I love music. In fact the powerful surges of pleasurable energy that I experienced in my body when listening to songs as a teenager was one of the things that made me curious to learn meditation. These experiences of rapture (the Buddhist technical term is “priti”) opened my eyes to the fact that there were ranges of experience outside of our normal expectations.
The idea that you should listen to songs musicwhile meditating is very common. But this probably goes back to seeing meditation as little more than a means of relaxation.
Traditionally, the idea of listening to music while meditating would be completely out of the question. In no Buddhist lineage that I know of is there any kind of musical accompaniment to sitting meditation. This is a very modern notion, and probably comes from the fact that many alternative health practitioners play relaxing songs in the background while performing their healing arts. This song became known as “meditation music” and the assumption grew up that we should listen to songs while meditating.
Traditionally there would simply be silence or ambient background noise to accompany meditation.
So-called meditation music is meant to be relaxing, and of course meditation does help you to relax too, but it goes beyond that and helps us to be more alert and focused. It also helps us to reflect deeply. Music is likely to get in the way of those activities.
If you’re trying to pay attention one-pointedly to your breathing, then you can’t also listen to music. And if you’re trying to listen to music then you can’t fully concentrate on your breathing.
Also, it produces pleasant feelings, which is why we listen to it and why it is now almost ubiquitous, being thrust at us in stores, elevators, and even on the streets. If those pleasant feelings are being supplied by “meditation music” then we won’t reach deeper into ourselves to find our own sources of happiness. So-called meditation music therefore is a kind of crutch that hinders our practice rather than helping it.