"Music has the potential to transcend our differences. It can return us to our true nature of warm-heartedness,” said Dalai Lama.
During this period when the world is facing an unprecedented crisis and severe disruptions to people's livelihoods, one of the world’s most revered spiritual voices have released an album to both inspire and calm the nerves of the restless.
The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, makes his debut as a recording artiste with "Inner World" an album of ambient, soothing music and sacred teachings that was released to coincide with his 85th birthday on July 6.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama recites short mantras and teachings, focused on bringing peace and compassion to the world, woven to music in 11 recordings.
“For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world,” he says in the album's opening track “One of My Favourite Prayer” quoting a verse by 8th century Indian Buddhist monk Shantideva. The Dalai Lama says he can repeat this prayer up to one hundred times in a day to strengthen his commitment to serve others.
When asked why he accepted the request to make the album, the Dalai Lama answered, “The very purpose of my life is to serve as much as I can. Music can help people in a way that I can’t.”
The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who in 2013 tied with Barack Obama as the most popular leader in the world, is no stranger to the music industry. On his 80th birthday, he made a guest appearance at one of the world’s most famous pop music events, the Glastonbury Festival in the UK, where the crowd of thousands of fans sang to “Happy Birthday” in his honour.
“Inner World” is the brainchild of the New Zealand-born singer, songwriter, producer Junelle Kunin, the co-executive producer of the album. She also produced, assembled, and performed on the album.
It all started when Kunin, who converted to Buddhism as an adult, began searching online for music paired with teachings from the Dalai Lama but she couldn’t find any to ease the stress of her job at the time working in a bank.
So, in 2015 she wrote to the Dalai Lama's office requesting his participation in the making of the album that would help people that struggle with emotional stress by fusing music with messages from His Holiness.
The request was initially turned down but on a trip to India, where the Dalai Lama has lived in exile since 1959, she handed over a letter to one of his assistants and the response was enthusiastic as the spiritual leader acknowledged how important music was.
Kunin and her husband Abraham Kunin spent the next five years working to bring the project to life. She recommended a list of topics and mantras for the album and recorded the conversations with the Dalai Lama as he recited the mantras discussing topics like wisdom, courage, healing, and children.
The music was composed by Abraham to enhance the powerful words, without crowding out the message, and performed on more than 30 instruments, from guitar to percussions, by himself and a cast of collaborators from around the world. Grammy-nominated sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar makes a high profile guest appearance on the track “Ama La.”
Shankar, the daughter of the legendary Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar who first met the Dalai Lama as a child accompanying her father, plays on the track that honours mothers. “The teacher of compassion, in every human being's life, is often our mother,” says the Dalai Lama in this recording. “So, mother is, I think, the person who introduces us to the value of love, the value of compassion.”
On the track “Children” the Dalai Lama says, “So the younger generation, children, they have an opportunity and also responsibility to create a happier world, happier future.”
“Compassion” which was the first song released from the album contains one of the most famous Buddhist prayers.
The composer integrated the live performances with production that created a peaceful bedrock for the sacred offerings. Kunin added vocals to three songs including the “Purification” backed by a plaintive piano which she wrote as her mother was fighting for her life in hospital at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The album is currently available on streaming platforms and the physical copies will be released on August 28 accompanied by a booklet that reveals the benefits of the mantras and exclusive artwork of traditional Tibetan and contemporary art.