Four Buddhist Composers

Contemporary composers who are strongly influenced by Buddhism are not often featured in the music press, but there are several very talented figures working currently. Here are four to note:


Akashadeva – David Earl

Image result for David earl composer

David Earl was born in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in 1951. He moved to London in 1971 and studied under Jacob Kaletsky and Richard Arnell at Trinity College of Music. He has since had a long and distinguished career as a composer and concert pianist. As well as piano works he has written operas, ballet scores and concertos. David has received many awards and accolades starting in 1975 when the then Greater London Arts Association selected David as one of its Young Musicians of the Year. He won first prize in the 1976 SABC Piano Competition. In 1977, David premiered his own Piano Suite No 1 Mosaics at Wigmore Hall, launching his career as a composer. In subsequent years he played his Suite No 2 Gargoyles, 24 Preludes – Oxymorons, and Suite No 3 Mandalas at London venues. In 1980 he gave the first performance of his Piano Concerto No 1 with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra under Christian Badea. In September of that year he performed the solo piano part in Chéri, an hour-long score commissioned by The Scottish Ballet (choreographed by Peter Darrell) and premiered at the Edinburgh Festival.

Within the last few years David has completed two full-length operas: Mary and the Conqueror in which Alexander the Great and Mary Renault meet in the afterlife; and Strange Ghost, composed to mark the centenary of the death of Rupert Brooke. Both have libretti by the Cape Town playwright Juliet Jenkin. The latter opera was premiered in Cambridge in December 2015, directed by Dionysios Kyropoulos, and conducted by Dominic Peckham with James Schouten in the title role. See

2017’s recitals in the UK, Germany, and South Africa included the premiere of Piano Suite No 4 Darshanas – the title refers to the Buddhist word for vision and insight.

For many years David has been a practicing Buddhist with the Triratna Buddhist Order, and in fact several of his compositions show a strong Buddhist influence, notably his Piano Suite No 3, Mandalas.

A recent piano composition is a musical evocation of the ancient Buddhist meditation practice Metta Bhavana (‘the development of loving kindness’). David says of this compostion:

“It found its moment when I was asked to write a short work for the 2019 Olga Kern International Piano Competition in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The meditation itself usually consists of 5 stages: engendering loving kindness towards oneself, towards a close friend or loved one, towards a neutral individual, towards someone difficult or hostile, and to society and the world at large. In the middle of the composition the performer is invited to improvise for a dozen or so bars, in keeping with the title. Many thanks to the musically angelic Federico Gad Crema who performs here in a clip from the live stream during the Winners’ concert on November 3rd 2019. Federico won the Best Contemporary Piece Prize, the Audience Award, and Second Place overall.”

You Tube Clip of Metta Bhavana piece:


Amalamati (Timothy Lissimore)

Amalamati is a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order who is now chair person of the Valencia Buddhist Centre in Spain.

While still living in London, in the 1990s he composed several large scale works on Buddhist themes which were successfully performed in London and elsewhere.

The Voice of the Buddha was large scale oratorio, about the life of the Buddha.

The Triumph of Life was an opera about the last days of the Buddha, and the Buddha’s friendship with his faithful companion Ananda.

The opera is here
There is a  documentary on Youtube about the rehearsal process.

Resources on Amalamati’s work are scarce, we hope to bring you further details at some later date, including a a recording of The Voice of the Buddha.


Tan Duy


The Chinese composer, Tan Dun, whose work spans everything from his stunning score to the film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to experimental music drawing on unusual sound sources, conducted the Australian premiere of his new large-scale choral work Buddha Passion with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in October 2019, as part of the Melbourne Festival. The piece, a co-commission between the MSO, the Dresdner Musikfestspiele (where it received its world premiere), the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, sets teachings of the Buddha in six parts, in what has been described as the first Buddhist Passion in a history of Christian oratorios.

In fact, the idea for the Buddha Passion had its origins in a response to the Christian Passions of Bach. Dun’s Water Passion after St. Matthew was commissioned by the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart who premiered it in the year 2000, conducted by Dun. The Water Passion, which features vocal styles from Mongolian overtone singing to Peking Opera as well as traditional instruments found along the Silk Road and the music of water itself, paid tribute to Bach but in Dun’s own distinctive language.

“A German critic said, ‘oh, this is Buddha Bach,’” Dun explains. “It’s like a Buddha Passion. That actually gave me a very interesting idea: I said, ‘Why don’t I write a Buddha Passion?’”

