Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Music Review: My Sleeping Karma - Moksha

Namaste readers! For those of you who have read some previous entries of my blog, you may know of some of my interests - some more obvious than others. One interest that should be blatantly obvious by now is my interest in Hinduism and its associated spirituality. Another interest that is less obvious is that of heavy metal and its subgenres in music. I've written on how I perceive the two areas of Hindu spirituality and heavy metal sometimes intersect in a couple of previous posts, both of them titled Heavy Metal/Hardcore Music as a Universal Language. (The other post is here.)

Now, I'm not trying to make heavy metal sound mystical, nor am I trying to make Hinduism somehow tied to heavy metal/hardcore music. What the point of those posts was is to demonstrate how it's possible to have a foot in both worlds without having to compromise one's own beliefs. And I've just encountered music by a band that apparently believes in the same thing: a band called My Sleeping Karma.

While I haven't done that much research into the band itself, I think I can safely assume that they have their foot on both sides of the divide as much as I do. After all, they openly claim influence from classical Eastern music, especially that of South Asia, and it shows right down to their album artwork, especially from their most recent album, Moksha:


The album art here clearly depicts the Hindu god Ganesha, albeit in a form that is obviously seen through the artistic eyes of the band. On the left side of the album cover, you can see Ganesha holding up the "horns" that have become a universal hand gesture among heavy metal enthusiasts. Interestingly enough, that hand gesture is similar, but not identical to, a mudra in Hinduism, that is, a hand gesture with spiritual significance. More specifically, it shares its resemblance to the apana mudra, as pictured below. Again, they are not the same, but I'm pointing out the similarity to prove my point.


So far, so good, so what? The ideas that My Sleeping Karma explore - that of using South Asian classical influences in their music and artwork - is nothing new. After all, Tool have been doing it for decades. But there's one key difference I think will shut down MSK's critics on this point - Tool haven't released an album for almost 9 years. MSK have certainly been more prolific than that, having released a total of five albums (including Moksha) in less of a time period than Tool have been around. Man cannot live on Tool alone, so MSK can fill the void.

How so? While MSK have inevitable similarities to Tool, there are some key differences that prevent them from being just another soundalike. For one, there are no lyrics. While the vocals of Maynard James Keenan certainly lend the music of Tool some of its uniqueness, the absence of lyrics from MSK's music can actually give the music itself more importance, and more focus. Also, MSK's exploration of the themes of Hindu spirituality are far more prominent than that of Tool. For instance, all the track titles on Moksha (save for the interludes) are titled with words from Sanskrit (for instance, the title track "Moksha" is Sanskrit for liberation, at least in the spiritual sense of liberation from the cycle of birth and death). MSK is also more consistent with their influence from South Asia, at least with the album Moksha, than Tool have been - where Tool's influences are scattered all over the place, borrowing (and sometimes appropriating) from any culture that has a perceived "mystical" element to it, MSK sticks more to this one influence, so in a sense it pays the traditional spirituality of South Asia more respect and gives a more grateful homage to it than Tool have done.

All this being said, the South Asian influence comes into play more on Moksha in the key notes and beat structures than actual instrumentation. There are only rare instances of actual South Asian instrumentation being used on the album, and they're confined mostly to the interludes between tracks. However, there's still enough sound experimentation on Moksha to give the listener an otherworldly impression, and it's got more substance to think about than many heavy metal songs with lyrics. Pretty much the only straightforward instrumental rock piece on Moksha is the closing track "Agni." All this comes across, once again, as paying homage to their influences rather than being so dependent on them that it would be seen as appropriation. One needs to toe a fine line as an artist when attempting to borrow influence from another culture that it doesn't seem like you're disrespecting it by overtly stealing from it, and that's a line MSK have seemingly mastered to balance upon like a tightrope.

I would highly recommend Moksha if you're a Tool fanatic who's about ready to do something stupid in the absence of new Tool music. MSK's music can not only fill the void, but also give you new sonic elements to ponder and be stimulated by. Moksha adds to the proof that heavy music doesn't have to be simple and/or stupid to be enjoyable. My Sleeping Karma are most certainly not the first pioneers into this intelligent territory. But they're pioneers worth your time and attention.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Helping Nepal

Namaste readers,

As you might know already, there has been an earthquake in Nepal, that has had a devastating toll of lives. It's been estimated over 4,000 lives have been lost as a result of the earthquake.

The most pressing question for those of us outside Nepal, right now, is: how can we help?

I know many people will say "pray for Nepal." If you want to pray for Nepal, that's all fine and dandy - sometimes prayer is all one can do in the face of disaster. Prayer can give those who otherwise can't help situations like this at least some comfort that they're keeping these disasters in their minds and the minds of others.

Still, prayer should be backed up by action. I'm not one to say that prayer does nothing...honestly, I'm no expert on prayer whether it helps or hurts situations like this. What I will say is that there is real action you can take, and should you be able to take this action, you should, as a supplement to your prayer.

One action is to donate to Global Giving's Nepal earthquake relief effort. Global Giving is among the most reputable sources of charity that one can donate to, as they are very transparent about their efforts and where the money goes. Donating to them can help them give to emergency services in the region that are otherwise stretched.

Another place to donate to is a Nepali immigrant association in New York City that is called Adhikaar. They have direct connections to organizations that are aiding Nepal on the ground right now, and they've started an Indiegogo campaign for helping them out.

Again, I will say this - pray if you can't do anything else, for at least that keeps the victims in your mind and the minds of others. But back it up with real action if you can. Anything can help at this point.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fighting My Own Brain

Namaste readers...

Yet another long gap in my posting to this blog. I really don't have any excuses at this point... Some good things have happened. Some bad things too. But there seems to be one truth about myself that I have yet to come to terms with.

