Music and Consciousness: Mind the Company You Keep

Photo: Thanks to Mike Giles on Unsplash


(By Swami Kriyananda, from a talk at a seminar in Germany in 1989)

We’re accustomed to thinking of music as pleasurable sound – or perhaps not always pleasurable. But we are less accustomed to thinking of it in terms of meaning.

We, particularly in the West, have been raised on the tradition that to express meaning you have to express it logically, with words.

Photo: Thanks to Dhe Haivan on Unsplash.

In fact, there are levels of understanding that have nothing to do with logic. We’re accustomed to thinking of things as either logical or illogical, but there’s a level of understanding that is above logic. In fact, logic is useful only in certain aspects of human life, and up to certain levels of human understanding. After that, logic becomes an obstacle.

​​​​​​​And so it is that we’ve come to understand, thanks to the introduction of spiritual practices that expand human consciousness inwardly, that our consciousness is much larger than what we are aware of on a conscious, rational level.

Music and sound influence us much more than we know or realize. Most civilizations have known this, but we, because of our over-emphasis on reason, have forgotten it.

Photo: Thanks to Matthew Kalapuch on Unsplash.

Many ancient civilizations insisted that their music be uplifting. They believed that if a society would allow decadent music, before long the society would become decadent. A country that likes marshal music would, sooner or later, go to war. A country that likes sensual music would fall into sensuality.​​​​​

Photo: Thanks to Mohammad Metri on Unsplash.

Music can instantly express or influence or reinforce what we are, and in the process it can create a new reality. It’s important to realize that we, in a very real sense, are music.

​​​​​​​There’s a story of an emperor in ancient China who would travel the provinces periodically to see how they were doing. He didn’t analyze the accounts and he didn’t check on the honesty of the officials. He didn’t do any of the things we would do today. He simply checked to see if the music was right. Because if the music was right, he knew that everything else was going well, but that if the music was becoming disharmonious or degenerate, the civilization would be at great risk of falling. The ancient Greeks had the same idea.


We are living in a period of decadence, and our music reflects and reinforces a decadent consciousness. If you listen to the music composed in the last century, you find that almost none of it touches the soul. In contrast, when you listen to the second movement of Beethoven’s Second Symphony, it’s so simple yet so completely satisfying, and it touches you deep inside. 

Music doesn’t have to make fireworks. Speaking symbolically, we can say that it touches your DNA – the essence of who and what you are. And this is the important thing – that it touch you in beneficial ways at the level of who you are.


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