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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 11 86 he received from his teacher on the nature of mind, formally empowering us as Vajrayana students. It was what I had left home for, and it was also a return home. To a certain extent I had learned how to meditate; I began to trust myself more. With some trepidation I returned to New York City, and, alone in my parents’ apartment, I began work on a new piece. I had not composed anything for nearly a year and started with a simple solo line. I recognized when I would begin to get tight and irritable, and I would let go, just what I had been doing on the meditation cushion for the previous three months. Some ventilation was taking place in my sys- tem. I began to feel I was understand- ing the principle of “not too tight, not too loose.” In 1981, I was accepted to teach at that year’s seminary. One day dur- ing seminary two of my teaching colleagues and I met with Trungpa Rinpoche. He was famous as a ter- ton, someone who discovers spiritual teachings that are appropriate for their particular age, and the day before he had “received” a text. At our meeting, I joked that “receiving” texts would be a great way to compose music, thinking of Mozart, who undoubt- edly composed in a similar fashion. Rinpoche laughed and agreed, com- menting that it actually felt somewhat like a headache. I presented my own particular dilemma, saying something like, “These days there is no common language, and such an overdeveloped intellectual approach. It feels as if I am only dealing with concepts and not spontaneous creation.” Rinpoche looked at me and said, “Concept becomes experience.” Suddenly tears came to my eyes. Then our meeting continued and moved on to other topics. That one remark by my teacher seemed to turn my world right side up. I began to regard techniques not as concepts that prevent genuine musical expression but as passports to differ- ent worlds of experience. I began to play with the techniques my musical teachers had shown me. They became like putty, reshaping and reforming for each new piece, even if I still could not remember from one piece to the next what I had actually done or what I had spent so much time trying to understand. The creative process is fundamentally a process of Curiously, after each piece was fin- ished I would forget what I had done. Beginning a new piece involved the formulation of yet another set of theo- retical concepts. I found these experi- ences to be true for other composers as well. Individually we all understood what we were doing, but each piece required its own particular explana- tion. There seemed to be no common ground other than an underlying theo- retical method. Justifying a piece by means of the theory behind it was solipsistic, the first symptom of disease. I became immensely dissatisfied with the musi- cal results and not too sure about the ideas behind them either. I needed to rest and rethink what I was doing. This discontent combined with the politics of musical life—the intense competi- tion for very few rewards—to provoke a sense of revulsion. I was fed up. As time went on I was drawn out of my city hermitage into the world of the sangha, the community of Bud- dhist practitioners. I saw Chögyam Trungpa again, this time in Boulder, Colorado, and asked to be accepted as his student. “Sure,” he said, further throwing me off. Didn’t such a porten- tous move on my part require a like response? Little did I know. WHEN ASKED BY a famous sitar player how he should meditate, the Buddha said that he should work with his mind the same way he would string his instrument: not too tight, not too loose. In 1976, I moved to Boulder. I had enjoyed considerable success for a young composer. My music had been played by Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic; I had a publisher and a number of grants, awards, and commissions. But to the despair of my loved ones, I seemed to be throwing all this away. I was—or secretly hoping to. I would become a Buddhist teacher and leave the emotionally conflicting world of music behind. When I told this to Trungpa Rinpoche, he said, “I think you should do more music.” That fall and winter I attended a three-month seminary, in which Trungpa Rinpoche taught the practice and doc- trines of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. At the end of seminary, he gave us the special transmission that PHOTOS LIZA MATTHEWS