This song is an antidote for:

  • Greed
  • Discontentment
  • Worldly or egoic ambition
  • Complexity

Listen to the song (download mp3):

Bonus Track (download mp3): 

Watch the session with Satyaki:

From A Tale of Songs, by Swami Kriyananda:

I was leaving my house one Saturday with two friends to go give a concert at our retreat. I remarked to them how quickly and effortlessly songs came to me. “For instance,” I said, “I have only to think of a country, and a song comes to me that is appropriate for that country. I know very little about Japan,” I added, “though I’ve passed through there. Let’s just see whether a song won’t come to me right now, fitting for that country.” I went to the piano and sat down at it. Using only the black keys, this melody came to me instantly. I sang it at the forthcoming concert.

When the cherries bloom,
Kyoto sings all day long
Rising melodies to the sun;
Blossoms awake to the gladness of song:
See them smile and greet ev’ryone.

Tell me, little sisters,
What have you to say?
“Live your life as perfectly
As this perfect day!”

When the cherries bloom,
Kyoto sings all day long
Rising melodies to the sun;
Blossoms awake to the gladness of song:
See them smile and greet ev’ryone.

The song as an antidote (Satyaki’s comments):

Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto has an interesting origin, as Kriyananda suggests in his account. As I’ve heard the story, the occasion was a World Brotherhood Day celebration at Ananda Village some years ago. The singers were planning to perform a number of “international” songs of Ananda Music, that is, pieces that Swami Kriyananda had written to reflect the moods of a variety of different nationalities—songs like A New Tomorrow (for Israel), selections from Rumanian Memories, from Mediterranean Magic (for Italy), from Songs of Shakespeare (reminiscent of the British Isles), from the Egyptian Suite, and various pieces for India.

Before the event, a few people were talking with Kriyananda about drawing creative inspiration at will. Knowing of the event, Kriyananda said (as in his account) he could just sit down and write a Japanese melody, and Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto just came out. In a way he made the music simple on himself: the notes are played using only the five black keys on a keyboard, which just so happens to produce a melody that’s quite reminiscent of Japan. (Starting on an F#, the first five notes just go up the black keys; the rest of the song goes up and down, again on only those keys.) And thus was born this lovely song. (The harmony part I believe he wrote later.)

Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto is very much a song of calmness and expansive cheerfulness—you can just imagine a Japanese garden in springtime with all the cherry trees in bloom. And the city of Kyoto in Japan is famous for its blossoms and hosts a cherry blossom festival—so much so that there’s a forecasting business for the quality of blossoms from year to year! It’s very appropriate, too, that Yogananda, in assigning different spiritual qualities to fruits, assigned cheerfulness to cherries! It’s something you can even enjoy and develop in yourself through Master’s Flower Essences, which are produced by my neighbor, Lila Devi, here at Ananda Village. And Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto certainly has that kind of vibration:

When the cherries bloom Kyoto sings all day long.
Rising melodies to the sun!

Flowers and blossoms in the natural world inherently seek the sun, but inwardly we’re really feeling the expansive calmness of the throat chakra reaching upwards to the “sun” of the spiritual eye (which is perceived as a star, but stars are, in fact, suns!). The rising energy also passes through the medulla oblongata, the seat of the ego, serving to calm the ego and help it feel a vibration of contentment. In fact, contentment is the primary vibration of this song—it calms the desires and ambitions of the ego to allow it to rest in that contentment. For this reason, naturally, the song works as an antidote for the quality of discontentment.

The next phrase of lyrics suggests this, by encouraging us to be, as Yogananda put it, a “smile millionaire”:

Blossoms awake to the gladness of song.
See them smile and greet everyone!

When you’re content in yourself, when you’re happy in yourself, it’s completely natural to share that peace and joy with everyone through your simple smiles and kindnesses. “Make Thou me a smile millionaire,” Yogananda wrote in Whispers from Eternity, “that I may scatter Thy rich smiles in sad hearts freely, everywhere!”

Even more specifically, the third phrase of Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto encourages us to just be completely in the present, like the blossoms:

Tell me, little sisters, what have you to say?
“Live your life as perfectly as this perfect day!”

You don’t need to strive. You don’t need to reach outside of yourself for fulfillment, nor do you need to put off your happiness to the future or make your happiness conditional on new circumstances, new possessions, or some other ego-pleasing change in the world around you.

Think for a minute about those cherry blossoms: they really last only a few days, which is why being able to forecast their peak is important to the festival in Kyoto. Thus the blossoms themselves are reminding us, as it says in There’s Joy in the Heavens: “We’ve only this moment to live.” This perfect moment of beautiful blossoms is here, right now, so don’t waste is by thinking of the future or brooding on the past! Don’t try to cling to what’s happening in the moment, to try to bottle it up or preserve it for the future. The blossoms know their time is very short, so they make the most of it. In fact, they also remind us that the experience of perfection, the experience of joy in the moment is what we’re always seeking through all our striving! Be in the moment and you can let go of all your ambitions.

