I REMEMBER HONG KONG page 2 我記得香港之二
Buddha Song 佛曲
STORIES, MUSIC VIDEO, SCORE & IMAGES 故事、音樂視頻、樂譜和靚相
Scroll down to end for BUDDHA SONG video/score/comments
The only religion I know is Christianity and I have limited let alone in depth knowledge of any other religion. Yet I found some Buddhist verses uplifting, especially when I was in turmoil. As a child in Hong Kong, I noticed the influence of Buddhism, especially amongst the lower classes, which I was familiar with as I lived amongst them. However, I noticed these people were not interested in religious doctrine. They were secular and wished that a mixture of Buddhist and Taoist deity (as shown in local popular stories, Cantonese opera dramas and Hong Kong Cantonese films) to bless them with good living and happiness ― perhaps a little akin to worshiping gods in ancient Greece and Rome. Buddhism, though it originated in India, has influenced China, Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia, and evolved with local cultures. In Hong Kong, Buddhist monks and nuns shaved their heads, and must practise celibacy and veganism. Yet in many novels, including Hong Kong martial arts novels that I have read, Buddhist monks have been portrayed as licentious, and even eating dog meat (illegal in Hong Kong), yet on the other extreme some have reached the wisdom of forsaking all desires, and their sayings enlightened those who are still in the 'Bitter Sea (worldly sufferings)'. I suppose this is all due to good and bad of human natures rather than a particular religion. There are many interesting incidents/stories that I have experienced or heard, and I will gradually add these onto this page. The fact is, one can see the influence of Buddhism in literature, in architecture and in art...
I wrote Buddha Song many years ago as inspired by what I remember of monks/nuns chanting the name of Buddha, and a song about a Buddhist monk I vaguely remember. The music video Buddha Song at the end of this page is Michael Proctor conducting the RAM choir, me playing percussion, and with images modified from photos of Buddha taken by my friend Kitty Kwan at Leshan Giant Buddha, Dazu Rock Carvings and Longmen Grottoes. I know Kitty from our school days at Hong Kong True Light Middle School.
In the following I share some photos taken by people I know, of Buddha and temples that they took in various parts of the world reflecting Buddhism merging with different cultures: CLICK EACH IMAGE TO ENLARGE
Juliet is an accomplished photographer — see more of her excellent photos in my music video "". The following are photos of the well known Kamakura Buddha in Japan and how people try to capture and pose before it. After that there are some cute Buddhas, and then various forms of Buddha.
BUDDHA SONG music video is placed at the end of this page, together with the score, comments and relevant/ interesting info.
Mr Leung 梁熾衡
Mr. Chee-Hang Leung was a member of staff at the True Light Middle School of Hong Kong who remains very connected with alumni of the school. He travels a lot and likes to take photographs. I have modified one of his photos in my "" music video. The following photos were taken in Burma and China. Click each photo to enlarge
Choy May-Chu 蔡美珠
May-Chu and I were classmates for six years at the True Light Middle School of Hong Kong. I spent about a year to modify/animate her beautiful paintings and photos in "" – a playlist of six music videos. She is now living in Taiwan and the following photos were taken there.
Stories related to Buddhism 與佛教有關的見聞和趣事
I remember when I was a child in Hong Kong, those who gambled and were superstitious would plead to any deity for a win, and disliked seeing Buddhist monks/nuns because of their shaved heads (baldness signifies losing everything). They might even say rude things when seeing a bald-headed monk/nun, and some Buddhist monks/nuns would wear hats to cover their baldness. I once saw a hatless Buddhist nun choosing combs at Daimaru (a top Japanese department store at the time), which puzzled me. I thought Buddhist monks/nuns are supposed to give up worldly things, yet she spent time looking at all sorts of expensive worldly goods. Also, what's the point of buying a comb with a shaved head? If this was meant to be a gift, a Buddhist monk/nun is to sever worldly connection and hair symbolises worldly worries (hence shaving their heads), so why choose a comb to give away, and to whom?
At that time, not everyone would wait in line for a bus. At peak hours, when the bus came people would scramble trying to get on. Once, while waiting for a bus, I saw a Buddhist monk also waiting. I often heard that Buddhist monks do not vie with the world. Yet when the bus came, he pushed me aside to get on.
I once went to Putuoshan, a famous Buddhist scenic spot in Zhejiang. At a thriving Buddhist temple, I saw a monk swatting flies that were attracted by the food at the alter, yet "Thou shall not kill" is probably the first commandment in Buddhism. I was also amused as "swatting flies" means no business in Cantonese and not propitious to this thriving temple. I supposed that I had assumptions, and Buddhist monks/nuns are just humans like you and me.
It puzzled me that the legendary Ji Gong, the living Buddha, is often depicted as drunk and a gluttony of meat when Buddhist monks/nuns are compulsory vegans. Some Buddhists said that's because of Ji Gong had said reincarnated prayer, and some said that the wine/meat had bypassed him. However, I was not convinced.
When I was in middle school, a teacher said that Buddhism enlightened people in varied ways according to their limitations, hence the two ways of comprehending Buddhism, namely Mahayana and Hinayana. His explanation of Mahayana and Hinayana differs from references I have come across. Perhaps his perception is also affected by his limitations. As humans, we are limited in understanding Mahayana and Hinayana, or in any religion and in God. We are like the fable of five blind men touching the elephant, each can only touch a certain part yet insists that's the only truth, while the fact is, they are incapable of seeing, let alone seeing the whole. I think that if your faith makes you compassionate, do some good to the world and not waste your life, that is best. If you feel peace and happiness because of your faith, that's good too.
