“ If you wish to see truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. The struggle of what you like and what you dislike is the disease of the mind.” – Hsin Shin Ming, “The Great Way”
A few days ago I sat down to write a post about Richard Wagner. I planned to write something like this:
Wagner’s early operas grew out of the German supernatural operas of Marschner and Weber . . . Wagner’s operas Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and die fliegende Holländer are in a line with those earlier works . . . at a certain point, Wagner got infatuated with the writings of Schopenhauer and Kant and Nietzsche and decided to turn the characters in his Ring operas and (to a slightly lesser extent in Tristan) into symbols that represented philosophical concepts like whether we have the ability to act freely (determinism) . . . I therefore prefer most Italian operas because their characters are real people, not symbols, with real problems . . . and that I therefore prefer Verdi to Wagner.
I was also going to toss in some observations about how Meistersinger is Wagner’s greatest opera because it is about real, breathing characters. It is deeply humanistic, explores the creation of a work of art, and reflects upon the different stages of human life, as shown when Hans Sachs imparts his wisdom to young Walther.
My next step was going to be
to insert videos of two scenes from operas that show fathers interacting with their daughters. First, I was going to insert the scene from Rigolettoin which Rigoletto comforts his daughter Gilda after she has been abducted and raped by his boss. (Talk about real human conflict.) Then I was going to insert a video of the scene in from Götterdämmerungin which Wotan (who is a symbol of our inability to control our fate) places his daughter Brünnhilde in a circle of magic fire, from which only a hero can spring her. (Guess what? It happens. Who woulda thunk?)
I was going to point out how much more moving the Rigoletto/Gilda scene is than the Wotan/Brünnhilde scene, because Rigoletto and Gilda are real human beings with real human problems, not straw-stuffed embodiments of philosophical ideas.
But then something happened.
I watched this video of the scene between Wotan and Brünnhilde (magnificently portrayed by James Morris and Hildegard Behrens) and its sheer beauty kicked all my opinions right out of my mind.
The Great Way
I am not a Buddhist (at least I don’t think that I am, they don’t give you a membership card), but that experience made me remember “The Great Way,” a passage attributed to Hsin Shin Ming, Third Zen Patriarch. I happened across it several years ago, it really affected me, and here it is for you . . .
“The Great Way is not difficult for those without preferences. When love and hate are both absent from your mind, everything becomes clear and undisguised. But if you make the smallest distinction, earth and heaven are made infinitely far apart.If you wish to see truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. The struggle of what you like and what you dislike is the disease of the mind.”
Rereading that passage, I realized that my mind is clouded by all kinds of opinions, prejudices and convoluted arguments about what I like and what I dislike. What new things could I discover if I stopped having opinions and simply listened?
We music lovers, you have surely noticed, love to have opinions.We think that one now-dead pianist is the greatest interpreter of Chopin. We think that there are no tenors around today who are as great as some guy we heard 40 years ago. We think that one of Beethoven’s symphonies is the best of the nine. We think that we don’t like Bruckner’s symphonies or Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. We decide that we dislike “Broadway musicals.”
I have had opinions similar to those and the point is, I am generally full of shit and the sooner I admit that and simply listen, the more I am going to enjoy music – and maybe life. Yes, “The Great Way is not difficult for those without preferences.” But getting to that point is not going to be too easy for me. What about you?