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'My music is not meant to excite the nervous system'

July 08, 2004 16:14 IST

Recitation of mantras and healing prayers could have profound and calming influence on anyone, says Patrick Bernard whose meditative journey started in India more than three decades ago.


One of the hottest selling New Age musicians, he is the author of the recently published Music as Yoga (Mandala, $12.95). His records and albums including Shamanyko, have sold nearly half a million copies in the past decade. 'In all civilisations and in all initiations,' Bernard, whose ishta devta is Radhakrishna, writes in Music as Yoga, 'we find the assurance that sound -- in particular, the absolute sound of the names correlating to the Divine -- represents the most powerful of transformative energies known throughout creation.'


In a recent interview with Senior Editor Arthur J Pais, Bernard, who has been exposed to 'transformative' music from many countries, and particularly India, spoke about the importance of remaking one's lives.


You write so eloquently about healing music, and you mention how your friends listen to such music. Does your daughter listen to your kind of music?


No. She is 13 and is into rave and other kind of music. She is growing up in Canada. She is a bright and kind person. I am sure her tastes will widen. 


Are you not worried about her interests?


No, I believe she has to discover the sacred music in her own way, just the way I did. I am afraid that if I push her into such music, for that matter any music, she may lose interest in it permanently. I am always hopeful. I feel she will discover the beauty of chants, prayers and healing music in her own way.


What kind of a family do you have?


I was married once but it did not work out. I was traveling too much in quest of music and inner life. I have a partner now. We are very happy with each other.


Do you listen to popular music?


When I am at home (in California), no. But when I visit some friends, say, someone is playing Bob Dylan or the Beatles, I listen. I acknowledge there is a lot of beauty in rhythmic music. Good popular music at times gives one energy. No, I don't feel guilty that I enjoy such music from time to time. But when I am at home, I listen to sacred chants. I also listen to a lot of classical music, Mozart in particular.


Where did you grow up?


I grew up in the French colony of Algeria between 1952 and 1962. It was a difficult time for everyone because of the Algerian struggle for independence. But it was also a period of counter culture all over Europe. I was getting drawn to music from across the world.


What kind of music interested you in those years?


A lot of progressive music. There were songs by Bob Dylan and many others that were saying a lot of the way life was lived. I was slowly getting to realise that there was much more to life than materialism.


You write eloquently about the calming influence of music. Did you start thinking about it in the 1960s?


Certainly, especially since I was born in a country (Algeria) that was going through huge turmoil and violence. I felt anxiety all the time. I was very nervous. The chronic anxiety led me to look for sacred space within myself. I was consciously looking for music that would calm my anxiety. I found so much of that kind of music in India.


Did you go to India like a hippie, as many young people did it in the 1960s and 1970s? Did you hitchhike?


No, I took a plane. But as I began traveling across the country and visiting sacred places like Rishikesh, I could feel I belonged there. Whenever I heard the chants in the temples and ashrams, I could feel my brain calming down. For the first time I felt a deep sense of peace. The music was transforming me, it was purifying my mind. I was making beautiful discoveries.


Like what?



is music in all of us. But when we listen to music with an open mind and a clean heart, it comes into our life very sweetly. Music cannot be, in the best sense, an artificial imposition on the mind. When you surrender to healing, transformative music, you become the music.


Did you take any formal course in music?


Yes, in India and elsewhere so that I could learn a few skills and improve the ones I had. For most part, however, I was awakening something that was already there in my soul.   


You were on a deep spiritual trip in India. Did you think of giving up music at any time?


I wanted to but my teacher told me not to.


Who was this teacher?


I met Sridhar Maharaj in Bengal. He was very spiritual and taught me a lot about Chaitanya's devotional life. My real transformation began at his mutt.


What else impressed you most about Shridhar Maharaj?


He was not enamored of fame like some so-called godmen were. He did not want to travel outside India. He encouraged me to carry on with music.


How did it happen?


When I told him I was a musician and I was giving up music to look for God, he laughed. You are a fool, he said. Giving up music or any other similar gift, he said, would be artificial renunciation. He said it would be wrong for someone like to me to use music in the spirit of exploitation, to gain fame. He taught me a middle course.


A middle course?


He urged me to use music as a seva, as service, as a glorification of soul. I stayed in his mutt for three months in the late 1970s. There I began using Indian chants along with Western music. I have been going back every second or third year. For me going to the sacred towns and villages in India is always a beautiful pilgrimage.


What else did you learn about music from your guru?


Music, like life, should be enjoyed spontaneously. 


You have spoken and written considerably about your vegetarianism. How did you become a vegetarian?


It happened in Amsterdam in the early 1970s. The city then was full of intellectual excitement, and people were aware of alternative lifestyles.


Was it easy to switch from a meatless diet?


No, I was afraid I might die. Remember, there was so little knowledge about a vegetarian diet then. I also thought I should eat fish.


But slowly, I began to give up fish, and everything began to be fine. My mother was worried about my diet initially but soon realised it was all right for me.


How does being a vegetarian help your music?


My music is not meant to excite the nervous system. Vegetarianism calms my mind, and helps me compose soothing, healing and meditative music.


What are some of your dreams as a musician and a spiritual seeker?


I wish I could run a small hospital where people can go through the healing process through meditation. We can use all kinds of natural healing methods, and there will be soothing, spiritual music. And that will be music as yoga.


Image: Rahil Sheikh