The sound of selflessness

PURE SOUND: The Gyoto Monks of Tibet are coming to the Star Court Theatre on Sunday.
PURE SOUND: The Gyoto Monks of Tibet are coming to the Star Court Theatre on Sunday.

EVERY year a group of Gyotu Monks from Tibet comes to Australia to conduct public rituals and ceremonies throughout the country. When they're not travelling, they are based at a serene property in the hills of Rosebank where they carry out their Buddhist practices in much the same way as they would in the monasteries of Dharamsala (although I'm not sure they get to ride mountain bikes around the dirt roads when they're at home).

The practice includes several hours of chanting or harmonic throat singing each day. It's a sound that has intrigued audiences across the world and last year an album of their singing called Pure Sounds (recorded in the Northern Rivers) was nominated for a Grammy Award.

This Sunday, October 7, the monks will be at the Star Court Theatre in Lismore to perform their mesmorising chants before a screening of a documentary, also called Pure Sounds, that looks at the lives of the monks, and particularly at the history and practice of harmonic chanting.

The Echo visited the monks this week as they were preparing for their morning singing.

Through their translator Sonam Rigzin, Tashi Gyaltso told me eight parts of the vocal chords had to be activated to achieve the sound over a three octave range.

"It creates power...You have to visualise the sound coming from the guts," he said.

The chanting is underpinned by 2500 pages of text that the monks learn from a young age, when they begin chanting three to four hours a day. On some occasions they will chant for up to 18 hours a day for five days straight.

Asked why the chanting had such a wide appeal to Westerners, senior monk Gen Lama said, "it is the sound of letting go of the ego."

"It resonates pure consciousness and encapsulates all living beings," he said.

Pure Sounds is narrated by Toni Collette and the screening and singing is in Lismore from 5pm this Sunday.

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