Thursday, October 18, 2007


Without knowing the Master's art, can you discern the Mastery?

If you are told that I am a master, will you try to emulate me?
If you are told that I am wise, will you seek meaning in my every word and action?
If you are told that I am holy, will you bow to me and avert your eyes?

What if I am a master?
What if I am wise?
What if I am holy?

Would you be able to discern it? Would you know the difference? Can masters only be detected by other masters, or is mastery something that is visible to all regardless of the art?

How would you be affected, being in the presence of discernible mastery, wisdom, or holiness?

Are mastery, wisdom, and holiness one in the same? Is mastery different than refined talent?

Is there an aspect of mastery that is absolute, or is mastery a comparative ranking assigned by an observer in judgment?

I attended a live performance by Ravi Shankar last night. I know essentially nothing about sitar music or classical Indian music's forms. I have never seen the man perform before but I have heard others claim that he is a master, so I took the opportunity to attend.

There seemed to be two distinct aspects to the performance, which I can best describe as the technical and the artistic. The former concentrates upon a piece of art itself---how well can you capture and maintain form---and the later concentrates upon the artist---can you break free of the forms and express your Self in your art.

During the technical performance, so to speak, there were people nearby who simply fell asleep. Also nearby were people who swayed to and fro to an indiscernible beat as if in a trance. I know that those sleeping had an honest response to what they heard; I cannot speak to the response of the seemingly entranced though. It is entirely possible that those people were more savvy than I, so they saw some nuance or something else that I did not. Or perhaps the emperor has no clothes: Perhaps the individual's want to sense the mastery or want to enter the trance-like state caused the response.

The artistic performance was a different story. Now 87 years old, Ravi Shankar appears to be a tiny, frail man. He moved slowly to the stage and then to his seat with the supporting arm of one of his students. Flanking him sat two students (a student and a "grand-student") playing the drones; forward and to the right sat a tabla player; and forward to the left sat his daughter with her sitar. As the performance moved from classical forms to something of a free-form jam session, the skeleton was reanimated. The 87-year old shell came to life in a visibly profound way. He was quite simply alive, effortlessly and joyfully directing the intimate back and forth interaction between sitars and tabla. The artists called back and forth to each other through their instruments in a form of honest and playful communication...

Or perhaps it was just music, a performance that for a moment captured me. All I can say is that I did not seek to have that experience. It was what it was.

Is Ravi Shankar a master? Could I discern mastery without knowledge of his art? Is the mastery absolute or relative? I think in this case the emperor does have clothes. But now I have seen only one dimension of this man; it leads me to wonder whether mastery in one dimension permeates to other aspects of a master's life, or whether a master can be confused with someone who is simply a bastard with talent.

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