We have found time and time again that music can produce dramatic alterations in consciousness. To what extent is music capable of changing the world? It seems that birthing Olive Moksha transformed the lives of everyone involved with it, in ways both simple and complex. To what extent might these melodies change your own life for the greatest good?
When we endeavored to embark on the journey for creating our second album, we moved into a radically new direction from the first project. Both are meant to stand alone as concept albums in their own right.
Our debut project, Panopticon, is a culmination of the dystopian warnings of George Orwell’s and Aldous Huxley. 1984 describes Police-State tactics, the re-writing of history, and the doublethink associated within our various political institutions (i.e. the Ministry of Truth is dedicated to publishing lies in the same manner that the “War Department” was renamed “Department of Defense”). Brave New World illustrates the consequences of the indiscriminate application of pharmaceutical drugs in a society inundated with meaningless entertainment and an obsession with nihilistic sexuality.
But whereas these literary works shed light on what dystopia looks and feels like, Panopticon sought to upend such an ominous trajectory with a more hopeful story celebrating the true human nature. Successful life tend to resist constraints. Just as superweeds are the inevitable result of generations of pesticide use, we believe that Rebellion seems like the inevitable result of a despotic existence in the Matrix.
As a concept, the Panopticon exists as an idealization of a prison complex, which, when thoroughly understood, stands as a fitting metaphor for the world as it exists today. The Panopticon has a similar appearance to the Roman Coliseum from the outside in that it is a circular building. The walls spanning around the building are filled with cells, each with floor-to-ceiling windows facing both the outside of the building as well as the inside of the circle. The prisoner stands completely exposed.
Imagine a prison circular, rimmed with radiant cell.
From the center of the building stands a tower, with windows shrouded by Venetian blinds to obscure the inmates’ view into the tower. Since the guards can view the inmates quite easily, and the inmates cannot see the guards at all, the inmates never know when they are being watched. Because of this uncertainty, the inmates assume they are always being watched.
This effect is twofold.
The prisoners begin to view themselves from the viewpoint of the tower, rendering their behavior docile. Because this docile behavior makes them easier to manage, the prison administrators can always leave the tower completely unmanned, as the inmates begin policing their own behavior and censoring their own thoughts.
With this in mind, let us now turn our attention to the modern surveillance state. We know that the likes of the NSA and GCHQ, in addition to the other intelligence agencies around the world, are constantly cataloguing all of our telephone conversations, text messages, Emails, web history and anything else that can be collected. Cameras glare down from every street corner, in every office, in every gas station, and from every laptop and wireless device. It is now customary to nonchalantly assume that we are constantly being monitored. This assumption leads us to hesitate in our speech, actions and expressions, producing a society of self-policing and self-censoring.
The worldwide surveillance grid effectively maintains a docile workforce that is more willing to cope with the negative consequences of an overtly corrupt society than they would otherwise be willing to tolerate absent the surveillance grid. Our fears of repercussions perpetuates an outright disability to rise up against the forces of despotism in a meaningful way. We now live in a worldwide, participatory, surveillance Panopticon.
Our prison is not literal, but of the mind.
We took this concept and wrote a series of Vignettes that became chapters of a short story that chronicles the inception and creation of this total surveillance takeover. In our story, the protagonist feels as though life is empty and devoid of meaning. But his heart reminds him that the world wasn’t always like this. As he moves forward through his journey, greater constraints are shackled around the people, who are made fearful by a media that parrots the constant threat of imminent world war. The state uses this fear to justify a myriad of new laws and technologies. The people are told that the objective of these sweeping societal changes is simply for their own protection. Cities are cordoned off into security zones. Curfews are enacted. Citizens are forbidden to leave their designated sectors. Long lines of people form along the city sidewalks waiting for their mandatory microchipping. Communications are closely inspected. Media variability is tightly regulated.
When our protagonist’s neighbor summons him next door for a night cap, he reveals his concerns about these drastic alterations, and endangers himself by providing evidence of what is next to come.
Through a series of synchronic events, these two free thinkers flee from the city in the dead of night, and eventually meet up with a small band of rebels in the “forbidden zones” far beyond. The rebels take them in and remove their microchips before introducing them to the “underground,” as is chronicled in Track 10: Substrata. The recurring word “hemiptera” in that song is a Latin word signifying a “bug,” the bug in this case being that which has been planted into them. The word “underground” is meant as a double entendre to signify both the underground nature of a rebellious movement, as well as the literal underground rebel base which provides protection from satellite imaging and surveillance drones which would otherwise discover their whereabouts.
Our protagonist enters their circle at a critical juncture in the story of the Rebellion versus the Empire, as the rebels hold a meeting acknowledging a crucial moment for planning a meaningful attack against the Empire. A temporary moment of political weakness provides a window of opportunity for our band of Rebels, and they stage their attack in Track 12: Raindance.
Panopticon takes the weather metaphor further, using water droplets as a metaphor for human kind. Just as no single rain drop believes it is responsible for the flood, a sudden rain storm creating a flood of waves is meant to signify a calculated attack on the Technosphere as orchestrated by the forces of nature – the inherent good embedded within the universe to establish and ensure balance and thus a continuation of the story. So by the end of Raindance a great battle ensues, winding seamlessly into track 13: Oblivion. Oblivion explores the ethical question of Revolution, asking with regards for the loved and lost, cut down by the hammer blows of war, “Was it worth the cost?”
Weather patterns are one of several recurring themes in this album, in part to signify the cyclic nature of the seasons. But cyclic nature is also inherent in the rise and fall of Empires, as well as the lifecycle of humans and countless other natural cycles. This obsession with cycles also manifested in an obsession with all things round, from eyes and discs to globes and spheres and indeed to the very concept of time itself and what the Tibetan Buddhists refer to as the Wheel of Deluded Existence.
