relief practices. The five authors seem credible as well as intelligent and thorough. The article communicates abstract and difficult topics quite effectively. Most likely intended for further scholarly work and possible applications in modern day medicine. This article will be used as a source in combination with the other peer reviewed article, to establish and examine the contemporary applications and occurrences of the ancient practice of meditation.
Bhagavad-gita – This famous text concerns the battlefield dialogue between the Lord Sri Krsna and Arjuna. The Gita is considered a sacred “song” in Vedanta cultures. Its exploration of the religious and spiritual themes heavily associated with yoga, and its examination of yoga itself are of great interest due to their relationship of sound, mind, and body. This text adds a deeply spiritual perspective to the research that will complement the empirical studies conducted on the observable mental effects.
Meditations on Living, Dying, and Loss – This text also focuses on spiritual and ethical teachings and advice but provides a different point of view. While the Bhagavad-gita descends from an Indian Hindi culture, The Tibetan Book of the Dead is one of the great works to come out of the Buddhist milieu of Tibet. It contains much of the Buddhist lore that surrounds the origin of meditation and its spiritual precepts. It also examines the role of the senses, including hearing, in understanding of self. The editors and translators all possess preeminent degrees in their respective fields, and the Dalai Lama is the source of Tibetan Buddhist culture. I am extremely interested to see what this source will add in terms of human experience with meditation and associated beliefs.
“Meditation Training Increases Brain Efficiency in an Attention Task” – This study examines the attentive ability of meditators in comparison with non-meditators. In Their findings they have found that attention attribution efficiency and impulse control are increased in meditators. The relationship between meditation and sensory attunement is a direction I would like to head with this research, and I feel this article will emphasize and support this focus. This source will provide assertions and statements with factual back-up. The exploration of this phenomenon will add much credence and understanding to meditation as a practice and tradition.
For centuries, the martial arts have been practiced as both a method of self-defense and a meditative exercise to strengthen one’s harmony of mind and body. One noticeable aspect of martial arts that is often imitated and parodied ad nauseum in pop culture is the kiai. “Kiai” is a Japanese term referring to vocalizations made during or after the execution of an attack in martial arts; the “Hiyah!” often heard in cheesy fighting films. The word is comprised of the characters 気 (energy, spirit) and 合 (harmonize, blend); although it is a Japanese compound, the technique itself is used in martial arts from all over the world. “Ki” (気, also known as “chi” or “qi” elsewhere) is an important concept in Asian spirituality; it is considered a special life force that comes from within one’s soul, and reflects one’s inner spirit (Nagatomo 176). Kiai is commonly explained to the martial arts student as a projection of one’s warrior spirit onto the opponent as a tool of spiritual combat. It is understood by martial artists to be primarily a metaphysical concept integral to the practice of martial arts. In short, kiai is the harmony of one’s ki energy within the self and with the opponent, executed with the aim of perfecting the timing and strength of the attack.
The specific sound of these guttural syllables vary among schools and individuals, reflecting the practitioner’s own expression of their ki. Some schools distinguish between “kakegoe,” simple shouts from the throat made with an attack, and kiai, a projection of ki energy with diaphragmatic breathing. The frequency of use of kiai varies among disciplines; it is used sparingly every 5 or so strikes in Okinawan and Japanese martial arts, much more extensively in taekwondo and is required for every cut made in kendo, Japanese fencing. Martial artist Wendell Wilson warns students that “‘the yell’ is not a trivial, expendable, slightly silly bit of melodrama; rather, it is a core concept and an essential skill to be taken very seriously and to be practiced and refined at every opportunity.” (Wilson 1)
The proper execution of kiai also serves as a physical enhancement of the attack. By expelling the air in the lungs with the diaphragm, the practitioner tenses up their abdominal muscles to guard against a counterattack and prevent the wind being knocked out of them (Villari 56). Additionally, kiai serves to intimidate an opponent, allowing the attacker to follow up and press their advantage. This intimidation connects to the spiritual concept of the use of ki; by projecting strong ki at an opponent with weaker ki, the practitioner wins the spiritual component of the physical battle.
In additional to these physical and psychological effects, the use of kiai serves as a release of aggressive energy that accumulates during intense activities. A study by researchers in England confirmed that Kung Fu practitioners experience aggressive feelings before and during sparring matches. Some utilize martial arts as an explicit way of dealing with aggression in a healthy, controlled way (Fletcher & Milton). Famous kendo master Junzō Sasamori elaborates that kiai “expresses a natural need to exert the strength he [the user] has in his body.” (Sasamori 141)
My research will examine instructional literature and scientific and psychological studies of martial arts to examine the use of kiai as a method of harmonizing the mind and body, executing an attack with the whole of the practitioner’s being. Martial arts pedagogical works, such as Wilson’s essay and Villari’s book, often focus on the spiritual and philosophical purposes of kiai, while scientific studies examine the physical mechanisms and impacts of martial arts practice. A synthesis of both types of sources is necessary confirm the role of kiai in uniting the martial artist’s metaphysical and physical energy in the execution of a proper attack.