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Did singing help you?

I was singing almost from the moment I was born. Ever since I was big enough, I’ve been singing. When I was a little girl my mother would put me on a chair and I would sing for the shop ladies. So I was born with a voice to sing and I have been singing all my life. It might be that being a singer helped me. Maybe singing on stage helped. Maybe it was a release.

In what way is singing a spiritual practice?

“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” is a song. In the Soka Gakkai tradition we are taught how to sing it. It is a sound and a rhythm and it touches a place inside you. That place we try to reach is the subconscious mind. I believe that it is the highest place and, if you communicate with it, that is when you receive information on what to do. Singing a song can make you cry. Singing a song can make you happy. That’s spirit—the spirit inside of you. If you look up “spiritual” in a dictionary, you will find that it is your nature, it is the person you are. When you walk into a room, a person might say, “Oh, she’s got great spirit.” Or you can walk into a room and someone will say that you don’t have spirit because it’s not visible. You’re kind of off or negative. Meditation and praying change your spirit into something positive. If it is already positive, it makes it better. I think that is the best answer I can give you right now.

On Beyond, you say, “Sing—singing takes you beyond.”

The singing that I am referring to on the CD is one that comes out of you when you hum. It’s not necessarily a song, rather it’s that moment when you find yourself making sounds from within—from your heart, from your spirit. Each person has a musical song from their bodies. That is something I learned over time. You can play the tune of your name and this is the hum from inside of you that can give you peace when you are really down. My grandmother had a hum, never a song. She would hum sitting in a rocking chair and I would listen. As a singer, I wanted to know what my grandmother was singing. But it was the song of her soul. This song I am referring to is about singing, being happy, enjoying music, and even when you’re depressed, still singing. You must try to find that sound or song within you. You might find that it is just a “huuuaa” or a “hum” or something in falsetto. But it is a sound, which comes out of you that gives you peace.

In what ways has your practice changed you?

I feel that chanting for thirty-five years has opened a door inside me, and that even if I never chanted again, that door would still be there. I feel at peace with myself. I feel happier than I have ever been, and it is not from material things. Material things make me happy, but I am already happy before I acquire these things. I have a nature within myself now that’s happy. Practicing the words “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” for so long has put me in another frame of mind, so that when I don’t practice for a day or a week, I still feel happy. But I do practice.

Since I have been practicing Buddhism, I have to say I don’t experience the feeling of guilt anymore. Practice clears the way. Chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” makes you comfortable because it removes uncomfortable mental attitudes. It doesn’t just buy you a car or a house—it takes care of you.

What is your practice like? Do you ever include elements or practices from other Buddhist sects?

My practice these days is how I want it, how I feel it. I can take some time on weekends and just stay in my practice room and meditate, drink water, walk around. Depending on how busy I am, sometimes I go without practicing for a week and then I just click right back into it. I am not on the schedule of practicing precisely every morning and evening, but I consider myself a Buddhist. It is within me. Do I ever associate with other Buddhist elements? I haven’t felt the need except when something comes to me directly. Since I’ve been living in Switzerland, I went to a shrine elsewhere in Europe and I’ve met His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Everybody knows I am a practicing Buddhist.

Would you say that you’re still evolving spiritually?

Oh, I think as long as you are on this planet as a human being, you never get to the top of spiritual evolution. I think that you evolve until you leave the planet and you don’t know how far you’ll get until you leave.

You were born into a Christian family. Can you tell me about your transition from being a Christian to being a Buddhist?

I was born into a Baptist family. I went to church every Sunday. The preachers were speaking the words of God, but I didn’t really hear what the preacher said. What affected me was the environment. It was the people’s “amen” in agreeing with the preacher. We had a young Baptist reunion to learn about the Bible and it put me in touch with information about God and Jesus and being nice to people. My mother taught me that saying the Lord’s Prayer would help me, so I kept saying it straight through life until I was introduced to Buddhism.

But it didn’t matter that I changed from being a Baptist to being a Buddhist because I learned later that they’re the same. They just use different words. Maybe I stopped saying the Lord’s Prayer and went into Buddhism because I needed new words—I needed refreshment— to get to the next step.

I noticed that saying the Lord’s Prayer and chanting a mantra had a similar effect on me. But I was chanting a mantra for longer periods of time and more often than I had ever said the Lord’s Prayer. I didn’t have this system for the Lord’s Prayer and it’s a system that works for me.

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