Chod: A Musical Tibetan Spiritual Practice Part I

Composed by Shunda Wallace Music Therapist

Eastern Spiritual “practices” has become a way to bring us back to ourselves in the stillness and silence of meditation unlike living in a western world where the things determine our self-worth by what we acquire. Thinking about the next new toy, clothing item, vehicle, boyfriend, degree and so on give us an insatiable appetite for wanting more. Many Eastern Spiritual Practices are rooted in spiritual “practices” rather than philosophical perspectives that require “thought” and subsequent “beliefs” to feel better about who we are. There have been many discussions on the differences between spirituality and religion, one distinction being that religion is a set of beliefs whereas spirituality (in and of it-self) is a way of being. Having a set of “thoughts” that one regard as the absolute truth does not necessarily ensure spirituality because there is no one absolute truth when human interpretation is a factor.

In Western philosophical and spiritual practices we tend to have an exaggerated appreciation our own meta-analysis to substantiate our own set of beliefs. Buddhism however is considered a system of “practices” based on meditation rather than philosophical thoughts and beliefs. The beauty of practicing spirituality rather than talking and thinking about it is that one is able to provide a safe haven for oneself when there is no one else to turn to. Additionally, without projecting one’s own dogma onto others when others are around. When this happens we as a nation can vibrate in harmony like protons, neutrons and electrons. This process requires more of an internal locus of control rather than an external locus of control where the practitioner becomes more self-reliant to find inner peace rather than depending upon others for nirvana and subsequent peace. Many Asian forms of sitting meditation and movement meditation are increasing in popularity throughout Western culture as a way to quiet the mind from obsessive thinking. Some of these practices include Tai Chi, Gi Gong and Yoga. The less popular practices of movement meditation are the practices that involve music and dance like Chod.

Fast-forwarding to present day Tibet, considering the increasing popularity of some Asian meditational practices in the West juxtaposed against the extinction of others. How important is the preservation of the musical ritualistic practices of Asian origins like Chod. What are the spiritual and political implications if any, in preserving this practice? Is it necessary to apply Western musical analysis techniques and practices to such a profoundly personal and sacred tradition if one were to engage ethnographic immersion as a way to capture the subtle nuances of this ritualistic-musical tradition? To date, I found that there is only one scholar, Ethnomusicologists Jeffrey W. Cupchik Ph.D that was able to combine Western musical analysis techniques along with the original Sanskrit text after his initial study of the practice. Dr. Cupchik’s dissertation however is currently unavailable to the popular/public domain. Additional journals and resources address the meaning of the text without the support of the musical notation in-kind there are video and audio recordings of the Chod practice without the support of text or musical notation to support them. This led me to conclude that there are vital benefits to engaging in western musical analysis while the political and social implications would involve a global spiritual awakening.

Ms. Wallace joined the faculty at Michigan State University as Guest Lecturer in 2004-2005 while being considered for the Doctorate of Musical Arts in Western Composition Program (later learning there was no Doctoral Program in Jazz Composition).  Ms. Wallace holds a Bachelors of Music in Music Management from William Paterson University a Masters Degree in Jazz Arranging and Orchestration from William Paterson University in addition to an Advanced Level Board Certification in Music Therapy from Montclair State University.