Wagner and Buddhism

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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby kirtu » Tue Aug 12, 2014 5:19 am

Mkoll wrote:
Wikipedia wrote:Wagner's final opera, Parsifal (1882), ... has a storyline suggested by elements of the legend of the Holy Grail. It also carries elements of Buddhist renunciation suggested by Wagner's readings of Schopenhauer.[173]


Next stop - Ludwig II as a Buddhist as Neuschwanstein was designed to be accommodating for Parsifal if he should ride up the hill ....

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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby Kim O'Hara » Tue Aug 12, 2014 6:41 am

Dan74 wrote:I think we should be mature enough to distinguish someone's repugnant views and the rest of their work ...

Certainly.
Dan74 wrote:... inasmuch as it presents something of value.

Huh?
Technically competent and occasionally more than competent but morally and artistically utter rubbish. YMMV, of course :tongue: but that's my considered opinion.

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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Aug 12, 2014 2:33 pm

Mkoll wrote:Sounds more like "Wagner and Schopenhauer" rather than "Wagner and Buddhism".

Of course his view was based on Schopenhauer's interpretations, but also Burnouf's Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism. Here's a summary of the plot:
Zurich. May 16, 1856. wrote: The Buddha on his last journey. Ananda given water from the well by Prakriti, the Chandala maiden. Her tumult of love for Ananda; his consternation. --

Prakriti in love's agony: her mother brings Ananda to her: love's battle royal: Ananda, distressed and moved to tears, released by Shakya' [the Buddha]. --

Prakriti goes to Buddha, under the tree at the city's gate, to plead for union with Ananda. He asks if she is willing to fulfil the stipulations of such a union? Dialogue with twofold meaning, interpreted by Prakriti in the sense of her passion; she sinks horrified and sobbing to the ground, when she hears at length that she must share Ananda's vow of chastity.

Ananda persecuted by the Brahmins. Reproofs against Buddha's commerce with a Chandala girl. Buddha's attack on the spirit of caste. He tells of Prakriti's previous incarnation; she then was the daughter of a haughty Brahmin; the Chandala King, remembering a former existence as Brahmin, had craved the Brahmin's daughter for his son, who had conceived a violent passion for her; in pride and arrogance the daughter had refused return of love, and mocked at the unfortunate. This she had now to expiate, reborn as Chandala to feel the torments of a hopeless love; yet to renounce withal, and be led to full redemption by acceptance into Buddha's flock.--

Prakriti answers Buddha's final question with a joyful Yea. Ananda welcomes her as sister. Buddha's last teachings. All are converted by him. He departs to the place of his redemption.

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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby kirtu » Tue Aug 12, 2014 4:18 pm

Well SRF (Swiss Radio and TV) is into it: Richard Wagners love of Buddhism (in German).

The Swiss are *so* cute sometimes.

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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Aug 12, 2014 5:13 pm

Oh thanks. I'm afraid my German isn't quite good enough to appreciate this. On Schopenhauer again, I recently discovered this very interesting article.
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby kirtu » Wed Aug 13, 2014 4:52 pm

from Wagner, Love and Buddhism, an article in German from Swiss Radio & Television

Monday, April 29, 2013, Judith Hardegger

Wagner? That is of course the stuff with the Germanic heroes. Was does it have to do with Buddhism? Wagner was not only an opera composer, he was also a philosophical Jack of all trades. And he was especially taken with Buddhist philosophy.

In 1854 Richard Wagner read Arthur Schopenhauer's book "The World as Will and Representation". The lecture led him to an awakening experience. Schopenhauer's main work is completely stamped by old Indian thought. And so in this way Wagner came in contact for the first time with Buddhism through Schopenhauer. This world view would never leave him.

Wagner's intense interest with Buddhism is seen above all in the diary of his second wife Cosima. On September 27, 1882 - just five months before Wagers death she wrote: "In the evening he was up and read the book 'Buddha'. We almost always talk about the Buddha". And on October 1: "He declared Buddhism itself as a flowering of the human mind, in opposition to which the result would be decadence".

Buddhism versus Christianity

Cosima's dairy entries as well as Wagner's letters show that he often compared Christianity with Buddhism. What especially pleased him about Buddhism was the focus on penance and good works instead of churches and compulsory attendance of services. Wagner thought that Christianity should try to measure up to Buddhism. This would however require that Christianity free itself from it's great errors: church hierarchy and dogmatic orientation.

