Herbie Hancock named honorary Harvard professor, will deliver “Buddhism and Creativity” lecture

Musician Herbie Hancock has been named Harvard University’s 2014 Norton Professor of Poetry, the BBC informs us, and as such will deliver a series of six lectures there next month on a variety of personal topics, including Buddhism.

“‘I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for 40 years,” he said, “so there’s going to be a lecture on Buddhism and creativity. They were intrigued by the different ways that I presented myself.’”

The 73-year-old Oscar and multi-Grammy award-winning composer’s impressive resumé includes Miles Davis’ career-launching invitation for him to join his 1963 quintet. Soon after, Hancock went solo, and steered into the musical zeitgeist and superstardom with his jazz/rock fusion bands The Headhunters and VSOP. It was in 1972 that Hancock’s bassist, Buster Williams, opened a number with what he described as “magical” playing he’d “never heard before.” Asking him about it after the gig, Williams attributed the elevation of his sound to his new-found involvement with Nichiren Buddhism and the chanting of its primary mantra, nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Inspired, Hancock took up the practice himself, and it’s been a central part of his life ever since.

(Read the full Beliefnet interview with Hancock in which he describes that life-changing night with Buster Williams, along with more insight into his spiritual life.)

Addressing his practice on his official website, Hancock says:

“Practicing Buddhism has brought several revelations to me. One that has been extremely important to my own personal development and consequently my musical development — is the realization that I am not a musician. That’s not what I am. It’s what I do. What I am is a human being. Being a human being includes me being a musician. It includes my being a father, a husband, a neighbor, a citizen and an African-American. All of these relationships have to do with my existence on the planet. “

To get an idea of Hancock’s eloquence on the topic of Buddhism and creativity, hear him discuss fellow Nichiren practitioner and musical collaborator, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, in this short clip, and build to the central Buddhist idea that all beings have the innate capacity for enlightenment, and just need some positive encouragement:

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