Tan Dun

Interview with Tan Dun



Justin Merritt

Composer Justin Merritt was the youngest-ever winner of the ASCAP Foundation Rudolph Nissim Award. He is also the winner of a host of other awards including the McKnight Fellowship, the Copland Award, and the Polyphonos Prize. His music has been played by the Minnesota Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony, and on A Prairie Home Companion.

His evening length cantata, The Path, was premiered at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis in April 2018. The work is a setting of a collection of Buddhist Pali scriptures translated by the composer and set for multiple choirs, soloists, and large orchestra.

More on The Path



New Post – striking mythic drawings based on ancient slavic beliefs

Rarog the Divine Falcon
Rarog the divine Falcon

We feature the fascinating mythic art work of Marek Hapon based on the ancient slavic beliefs of his pagan ancestors. 

“My first contact with ancient Slavic beliefs occurred while spending summers at my grandmother’s farm in eastern Poland. It was there that I discovered the world of supernatural beings — some frightening and others wondrous. One such scary demon was the Licho…. ”

Marek Hapon Drawings

Just posted new essay on Buddhism and the rebirth of a culture of beauty.

The face I had before the world was made: Why art, Buddhism and beauty go hand in hand – a major new essay which sets out the values behind Urthona journal of Buddhism and the Arts, a journey in the company of James Hillman, Sangharakshita and W. B. Yeats by Urthona editor, Ratnagarbha.

Ratnagarbha (Ambrose Gilson) editor of Urthona

The first book to be written from a Western perspective on the subject of Buddhism and the arts was Art and Meditation, by the well known German devotee of Tibetan Buddhism, Lama Govinda, and originally published in 1936. In this he says:

Art and meditation are creative states of the human mind. Both are nourished by the same source, but it may seem that they are moving in different directions: art towards the realm of sense-impressions, meditation towards the overcoming of forms and sense-impressions. But the difference pertains only to accidentals, not to the essentials.1

Read the rest of the essay on our Culture and Society pages:

What the Silence Meant – Poems and Music that Celebrate Stillness and Listening

The cover of Meg Hutchinson's new album 'Beyond That'. Available from
The cover of Meg Hutchinson’s new album ‘Beyond That’. Available from
Simon Millward looks at a new book of poems ‘in conversation’ with the late, great American poet William Stafford, and the music of Meg Hutchinson. Both of these artists show a strong feeling for silence and the value of listening…

In the last issue of Urthona there was an article entitled ‘Hearing the wilderness listen’, taken from an essay written by Manjusvara that looked closely at William Stafford’s poem ‘Travelling through the dark’. It is strange how things can interconnect unexpectedly. I read this article again at a time when I had become increasingly interested in the albums of an American folk singer songwriter Meg Hutchinson. On her website I discovered that she also loved poetry, quoting William Stafford, Mary Oliver, Yeats and Frost among her influences, as well as Greg Brown and Joni Mitchell on the music side. Continue reading “What the Silence Meant – Poems and Music that Celebrate Stillness and Listening”

Discipleship – an idea worth ressurecting?

The dictionary says that a disciple is ‘the follower of the doctrines of a teacher or school of thought’. But this doesn’t really convey the experiential flavour of that ancient institution. In days gone by, when you took up a trade or a course of study in guild, church or university, you were apprenticed to a master. You followed their teaching in craft, curriculum or philosophy closely. No doubt you were aware that as a human being they were far from perfect, but you knew that your future success in life depended on learning as much from the master as possible in a very broad sense. This aspect of education and human development is something we have largely lost in the modern world. In the Buddhist movement I am part of we are taking some steps to reinstate this ancient tradition, in ways that suit these times. I think we have a long way to go. Not everyone likes the idea. This may be because the second, religious, meaning of the word ‘a follower of Christ’ has been widely used by analogy in our times to apply to the often gullible devotees of eastern or new age gurus. This usage tends to imply a complete self surrender to the teacher on the part of the disciple. The result is that the more ‘secular’ meaning, of being a follower of someone’s teaching, which only implies a reasonable human respect for the teacher, has been drowned in the colourful, melodramatic history of religious and esoteric cults over the last hundred years or so. Think of the Golden Dawn, Madam Blavatsky, Rajneesh – all had their so called disciples – but how much did these followers really learn? Continue reading “Discipleship – an idea worth ressurecting?”

William Blake and the technology of publishing

A page from Blake's Book of Urizen
A page from Blake’s Book of Urizen

Blake is virtually unique in European art for the way in which image and poetry are married in his visionary prophetic books. Early in his professional life Blake hit upon a novel method for printing his own books from etched copper plates, where hand written text and images could be combined. Continue reading “William Blake and the technology of publishing”