A Buddhist Opera

In May 1856 in Zurich Wagner began writing a Buddhist opera with the title "The Victors". The drama was based on a legend that the composer had discovered in 1844 in the book "Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism" by Eugene Burnouf. It went like this: Prakriti, a girl from the lowest caste, had fallen in love with the monk and attendant of the Buddha, Ananda. She requested permission from the Buddha to be with her beloved. Buddha granted her wish - however in a specific sense: Prakriti could be with Ananda only if she took vows of chastity. Prokriti collapsed in despair. She discovered from the Buddha that she had to endure this fate as penance for a sin from a past life. Due to pride she had once ridiculed an admirer and she must now suffer the pain of unfulfilled love. Prakriti could atone for this sin through chaste renunciation and enter Buddha's community. Renunciation and sexual asceticism is a theme that henceforth would play am important role in numerous works of Wagner's.

A Buddhist Parsifal

"The Victors" never came to production. Nonetheless Wagner worked on this drama to the end of his life. On January 6, 1881 he said to Cosima "If you take good care of me, clothe me and feed me well, then I will still complete 'The Victors'". Nevertheless he never set his Buddhist opera to music and in the end "Parsifal" was his final stage work. In "Parsifal" Wagner found the realization of the themes from "The Victors".

Aside from overcoming sexual desire or even renunciation a second Buddhist theme stands at the center of Parsifal: compassion. Both central themes are especially clear to recognize in the character of Kundry, the female figure of this opera. As with Prakriti from the Victor drama Kundry atones for her sin from previous lives and this sin, or in Buddhist-speak, this karma. forces her to be reborn at the end of her life. Kudry's sin was that she laughed at Jesus bearing his cross on the way to Golgotha instead of showing compassion for him. Ever since that time she commits the same sin over and over again, from life to life, forever dammed to repeat her taunting laughter. Only Parsifal, the counterpart to Ananda from the Buddhist opera, can free her from her curse.

Thus in "Parsifal" as in "The Victors", we have the same the lesson: sexual desire has to be overcome and with it the attachment to worldly existence. For desire always creates new suffering. Whether Wagner himself did justice to this principle in his own life, remains undecided. And likewise whether he truly understood the essence of Buddhism.
Last edited by kirtu on Wed Aug 13, 2014 5:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby udawa » Wed Aug 13, 2014 5:13 pm

Francesca Fremantle gave a talk on this subject at the Buddhist Society in London, last year.
http://www.thebuddhistsociety.org/event/richard-wagner-and-buddhism/
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Richard Wagner, on May 22, 1813, this talk will explore the Buddhist affinities that can be found in his work. Wagner’s interest in Buddhism is well known, yet only a small part of the tradition was available to him, and in nineteenth century Europe it was largely perceived as a religion of passivity and world-renunciation. Wagner’s intuition, however, penetrated beyond this rather pessimistic view, and his music expresses a more profound level of understanding, the transcendent joy and life-affirming spirit of the Buddha’s teaching.

Not keen on Wagner myself, but it was an interesting talk and we got to hear recorded extracts from Tristran and Parsifal. Hopefully she'll write it up for publication at some point.
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby kirtu » Wed Aug 13, 2014 5:19 pm

udawa wrote:Not keen on Wagner myself, but it was an interesting talk and we got to hear recorded extracts from Tristran and Parsifal.


So were the recordings from "Tristan and Isolde" or where they from both "Tristan and Isolde" and "Parsifal"?

I find this revelation about Wagner to be rather incredible .... Wagner wasn't a bad guy aside from his possible anti-semitism (a movement that Anne Applebaum traces from the 19th century as a poison that ended up possessing German and Austrian thought). Thurman BTW suggests in some conversations (from "Circling the Sacred Mountain") that Wagner wasn't actually anti-semitic.

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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby rory » Thu Aug 14, 2014 5:33 am

Zhen Li; gosh the bit from "Curb Your Enthusiasim" was funny (it was just so real) but my friend Ven. Khedrup posted it not me. Now as a keen lover of opera, being Jewish, and having specialized in European intellectual history of the 18-19th cents during uni;let me say "just about everyone was anti-semitic then!' It was the era that the Protocols of Zion were first published and spread in the Russian Empire. Theodore Herzl who was a secular Jew in Austria-Hungary founded Zionism as he felt Jews would never be treated equally in society.

