Thought For the Day
18th June 1996
The Blues is a feeling
Good morning. It takes something special to get me in front of the box these days, but, last Saturday, driven by the fervour of the critics and the same middle-aged nostalgia, I sat down to watch Dancing in the Street, the BBC’s 10-part series on the history of rock’n’roll.
The opening programme presented a convincing theme - that rock’n’roll emerged out of the cross-over of black Rhythm & Blues music into the white youth culture of the 1950s. I was too young to remember that era, but I later became an enthusiast for the mid-sixties revival of traditional blues by white British musicians. This period raised the old question - can a white man play the blues?
Is the blues a feeling - only to be expressed by those from the black culture of the deep south plantations or the urban ghettos? Or is it a response to life’s troubles and joys - equally valid whether in the Delta, Chicago’s southside or Surbiton?
I sometimes face a parallel question. “Can a white man pray the Hindus?” It’s the same issue. Can the Hindu faith only be understood and practised by someone who has been raised in the culture and traditions of the sub-continent? Are only those of Asian descent real Hindus?
Such an attitude is strikingly contrary to the nature of Hindu faith. Hinduism is the world’s oldest living religion. It has survived and, indeed, flourished because it is relevant to the day. Without seeking to convert, it has attracted and been revitalised. There are many who now dip into its beliefs of karma and reincarnation or practise elements of yoga and meditation. Others have immersed themselves in its devotional faith applying its principles and lifestyle to the modern context in the diaspora.
All are included within the underlying concept of Hinduism, that of sanatan-dharm -which is the correct title of the tradition. It means “the eternal or universal religion of our relationship with the Supreme”. It is said that everyone follows this path. Just as it is not possible to be divorced from the source of our creation and existence, so we cannot switch off sanatan-dharm. We can only open or close our eyes to this supreme relationship. And, if we do recognise it, our progress is measured by how sincerely we endeavour to be true to it.
There is a phrase from the scripture, Srimad Bhagavatam, which I relish because it unites the aspirations of all theistic traditions in a single definition:-“ The supreme dharma for all humanity is to render loving service unto th transcendent Lord.” It goes on to promise, “such devotional service which is unmotivated and uninterrupted will completely satisfy the self.” And, it could have said - will clear away the blues.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.