Augustus 4, 2011
Andrea Miller talks to Tina about Beyond.
Shambhala Sun | September 2011
What's Love Got to Do With It?
She's the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll. An unwanted child. A believer in the power of love. A longtime Buddhist. ANDREA MILLER talks to Tina Turner.
Tina Turner—I'll never forget my first glimpse of her. It was when I was ten years old and watched Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. She had killer legs, impressively large shoulder pads (even by eighties standards), and the most incredible raspy, sexy voice I'd ever heard. What happened to me is what, at that point, had been happening to audiences for more than two decades, and now has been happening for more than half a century: I was awed.
The Queen of Rock 'n' Roll is not just a powerhouse on stage. She is also a longtime Buddhist, having begun her practice in the 1970s while struggling to end an abusive relationship with musician Ike Turner. Soka Gakkai, the tradition to which Tina Turner adheres, is like other schools and subschools of Nichiren Buddhism; it focuses on the Lotus Sutra and teaches that chanting its title in Japanese—Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—ultimately enables chanters to embrace the entirety of the text and uncover their buddhanature.
Turner chanting the Lotus Sutra is featured on Beyond, a CD available through New Earth Records that weaves together Buddhist and Christian prayers, and also features the singers Dechen Shak-Dagsay and Regula Curti. "Bringing together corresponding pieces from Christian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions as has been done here," writes the Dalai Lama in the liner notes, "will allow listeners to share in these prayers, stirring thoughts of deeper respect and peace in their lives." All revenue from the CD goes to foundations dedicated to spiritual education or helping children and mothers in need.
In this interview, Turner speaks about Beyond, the power of song and practice, and the meaning of love. — Andrea Miller
Q: All religions speak about love, and it sounds easy to be loving. But people so frequently fail to love. Why is loving so difficult?
A: Some people are born into a loving family. For example, everyone in the family greets everyone else in the morning, they sit at breakfast together, they give each other a kiss when they leave. There is harmony and love in the house. When you are born with that, you take it with you.
But some people are born into situations where they’re exposed to everything but love. The world is full of people that are born into such situations, and they are traveling through life in the dark. No one has ever explained to them that they need to find love, and they have no education for love except for falling in love with another person, for sexual love. I believe that the problem with the world today is that we have too many people who are not in touch with true love.
Q: What helped you to become loving?
A: When you don’t come from your mother with love, you might have the gift to be surrounded by other people or situations that are loving and you learn to love in that way.
My mother didn’t want a child, so I experienced being unwanted. But I found love when I was with myself. I would go into nature, into gardens and eat fruit. I would climb trees. I looked to nature and found love because love is in nature. If you go there, hurt and angry, it can transform you. I went with nature, with animals, and I found love and harmony. I would come home at the end of the day—braids pulled out, my dress torn—and of course I got asked, “Where have you been all day!?” But I had been in a world of love and happiness.
I am very happy that I discovered love in nature because later I was in a relationship without love and I still found a way to find love. You can find love when you are of love.
Q: Did singing help you?
A: I was singing almost from the moment I was born. Ever since I was big enough, I’ve been singing. When I was a little girl my mother would put me on a chair and I would sing for the shop ladies. So I was born with a voice to sing and I have been singing all my life. It might be that being a singer helped me. Maybe singing on stage helped. Maybe it was a release.
Q: In what way is singing a spiritual practice?
A: “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” is a song. In the Soka Gakkai tradition we are taught how to sing it. It is a sound and a rhythm and it touches a place inside you. That place we try to reach is the subconscious mind. I believe that it is the highest place and, if you communicate with it, that is when you receive information on what to do. Singing a song can make you cry. Singing a song can make you happy. That’s spirit—the spirit inside of you. If you look up “spiritual” in a dictionary, you will find that it is your nature, it is the person you are. When you walk into a room, a person might say, “Oh, she’s got great spirit.” Or you can walk into a room and someone will say that you don’t have spirit because it’s not visible. You’re kind of off or negative. Meditation and praying change your spirit into something positive. If it is already positive, it makes it better. I think that is the best answer I can give you right now.
Q: On Beyond, you say, “Sing—singing takes you beyond.”
A: The singing that I am referring to on the CD is one that comes out of you when you hum. It’s not necessarily a song, rather it’s that moment when you find yourself making sounds from within—from your heart, from your spirit. Each person has a musical song from their bodies. That is something I learned over time. You can play the tune of your name and this is the hum from inside of you that can give you peace when you are really down. My grandmother had a hum, never a song. She would hum sitting in a rocking chair and I would listen. As a singer, I wanted to know what my grandmother was singing. But it was the song of her soul. This song I am referring to is about singing, being happy, enjoying music, and even when you’re depressed, still singing. You must try to find that sound or song within you. You might find that it is just a “huuuaa” or a “hum” or something in falsetto. But it is a sound, which comes out of you that gives you peace.
Q: In what ways has your practice changed you?
A: I feel that chanting for thirty-five years has opened a door inside me, and that even if I never chanted again, that door would still be there. I feel at peace with myself. I feel happier than I have ever been, and it is not from material things. Material things make me happy, but I am already happy before I acquire these things. I have a nature within myself now that’s happy. Practicing the words “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” for so long has put me in another frame of mind, so that when I don’t practice for a day or a week, I still feel happy. But I do practice.
Since I have been practicing Buddhism, I have to say I don’t experience the feeling of guilt anymore. Practice clears the way. Chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” makes you comfortable because it removes uncomfortable mental attitudes. It doesn’t just buy you a car or a house—it takes care of you.
You can read this article in its complete form in the September 2011 issue of the Shambhala Sun.