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Music as Mantra (or How to Gain Enlightenment through Taylor Swift)


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Had a very interesting talk with David Nichtern, who wrote the Maria Muldaur hit "Midnight at the Oasis" and is a senior instructor in Shambhala Buddhism.

The music he makes in the Buddhist tradition are chants, which are often performed in group meditations and yoga classes. They repeat mantras - often Sanskrit calls to Hindu deities - over and over in an effort to reach a higher place or gain some internal peace. Since he has a unique connection to both secular hit songwriting and to sacred Buddhist music, I spent most of the interview discussion various songs with him to get his perspective.

When I mentioned Taylor Swift, he immediately thought of "Shake It Off," a song that can burrow deep into your psyche (whether you want it to or not). The repetitive nature of the song is similar to a mantra, but there's also something to the meaning, since it's a very simple and empowering phrase. Here's what he said:

We would call it a samsaric mantra. Like, a mantra from the kind of confused world of passion, aggression, and ignorance. But it still has some zing to it.

A "samsaric" mantra is designed to get us off the spinning wheel that keeps us trapped in a continuous cycle, preventing us from moving forward. And "Shake It Off" is far more accessible than "Hare Krishna."

We also spent some time discussing the Steely Dan song "Bodhisattva" and also my beloved P-Funk chants. Sadly, it appears those won't get me closer to enlightenment. Here's the full interview:

http://www.songfacts.com/blog/interviews/david_nichtern/

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