His Holiness the Dalai Lama has spent a lifetime exploring the riddle of human existence against the background of the Buddhist conception of consciousness. Now the world can access the Tibetan spiritual leader’s inner world—metaphorically as well as literally— through some riveting and relaxing religious music intended to counter spiritual malaise, while prompting positive change amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Dalai Lama’s philosophical wisdom and insights are offered in Inner World, his debut album, released July 6 on his 85th birthday. In 11 tracks, the spiritual head of Tibetans worldwide imparts his teachings, recites holy mantras and chants along with the enchanting music. Titles include “The Buddha,” “Healing,” and “Purification,” and the album is available free of charge on YouTube as well through its official store and other outlets
In the second track, “One of My Favorite Prayers,” the Dalai Lama recites a verse by the 8th-century Indian monk Shantideva against a backdrop of the floating music of windpipes and free-form guitar. “For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I, too, abide to dispel the misery of the world,” His Holiness intones, expressing his devotion to helping humanity.
In “Compassion,” one of the album’s most riveting tracks, the Dalai Lama chants the well-known Sanskrit mantra, “Om mani padme hum,” which, literally translated, means “the jewel is in the lotus.” The song “boasts a decidedly New Age flow with plenty of ethereal instruments, but it’s anchored by a steady bass and drum groove that the Dalai Lama rides deftly,” states the review in Rolling Stone magazine.
Inner World is the brainchild of Junelle Kunin, a Buddhist musician from New Zealand who was stressed out working for a bank there and had been “searching for music paired with teachings from the Dalai Lama to calm herself down and allow herself to focus,” according to a recent article by the Associated Press.
Unable to find anything online, she proposed what she clearly thought was a fascinating idea to the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the Himalayan town of Dharamshala, India, where the 1989 Nobel Peace laureate ran the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibet government in exile, until he retired in 2012: “Let’s make an album fusing music with mantras and chants from the Tibetan spiritual leader.” The office politely turned her down.
On a subsequent trip to India in 2015, however, during one of her usual audiences with the Dalai Lama, Kunin repeated her request, “this time writing a letter and handing it to one of his assistants,” as the AP article puts it.
The Dalai Lama agreed. Not just that. “He really was so excited … he actually proceeded to explain to me how important music is,” Kunin says in the article, adding: “He leaned forward and his eyes were sparkling, and his fingers were rubbing together and he (talked) about how music can help people in a way that he can’t—it can transcend differences and return us to our true nature and our good-heartedness.”
After returning home, Kunin began creating the music and sounds that are in the album. She worked with her husband, Abraham, who also is a musician and producer, as well as with guest artists such as Grammy-nominated sitar player Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the late Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, who appears on the track “Ama La.”
Kunin told the AP that although the album took five years to come to fruition, there could hardly have been a better time to release it. “The entire purpose of this project is to try to help people,” she said. “It’s not a Buddhist project, it’s to help everyday people like myself, even though I am Buddhist.” She added: “The messages couldn’t be more poignant for our current social climate and needs as humanity.”
Proceeds from the sales of the album will go to Mind & Life Institute, a Charlottesville, Virginia-based organization the Dalai Lama cofounded in an effort to “bring science and contemplative wisdom together to better understand the mind and create positive change in the world,” as well as Social, Emotional and Ethical Learning, a global education program that Emory University developed in association with the Dalai Lama.
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