[ by Charles Cameron — how Buddha came by his Middle Way, among other things & songs ]
In a fascinating article titled Dylan tunes like you’ve never heard them – in Hindi and Bengali a few months back, Nate Rabe made the assertion — I only saw it today —
Bob Dylan, unlike many of his contemporaries, seems to never have been drawn to India. There were no pilgrimages to Rishikesh, no gurus, no lost years by the Ganga and, to date, I’ve not detected any Hindustani musical influence in his music.
Okay — how about his album covers?
On the cover of John Wesley Harding (above), Dylan is flanked by “Luxman and Purna Das, two Bengali Bauls” — “South Asian musicians brought to Woodstock by Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman” according to Wikipedia.
The Bauls — with their one-stringed instrument, the ektara, and their ecstatic songs of devotion — have been an interest of mine at least since the time that album came out in 1967. It was shortly thereafter that I also ran across the album The Bauls of Bengal issued by Elektra in 1966.
A writer in the rec.music.dylan newsgroup notes:
Through their songs, dances, gestures, through silences, through postures and looks, the Bauls tell stories of the earth, of the body, of lovers uniting – subtly revealing the mystery of life and laws of nature. Submission to the divine is their tightrope to wisdom. Most Bauls are wandering mendicants, living on what they are offered by villagers in return for their songs. They sing from the heart on their never ending tours and consecrate their lives to a fusion of music, song and dance as the privileged vehicle for attaining ecstasy.
Edward C Dimock Jr, author of The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava-Sahajiya Cult of Bengal and co-author with poet Denise Levertov of the “slim volume of poetry”, In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali, wrote on the liner notes of the Bauls’ album:
Some people have said that it is possible to characterize the Bauls by a distinctive doctrine. I have never found it possible to do so, for it seems to me that they are first and foremost individuals, and that the term Baul encompasses a wide range of religious opinion, traceable to several Hindu schools of thought, to Sufi Islam, and much that is traceable only to a man’s own view of how he relates to God. All Baul’s hold only this in common: that God is hidden in the heart of man, and neither priest nor prophet, nor the ritual of any organized religion, will help man to find him there.”
Dimock, as you have guessed, is another long-time favorite author of mine, and I once had the privilege of meeting Denise Levertov, whose poem A Tree Telling of Orpheus I hold to be one of the great poems of the 20th century.
There is an album out titled From Another World: A Tribute to Bob Dylan, which includes a rendering of Mr Tambourine Man by one Purna Das Baul…
and Nate Rabe’s piece introduces us, among others, to Susheela Raman, covering Like a Rolling Stone:
It was a wandering musician playing an ektara, so I have heard, whom the ultra-ascetic known as Siddhartha Gauama overheard saying or singing:
If you tighten the string too much it will snap and if you leave it too slack, it won’t play.
That hint was enough. Siddhartha grasped from those words the essence of the teaching he was to make famous as the Middle Way, set aside his austerities as he had earlier set aside his princely status, and in short order attained enlightenment — becoming Gautama Buddha, one of the great masters of our age.
h/t 3 Quarks Daily