Panopticon was officially released on 10 April 2010, at which point a CD release party was held at Sean Kelly’s in Missoula, MT. That show was the final show darshan Pulse would play in the Panopticon incarnation. Our bassist Jon Strasheim and vocalist Ethan Thompson promptly left the band following the completion of the album, and Graham and I almost immediately set to working on the next album.
Similar to Panopticon, the second album was driven by a narrative story laid out long before any of the tracks were written. Whereas Panopticon attempted to convey the literal story written in our Vignettes through the dynamics of spoken poetry, the second album’s focus was dramatically different.
Our understanding of music theory began to evolve into new, uncharted territories. The content of the narrative was of a more spiritual and therefore abstract nature. The themes we were attempting to convey and the states of mind we were attempting to evoke were more slippery than the concreteness of the age-old story of a Rebellion vs. the Empire. Light versus dark is a classic exploration of polarity through archetype, and seems to pay universal homage to an age-old struggle that has transpired since the dawn of time.
For the second album, we focused on how duality can be transcended.
The narrative of this second project focuses on the story of three tulkus and their willful reincarnation into the belly of the beast – the same matrix described by the first album – to bring about a new era of peace the world.
But this project sought to convey these ideas instrumentally, without lyrics.
Our team developed a unique understanding of music theory that seeks an intuitive knowledge of the Modal scales, purely by the emotional qualities they evoke. With 28 available modes, each with unique emotional characteristics, we saw an obvious way to convey this story. Rather than studying through the confusing and pretentious method of sharps & flats, we sought an easier way to unlock this power. Our method eventually led to the creation of the Circle of Melodic Dissonance. This circular flow chart explores how all the known modes are interconnected and, indeed, interdependent.
After studying these complex systems thoroughly, we yearned for a language system with which to quickly describe and refer to particular modes. Within a few months, Graham invented the Modal Clef which visually illustrates the 12 tones of a musical octave. By deducting certain elements from the Clef, unique symbols appear. If one knows how to read them, the symbols depict which tones apply to which modes.
In its entirety, the Modal Clef looks like several diamonds overlapped atop one another, with three tear drops at each end and two tear drops within the structure itself. But when certain angles and tear drops are excluded, one can easily deduce which tones to play and which to avoid.
Thus a new way of writing music was born, with 28 total modes represented by 28 unique symbols. These 28 modes can be sub-categorized into four classifications, with seven modes each.
We began with the Major Modes: Lydian, Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, Aeolian, Phrygian and Locrian.
We can understand how each mode evokes a distinct emotional quality by playing through the sequence. For example, Lydian sounds drunk with joy. Ionian sounds happy in a cheesy kind of way. Mixolydian sounds chipper but serious. Dorian sounds more serious, with an ineffable “eastern” quality. Aeolian sounds sad. Phrygian sounds Middle-Eastern, dark, and brings an air of uncertainty. Locrian sounds Sinister and Menacing.
But each of these seven major modes have three additional counterparts outside of the Major Series. The other three series are the Harmonic Major series, the Harmonic Minor series, and the Melodic Minor series.
The Harmonic Major series
The Harmonic Minor series
The Melodic Minor series
Each series is composed of an additional seven modes. Since there are four series in total, with seven modes each, we accounted for 28 total modes, each of them with dramatically unique emotional flavors.
This led to the creation of the Crystal of Harmonic Resonance, which began as a symmetric representation consisting partially of how most of the modes had an equal counterpart to other modes. When depicted linearly, this system constitutes a larger crystal, similar to the base Modal Clef on which the individual parts were themselves based upon.
The Tree of Harmony
The Crystal of Harmonic Resonance
As is the case in any self-similar fractal, the constituent elements are composed by the sum of their parts, which are, visa versa, microcosmic representations of the larger whole.
Through the Crystal’s symmetry we made another discovery about this system. Of the 28 available modes, 10 of them have no symmetrical counterpart. This seemed like a visual fluke, and we wondered if it translated into the qualitative feel of the music itself. And it turns out, it does.
Interestingly, we found that these 10 modes were very difficult to write music with – Locrian being a prime example. Locrian is difficult to write with, in part because it makes use of the tri-tone. The song Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath is a prime example of why this confusing mode is so difficult to write with; the central rhythm/melody for that song is a low E chord, followed by an E chord at the next octave, followed by an A#. Utilizing the 12 tone system of understanding the guitar, this would be depicted as a zero (0) for the open E chord (since the open E is the lowest chord on a guitar in standard tuning), followed by a twelve (12) for the high E (since the octave is twelve frets above the zero), followed by a six (6) for the A# (since this is the bass note for an A sharp). The problem here is that this melody, while conforming to the SINISTER emotional quality that is inherent to Locrian, is not actually in the Locrian Mode, as the three chords themselves are power chords; power chords are composed of notes which fall outside of the actual Locrian scale. The three, individual power chords when played by themselves ring in a pleasant way. However, if the three chords were adjusted to account for accuracy within the Locrian scale, the song would not only sound unrecognizable, it would not sound like anything you would ever want to listen to; the dissonance would make the chords sound awful and disharmonic, and therefore any overarching melody would be rendered likewise unrecognizable. This is just one example of why unstable modes are difficult to write with. In a similar way, attempting to write a catchy riff or melody with such a scale is extremely challenging because it does not resolve or build tension in a harmonious way. Locrian is one of the unstable modes, of which there are 10 in the total 28. Through the process of elimination we find that there are therefore 18 stable Modes.
As an aside, please note that Lydian also makes use of the tri-tone, but is not itself unstable, so determining stability is slightly more complex than merely making a determination of whether or not the Mode makes use of the tri-tone (which is a subject we will explore in greater detail later). At the moment take heart in recognizing that unstable modes have no symmetrical counterweight in the crystal of harmonic resonance – they are loaners without a significant other, despite the fact that there are an equal number of them.
