Anjali Maazel shares…
The beautiful recording of Mercedes Bahleda and Shivadam singing our Long Life Prayer for Prema, which is now available as a download in the Tara Dhatu Dance the Goddess Emporium (click here) , is the fruit of several years’ aspirations, dreaming, conversations, writing, practice, composition, choreography and fundraising. It has also been a personal journey for me.
I began dreaming about a long life prayer for Prema shortly after meeting her. I felt that the intention behind this tradition—to direct the energy raised during practice towards the longevity of the teacher, lineage, and spiritual community—was a powerful way to honor her as the vehicle of the Tara teachings and embodiment of Tara in our world. I also felt that this was an important way to redress the imbalance which has led more men than women to become authentic wisdom teachers, in the Buddhist tradition among others. Fortunately, progress is being made to redress it, and I wanted to contribute to this positive trend.
Since the early 90’s, I had sung long life prayers to HH the Dalai Lama and other masters after dedicating practice in Tibetan Buddhist centers, and found the texts and the motivation inspiring. I also received teachings on the context in which to understand these long life prayers from the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche. l learned about common misconceptions regarding the person of the teacher, and the sacred relationship between an authentic teacher and student.
In that tradition, prostrating to the teacher and honoring her are not about venerating the person of the teacher, but rather the teacher as vehicle for the teachings, as an embodiment of the teachings, as a precious link in the lineage, and as an embodiment of the deity we are connecting with. An authentic teacher will not require homage to be paid to her personally. In our world, there are some false gurus, and there is sometimes misplaced devotion as a result. However, when the authenticity of the teacher is verified—and Ken Mcleod’s section on the student-teacher relationship in Wake Up to Your Life has a comprehensive checklist—then the practice of devotion is placed in a clear container.
With this in mind, I aspired to write a long life prayer for Prema, and planted the seed in a conversation with the other two Austin Tara Circle teachers, Elizabeth Gergaud and Kathryn Henderson in 2014. A few months later, Elizabeth sent me several beautifully lyrical stanzas, and I thought it would be fitting, were we to offer the prayer to Prema during her next visit, to have it co-written by the three of us. I added a few stanzas, and Kathryn added one as well. In editing the final long version, I checked with traditional texts and also tried to convey the qualities unique to our lineage and to Prema’s skill as a teacher. In addition, I wanted to invoke the blessing of Vasudhara on Tara Dhatu as an organization. This was the final draft of the long version of the prayer:
Long Life Prayer for Prema Dasara
Like the Dakini’s warm breath,
You inspire and empower all you touch.
Melting our hearts
Into compassionate action,
Skillful and wrathful to tame our minds,
You show us the path of peace.
Freeing with joyful dancing,
Your teachings liberate,
Turning the wheel of the precious dharma,
You bring the source of bliss.
Rainbow Light Goddess,
Rainbow Light Dancer,
Lineage Holder of East and West,
Your rainbow light bridges all realms.
Daughter of the lineage of Tara herself,
Refuge for beings in the darkness of Samsara,
You embody the light of the Three Jewels,
Resplendent with the wisdom of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Prema Dasara, with Tara’s own face and hands,
May your life be long,
Supported in every way,
Surrounded by the Gurus, Devas and Dakinis.
Radiant Vajra Dancer, glowing with health,
May Vasudhara shower you with treasure and abundance,
May Tara Dhatu shine in glory
For the benefit of all.
Sublime Teacher, protector who dances the wisdom of the dakinis,
May the Divine Ones bless your body, speech and mind
With long life, good health and wisdom.
Beautiful Dakini, may you be a guide for beings for eons to come,
May happiness and good fortune fill all the worlds.
We read the prayer aloud as on offering to Prema during her visit to Austin in 2014, and shared it with a few students. Shortly thereafter, I began to dream about a shorter version, which could be sung and danced after the dedication in our daily practice to the happiness and freedom of all beings. I began to work on the text and asked for input from Kathryn and Elizabeth, who encouraged me. When the text was finished, I sent it to a group of student teachers for comments, emphasizing that I hoped this prayer would resonate broadly and become part of our practice. I began to feel that it could serve an important function for us, for Prema and for Tara Dhatu, and I loved the idea of concluding daily practice after the dedication with this final energetic seal.
I began looking for a melody, and fell in love with the 16 Offering Goddesses. I liked the simplicity of the alternating chords and the connotations to the offering that a similar melody might have, so I wrote a melody which resembled it. Along with the melody, came the desire to create a choreography. Like the prayer and melody, the dance would honor our lineage, which at its root combines classical Indian, Tibetan and Western sensibilities. I looked for mudras we are familiar with in our practices, so that we could easily learn the dance, and I was inspired by the flowing beauty of Calling Tara from the Heart and White Tara of the Six Shields. Not knowing if what I was doing would speak to anyone else or if it was respectful in the way I intended, I called on Parvati and Myri. They encouraged me to pursue the idea, and Myri contributed the vajra mudra and the elegant Vajra “flip” above our heads for the “Radiant Vajra Dancer” portion of the text. At the same time, Myri told me she was choreographing the long version of the prayer with her own music. I have seen videos of this dance but have yet to enjoy her dance it in person. To know that the long version of the prayer inspired such a work of beauty and devotion was energizing—the project now felt not only viable but alive!
