American by birth, Ryan C Hunt currently lives in Hong Kong with his family. He says that while I have had the circumstances to work in Technology his entire professional life, he actually got a degree in Fine Art. Hunt was raised as a Christian and has been practicing Buddhism for more than 20 years. It was during a Christmas breakfast in 2015 that Hunt was inspired to write Buddhist flavored lyrics to a song using the tune of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” However that was only the start, as he went on to write 17 additional songs based on Christmas carols, but all flavored with Buddhist thought and ideas.
“My inspiration was to create a cultural and spiritual bridge with the hope that the traditional Christmas music set with Buddhist lyrics could be a way for Christians to access and come to understand Buddhist thought and spirituality a little better,” says Ryan C Hunt, “and for Buddhists, especially those raised in a Western or Christian background, to enjoy the Christmas season in a Buddhist way.” Continuing, Hunt further elaborates his thoughts: “Some of the songs are devotional. Some are tongue in cheek. I am not a doctrinarian in either tradition, and these songs are not intended to represent that point of view. However, they are intended to be entertaining and fun to listen to and fun to sing.”
Ryan C Hunt is planning an album of these atypical songs, with the goal for this project to help fund Dharma initiatives, donating to non-profit charities supporting both lay and monastic teachers and student practitioners of all Buddhist traditions. The first song that has been produced is “The First Nidana”, set to the music of “The First Noel”, and sung by Lydia Salnikova, whom I suspect also plays the sumptuous piano accompaniment. Salnikova’s gorgeous, luscious voice is the centerpiece in this work. Her pacing, diction and style is superb as she wraps her vocals around you like a warm blanket, bringing to life Ryan C Hunt poetic and enlightening lyrics.
The song liner notes describe The First Nidana as ‘a poetic rendition of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching on the Paṭiccasamuppāda (Pali) or Pratītyasamutpāda (Sanskrit). In this teaching there are Twelve Nidanas or causal links describing the circular process of ego arising and its subsequent unsatisfactoriness, Dukkha. Ignorance is the first of these Nidanas.’ Though at first the lyric sheet may appear rather daunting to most, especially if you are accustomed to regular pop music, a few repeated readings will clarify the theme, at least taken at face value. Digging deeper into its inner meanings would obviously uncover further truths, but I imagine that one would need to better understand these teachings and their principles.
Again, taken at face value, the song comes across as a rather beautiful rendition of “The First Noel”, and even if you don’t or do not want to understand a single thing about Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings, it would be hard to deny that Ryan C Hunt’s lyrics and Lydia Salnikova’s voice, together with the lush piano-driven arrangement, conjures complex, emotional nuance in an unpretentious, natural way that can catch a listener off-guard in a moment of vulnerability or reflection. This is a song that will surprise you on one of those nights when you’re alone listening with headphones and need a little spiritual inspiration.
In a bleak musical landscape littered with gangster rappers one-upping each other and manufactured pop tarts that are known best by their first names, Ryan C Hunt’s transcription of a well-noted Christmas Carol blasts across the skyline like a radiant shaft of light. Hunt is so endearingly untouched by popular music trends; instead, he tip-toes gently through the geography of the mind, heart and soul. If you are looking for a peaceful yet stimulating experience “The First Nidana” hits the spot.