Songs of an Ancient Truth

It’s been quiet on the music front here in Branland. Despite this, however, I have been hard at work at making new music. Over the last four or five years I’ve been working on the biggest project I’ve ever undertaken. And now that I’m coming to an end of it, I am left with a brand new album that is a little different from what I’ve previously done.

May I present to you Songs of an Ancient Truth: The Dhammapada in Song.

As a folk musician, I always implement my spiritual practices and ideas into my music, and my Buddhist practice proved to be no exception. I wanted to make Buddhist music, something that was undeniably Buddhist without sacrificing my folky singer-songwriter sound that I’ve been making over the past seven years. In 2018 I released Bardic Dharma, which was a variety of songs inspired by Buddhist teachings of different severities, but to be honest I was never really satisfied with that. Coming from Pagan music, which is rich and varied and active, I was slightly disappointed seeing how Buddhism lacks a musical presence—aside from traditional mantras and chants—and so I set out to create some music that could be considered “Buddhist” or “Dharmic.”

One of the first traditional sacred texts of Buddhism I read was The Dhammapada, a book of verses that belongs to the Canon of Theravada Buddhism. It contains 26 chapters of verses that reflect many of Buddhism’s core teachings.

The opening verses are some of the most remarkable of the whole book:

All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, shaped by mind
Speak or act with a corrupted mind and suffering follows
Like the wagon wheel of an ox

All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, shaped by mind
Speak or act with a peaceful mind and happiness follows
Like a never-departing shadow

Much can be said of these two verses, and it was these two verses that kicked off this huge project. I had found myself putting these two verses to a melody and played it over and over like a sort of mantra or kirtan. Except, I couldn’t help but add the next verse. But that felt too incomplete. I couldn’t just leave it at a few verses! So I aimed to put the entire first chapter of the Dhammapada to song. What a doozy, an 11 minute song! But . . . there were other chapters . . . . It kind of just went downhill from there, culminating in the first half of the entire Dhammapada now in song.

Working on this project had so many surprises for myself—sitting down with a chapter and thinking There’s no way I can make a song out of this! And then actually making a song out of it was such an amazing exercise. Not only did I familiarize myself with the Buddhist verses, the process really stretched my creativity as a musician. Many of the songs on this album are truly progressive, and later in the process I even began implementing elements I’ve never truly tried before: electric guitar, for example.

It’s been such an enriching practice for myself to get acquainted with the texts of The Dhammapada, and it’s exciting to be able to share this unique take on such a timeless classic full of the Buddha’s wisdom. Hope it inspires you! More to some soon…

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