In the winter of 2016, I taught the short dance and song to our Austin group, and we offered it to Prema in the spring. My mother, who is a composer, spent many hours handwriting the score, so we could offer that as well.
The next aspiration was to record the music, and we thought it might be done while Prema was in Brazil in 2016. After talking to Ricardo, the Brazilian guitarist who has greatly contributed to so many of our favorite recordings, I understood that the melody I had composed was too close to a traditional melody many of the Brazilian dancers were familiar with. As I wanted to find music that would inspire as many of us as possible, I asked Ricardo for some ideas, and he offered a variation. I reworked it again, using some of the suggestions and adding some new material. The new melody required a refrain, so this was the resulting text:
Long Life Prayer for Prema Dasara
Daughter of the lineage
Of Noble Tara,
Radiant Vajra Dancer,
May your life be long,
Supported in every way!
Until all beings
Awaken into freedom,
May you remain with us and guide us,
Dancing in bliss and joy,
Surrounded by love,
Abundance and good health,
Surrounded by love,
Abundance and good health,
Wisdom, Compassion and Power!
When the melody and dance were set in 2016, I began imagining Mercedes Bahleda, the singer we love from White Tara of the Six Shields and Calling Tara from the Heart, as the voice to carry this precious message. From this aspiration, and the joyful thought of surprising Prema with a recording, came the courage to contact her. Mercedes was delightful—inspired by our project, she agreed to do it! We worked on dates, places, and in the end, as she lived near Parvati and Shivadam outside of Phoenix, we decided to find a recording studio there. Shivadam offered his skill and devotion to the
project. He and I, with Parvati’s input, worked for several weeks on orchestration and sound texture. I wanted a baritone male voice to sing an “Om” throughout the song : I felt the male energy should be present, as it is in the 16 Offering Goddesses as well as the two main Tara origin myths. For me, the “Om” in Prema’s translation—“All that Exists”—naturally contained the masculine and feminine. Shivadam’s voice was ideal for this, and his familiarity with Indian music and practice brought depth to the mantric sound.
Now all that was needed was funding. Here again, Parvati and Myri were the cheerleaders, and then Parvati became the doula of the fundraising effort. In a short amount of time, the community of student teachers—all of you!!!—contributed so generously, that I booked the studio and arrived in Phoenix a few weeks later in March 2017.
The experience of recording the long life prayer was magical. Shivadam had initiated me to the importance of preparing all details before entering the sound studio, so we arrived with a script, which we revised according to Mercedes’ own process. I worked with him, Mercedes and Robert, the sound engineer, to create in soundscapes what I had dreamt about for so many years. The dream was spun into sound with great precision and great love, and details were added that gave depth and sparkle to the initial vision. Mercedes’ voice shimmered (as it does), and she layered her offering with some improvisation. The result is what you hear… That afternoon in the studio was an oasis of Bliss and Joy I will never forget. I felt great healing in my relationship to music and to past experiences with it, and felt Tara’s presence—her enveloping warmth and love.
The morning of my flight back to Austin, Robert, Shivadam and I re-mixed the song into its final version, with a few tweaks that addressed imbalances and enhanced key details. Spending the extra time proved invaluable, and we were grateful for Robert’s generosity.
I know some of you, the student teachers, led by Myri and Parvati, offered this version of the Long Life Prayer to Prema at the Mount Madonna retreat. Barbara Patton generously pulled together some cards and CDs at the last minute, which looked beautiful. And I have heard that you managed to keep the secret till the day of the offering and that Prema was surprised… Mission accomplished! Thank you to all of you who danced that day! When I heard about the offering, I felt that the energy directed towards Prema’s good health had also blessed me with a sense of completion. It had been a very long time since I had been able to shepherd a creative project to its fullest expression. On a personal level, the sense of fulfillment was profound, and my gratitude grew stronger.
So you see—this project was the result of a group effort and brought with it many blessings. The support of our community, the encouragement of Parvati and Myri, the inspiration of Elizabeth and Kathryn, Shivadam’s musicianship, the Brazilian community’s suggestions, Mercedes’ ethereal voice, and the offering at Mount Madonna all played a vital part in bringing it to fruition. My particular prayer is this:
To conclude our daily practice, may we direct the energy of this chant and dance to Prema’s long life and good health, the harmony of our community and our own vitality, so that we may appreciate and support each other in bringing our gifts into the world for the benefit of all beings. Soha!