Dhamma Blues


Over all, I’ve been decent at dealing with attachment to physical possessions in my life. I guess my biggest problem is that I get carried away with the things I do have. Since moving to Seoul in October, 2006, I’ve collected nearly two dozen Chinese tea pots, I had a pile of over two dozen malas (I gave many of them away before leaving Korea) laying amongst a dozen various Buddha statues throughout my apartment. When I first moved to Korea in 2005, the hardest thing to leave behind was my vinyl records that, at one point ,numbered in the five thousands. I’d narrowed it down to the best 3000 or so, and since I’ve been home, sorted out about another 1000 I can do without. My blues, Jazz, Folk, and Classical albums are the ones I’m still the most attached to.

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to transfer as many as I can to mp3, through my little mp3 player I bought in Daegu a few years ago. EunBong hasn’t entirely been impressed with the amount of time I’ve spent flipping records on the turntable, but I have found a few classical pieces she can use for teaching and a really amazing recording of Swan Lake (her favorite ballet) that she said is better than any she’d heard before.

Though I’m always more likely to put on a Jazz album, my favorite songs are always old Delta Blues recordings and depression-era Folk records. What I appreciate so much about them is that they understood suffering on a level I wouldn’t care to experience but there always seems to be a silver lining in the end. One of the most famous blues lines is, “the sun’s gonna shine in my backdoor someday.” I can’t think of any better imagery coming from a group of singers whose lives were beat down so hard for so long. A former co-worker once told me that the Blues is the most honest, “tell it like it is” music there is. It’s really amazing to listen to it now and hear themes that are very similar to Buddhist teachings I’ve learned in Asia.

Last week, I was going through my Woody Guthrie albums. My favorite record of his is a collection of depression songs, called Dust Bowl Ballads”, he wrote about when he and his family had to pack up and leave their farm to look for work elsewhere. They ended up on a “Jungle Camp” which probably wasn’t much different from a refugee camp we’d see on the news today in a war-torn country somewhere. Two of the songs on the album were written after Guthrie watched the film, The Grapes of Wrath. Near the end of the first song, there’s a line (I don’t know if it’s from Guthrie or Steinbeck) that rings so much of non-duality and a little Bodhichita at the end, it almost gave me chills when I heard it sung by a scratchy, old folk singer on an even scratchier, old recording from the 1940s…

Ever’body might be just one big soul,
Well it looks that a-way to me.
Everywhere that you look, in the day or night,
That’s where I’m a-gonna be, Ma,
That’s where I’m a-gonna be.

Wherever little children are hungry and cry,
Wherever people ain’t free.
Wherever men are fightin’ for their rights,
That’s where I’m a-gonna be, Ma.
That’s where I’m a-gonna be.

Not too surprised to find it on YouTube… The verse is at the 6:07 mark, but, if you have time, the whole thing is pretty good! ^^


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