What does any of this have to do with the Universal Calendar?
As mentioned, the narrative for the second album is focused around the story of three monks; Daleth, Mem, and Teth. Their names translate roughly to change, water and time, and as such, each of the three possess one Earthly object which is theirs to own in this lifetime. Daleth’s totem is a puppeteer door, Mem’s totem is a pitcher of water, and Teth’s totem is a pocket watch. The first track on the album is titled Dukkha which means suffering, and acts as an introduction to the album, as well as to the concepts of Buddhism. For a greater understanding of Dukkha I will rely upon the wise words of Alan Watts:
“Now, buddha said, then, duhkha comes from trishna. You all suffer because you cling to the world, and you don’t recognize that the world is anitya and anatman. So then, try, if you can, not to grasp. Well, do you see that that immediately poses a problem? Because the student who has started off this dialog with the buddha then makes various efforts to give up desire. Upon which he very rapidly discovers that he is desiring not to desire, and he takes that back to the teacher, who says ‘Well, well, well.’ He said, ‘Of course. You are desiring not to desire, and that’s of course excessive. All I want you to do is to give up desiring as much as you can. Don’t want to go beyond the point of which you’re capable.’ And for this reason Buddhism is called the Middle Way. Not only is it the middle way between the extremes of ascetic discipline and pleasure seeking, but it’s also the middle way in a very subtle sense. Don’t desire to give up more desire than you can. And if you find that a problem, don’t desire to be successful in giving up more desire than you can. You see what’s happening? Every time he’s returned to the middle way, he’s moved out of an extreme situation.
“Now then, we’ll go on; we’ll cut out what happens in the pursuit of that method until a little later. The next truth in the list is concerned with the nature of release from duhkha. And so number three is ‘nirvana’. Nirvana is the goal of Buddhism; it’s the state of liberation corresponding to what the Hindus call ‘moksha’. The word means ‘blow out,’ and it comes from the root ‘nir vritti.’ Now some people think that what it means is blowing out the flame of desire. I don’t believe this. I believe that it means ‘breathe out,’ rather than ‘blow out,’ because if you try to hold your breath, and in Indian thought, breath–prana–is the life principle. If you try to hold on to life, you lose it. You can’t hold your breath and stay alive; it becomes extremely uncomfortable to hold onto your breath.
“And so in exactly the same way, it becomes extremely uncomfortable to spend all your time holding on to your life. What the devil is the point of surviving, going on living, when it’s a drag? But you see, that’s what people do. They spend enormous efforts on maintaining a certain standard of living, which is a great deal of trouble. You know, you get a nice house in the suburbs, and the first thing you do is you plant a lawn. You’ve gotta get out and mow the damn thing all the time, and you buy expensive this-that and soon you’re all involved in mortgages, and instead of being able to walk out into the garden and enjoy, you sit at your desk and look at your books, filling out this and that and the other and paying bills and answering letters. What a lot of rot! But you see, that is holding onto life. So, translated into colloquial American, nirvana is ‘whew!’ ‘Cause if you let your breath go, it’ll come back. So nirvana is not annihilation, it’s not disappearance into a sort of undifferentiated void. Nirvana is the state of being ‘let go’. It is a state of consciousness, and a state of–you might call it– being, here and now in this life.” ~Alan Watts, The World as Emptiness…”
Track two is entitled Vihara Duvoir” which literally translates to “Monastery Duties,” or the duties of each of our three monks within their commune. Daleth’s vocation is that of selflessness, so he is the preparer of food – the Chef. Mem’s occupation is the drawing of water from the fountain of wisdom to water the plants and irrigate the crops – the Water Bearer. Teth’s job is the memorization of narrative stories as they apply to creation and truth – the Story Teller. Each day the three embark on countless duties and tasks, but these tasks are the primary focus for each of them individually.
The third track is where the plot of our narrative actually gets moving. Avalokiteshvara describes a vision shared independently among our three protagonists. During a morning meditation during which they are all meditating in separate geographic locations, they all succumb to a similar vision; a vision so grandiose and jarring that it leaves them in an awe-struck state of complete, holistic wonder. Their vision leaves them so disoriented, as a matter of fact, that they all spend the remainder of the day thinking about the various nuances of the vision, attempting to intellectually decode the deeper meaning that was downloaded into their minds during the course of the meditation. The indescribable beauty and ineffability bringing them each to tears, and they separately spend many hours contemplating the surrounding landscape as if for the very first time; as if reborn. When the sun begins setting over the horizon they each realize that they have neglected their various duties for the day, and rush home to their shared monastery to begin the various preparations necessary for the evening meal. As the sunset begins to glare tangerine over the jagged horizon they each pick up their pace, running back to the monastery at a full sprint. Arriving at roughly the same time, they all begin apologizing to each other for their delinquent absence, sharing eerily similar explanations. Eventually they begin to realize the unreal nature of the fact that they all experienced the exact same vision. The great Avalokiteshvara, brandishing his thousand-arms of compassion and eleven heads of enlightenment, had presented them each with a premonition of things to come within the realm of eternity. It was unlike anything any of them had ever experienced before, which was unusual considering they were all veteran meditators. Letting go of the mind enables the third eye to see beyond the physical, and within the shifting Akashic fog appearedAvalokiteshvara and his thousand-seeing-hands of compassion, showing what glory remains over bridges yet to be crossed, illustrating to each of them how they could influence the world if they perfect their abilities, promising talented Bodhisattvas they will make in the next great calling.
