The scenic Swiss Alps, a church, a group of nuns playing their instruments and singing — in Bengali. What could be more natural? Nothing, as it turns out…
Do you believe in serendipity? Only last night I watched The Sound of Music for the first time. I was touched by some of the scenes, and by a world which arguably doesn’t exist anymore. (Oops! The YouTube video doesn’t exist anymore, so here’s the film trailer from DailyMotion):
I had been familiar with the music, especially the John Coltrane version of “My Favorite Things” recorded live at Newport, which hangs like a moment frozen in time in my imagination:
Then today, I stumbled on this video:
It’s the girl group Mountain-Silence performing a medley of songs at a church in the town of Zermatt, nestled at the foot of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. Everything is very monastic and nunlike, but if you listen carefully you’ll realize that the nuns are singing in Bengali! They’re students of the late Indian spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, who composed the songs. The third song in the medley (at 4:00) is “Jishu Avatar,” a song honouring Jesus and Mary.
There’s an old joke that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide things into categories. 🙂
While some people are busy defending their categories, others create a synthesis based on what they believe and feel, and what their intuition tells them is a truth worth living. As the world has grown bigger and become borderless, the Neo-Vedanta philosophy of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda (which is also embraced by Sri Chinmoy) has become a blueprint for innovation. This is a world view which is non-sectarian and sees oneness in diversity. It therefore gives people the freedom to synthesize forms of spiritual practice which combine the ingredients they need. Sri Chinmoy writes:
My personal opinion of Jesus Christ is that he is God’s Son. If you feel that he has not achieved anything, unfortunately I cannot see eye to eye with you. On the strength of my own realisation, I know that he is a real Son of God and a real world-Saviour. He was God-realised and fully illumined. He had a heart full of compassion; his heart was a flood of compassion. He was, he is and he will always remain a Saviour to mankind.
— Sri Chinmoy, from The Avatars and the Masters, Agni Press, 1979
When I look at Mountain-Silence, I see souls who are drawn to meditation and Eastern philosophy, but who also have tremendous devotion to the Christ. This is reflected in their music and pure lifestyle. They’re a living embodiment of what religious freedom looks like, for they could not exist in a world which is rigidly secular, or rigidly Christian, or rigidly Hindu. Religious freedom is ultimately the freedom of the soul to express itself with subtlety and grace.
Special thanks to videographer Kedar Misani and to Mountain-Silence. The song “Jishu Avatar” is from their album Christ-Songs. Listen online for free at Radio Sri Chinmoy.