The only religion I know a little about is Christianity. I have read the Bible many times, but I feel enlightened by some Buddhist texts, like the well-known quote on love (), though my late friend the writer John David Morley thought it was penned by a jaded monk who had not loved. I also like reading old Chinese translations of Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures. I read about the crown prince Sudana (one of the previous lives of Buddha), who gave his wife and children to people he knew would abuse them. I was angry - how could he, in order to achieve nirvana, abandon a young woman and their young children who needed his love and protection, and subjected helpless and innocent children to abuse? It's too selfish. Yet my old friend Malcolm Singer (composer/conductor) said, "There is nothing difficult to understand - he must achieve that state before he could save his wife and children." In order to delve deeper into this I used it as an inspiration and started working on "Crown Prince Su-Da-Na" as an opera. When I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, I needed major surgery and was afraid. To take my mind off gruesome surgery, I completed the prelude of "Crown Prince Su-Da-Na" scored for symphony orchestra in a short time. Of course, an uncommissioned work on such a large scale is almost impossible to get performed. An opera without an opera house commission will have even less chance to get performed. So, after writing the prelude, I put the creation of "Crown Prince Su-Da-Na"on hold.
There are many music pieces to some extent were inspired by or related to Buddhism, such as: Debussy's Estampes - Pagodas (Oriental Buddhist temple of Indonesian and gamelan music); Britten's Curlew River – a parable for church performance in the style of Noh theatre, with a Buddhist abbot... I think all religions inspire artistic creativity. Creativity is a gift from God.
BUDDHA SONG video《佛曲》視頻
The video/score/comments/related info/stories
(Scroll up for more stories and many photos)
Relevant Stories/Info 相關故事和資料
The music was inspired by what I heard as a child in Hong Kong of Buddhist monks and nuns chanting Buddha i.e. 'nam-mor-or-mi-tor-fo' repeatedly, and a song about a monk that I vaguely remember. Quite often the chanting would be accompanied by percussive hits on wooden-fish (sounds like wood block). Instruments used in a Buddhist chant can include wooden fish, cloud-plate (a flat gong), a standing (bowl-shaped) bell, drums, small cymbals... I wrote this for music performance and the piece can be performed by an unaccompanied choir, or if so wished, with ad lib percussion, using percussion of similar sound to those mentioned above. The main rhythmic pattern is that of a regular pulse. For reference, listen to Buddhist chants on YouTube. Since this is music, be inventive with the ad lib percussion.
I wrote Buddha Song (called Song of Buddha then) when I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music for a competition. The adjudicator was Ruth Gipps. She did not choose my piece but commented disapprovingly on lack of harmony in the 'nam-mor-or-mi-tor-fo' chanting. She liked the song (the 'Ah — ' section) towards the end better as having some sense of harmony, suggesting that's the way I should write composition from then on. I am almost certain she had never heard a Buddhist chant. Whenever I wrote anything using harmony as taught at the RAM, I regarded that as an exercise. I almost never really use "Western harmony" in my compositions.
I later came across an article by Ruth Gipps. I vaguely remember she was disapproving of Stravinsky because what he wrote did not quite fit her concept of "from God". I rather worship Stravinsky – so inventive and groundbreaking. I believe that creativity is a gift from God, but it's not for us to judge whether another person's creativity is from God or not. I also believe that I don't write compositions that would do well in competitions.
One day, at the Royal Academy, Michael Procter told me he came across my piece in the library, and used it as sight-reading exercise for the RAM choir he conducted. This is the recording I used to make this music video. I was impressed by the choir as it is not easy to sight read this piece – the chanting keeps modulating to unexpected keys and without instrumental support, yet they got everything right.
Scroll up to top of page for more stories and many photos
Click the above for Buddha Song score in PDF format
A music video by Ho Wai-On
Michael Proctor conducts the RAM choir, Ho Wai-On plays percussion
Images modified from Kitty Kwan photos taken at Leshan Giant Buddha,
Dazu Rock Carvings, Longmen Grottoes, Luoyang and southwest China.
Scroll down for comments, score, relevant stories/info
Use the following links if streaming of the above video is slow
YouTube link: https://youtu.be/6wyX9rAxoLE
Vimeo link: https://vimeo.com/486366839
Buddha Song comments 《佛曲》評語
"That was very calming, and charming! It reminded me a bit of monastic Gregorian Chant in Latin, though I understand some of the words in that." — Reverend Sue Wise
Ho Wai-On: "The music was inspired by the sound of Hong Kong that I remember as a child, which includes plainchants similar to Gregorian Chant in Catholic Latin mass. When I was composing Buddha Song I thought that the chanting of the name of Buddha 'Nam-Mor-Or-Mi-Tor-Fu' sounded like Latin. "
"Just listened to your Buddha Song - love the percussive element which is not predictable."
— Vivien Finch, music amateur, teacher, memoir writer and London JP... and canine charities worker
" I watched and listened to your Buddha Song yesterday evening and I thought that it was a great work. Well done. I’m getting to be a fan of monks chants and together with the fantastic photos of the rock carvings, it made for a lovely video." — Stuart Fleming, Wickford Wildlife Society
Relevant Stories/Info 相關故事和資料
Top: No percussion