Avalokiteshvara is viewed as perhaps the ultimate Bodhisattva, that is, one who has achieved enlightenment and is hence given the choice of escaping the wheel of deluded existence (Samsara), but chooses to return to the world of suffering to liberate all beings. Avalokiteshvara (otherwise known as Lokeshvara or Chenrezig) was the most devoted of all Bodhisattvas, vowing to never return to Nirvana until ALL beings had been liberated. His vow promised that should he ever become disinherited in his task, his body would fracture into a thousand pieces. Traversing all dimensions including all of the hell realms, Lokeshvara made good on his promise and after eons of work, had successfully liberated every individual being. On his ascent back into the higher dimensions, he looked down and to his utter horror, witnessed that many beings were choosing to return to suffering and delusion. Upon seeing that some beings refused to ascend from delusion, his heart dropped, and he at once shattered into a thousand pieces. His body was then reassembled by the Buddha Maitabha and the bodhisattva Vajrapani – the “wielder of the thunderbolt” – into this omniscient form, with eleven heads and a thousand arms. Each of Avalokiteshvara’s hands displays an all-seeing eye, symbolizing the union of wisdom and skillful means. The first two hands hold a wish-fulfilling gem, a symbol of the deepest powers of the human psyche. The next five hold a lotus, a bow, a vase, a rosary, and a wheel. The eighth holds an arrow in the open-palmed gesture of generosity. Lokeshvara symbolizes for us the manifestation of uncompromising compassion and the boundless light of the awakened mind.
The conclusion of the Lokeshvara vision adventure leads us into track four, Wandering Bhikkhu –(Bhikkhu means Monk). Taking on the various responsibilities of the task that lay before them, they understood that they must travel to the various corners of the Earth and accumulate as much knowledge from as many different cultural civilizations as possible. For them to do this before the end of their lifetimes, however, they would have to embark on separate journeys, wandering in divergent directions to one day eventually return to the monastery to share their knowledge with each other. The departure was emotional but necessary, and they did as they were tasked. After decades of adventures and lessons, the three eventually converged again on the monastery, and shared the knowledge, languages, math, calendars and esoteric understandings of the various cultures. In doing so, they found incredible similarities between these distant societies, most of which had never come in contact with the others.
The next step in their quest was the task of dying together, at the same time, to reincarnate into the center of the world’s problems. They understood that group meditation had the power to prevent open warfare in war torn areas, and to lower crime in urban cities. They also understood that a great parasite had overtaken the Earth with its scaly tentacles, and that it would be necessary to travel into the belly of this great beast and find a way to meditate together within it to dissolve the monster from the inside out. If they were successful, they would be instrumental in helping to establish a new balanced, equilibrium on a planet torn apart by war and suffering for millennia. If they failed, the beast would overtake the world and plunge Earth into a new age of darkness unparalleled by anything known in all of creation. So they underwent a sacred ceremony engaged in by only the most serious minded monks of their discipline; the sacrament of the Olive Moksha. Moksha is the ultimate goal of Hindu spiritual practice, attained when the individual becomes liberated from the cycle of birth and death and reaches eventual union with the supreme divine. This union is traditionally achieved through true knowledge (Gyana/Jnana), devotion (Bhakti) or right work (Karma). Purity, self-control, truthfulness, non-violence and compassion toward all forms of life are the necessary pre-requisites for any spiritual path in Hindu Dharma. The individual soul (Atman), in its liberated state, possesses divine qualities such as purity, omnipresence and omnipotence, and is beyond limitation. Moksha is called Mukti (freedom) by Yogis and Nirvana by Buddhists. Writing of a Utopian Paradise, Aldus Huxley envisioned the antithesis of Brave New World in his novel Island, wherein “Moksha” was a psychedelic sacrament of initiation into the culture. We’ve simply taken this concept a step further, specifically designating the Olive as the sacrament in question. Three olives are dispersed among the three monks, and they meditate together through their final moments in their “original” bodies (original at least insofar as this unique narrative is concerned). After a period of time, they each ate their respective olives, which consequently put their bodies into a state of forever sleep. The three men died together, and were buried in the fields outside the monastery. The pit of each olive seated within the men’s abdominal cavity, would one day sprout and grow into a unique olive tree, among the olive groves outside of the monastery – each olive tree symbolizes the burial place of other former monks who have traversed a similar path, though as far as we know, this is the first time a group have embarked upon the sacrament together, with the specific missionary intention following the subsequent human incarnation.
The moment of death is chronicled at the very end of our fourth track, Wandering Bhikkhu, as portrayed by squealing guitars gasping their final, desperate breaths. Transitioning into the fifth track, Request to Laura represents the soul’s final goodbyes to the body. This is again a Huxley reference, since at the moment of Aldous’ death, his wife Laura injected his body with LSD, and he died with a smile on his face.
Facing the bardos of light and dark, they faced their innermost demons and angels, directing their intentions back toward the wheel of deluded existence. This chapter in the journey is described by tracks six seven and eight, Pala Moksha, Mettá, and Sidpa Bardo respectively. While Mettá serves as the fulcrum or “intermission” for the album (seated directly in the center of the 13 tracks), Pala and Sidpa illustrate the souls’ confrontation with its accomplishments, and then its failings or misdeeds. Pala Moksha represents the crossing from one shore to the other, and the feeling that the current can often make the seeker lose sight of the other shore and feel the need to turn back. Sidpa Bardo means literally “the dark bardo.” It is the passage of time between the moment of death and the moment of birth – the transition into and out of the void. So during Pala Moksha our protagonists are presented with all the good works they’ve done and all the positive experiences they’ve had in life, the passing through moment that is Mettá (the center of album) is the choice of leaving the wheel or returning. The three were skilled enough in their own individual consciousness to escape the wheel, and were presented with the choice to graduate from the cycles of birth and death. They chose the path of the Bodhisattva, returning to the Wheel of Deluded Existence and in turn Earth, to liberate all beings from the causes of suffering. Having chosen to reinsert into the world, they next must endure the dark bardo where they are faced with all the negative things that happened as a result of their existence, or harm caused by them in their lifetimes, intended to break their mind apart, guaranteeing that upon rebirth they will remember nothing but their instinctual defaults and their core values.
