Austin Mabry on how the Christian-inflected music of Mumford & Sons turns his mind to the dharma.
My brother and I have very different spiritual paths. His being a Baptist pastor and me having been a Buddhist monk leaves a lot of room for disagreement. But one thing we both agree on is Mumford & Sons.
It took me a while to realize that much of the ideas and imagery in their music are Christian in origin. I once heard a story from Thich Nhat Hanh about a Vietnamese woman who had converted from Buddhism to Christianity. One day while out for a stroll, she walked past a Buddhist temple and could hear the monks and nuns chanting inside. Although she was no longer Buddhist, the sound of the chanting deeply moved her.
I think what he meant by this story is that whatever direction we take in life, our ancestors don’t leave us. They’re always a part of us. My Christian ancestors really seem to like the vibe of Mumford & Sons.
Throughout their album Sigh No More, there are a number of songs that remind me of the dharma, including some of the lyrics in the song “Winter Winds.” In it, I hear the elements of impermanence and interbeing. “We’ll be washed and buried one day, my girl / And the time we were given will be left for the world / The flesh that lived and loved will be eaten by plague / So let the memories be good for those who stay.”
Often, when I’m out gardening, another song of theirs will start playing in my head: “Plant your hope with good seeds / Don’t cover yourself with thistle and weeds.” These words remind me of the practice of seeing my mind as a garden. I try to cultivate wholesome seeds, such as joy and ease, and do my best to not water negative seeds like anger and sadness.
The music we listen to is important. It can either help water the good seeds and lead us in the direction of healing, or it can water the thistle and weeds of our minds. I think Mumford & Sons offers a lot to reflect on and naturally turns my mind in the direction of the dharma.