As my readers know full well, I derive devious pleasure from building plausible and implausible bridges between audio and Eastern philosophy. Today's inspiration occurred during vacuuming the floors of my listening space. Perhaps this indicates that not all conceptual flights of fancy are utterly ungrounded in physical reality to sport zero practical appli-cations? As always, you be the judge. Here goes:

Regardless of your personal feelings about this matter, you should be able to at least abstractly sympathize with the notion that if one were to believe in the Divine in some fashion, one would also have to believe in the indivisibility between the Divine and material creation. In other words, there could be no place, no time, no event and no being that wasn't, always and already, part of the Divine. It would mean that the Divine, right now, was experiencing itself through you as you are right now, not in some future improved saintly form. If the Divine was real, it has to be the case right now and be active in every single atom of existence. If the ground of being was thus all-inclusive and omnipresent, the conclusion of God-as-you in the Here/Now and as you becomes completely inescapable and self-evident.

Naturally, we'd also immediately agree that concept and personal experience diverge wildly. We in fact do not feel at one with this ground of being. We experience ourselves as individuals with physical, mental and emotional boundaries, hence separate. Why should that be so? Why would the Divine-as-us experience itself as one with all of existence while we-as-the-Divine completely lack this glorious experience?

If personal glimpses and the esoteric wisdom tradition are to be trusted, it's a matter of energy. Human beings are energy transformers. We constantly radiate and absorb energy on all different levels. While all energy is essentially one and the same, it operates within an enormous bandwidth. Ordinary human experience is active only within a very narrow field of this energy spectrum just as human hearing is limited to a very specific range. Esoteric and martial arts traditions as well as common experiences of peak athletes and people who regularly exercise or meditate all point at the same: Physical, nutritional and other disciplines affect our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Conserving rather than leaking energy and, in general, raising one's operative level of energy have a direct bearing on our life experience and what realms of consciousness we can access.
Ramana Maharshi of Tiruvannamalai

The most universally applicable example is being in love. Our energy field and personal radiations increase to such an extent that complete strangers notice. More importantly, our sense of separation relaxes. At least for a precious while, our entire attention and awareness is focused on the object of our love, often to surprising degrees of self-negation. Being in love is the closest most of us, in the natural course of our lives, come to feeling psychically expanded, feeling more in touch and in tune with the natural and unnatural world around us, more prone to spontaneous insights of global or cosmic origins. Can you extrapolate from that state of emotional vulnerability, openness and its relative lack of ego concerns what might happen if your then-present level of energy was raised far higher still? You'd then probably have a realistic notion about what would be required to physically anchor a living consciousness of you-as-the-Divine that functions harmoniously within the constraints of a human nervous system and its perceptional limitations.

It'd be a whole-body presence, not a mental belief or concept. It'd radiate into every domain of your life and as such, be visible and apparent to those around you just as if you were freshly in love, besotted and flushed with passion. Call it energy - lots of it, heightened, not just in the head but in the whole physical being. Enlightenment thus isn't an abstract belief but a scientific process that relies on conducting and holding energies of a higher frequency which usually are outside human awareness. Enlightenment thus means a transformative process in which these energies impact and alter the nervous system that receives and modulates them. Reports of the various psychic, extra-sensory and miraculous effects this can have are legion and can be found in all of the world's religions. The physical vessel must be prepared to enable higher states of consciousness, more profound mental insights, deeper trances of emotional expansion.

"Love is blind" is an equally universal truism. Ditto for the challenge to remain in love when the eyes open again to notice the many unavoidable imperfections in our beloved. In case you were wondering, that's the bridge to today's consideration on audio. Noticing imperfections and idiosyncrasies is akin to heightened resolution. Falling in love is easy and doesn't require perfection at all. If it did, none of us would ever be loved. Building a system that is emotionally satisfying is relatively easy - especially with tube gear. Building one that is emotionally satisfying and resolving is just as difficult as holding on to love when reality kicks in and with it the painful noticing of our lover's unsavory habits. The more of those habits you allow yourself to acknowledge, the harder it is to remain carelessly, completely and obliviously in love. The more resolved your system becomes, the harder it is to retain the emotional involvement. It can be done - but it's far more challenging than assembling a system that is either/or - either emotionally compelling but rather romantic and not terribly honest; or brutally warts'n'all honest but emotionally sterile. If you had to settle for one of these either/or scenarios, only a dunce would settle for the brutality of honesty in the absence of love.