This takes us to track nine, Tulku Bháva, which stands as the moment of conception for our protagonists; the sperm meeting the egg and the beginnings of a new lifetime.
Track ten, Ici Avant is the “second life” for the monks (second insofar as this specific narrative is concerned). After being born in new human bodies in New Babylon, the three are reincarnated in different geographical areas of the colony. Born in America, the three reincarnated Bodhisattvas all realize that something is indeed very amiss in the world, as viewed from a dissonant corner of it they had never experienced before. Their entire adolescent lives are spent wondering exactly what is wrong, and attempting to reconcile what they know in their hearts to be true from lifetimes spent in harmony with nature, with the surroundings they find themselves in during this new lifetime. Stumbling upon their foreign nation, the three all independently and serendipitously find their way back to their former abbot, and naturally end up doing what they did in their previous lifetime, eventually beginning their training anew at their home monastery.
Onward to the eleventh track in our narrative: Quarry Unhewn. The abbot, recognizing the twinkle in the three boys eyes, presents the boys with a collection of objects collected within the monastery left by passed monks of yesteryear, and asks them each to select one object. When a door, a clock and a water pitcher are selected, the abbot acknowledges that these were the three objects left behind by the three monks who had embarked upon their quest together following their shared, three-way Olive Moksha ceremony together, thus signaling the return of the three monks. He tells them to meditate together in the Olive grove, where they are again visited by Avalokitesvara above their former body’s corpses, having picked their own trees, realizing that they three are Avalokitesvara and together make up different pieces of him. Again visited by the very vision which had shaken them so deeply in the early chapters of this story, it is revealed to them all that they three were never three separate men, and that Avalokiteshvara was not some external deity visiting them from above. They instead realized the truth; they each were a part of Avalokiteshvara, who had manifested himself in three distinct bodies to experience himself subjectively, as well as to expand upon his own abilities in multiple human forms. They realize that his presentation of Lokeshvara himself was an illusion all along; that they themselves created as an exercise; an exercise not necessarily in the illusion of separation, but in the oneness of everything as well as a practical necessity of having multiple selves to accomplish tasks with greater speed and accuracy that one individual incarnation could undertake alone.
And so we bring ourselves to the twelfth chapter of Olive Moksha, Padme in the Orchard (or Lotus in the Orchard). Following their reuniting, the three of them followed through with their vow to Avalokiteshvara, and return to New Babylon, they live out their lifetimes meditating together, creating glorious artworks, music and vibrations which slowly but surely dissolve the beast from within. New plant life sprouts from the concrete surfaces of dead cities, and the 8th century prophecy made by Padma Sambhava, the Indian Guru who founded the very first Tibetan Monastery, is fulfilled:
“When the iron bird flies, and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the World, and the Dharma will come to the land of red-faced people.”
The thirteenth and final track of the album, Anattá, means “no-fixed-self,” and is best exemplified by the true idea of impermanence – that everything is constantly changing all of the time. It is also the idea of “no self” or the absence of ego realized in the unity of all things. The idea that an identity is limiting, and to define something is to end it. After all, the French word “FIN” is embedded within the word define, and fin literally means end. So by defining something we also confine it, which is the opposite of infinite.
As mentioned, my personal obsession with all things round and spherical came to a head with this project. I began to see that the circle was of particular importance to our project because of its inherent relationship to the cyclic nature of everything relative to time. Outside of time there is eternity, but within the construct of time, everything relative to time adheres to birth and death, rise and fall, creation and destruction, building and climax. Most cultures in the past look upon the idea of time as a cyclical event, whether it be the recurrence of the four seasons within a solar year (spring, summer, autumn and winter), the passage through different astrological ages (1,250 year cycles), or of the procession of the Equinoxes (26,000 year cycles entailing a complete passage through all of the ages). Cultures around the world found metaphorical ways to depict these grand and small cycles through various means. Each of these means, while themselves valid, eventually came into the illusion of competition when confronted by another culture’s understanding of the great cycles. Each culture having done their due diligence, thoroughly researching these systems and chronicling them through annual ceremonies, was convinced of the apparent correctness of their own system. They were all correct to recognize what they recognized, but made mistakes when confronted with additional systems chronicling the same information from different perspectives. The illusion of separation drove these different cultures to war against one another based on the false premise that the other systems were not as accurate as their own, and therefore existed in competition with their own, as though only one system could provide the accurate answer. What they failed to realize was that while their own systems were valid, so were the apparent “competing” systems.
Comprehending the oneness and unity of everything is an elegant method for bringing about peace on this planet. It is the arbitrary divisions that create the illusion of separation between cultures, between races, between creeds, between systems of political belief, between language systems, and perhaps most poignant of all, between methods of spiritual understanding. If all human beings could come to see other humans not as separate from themselves based on arbitrary tribal divisions and instead remember that they all stem from the same branch, it would be inconceivable to carry out acts of war against themselves any longer. As Carl Sagan once famously said, “An organism at war with itself is doomed.”
So in carrying out a holistic understanding of the cycles of time inherent within the Wheel of Deluded Existence, I sought to unite humanity through the creation of a Universal Calendar, visually illustrating not only that all of the various comprehensions of time are correct, but how they’re interrelated.
