Is It Only Rock and Roll?

“I am constantly asked, why pay any attention to any of it? Isn’t this middle brow culture somehow not really spiritual? What a small God, that.”

Ken Wilber
1 May 1999

“I am constantly asked, why pay any attention to any of it? Isn’t this middle brow culture somehow not really spiritual? What a small God, that.”

Great rock groups of the last few years: Elastica, Pulp, The Crystal Method, Artificial Joy Club, the Chemical Brothers, No Doubt, Garbage, Fluffy, La Bouche, Lush, Rancid, Texas, Mover, the Muffs, Fastbacks, 60 Ft. Dolls, Belly, One Dove, Dance Hall Crashers, Superdrag, En Vogue, Republica, Blackhawk, Goo Goo Dolls, the Fugees, NIN, The Goops, Nitzer Ebb, Sleeper, Bluetones, Offspring, De La Soul, Echo Belly, Midnight Oil, the Mavericks, Live, Wallflowers, Sleater-Kinney, London Suede.

I am constantly asked, why pay any attention to any of that? Isn’t this middle brow culture somehow not really spiritual? I hear the same thing about TV all the time: really serious scholars, let alone spiritual practitioners, shouldn’t find any of it interesting.

What a small God, that. All forms are one with Emptiness, no exceptions. Why avoid those particular forms, or look down on them? Are they not equally manifestations of Spirit’s ultimate delight, splashing in the effervescent waters of its own exuberance? Are they not equally ripples in the waterfall of One Taste, flavors of the very Divine, playing here and there.

The effects that different types of music have are fascinating. Rock music, no question, hits the lower chakras (perhaps 2 to 3, sex and power). Rap music is often street survival music (chakra 1). The best of jazz (say, Charlie Parker, Miles, Wynton) is 3 to 4. (The seven chakras of kundalini yoga are the archetypal presentation of the Great Chain, consisting of seven basic levels of consciousness, each correlated with a bodily location.)

The great romantic composers (Chopin, Mahler) are quintessential fourth chakra, all heart emotion, sometimes drippingly. Haydn, Bach, Mozart, later Beethoven, push into fifth to sixth, music of the spheres, or so it seems to me. You can actually feel your attention gravitate to various bodily centers (gut, heart, head) as these musical types play.

I find whenever I am writing about, say, Plotinus, Eckhart or Emerson, the only music that doesn’t disturb thought is Mozart and the later Beethoven, some of Haydn. But when I’m doing the drudge work of bibliography, footnotes, etc., gimme rock and roll any day.

But the crucial point of kundalini yoga and the seven chakras is: all seven, without exception, are radiant forms of Shakti, the energy of the Goddess, in an eternal embrace with Shiva, the pure formless Witness. All Forms are one with Emptiness: Shakti and Shiva are eternally making love, bound to each other with a fierce devotion that time, turmoil, death and destiny cannot even begin to touch.

In Dzogchen Buddhism, the same idea is expressed in the thangka of the Adi-Buddha Samantabhadra (the very highest Buddha) and his consort, Samantabhadri. Samantabhadra is depicted as a deep blue/black figure, naked, seated in the lotus posture. On his lap, facing him in sexual congress, is Samantabhadri, also naked, but a luminous bright white.

Samantabhadra represents the dharmakaya or radical Emptiness, which is completely formless and therefore “black” (as in deep dreamless sleep). Samantabhadri represents the rupakaya, the entire world of Form, which is a brilliant white luminous display. Emptiness and form, consciousness and matter, spirit and the world. But the point is, they are making love; they are one in the ecstatic embrace of each other; they are united through all eternity by the unbreakable bond of a Love that is invincible. They are, to each other, One Taste.

This depiction of Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri (Purusha and Prakriti, Shiva and Shakti, emptiness and form, wisdom and compassion, Eros and Agape, ascending and descending) is not merely a symbol. It is a depiction of a direct realization. When you settle back as I-I, and rest as the formless Witness, you literally are Samantabhadra; you are the great Unborn, the radically unqualifiable Godhead. You are a great black Emptiness of infinite release. And yet, in the space of that Emptiness that you are, the entire universe is arising moment to moment: the clouds are floating through your awareness, those trees are arising in your awareness, those singing birds are one with you.

You, as formless Witness (Samantabhadra), are one with the entire World of Form (Samantabhadri), and it is forever an erotic union. You are literally making love to the entire world as it arises. The brutal, torturous gap between subject and object has collapsed, and you and the world have entered an intimate, sexual, ecstatic union, edged with bliss, radiant in release, the thunder and lightning of only One Taste.

It has always been so.

Material in this column appears in One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber, from Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston. © Ken Wilber 1998.

Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is an author and psychologist.