So I separate the work from the person. I enjoy Wagner, I enjoy Agatha Christie (horrible racial slurs in her work), I really don't care for George Eliot's novel "Daniel Deronda" which is totally sympathetic to Jews and Zionism, because I don't really care for George Eliot as a writer, and I'll love The Merchant of Venice always. That's the way it is. Do I wish people and artists weren't anti-semitic? Of course, but that's reality not only in the 19th Century but in Europe today. It's something I live with...
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby Ayu » Thu Aug 14, 2014 6:19 am

Zhen Li wrote:...
If we do consider some of Wagner's works essentially Buddhist, the since Wagner, there's not much in terms of western opera/music-drama inspired by Buddhism, some attempts at liturgy or folk type music though, or imitations of eastern styles. A big part of making a religion part of a culture is music, and eventually we will have to take on this task if we wish to see the advent of a more rooted and successful western Buddhism.
:anjali:

Maybe Buddha had influence on Wagners pieces, but music has no influence on buddhism. It plays only the role of adherence and distraction.
I don't see Wagners music as a good advertisment for buddhism. :sage:
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby Mkoll » Thu Aug 14, 2014 9:04 am

Ayu wrote:
Zhen Li wrote:...
If we do consider some of Wagner's works essentially Buddhist, the since Wagner, there's not much in terms of western opera/music-drama inspired by Buddhism, some attempts at liturgy or folk type music though, or imitations of eastern styles. A big part of making a religion part of a culture is music, and eventually we will have to take on this task if we wish to see the advent of a more rooted and successful western Buddhism.
:anjali:

Maybe Buddha had influence on Wagners pieces, but music has no influence on buddhism. It plays only the role of adherence and distraction.
I don't see Wagners music as a good advertisment for buddhism. :sage:

:good:
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby Zhen Li » Thu Aug 14, 2014 2:02 pm

Ayu wrote:Maybe Buddha had influence on Wagners pieces, but music has no influence on buddhism. It plays only the role of adherence and distraction.
I don't see Wagners music as a good advertisment for buddhism. :sage:

Music is always distraction, hence why monastics aren't supposed to listen to it. But an exception is often made for Dharma music (fanbei). If we look at most Dharma music today, we'll see that it takes the form of chill-out music for the most part, with a few exceptions. The fact that the form is different may make things deceptive, but the Buddha manifests everywhere around us in different forms - we must be careful in dismissing it. Personally, I don't listen to only Dharma music, since I am not a monk and I still enjoy spending my time that way. For some people, they only react well to heavy metal music, for others, they can only enjoy classical music - this is exactly how upaya works, different people have different inclinations. For me, I get goosebumps and often highly ecstatic religious experiences from classical music which sometimes change the way I view the world forever from that point on, but a headache from heavy metal music. The fact that there is Dharma in a number of Wagner's works makes them more interesting and moving for me than Verdi's, for instance; I get very moved by Puccini's music, and others, but that's on an emotional level, rarely a spiritual level.
rory wrote:So I separate the work from the person. I enjoy Wagner, I enjoy Agatha Christie (horrible racial slurs in her work), I really don't care for George Eliot's novel "Daniel Deronda" which is totally sympathetic to Jews and Zionism, because I don't really care for George Eliot as a writer, and I'll love The Merchant of Venice always. That's the way it is. Do I wish people and artists weren't anti-semitic? Of course, but that's reality not only in the 19th Century but in Europe today. It's something I live with...

To a certain extent, I don't think it even was a particularly strong aspect of his personality. For one, his antisemitism, if you look at it's expressions in his behaviour (e.g. towards Levi, composer of Parsifal) and in his pamphlets, is not racial, but religious and social. While Wagner was a Christian (unlike Schopenhauer), he was a mystical Christian, hence why he could see eastern religions as giving an insight into with western ones. Wagner wanted Jews to convert, and above all, to conform - his object was to the degree of self-exception that Jewish society had placed on itself in the midst of a European civilization, something which actually isn't very present today. Perhaps his personal dealings with Meyerbeer also resulted in a souring of opinions. As a result of all the Jewish reform movements in the 19th century, I doubt if Wagner were alive today, he'd even notice them - besides Hasidim, Jews are about as European as any Christian now (and the haplogroup for Ashkenazis, K, is found all throughout Europe before they were called Jews); the only people who actively try to pick them out today, in the way Wagner did, are nuts who see conspiracies in their breakfast cereal.
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby Mkoll » Fri Aug 15, 2014 3:51 am

Zhen Li wrote:
Ayu wrote:Maybe Buddha had influence on Wagners pieces, but music has no influence on buddhism. It plays only the role of adherence and distraction.
I don't see Wagners music as a good advertisment for buddhism. :sage:

Music is always distraction, hence why monastics aren't supposed to listen to it. But an exception is often made for Dharma music (fanbei). If we look at most Dharma music today, we'll see that it takes the form of chill-out music for the most part, with a few exceptions. The fact that the form is different may make things deceptive, but the Buddha manifests everywhere around us in different forms - we must be careful in dismissing it.