My calendar is strongly influenced by many different systems, but perhaps most obviously by the Mayan calendar, the Aztec Sunstone, the Western Zodiac, the Yugas, and the I-Ching. All of these systems depict time as a circular, never-ending cycle just as a clock does. They way in which they interact was a journey of discovery which entailed nearly four years of research. To accurately understand how the different systems were related necessitated a massive research endeavor entailing an deep understanding of each of the calendar systems individually.
LAYER ONE: THE WESTERN ZODIAC
The innermost circle of the calendar is composed of 13 stones. For this layer, it was my goal to illustrate the symbols of the extremely recognizable and widely used Western Zodiac, of which there are traditionally only 12. Incorporating a thirteenth stone was not a decision that I arrived at lightly; I did it because a vast majority of calendar systems – including the Hebrew system – understood the annual yearly cycle of Earth by the Lunar phases, of which there are 13 in a solar year. Very few cultures bothered with the solar cycle, because the mathematics involved in calculating it become very tricky. So to square this circle, I incorporated all 12 of the traditional Western Zodiac months from Aries through Pisces, and added a thirteenth – Ophiuchus (the snake handler). I did not fill-in the border of Ophiuchus precisely because it has no place in the harmony created within the system of 12. Amateur astrologers and skeptics who follow the mainstream media’s constant flow of venom will scoff at the 12-signed Zodiac, saying that they heard on the news that the “discovery” of the 13th symbol proves a lack of validity in the old system. The truth of the matter is that this “new” sign (Ophiuchus, known as Asclepius to the Greeks) was not unfamiliar to the ancients; the 12-symobl Zodiac has as much validity as the 13-symbol Zodiac does, but from different perspectives, namely Solar versus Lunar. The obvious disharmony is systemic considering the 360 degrees of a circle (derived from the Sumerian Base-60 system, which when multiplied by 6 gives us 360) are divisible easily by 12, but difficult to reconcile with a 365 and ¼ day Solar Year. So while Ophiuchus/Asclepius itself was not used by Western Astrologers, I included it (albeit only outlined) to signify that while the Western system has validity, it must take into account that many (and indeed most) other cultures throughout history calculated the year based on a Lunar calendar – not a Solar calendar. Lastly, because the Western Zodiac depicts the first sign Aries at approximately the 9 o’clock on a standard chart, and moves counterclockwise, I chose to keep the counterclockwise direction of this wheel while shifting the “zero” position to the 12 o’clock position on the universal calendar to fall in line with the “zero” position of all of the other systems entailed.
LAYER TWO: THE HAAB
The second concentric circle of the calendar is composed of 19 stones – the 19 signs of the Haab Calendar within the Mayan system. The Haab is a 365 day calendar, composed of 18 months of 20 days, and a 19th month of “5 unlucky days” known as Wayeb. This layer I have depicted to encircle the calendar in a clockwise direction, opposite from the previous layer.
LAYER THREE: THE TZOLKIN
The third concentric circle of the calendar is composed of 20 stones. This layer signifies the 20 signs of the Tzolkin Calendar within the Mayan system. The Tzolkin year is a 260-day personal calendar comprised of 20 signs, which operate in conjunction with 13 numbers (our first repetition within the whole) for a total of 260 (20×13=260), also in line with the 260-day gestation cycle of a human embryo grown within a 9-month period within its mother’s womb (260-days = 9 months). Because the Tzolkin operates in tandem with the Haab like two gears with interlocking teeth which repeat the same overall combination of total outcomes every 52 years, I have depicted this layer to encircle the calendar in a counterclockwise direction, opposite from the previous layer but in line with the one before it, which is appropriate for two reasons. Firstly the innermost layer consists of 13 stones, which when multiplied by this layer of 20 gives us the 260-day cycle inherent within this cycle. Secondly, the fact that the Haab and Tzolkin gears grind into each other as gears, they would, if they were depicted as gears, rotate in opposite directions.
We’re not quite done with the third layer yet. The final wrinkle on this layer has to do with Hindu Cosmology. Their conception of time is largely centered around the Yuga cycles. Yugas are epochs or eras within a four-age cycle. For Hindus, life in the universe is created and destroyed once every 4.1 to 8.2 billion years, which constitute one full day and one full night for Brahama. These cycles repeat as our seasons do, waxing and waning within a greater time-cycle entailing the repeated creation and destruction of the entire universe. Similar to spring, summer, autumn and winter, each Yuga involves stages of gradual changes in which the Earth and the consciousness of all human kind evolve as a whole. A complete Yuga cycle from a high Golden Age (Satya Yuga) to the low dark age (Kali Yuga) and then back again is caused by our solar system’s motion around another star. A Golden Age lasts 4,800 years, a Silver Age lasts for 3,600 years, a Bronze age lasts for 2,400 years, and an Iron age lasts for 1,200 years. So imagine a circle divided in half vertically, with ten segments running from the 12 o’clock position on the North node to the 6 o’clock position on the South node. Running from North to South in a CLOCKWISE motion, the first four stones are Gold, the next three are Silver, the next two are Bronze, and the final stone is Iron. Now expand the circle’s other half, running from the South to the North from the 6 o’clock back up to the 12, we have another Iron, then two additional Bronze, followed by three more Silver and finally four more Gold. Since the first half of this cycle running from the North to the South (or from the 12 to the 6) runs 4800, then 3600, then 2400 and finally 1200, adding them all together gives us a grand total of 12,000; therefore one COMPLETE revolution around the circle yields 24,000 years which is approximately equivalent to one precession of the equinox.
So because the Yuga cycle can be understood in terms of 20 periods of 1200 years each, this overlaps nicely with the 20 stones of the Mayan Tzolkin Calendar, so the orientation of the 20 stones will be to color them accordingly (Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron). I did not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and as a matter of fact, took this as the most serious charge of my task. What are the ethics of combining different colors of the rainbow in such a fashion? How would the Maya feel if they found that I have colored the Tzolkin months Oc and Chuen to signify the Iron age – or dark age? These symbols were not necessarily meant to depict darkness. And how would the Hindus feel, likewise, about this combination?