What’s very interesting about the song is that it expresses this contentment musically. Most songs use what’s called a chord progression, starting with the main idea in a root chord, then taking you away from that idea through a fourth chord, as it’s called, then a fifth, and then back to resolve at the root. Oftentimes you also get all manner of other chords along the way, with all kinds of emotional overtones, such as a minor chord or two as well as “discords” like 7ths and 9ths that beg for resolution. In this way, most songs express a journey of some kind, a movement from one place to another, which has ambition. Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto, on the other hand, uses just one chord! Well, two chords, actually: a major chord and its relative minor. But musically, the major and its relative minor are two sides of the same coin, so it’s fair to say that the song uses just one chord. As a result, it’s not trying to go anywhere: there’s no “journey” to speak of, just contentment in the present moment.

This quality of simple contentment and non-ambition, which makes the song also an antidote for worldly or egoic ambition, as well as complexity, is very important to remember when performing this song. The track we just heard expresses these qualities well: the performers aren’t trying to do anything fancy nor are they trying to “add” anything to the piece. On other recordings, however, I’ve head instrumental arrangements that swell and fade and add little trills to the melody when played on a flute. Although working with the song in this way can be fun and entertaining, doing so adds an unnecessary complexity as well as a kind of ambition. The same is true if the song is performed at a faster tempo, which again suggests movement or ambition rather than contentment. On another recording, which includes a harp, the performance gradually—even ambitiously—builds to the point where the harp, on the last segment, is playing rather rapid and complex arpeggiations, adding many more notes. For me, these kinds of contrasts in different interpretations help to clarify the underlying vibrations of the song itself. As a performer of Ananda Music, the most important question is not, “How do I want to play this piece?” but rather, “How does this piece itself want to be expressed?” (The second track we’ll hear in a bit is a piano instrumental that I think expresses the vibration of the song very well.)

In any case, then the lyrics are first sung, “When the cherries bloom Kyoto sings all day long,” the rising melody—which is explicit in the second line of the lyrics!—easily brings the energy up from the throat chakra to touch the spiritual eye. Then, after the verse is completed once through, the harmony part joins in to deepen that connection. Now, harmonies are usually employed in music to deepen the feelings of the heart, but in Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto, the song never really reaches down to the heart at all. Instead, the harmony is like a partnership with the divine at the spiritual eye, with the Higher Self. This combination is then able to be expansive and helps you to experience greater joy without necessarily expanding into ambition. As I noted earlier, the energy flow goes from the throat directly up to the spiritual eye without stopping at the medulla. But the calm expansiveness of the melody doesn’t ignore the ego at the medulla: it instead shares that calmness to allow the ego to relax away from its desires into contentment.

This thought is expressed in Day 21 of Secrets of Emotional Healing, to which Kriyananda assigned this song:

The secret of overcoming greed is contentment! Harmonious feelings in the heart. Affirm mentally: “I am complete in myself. I am whole! I am free from all anxiety and need! Contentedly I accept whatever comes, at the same time doing my best to achieve my valid goals.”

I have to admit that years ago, when I first heard of the idea of music antidotes, this assignment of Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto as an antidote for greed (which is a very powerful discontent) just didn’t make sense to me! But it was because I was thinking about it too intellectually, thinking only of the lyrics and the outward “meaning” of the song. Once I felt the deep quality of contentment in the song, though, it made perfect sense!

What’s also important in the Secrets saying, and in the song, is that contentment doesn’t mean life has to be dull or uninteresting! You can still have valid goals. The cherry blossoms here “awake to the gladness of song,” the song of inner joy and inner peace, which are the true goals for every soul. As Yogananda said, “Being desireless, be very ambitious for God.”

In this context, I’ve been thinking lately of a line in Yogananda’s poem, Samadhi, which reads, “Tranquilled, unbroken thrill, eternally living, ever-new peace.” What’s been striking to me is that idea of tranquil thrill. That is, when we usually think of “thrill” we think of excitement, of jumping up and down, of very outward energy like you might see with children in advertisements for Disneyland or another amusement parks. But here Yogananda says, “tranquilled, unbroken thrill,” a thrill that’s perfectly calm, yet intensely and continuously joyful.

Yogananda, too, often talked about how God smiles at us through the flowers, as in this excerpt from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

In the flowers, God suggests to our minds His infinite beauty. In the flowers and blossoms, with their fragrance and their colorful quilts of petals, God smiles invitingly, as if to tell us, “Remember Me.”

Flowers, of course, as short-lived, sometimes lasting for only a few hours. But think of what they accomplish in that brief existence. Flowers, through their fragrant smiles, attract life energy of pollen through pollinators like bees so that they can eventually bear fruits of sweetness.

Our smiles, too, attract life energy from others that also turns into sweet fruits of friendship, kindness, love, and beauty.