"Dharma music" or the musical genre chillout is still music. I wouldn't make an exception.

Zhen Li wrote:Personally, I don't listen to only Dharma music, since I am not a monk and I still enjoy spending my time that way. For some people, they only react well to heavy metal music, for others, they can only enjoy classical music - this is exactly how upaya works, different people have different inclinations. For me, I get goosebumps and often highly ecstatic religious experiences from classical music which sometimes change the way I view the world forever from that point on, but a headache from heavy metal music. The fact that there is Dharma in a number of Wagner's works makes them more interesting and moving for me than Verdi's, for instance; I get very moved by Puccini's music, and others, but that's on an emotional level, rarely a spiritual level.

Being "moved" by music doesn't mean it's Dharma. It just means you had an especially pleasant and powerful sensual experience.

But if you think the Buddha manifests himself in music, then I'm probably barking up the wrong tree here. :P
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby Ayu » Fri Aug 15, 2014 7:10 am

Hello Zhen Li,
I'm a singer and ukulele player. I diddn't criticize music as "bad" - but it is not buddhism. Not everything, that is not buddhism must be bad:
Food, sleep, talking with neighbourghs about the weather, ...
Maybe there would be good buddhistic music. Depends on who makes it and who listens to it.
But I don't like Wagner. :tantrum: Please!

And listening to music or making music could be like meditation - but it is not buddhistic. I relate it to shamata. There will not be such a calm state of mind to be able to understand suchness and emptiness - by music. Some soothing can happen by music - that's good.
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby kirtu » Fri Aug 15, 2014 6:03 pm

Music is only 1/2 of opera (although I freely admit that most opera people would say that the music is the thing itself). There is also the drama and with it a world view, history, conflict and a resolution. Drama has also been a method of Dharma teaching (Ashvagosha's play(s) for example). This ties into the OP as a possible venue for introducing Buddhadharma to people.

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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby Zhen Li » Fri Aug 15, 2014 6:33 pm

Ayu wrote:Hello Zhen Li,
I'm a singer and ukulele player. I diddn't criticize music as "bad" - but it is not buddhism. Not everything, that is not buddhism must be bad:
Food, sleep, talking with neighbourghs about the weather, ...
Maybe there would be good buddhistic music. Depends on who makes it and who listens to it.
But I don't like Wagner. :tantrum: Please!

And listening to music or making music could be like meditation - but it is not buddhistic. I relate it to shamata. There will not be such a calm state of mind to be able to understand suchness and emptiness - by music. Some soothing can happen by music - that's good.

I'm not forcing you to like it. But may I ask, have you watched Parsifal in full before you decided it was not Buddhist? Also, how many of the articles did you read before you made your decision? I am just wondering whether you're acting based upon your prejudices or fair judgements.
kirtu wrote:Music is only 1/2 of opera (although I freely admit that most opera people would say that the music is the thing itself). There is also the drama and with it a world view, history, conflict and a resolution. Drama has also been a method of Dharma teaching (Ashvagosha's play(s) for example). This ties into the OP as a possible venue for introducing Buddhadharma to people.

The way I view opera is fundamentally as drama. If I recall correctly, the origins of western opera is in the thought of the school of the Camerata de' Bardi, who, as humanists, believed that the ancient world had been vastly superior to the medieval world, and wished to revive the traditions of Greek and Roman theatre, wherein it was believed lines were sung, because music adds a completely new layer of expression and meaning that is beyond words. This, fundamentally, is part of Wagner's ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), which is the consummate art work, wherein all art, visual, musical, dramatic, moral, is brought to it's highest expression in opera, which he based partly upon a reading of Aeschylus. The point is expression of an idea or story, which contrasts with Grand Opera, which is pure spectacle for exciting and pleasing audiences - fundamentally motivated by profit. This is also part of the inspiration behind the art nouveau movement, i.e. beautifying buildings and rooms, in reaction to the increasing industrialisation of spaces with pure white walls, plain utilitarian furniture, or steel girders. How Buddhism relates to this is fairly simple - relating a narrative can be a form of propagating Dharma, inspiring practice, sparking interest, all of which is distracted from if one produces opera for spectacle or distraction, both of which, I believe, are what is meant when the Buddha suggests not listening to music, because Indian drama and music is extremely sensual, sexual, and erotic, often playing for laughs or swoons; highly spectacular and distracting. Ashvaghosha is a wonderful exception, he really surprises you - he introduces the story with all of the conventions of Indian drama, highly sensual, often erotic, and then takes it full a swing around and shows how those are fundamentally meaningless. I think that Ashvaghosha can really convince one of renunciation who would otherwise be unmoved reading sutras, because he hits the message of renunciation home on a deeper level, beyond words.
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby Ayu » Fri Aug 15, 2014 7:29 pm

