Gonging Without Belief
By David Gibbons, 24 June 2021
The title of this essay was inspired by a book written by Mr. Stephen Batchelor, titled "Buddhism without Beliefs". In the book, Batchelor argues that the four truths that Buddha presented as things to be acted upon instead were "neatly turned into four propositions of fact to be believed".
As I have grown into my practice, perception, and presentation of the music as Tranquil Sound Gardens (TSG), I decided that I would not tell or ask people to believe anything about themselves, the music I was producing, or about the instruments I use to produce it. I would, if you will, let the instruments and sounds speak for themselves.
Observation and Intention VS Belief
Further, I have worked to avoid my own 'belief in what I am doing' when I play the instruments. In place of belief in what I am doing I have instead decided that I would focus on simply intending to 'cultivate tranquility' when I play. In place of belief, I instead consider my direct observations over time of people's reactions to the music. I have observed that people that have had no prior experience with anything even remotely like TSG still respond strongly to the sounds I produce with these instruments. That response is often described by listeners in terms of calmness, restfulness, or peacefulness. As that is what I intend, I need not do more in terms of "preparing an audience".
In a sense, this marks me as somewhat of an agnostic amongst the fellowship of those people who present the sounds of gongs and other similar instruments to audiences in various settings. My prior life experiences have made me very cautious about using the beliefs of other people.
Missed Marketing Opportunity?
As I have avoided associating what I do with any religious, spiritual, magical, or metaphysical setting I lose the ability to directly connect with potential audiences who are attracted to or familiar with any of those frameworks. Of course, what this means is that I lose some opportunities to market or promote my "product". Since presenting TSG is not how I make my living, I can afford to take this stance.
Am I Being Irresponsible?
Further, the various frameworks I mention can provide a way to direct or contain the reactions or energy of an audience. The various rituals used by the manifold belief systems of humanity provide familiar and effective paths for the calling up of, the controlled expression of, and the final release or dissipation of the energy of an audience. Think baptism, mass, or funeral in the Christian faiths, for example.
Some might argue that my choosing to not provide a framework or ritual setting for the listeners is irresponsible because there is no mechanism in place to direct or dissipate any strong emotions raised by the music. Several years of presenting TSG to different audiences has shown me that this concern appears to be unfounded. The only thing I have found I have to do at the end of each presentation is to gently invite audience members to return to the 'here and now', as some people become quite disconnected from the here and now while listening to the music.
To that degree, I am accepting responsibility for the safety of those affected by the music. I don't want anybody getting into their car while still less than completely aware of their surroundings. No DUIG! (Driving Under the Influence of Gongs)
What happens inside a listener when there is no attempt to buttress the soundspace with ideas? What happens when one listens without the ideas, without the beliefs? What happens when such music is unanchored by a religious, spiritual, magical, metaphysical, or mystical setting? Is there then nothing there? I invite my listeners to to decide.
I want to invite listeners to experience, to take in the music directly, without 'seasoning'. I intend for the audience members to experience tranquility and then make or take from that whatever they might wish or need.
Edited 24 June 2021
Contents copyright 2021 by David C. Gibbons