Dreams of Music and the Music of Dreaming – Songs for Life, the story of Krishna and Sudama


Music can be a waking dream that we cultivate for engaging with the Divine. There truly is some quality that both dreams and music share, as if they’re weaving and being woven from a similar fabric upon a related loom. Both are real, yet bear a mysterious palpability of presence, the one thru images and the other via sound. Both seemingly spring from an invisible, nearly intangible source which nonetheless becomes more tangible the more we place our attention towards perceiving and receiving each one. Some dreams speak to and inhabit the dreamer in the form of music during the night, while some forms of music inspire imagistic flights of vision and take the listener on dream-like journeys while awake.

Joseph Campbell, scholar and mythologist, said that “Dreams are private myths, and myths are public dreams”. In India, there’s an ancient understanding of the way music, dreams and stories all weave together in a remembrance of the way the fabric of our humanity is woven by the deep relationships between private myths and public dreams. This flows from an experience of music and sound as a means for celebrating and connecting with the Divine.

In one of the old stories about Krishna called “The Million Steps” is a tale about the ways that music and dreams, human and divine, inter-relate to lose and find one another again in a rich parlance of longing for the fulfillment of a lifetime of searching.

Young Sudama grows up in the same village as Krishna where they roam about and make music together as children, Krishna on his flute and Sudama on his ek tar – a stringed instrument attached to a gourd at one end. As best friends, they make trouble, play and find songs together which inspires Sudama deeply. Over time, Krishna’s divine nature is slowly revealed and as the two enter adulthood, the truth of this takes the flute player far afield to a palace where he becomes the Lord of the Universe.

Staying on in the village with his wife Padmini and the family they raise, Sudama and his partner live the life of EveryMan and EveryWoman. In a very real sense, any one of us are like this couple who live out the full embodiment of the human experience. The family is poor and over time Sudama is given to yearnings for the rich magnificence of his time spent making music and being with Krishna. The two have separated and Sudama, in his spare poverty, begins to choose the practicalities of life over his music-making and drifts further away from the sense he had as a youth of being held by the delicious aura of his time spent with Krishna.

Throughout the days and nights of his life, Sudama swings back and forth between remembrance of his dear childhood and increasing doubts about the worth of life itself, as well as his own role within it. He goes to sleep and dreams of Krishna, telling himself upon awakening, that ‘it was only a dream’. This goes on until his wife, Padmini encourages him to go find Krishna and ask him to help their poor little struggling family. Sudama resists, but finally agrees to set off to look for his friend, who is now famous and beloved and sought after across the whole land as the one and only Lord of Everything.

Because of his small feelings for feeling small, Sudama ponders turning back many times on his voyage. No less, he has a dream while on the outskirts of Krishnas palace, and like any one of us who can have a dream at a time when we most need it, he allows himself to put aside his doubts, if only long enough to travel within the walls of the palace, where the most incredible musicians are making songs of praise for Lord Krishna. This compounds his feelings of inferiority and he almost convinces himself that his old friend will not recognize him, until at last Krishna appears and surprises his childhood playmate by welcoming him into his presence. Not only is Sudama welcomed, he is also honored by Krishna as he disperses every other musician and takes up his flute, inviting Sudama to play his ek tar along with him as they had done as children. This is why it said, “Take one step towards the Divine, and the Divine will take a million steps towards you”.

The two spend a reverie of days together, until Sudama returns to his family, transformed deeply by his time with ‘the Friend’.  On the way back he discovers a small hut and feels a deep longing to remain there, but doesn’t, as he wishes to see his wife and children. Upon his return home he discovers that his family has been transformed and that all there have been made healthy and rich. He asks his wife to forsake these material blessings and return to the small hut in the forest with him to make music, but she wishes to stay in their new/old home, for she wants to know how it is to live without lack for things. The blessed couple do so until it becomes clear that true joy is not to be found only in having plenty. In the end they decide to give it all up to their children and retreat to the hut in the forest, where they rejoin their previous practice and live simply, making music and chanting the names of the Divine for the rest of their earthly days.

How like Sudama and Padmini we can be! This public dream from ages past still rings true in its reminders of the tendency we express to forget and forego the songs of our youths, the rich loam of discovery and the imaginative ways we have allowed ourselves to connect with our own divine natures in days and night gone past wherein we had no reason to question whether we had the right to be the playmates of the divine, holy energies of life and spirit. As we grow older and learn things and struggle to make our way, it can be easy to lose sight of “the love within loving” and our birthright towards adding our own humble, unique voice to the mystical chorus of creation and the music of life within and beyond life.

Because it’s easy to forget, and to convince ourselves of our own unworthiness, it’s important, like it is in the story, to recall and honor the dreams of our lives that seek to remind us, perhaps in mystifying ways, as we seek to forget and ‘go back to sleep’, that we too are invited to make music – in whatever form that may be for each of us  – which takes into account the deep dreams of our richest and wildest longings that spring up from some place early in our lives out of a time when we knew better than to know better, as the developed voice of our growing doubts have tried to strip of us of the confidence in our true inheritance to be who we actually are – friends and cohorts of the Divine.

Here is a song which I created together with Ben Leinbach and which features the beautiful flute playing of Manose, who very much seems to invoke and invite the divine energies of krishna with his flute playing. I play the Didjeridu on this track – another wind instrument but one that hails from the sacred precincts of Australia and the sacred musical traditions of that land. Enjoy!

1 thought on “Dreams of Music and the Music of Dreaming – Songs for Life, the story of Krishna and Sudama”

  1. I love this post and your Liminal recording, Travis! It speaks, or shall I say sings, to me on many levels. I just wrote about digging for the lost treasures of youth in my own blog -link below – that I posted this past Friday. All the best, Jenna


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