:smile: I'm very sorry: I cannot stand Parcival in full.
What buddhist tradition would it follow to listen to Parcival in full? :smile:
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby kirtu » Fri Aug 15, 2014 7:55 pm

Ayu wrote::smile: I'm very sorry: I cannot stand Parcival in full.
What buddhist tradition would it follow to listen to Parcival in full? :smile:


Out of curiosity what do you object to in Parsifal?

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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby Zhen Li » Fri Aug 15, 2014 9:26 pm

kirtu wrote:
Ayu wrote::smile: I'm very sorry: I cannot stand Parcival in full.
What buddhist tradition would it follow to listen to Parcival in full? :smile:

Out of curiosity what do you object to in Parsifal?

Perosnally, I can completely understand the length and slowness turning someone off. But for me, watching Wagner is kind of like a meditation, balancing between an over active and excited mind, and a mind that wants to fall asleep. Not to take the idea of this as 'Buddhist' music too far however. I'm also not obsessed with Wagner, and probably listen to other composers more often - it's just this particular relationship to Buddhism that interests me really. I do agree with much of Nietzsche's criticism of Wagner's music from an artistic point of view - the through music connecting 'tunes' are just variations around a key, there's sometimes not much character to individual sections like there is in Mozart, and as for subject matter, it's always timelessly frozen in a mythical past, it doesn't have a feeling that you can engage with it now or to the future (despite being characterised as a music for the future) - that, however, can create a very mystical feeling.
MKoll wrote:"Dharma music" or the musical genre chillout is still music. I wouldn't make an exception.

I agree. I listen to it on a daily basis, and own most of Imee Ooi's albums.
MKoll wrote:But if you think the Buddha manifests himself in music, then I'm probably barking up the wrong tree here. :P

Well, as a pureland practitioner, I certainly do believe that. If you have ever wondered why I use a bird as my avatar, this is why:
Sukhavativyuha, Epstein translation wrote:Moreover Sariputra, in this country there are always rare and wonderful varicolored birds: white cranes; peacocks, parrots and egrets ; kalavinkas and two-headed birds. In the six periods of the day and night the flocks of birds sing forth harmonious and elegant sounds. Their clear and joyful sounds proclaim the five roots, the five powers the seven Bodhi shares, the eight sagely way shares, and dharmas such as these. When living beings of this land hear these sounds, they are altogether mindful of the Buddha, mindful of the Dharma, and mindful of the Sangha.

Sariputra, do not say that these birds are born as retribution for their karmic offenses. For what reason? In this Buddhaland there are no three evil ways of re-birth. Sariputra, in this Buddhaland not even the names of the three evil ways exist, how much the less their actuality! Desiring that the Dharma sound be widely proclaimed, Amitabha Buddha by transformation made this multitude of birds.

But I also believe everything is a manifestation of the Buddha, just some more clearly than others, each an employment of upaya according to the requirements of the audiences.
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Re: Wagner and Buddhism

Postby kirtu » Fri Aug 15, 2014 9:55 pm

I'm ambivalent about opera personally. I had several older friends in DC who thought opera was the height of art, primarily for the music. I do however think that opera is high theater and can be an unsurpassed setting within which issues, particularly moral quandaries and themes, can be expressed and analyzed (full disclosure: I was a supernumerary in several operas at the Kennedy Center in DC for the Washington Opera - this naturally affected my opinion).

The introduction by Eric Owens describes Parsifal as the result of an exploration of spirituality and devotion by Wagner. This was his final expression and perhaps contains redemption for him.

Parsifal, Act 1, March 2, 2013, the Met. This production clearly makes use of Buddhist mudras:


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