There's one other parallel to our esoteric/conceptual opening: Energy. The most compelling systems exude and radiate emotional/musical energy. They have charisma. They are like that rare person who walks into a room and instantly lights it up, exerting a presence as real as gravity that attracts everyone in its sphere of influence to become quasi satellites spinning around this center. Such a person is attractive and magnetic. His or her energy is palpably high. Entering its radiance makes you feel good. Ditto for certain systems. The Reimyo system at HE2004 was such a one. It arguably lacked resolution, ultimate extension and dynamics but the energetic equation was fully accounted for - which explains why it exerted such an obvious attraction to so many showgoers. The Audiopax/Zanden system was another one. It offered higher resolution than the Reimyo room but retained the compelling emotional radiance which made it my favorite. Other systems may have had even higher degrees of resolution, extension and dynamic wallop but they would invariably fall a bit out of love in the process.

The implications are clear: Don't pursue resolution while sacrificing charisma. At the end of the day, it's not the accurate tally of the warts that will make you happy. It's the self-forgetfullness of being in love that has all your attention focused on the object of your love, critical faculties mysteriously suspended to enter a higher, more spiritualized dimension in which you and your experience are less separated, more at one than usual. Isn't that a much saner audiophile aspiration than assembling the equivalent of a scientific lab outfitted with atomic microscopes? Your own life experience will confirm that moments of greatest happiness or contentment are always accompanied by a heightened state of personal energy, a more unified whole-body functioning, a silencing of the critical observer mentality.

To come full circle with our opening statement, there's of course an even higher 'crappy car audio' truth: If the Divine were already present, as you and in this very moment, then musical playback exhilaration as a function of personal energy could equally and already be the case. The only prerequisite would then be to already bring this energy to the listening session rather than waiting for the hardware/software circumstance to trigger it. If this trigg of ecstasy-from-affordable-hardware could be bottled and sold, High-End audio as it is today would be out of business. But make no mistake - before you became an audiophile, you knew exactly how to get goose bumps from some old counter-top radio. You then went astray chasing resolution. To remove blindness is not an unreasonable pursuit - after all, open-eyed meditation or sahaj samadhi is the highest form of realization. It doesn't go off into isolated realms but experiences Divinity in the midst of ordinary life just as it is.

Ditto for audio - you ultimately want honesty of all atomic micro details and the simultaneous pulling on your heartstrings. But just as most of us are on a journey well shy of eyes-open ecstasy in our spiritual evolution, so most audiophiles tend not to be home yet where that higher fidelity would equate to emotional bliss. Unlike in spiritual matters, ignorance can be bliss in audio. Many a music lover would be better off not chasing ultimate resolution. By necessity, that involves costly trials and errors to restore the former emotional balance. Not in all cases is that which was lost found again. Let no reviewer vocabulary confuse you into thinking that the grass is greener over yonder. If you enjoy listening to your system as it is, to hell with ambient retrieval, air, image density, soundstaging and all that crap. Don't believe for one moment that any of that is necessary. It can be great fun - but only if it doesn't come at the expense of that which you may already enjoy right now. Here's my definition then of a music lover versus an audiophile: A music lover is home already and thus a finder. An audiophile is a perennial seeker who may, one fine day, become a finder as well. But unlike in spiritual life, will that belated finding truly add anything of note when the listening session commences? Or could you have spared yourself the detours and plenty of money and frustration because the circle closes perfectly and, rather than being a spiral on a higher level, ends exactly where it started? Good question, ain't it?