That truth is not straightforward, and definitely not simple. But it's a truth that's become apparent to me these past few weeks. It may not seem true to others, but it's true to me.

My brain is trying to kill me.

Why would I say something like this on the internet, where my words are free and open for anyone to twist around and use against me?

Because I want to prove a point.

The point I want to prove is one that took me a long time to figure out, and I want others to benefit from my experience. This point is that one should not hate oneself under any circumstances. You can be your own worst critic, and yes, criticizing and questioning oneself is a good thing.

But you can't let that turn into self-torture. As for what that has to do with my brain trying to kill me...I've come to terms with that fact, that my brain isn't necessarily faulty, but it's separate from my soul. That is a very Hindu teaching, that the mind and soul are separate entities. The mind is part of the body, and one should take care of body and mind. But the soul is something completely different, and it is the most beautiful part of ourselves.

I know I'm sounding like a cliche New Age hippie here, but these facts I listed above are what kept me alive as I studied Hinduism and yoga these past few years. And they've helped me accept myself...including the part of my brain that wants me to die.

In order to prevent that part of my brain from killing me, I had to accept that it was there. I couldn't simply push it out, because it would bounce back stronger than before. I had to acknowledge it, and then ignore it.

Yes, I have had help from psychiatric medicines (I take a list of them that's a mile long) in doing this...and that has been part of the acceptance (and subsequent ignoring) of this evil part of my brain. Sometimes psychiatric medication does help. That doesn't mean it will help everybody (and that's why I object to the marketing of anti-depressants, and not anti-depressants themselves - ads for those make it seem like everyone would benefit from them, when that is simply not the case), but it's good that it's there for the people that do need it. Like me.

I know I'm rambling at this point, but I wanted to share what I've learned so that others can benefit. I'll stop this post with one simple statement:

There's hope for all of us.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Am I Good?

Namaste readers...this next post might sound slightly narcissistic, but...I think it's for a good reason. Or at least a reason that makes sense to me.

Sometimes I wonder what good I have done in this world...or even if I've done any good at all. Obviously I know better by now than to think I can change the world by myself. But...sometimes I feel I can't even change the world of my immediate surroundings. And sometimes I feel like I haven't been good for any positive change. Like I'm just...ineffectual, even maleficent sometimes.

I know it's not good to want a reward for being good. And I'm not asking for any. It's just...I want to see if I have done any good! All this time people have told me about bad or incompetent things I have done. And I certainly haven't seen the results of anything I've done that may be considered "good." Am I simply incapable of doing any significant good?

Being good is its own reward, I think. But...when I don't see if I'm doing any good...it's like in my mind I am doing no good at all. It's like I need affirmation that I'm doing good to keep doing good. Otherwise it seems like, why bother?

I want to consider myself a good person. How am I supposed to do that when others don't think I'm a good person? I know I can't please everybody in terms of being good. But...why does it feel like I'm pleasing no one?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fair Weather Meditator

Namaste readers! *coughs a bit* Wow, it's dusty in here...I know, it's because I haven't updated for a long time. Let me fix that...

Things have been an emotional roller coaster for me, full of giddy highs and abysmal lows. Thankfully there are more highs than lows going for me at this point, but the lows are still significant, and sometimes debilitating. The reason I titled this blog post the way I did is because it seems like my usual meditation routine has been...affected by these highs and lows. By that I mean my meditation seems to amplify whatever I'm feeling at the time, when I get around to practicing it. For instance, I did mantra chanting to Shri Ganesha yesterday, and I was depressed already. I got even more depressed! Yet earlier this evening when I tried the mantra chanting again, although I wasn't exactly happy (I was still somewhat depressed but less so) I got the happiness boost I was looking for.

Maybe this is because I haven't been able to be regular with meditation lately, and that the effects might be more consistent if I did it more often. I'm not sure. A wise person once told me that without suffering, I wouldn't know what joy felt like. I know that's true, and I appreciate that fact.

However, I just wish I had more control over when I feel suffering or joy. I know it's impossible to feel joy all the time, but can't I have a little more control over when I suffer?

At any rate, I'll try to post to this blog more regularly. Jai Shri Ganesha!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Too Many Questions

Namaste Light Club readers. Sorry for the absence. A lot has happened in my life recently, some good, some bad. What is good is that I have a new job that I will be starting soon - I don't want to divulge any details of it, but suffice it to say it's a job I think I will genuinely enjoy. :)

I just wish that news came under better circumstances. In case you don't know or haven't been paying attention, race relations in the US took a bit of a nosedive following the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri not to indict the white officer that fatally shot Michael Brown. The link I just posted here goes to a white anti-racist activist website run by Tim Wise, who offers his own commentary on what happened.

This raises a lot of questions in my mind. Most of the questions revolve around what I can do to fix this, and, well, I don't have any answers to that. There's too many questions swirling around in my mind at present for me to effectively make sense of anything regarding these events.

However, I do know one thing - one thing not to do in light of what's happened. And that is to blame myself and smother my mind in guilt. I know as a white person I'm a benefactor of a system that oppresses other people, whether I like it or not. Therefore it's my responsibility to do something about that. But one thing I've discovered is that miring myself in blame, guilt, and other negative emotions doesn't change a thing.

That brings me to the crux of what I'm trying to say here - what one personally feels is important, but it's not as important as what one does. To use an old cliche, actions speak louder than words. Actions are also good for one's mental health in times like these. No one person can change the world. But doing something, anything to try to counter these systems of oppression can at the very least purify your soul.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Special Announcement, Now With Video!

Namaste readers - actually, you're going to be viewers today because this next blog post is a video! In case you didn't know, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, is going to be visiting New York City on September 28 to speak at Madison Square Garden. I made this video about this upcoming event, because I'm looking to attend myself. :)

Please watch, if you so desire:
video