Given that, according to the Hindu’s, humanity entered into Kali Yuga (the densest and darkest of the four different ages(considered by many Hindus to be the year that Krishna left Earth to return to his abode)) in 3102 BCE (approximately 5,112 years ago), I noticed a startling overlap with the Mayan Calendar; The Mayan Long Count calendar restarted on 11 Aug 3114 BCE approximately 5,100 years ago). This 12-year difference I found convenient, not only because the recurring number 12 shows up when calculating the difference between the two systems, but the fact that in over five-thousand-years there is merely a 12-year difference, I found extraordinary; the margin of error here is negligible. So I feel confident in overlapping these two systems into a single layer.
LAYER FOUR: THE MODES
The fourth concentric circle of the calendar is composed of 28 stones. This layer’s meaning is twofold: Firstly the symbols employed in this layer are those of the 28 Musical Modes described earlier. Secondly, these 28 symbols coincide nicely with the 28 days of a Lunar month – comprised of four perfect weeks of seven days.
The fifth and final layer of the calendar is comprised of 64 stones; the 64 hexagrams of the I-Ching. Not only do the 64 hexagrams fit into each other to form the Cabbalistic Tree of Life (as depicted in the Foster Gamble film THRIVE: What on Earth Will it Take?), but 64’s square root being 8 (8×8=64) inherently describes the Pagan system of understanding time by the eight directions of calculating the Solstices and Equinoxes (90 degrees), in addition to the equal distances between each Solstice and each Equinox (45 degrees).
When we add all of the stones together, something extraordinary happens:
13 + 19 + 20 + 28 + 64 = 144
The square root of 144 is 12
If you’re remaining true to the strictly mathematical construction of the Fibonacci Sequence, 144 also happens to be the 12th figure: (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144)
But it gets even crazier.
In the Mayan Calendar, everything is base 20…
A Mayan day is called a Kin; 20 Kin are a Uinal; 18 Uinals comprise a Tun (so a Tun is 360 days or 1 year); 20 Tuns comprise a Katun (so 20 a Katun is 20 years, or 7,200 days); 20 Katuns comprise a Baktun (so a Baktun is 400 years, or 144,000 days).
The number 144 is also replete throughout the Christian bible, as is the number 12.
Now for the Final Wrinkle.
For the longest time I’ve wondered what in the world I was going to fill the center of the circles with. I was going with the Star Gate idea for a while, which I still think is applicable, but not for this project. When we set to writing the children’s book, I’d like to go with my initial vision, depicting the three monks standing before this tremendous stone calendar, with the center inside of the 13-layer circle opening a portal into another age. For this project I’ve developed something far more appropriate.
When I was first designing this piece I thought that a Yin-Yang would be appropriate, to describe the inherent oneness of everything wrapped within the paradox of duality consciousness. The Universe sent me many-a-signal that no, the Yin-Yang is not the correct way to go. Be patient. So after a matter of months I snapped my fingers and said, “I’ve got it! I’m going to depict the Flower of Life sacred Geometry of overlapping Vesica Pisces!” The Universe again sent me many-a-signal that, you’re on the right track, but you’re not quite there yet. Be patient. So after the passage of an additional year I rolled my eyes into the back of my head one day and said to myself, “Of course! The Star of David! The Platonic Solids overlapping one another! And again, the Universe sent me many-a-sign: don’t put ANY marks in the center of the circle yet! You’re close, but not quite ready!
I still had only designed the calendar as a theoretical mold at this point. So in the weeks prior to our May 2014 recording sessions, I finally set out to pencil in the design on the actual paper that was to become the calendar and in turn the album cover. Satisfied in the interlocking nature of the stones, I was determined to have the design completely penciled-in by the time our initial recordings actually began, and succeeded in doing so. As we embarked on the second of three rounds of recording sessions in two years, I still hadn’t figured out a way of filling in the center, and finally conceded that perhaps it didn’t need to be filled in. After all, if the same image were to be used for the CD skin, there would be a hole penetrating the center of the concentric circles anyway, so I might as well just leave it blank. But the images of the Platonic Solids continued to dance in my head, and I left an image of their overlapping design up on the desktop of the office laptop, checking it once a day to calculate how I might go about such an endeavor.
The moment that I decided that I would include the Star of David, but must be sure to orient the North node toward the zero position of the overall Calendar, the synchronicity swept me up. On Friday, 6 June 2014, Ivy showed up at the Chateau de Knottingham with two books – one of which I had requested and one of which I had not. The first book, Living with Kundalini by Gopi Krishna, I had asked for specifically, one because I remember her having it from seeing it on the bookshelf every morning when we lived together, and two because I’d been informed by many different educated minds that the root of my physical condition (namely the stress-seizures I’ve been enduring on an alarmingly frequent basis) was intimately related to spontaneous Kundalini release. When she brought that book over, however, she had with her another book that she decided to loan me on a whim: TANTRA: The Path of Ecstacy by Georg Feuerstein. On the cover of TANTRA stared me smack in the face an ancient depiction of the Sri Yantra Mandala. I was perplexed at first, but couldn’t stop staring at the Sri Yantra on the cover. Then on Saturday, 7 June 2014 (the first day of Mercury Retrograde), after the radio show, the team converged at one of our research labs for dinner and an evening of important movies. My contribution to the group, which none of them had ever seen before, was The Men Who Stare At Goats, which to be fair, did have a moderately mind-blowing effect on them. But the next movie threw me for a tailspin. We watched The Last Mimzy next, and the Sri Yantra appears throughout that film again, and again and again. And the more it appeared, the more the characters within the movie described its significance. And the more they described its significance, the more I felt the nurturing finger of the Universe tapping me on the shoulder saying, Okay – THIS. This is IT. This is what you’ve been looking for. And Indeed it was. I couldn’t believe it – within the structure of the Sri Yantra are implied ALL of the meanings of the previous symbols I had initially looked upon. The Male and Female polarities of the Yin-Yang are inherent throughout the Sri Yantra; The Sri Yantra is composed of a central figure that is surrounded by two circular rows of petals – hence the Flower of Life; the Star of David is nearly exactly depicted in the center of the Sri Yantra, as are the Platonic Solids. The Sri Yantra is composed of five equilateral triangles, of progressively larger size, representing the female (or power – Shakti) aspect of the Divine, and four equilateral triangles, also of pregressively larger size, representing the male (or consciosness – Shiva) aspect. The intersection of these nine major triangles (called Yonis, or “wombs”) creates forty-three small triangles, forming a fourteen-corner structure.
