Spirit, Soul and New Religions

The following is an extract from the book:
Spirit, Soul and New Religions
by Charles D. Gerard Brooklyn, New York
Copyright, 1995

Many thanks to Marco Anderson for supplying this interesting article


Yoga is a school of thought of the Hindu religion and a system of mental and physical exercises sometimes practiced, especially in the west, without the spiritual goals for which they were designed. The purpose of yoga exercise is to bring awareness of the soul. Under the supervision of a guru, the yogi (follower of the yoga philosophy) goes through eight stages as set forth in The Yoga Sutras: yama, negative rules of moral conduct-that is, rules of a sort similar to those of Moses' Ten Commandments about what one should not do; niyama, positive rules for livings having to do with self- purification; asana, bodily postures such as the lotus position; pranayama, control of breathing; pratyahara, control of the senses; dharana, concentration; dhyana, meditation; and samadhi, cosmic consciousness.

Although Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of the Self Realization Fellowship, had been teaching yoga in the United States since he arrived in 1920, yoga did not become popular in this country until the nineteen-sixties. Among the most famous yoga teachers were the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Sri Chinmoy. Both the Maharishi and Chinmoy were associated with famous musicians: the former with the Beatles, the latter with three guitarists, Larry Coryell, John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana. Because I am examining the jazz community, I will concentrate on Chinmoy and John McLaughlin. Sri Chinmoy is a teacher of yoga meditation and the founder of Sri Chinmoy Meditation Centres. He was born in India in 1931 with the name Chinmoy Kumar Ghose (Sri is an honorific title rather than a name). Chinmoy reached the highest level in the yoga philosophy, nirvikalpa samadhi, while still a youth. He spent the next twenty years in an ashram. Acting upon what he believed was a diving message, Chinmoy moved to New York in 1964. Within a few years, he had opened meditation centers in New York, Puerto Rico and Florida. In 1970 he began conducting meditations for peace at the United Nations. Chinmoy is a musician and has performed flute at a number of free concerts sponsored by his centers.

Around the same time that Chick Corea discovered Scientology, John McLaughlin moved from England to the United States. McLaughlin had learned to do yoga exercises and he started doing these exercises in New York with greater concentration. After a year of a daily hour and-a-half regimen of yoga, he felt great physically, but he began to feel the need to improve himself through meditation. One day Larry Coryell's manager introduced him to Sri Chinmoy.

At their first meeting, McLaughlin asked Chinmoy about the relationship between music and spiritual consciousness. The guru told him that the important thing was a person's state of consciousness, not what she or he did. Whether one was a street cleaner or a musician was less important. If one was a musician seeking enlightenment, one's music would "automatically be a part of it." Impressed with this answer, McLaughlin became Chinmoy's disciple (Berendt 1981:109).

Like Coltrane, McLaughlin wished to "transcend the human consciousness and become aware of the divine consciousness...and then ultimately to reveal this in music." (Schaeffer 1974:15) He shared with Coltrane the belief that by creating a music based on a spiritual search, a musician could help listeners become aware of the divine consciousness and improve people's lives. McLaughlin encouraged musicians to learn to meditate in order to become attuned to the spirit.

McLaughlin's participation in yoga made him interested in learning Indian music. Part of the reason he was drawn to the music was because it came from the same culture in which yoga developed. In this respect, he was no different from other western devotees of Indian religions whether they be yoga or Sikkhism. Many of them develop a taste for Indian food, wear Indian clothing and adopt Indian names. More importantly, McLaughlin loved Indian music because he perceived it to be an art indivisibly connected to religion (Berendt 1981:111). The influence of Indian music proved to have a profound effect on McLaughlin. While still playing with his jazz/rock group, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, a name chosen by Sri Chinmoy, McLaughlin began to take vocal lessons in Indian music as well as lessons with Ravi Shankar. After the Mahavishnu Orchestra folded, McLaughlin formed the group, Shakti, with the South Indian violinist, L. Shankar, and other Indian musicians.