. . . approach your life . . . as a work of art . . . [John Tarrant, Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life (Harmony, 2008), p. 2.]
As Humanists and scientific naturalists, we do not propose that enlightenment can free anyone from a cycle of rebirth. Nor does this refer to the eighteenth–century Enlightenment, a movement we highly value. But we do value relinquishing negative thoughts and emotions, and living spiritually, creatively and with dignity.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Dalai Lama, Becoming Enlightened (Atria Books, 2009).
- John Tarrant, Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life (Harmony, 2008).
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Five of Stephan Micus’ albums express the theme of enlightenment. Micus takes his view of enlightenment from Zen Buddhism, as expressed in the quote below on his 2004 album, “Life”. His musicality and spirituality were quite fully formed when he released his first album in 1976.
- Stephan Micus, “Life” (2004) (53'): “Life takes its inspiration from a Zen Buddhist kōan. The function of a kōan, or riddle, is to test one’s resolve in the face of doubt, the latter born from overdependence on worldly logic (think ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’). The goal is not to ‘solve’ but to become the riddle. In this particular kōan, a monk and his master discuss the meaning of life, and through his usual array of diverse instruments and singing (here entirely in Japanese), Micus does just that. He becomes what he performs. Distinct to the riddle of life is its elliptical reasoning: it begins and ends with the same answer.” “. . . at the end we have 'The Master's Answer,' a single human voice.” This is why Human Worth is the bedrock for our religion.
- “Darkness and Light” (1990) (53'), “is as fleeting as its message, transparent as water and betraying its presence only through reflections.” This is one of many paradoxes, life as darkness and light.
- “Twilight Fields” (1986) (46'): a walk through life
- “Implosions” (1977) (43’): “Crossing threshold after threshold, it shakes the sky out as if it were a laundered sheet . . .”
- “Koan” (1976) (46'), on addressing life’s paradoxical riddles: “In this sound-world, instruments never compete. Nothing “solos,” per se, but coheres by means of an undying spirit, to which only the master musician may attend through a lifetime of rare creation.”
Gerald Finzi, Concerto for Clarinet & String Orchestra, Op. 31 (1949) (approx. 27-30’): Finzi “liked to compare the creative artist to a 'coral reef insect, building his reef out of the transitory world around him and making a solid structure to last long after his own fragile and uncertain life.” “The first movement opens with a strong statement from the strings, leading to an Elgarian sequence. A stridently repeated octave figure precedes the solo entry with the principal theme of the movement. The soloist leads to the second subject with a two octave downward leap, before the lyrical theme proper is heard. There is a relatively short development section and a recapitulation that is followed by a more extended coda, an undemanding cadenza, inserted at the suggestion of Vaughan Williams, and a maestoso conclusion . . . Muted strings open the slow movement, before the entry of the soloist. The orchestra then introduces the modal principal theme of the movement. allowing the clarinet to offer its own rhapsodic comment. The music moves forward to a dramatic dynamic climax, the mood of the opening finally restored, as the sound dies away. The final Rondo opens forcefully, leading to the cheerful principal theme from the clarinet, which frames extended episodes, with their reminiscences of motifs from the first movement.” Finzi who would live only a few more years, seems to have resolved his concerns about life and death, at least for a while. “What stay with us long after the Clarinet Concerto has ended are Finzi’s powerful themes about the joy of life and its transcience.” Top recorded performances are by Denman in 1977, Johnson in 1991, Plaine in 1995, David Campbell in 2008 , Collins in 2012 ***, and Michael Collins in 2020.
Why choose Natalie MacMaster to illustrate enlightenment? After all, this is a prime spiritual virtue, many would say the greatest virtue of all. Is there something special about this fiddler from Cape Breton? Surely, yes, as you may appreciate when you hear her play. Is she better than all the other musicians? Surely, no, and that is the point. Her music comes from within, yet it engages and moves us to be part of something beyond the self. She has made the most of who and what she is through her instrument, joyfully. That is enlightenment.
- Live in Cape Breton, 2007
- Various tracks
- Albums, compiled: “Blueprint”, “Cape Breton Girl”, In My Hands”, Yours Truly”, “One”, “My Roots Are Showing”, Fit As a Fiddle”, “A Compilation”, “Traditional Music from Cape Breton” and “Live”
- “Sketches” album
- “A Celtic Family Christmas” album
- “No Boundaries” album
John Luther Adams’ ethereal compositions, including Pulitzer and Grammy Award winning “Become Ocean”:
- Ben-Haim, Clarinet Quintet, Op. 31a (1941, rev. 1965)
- Barokksolistene is a chamber music group led by Bjarte Eike. They bring a modern sound to 17th-century English tavern music, embracing it and making it their own. These guys know how to have fun making music. Their albums include “The Playhouse Sessions” (2022) (67’) and “The Alehouse Sessions” (2017) (54’).
- Alice Coltrane, “Translinear Light” – enlightenment as joyful inner liberation
- Daniil Trifonov, “The Art of Life”, keyboard works by J.S. Bach, W.F. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, J.C. Bach and J.C.F. Bach
- Jocelyn Pettit & Ellen Gira, “All It Brings”, and a collection of tracks
- Jeff Denson, Romain Pilon & Brian Blade, “Finding Light” (2022): “This ten track outing consists of original material either from the pen of Denson or Pilon that is meant to capture the pleasure of the group now being together after the forced separation caused by the pandemic.” Their joy is palpable, including in the videos.
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Nawang Khechog, Creating an Enlightened Society
- Nawang Khechog, The Great Prince of Peace and Universal Compassion