To make matters more interesting, the Sri Yantra happens to be an absolutely essential symbol for achieving balance in Vedic Astrological calculations.
Additionally, on the cover of the TANTRA book, I noticed that there were two concentric rows of petals surrounding the Sri Yantra – each composed of 16 petals each. Two rows of 16 petals makes 32 total petals. In exactly the same way, the Sri Yantra depicted in the Universal Calendar is surrounded by a circle of 13 stones (which bear the exact same shape and overall resemblance to the petals), with an additional layer of 19 outside of that for the exact same value of 32.
When I first saw this figure, the artist/architect part of my brain said, “How hard could it possibly be to draw that?” Then I found out for myself, as so many others before me have who have ever attempted to draw this figure, it is a lot more difficult to draw than you might think at first glance because the triangles are all interconnected. If you move one, you have to move all the others so they intersect properly, which in turn changes the sizes of all of the triangles relative to the newly angled lines. With enough time or with the aid of computers and mathematics it is possible to draw a figure where the intersections match perfectly, but no artist – no monk has EVER drawn a “perfect” Sri Yantra. This is also partially due to the fact that it is a 2-Dimensional representation of a multi-dimensional object. I say multidimensional because some disciplines say it is a 5-Dimensional object. There is a ton of literature on this subject, so I’m not going to go into agonizing detail on the dimensions here. Needless to say, there is a lot of variability here.
Perfect mathematical calculations are not necessarily enough to produce a perfect figure, which is the primary reason why there are so many different versions of the Sri Yantra in circulation.
Surprisingly the methods in the Indian literature are far from satisfactory, as they all-too-often depict imprecise and crude figures. As with everything else there is a tendency to simplify or distort angles and lines, so that over time knowledge gets eroded. In the case of the Sri Yantra this has led to what some call the “false Sri Yantra”. It’s a version that is so far from the original figure that it is missing some of the most basic characteristic of a Sri Yantra.
The obvious challenge when drawing a Sri Yantra is to achieve near perfect concurrency. Meaning that all the triple intersection meet at the same point rather than crisscrossing. The lines should intersect at the same point but sometimes (especially if your calculations are sloppy) they crisscross each other and form extraneous triangles. Using the right sequence to draw the Sri Yantra will ensure that there will be errors only in two of the triple intersections – which can be mitigated creatively. There is no way to get it perfect, because again, we are representing a multi-dimensional figure in a 2-Dimensional drawing. Like snow flakes there seems to be an infinite number of different Sri Yantras. There isn’t actually a precise and complete method to draw the figure anywhere in existence.
Very few Sri Yantras achieve perfect concurrency. Mathematically speaking it is not possible. But practically speaking a satisfactory level of precision can be achieved. It is difficult to achieve this when doing the drawing by hand but not impossible. Often the lines are made thicker to hide the errors at the intersections. A good level of accuracy can be achieved with a pencil and ruler and a lot of patience (or you can use a computer program and get it as precise as is technically and mathematically possible). But the criteria of concurrency necessary to generate precise intersections is not itself enough to fully define the Sri Yantra.
Over time people have assumed that being able to produce a figure where the lines meet precisely at the intersections will produce a unique figure. This has lead to the current multiplicity of figures available.
Let us take the simple example of drawing a triangle. If the only criteria required is that the figure must have three sides then you can draw a infinite number of different triangles with three sides. If on the other hand you are asked to draw a triangle where the sides are of equal length then there is only one way to draw such a triangle, and only if we’re not taking size into account.
The Sri Yantra is a geometry with five degrees of freedom, which means that up to five different criterion can be used to define it. This is why we have to decide on the location of five lines when drawing the figure. Five degrees of freedom are not a lot considering that there are a total of nine triangles, due to the high degree of interconnectedness between the triangles, effectively limiting the possibilities and variations that can be achieved.
The Sri Yantra symbolizes, among other things the unfolding of creation. The Bindu represents the silent state (unmanifest). The next level in the expression of the Universe is represented by the innermost triangle. This level represents the trinity of Rishi, Devata, Chanda, or the observer, the process of observation and the object being observed. At this point the symmetry of creation is still intact and will be broken when it reaches the next level which represent the grosser aspects of the relative.
This reflects the unfolding from unity to trinity as expounded in Vedic literature. According to the Veda, the Universe becomes manifest when unbounded awareness becomes aware of itself. The spark of self awareness ignites creation. At this point Unity divides into the trinity of Rishi (the observer), Devata (process of knowing) and Chanda (the object of perception). The same idea is also found in the bible as the principle of the holy trinity, as well as in Cabala.
The central triangle is the central lens of the Sri Yantra. If as some suggest, this pattern is capable of emitting a significant amount of subtle energy, the importance of having a well balanced and centered figure becomes obvious.