Peace Through Taylor Swift’s Music? : A Buddhist Perspective

Written by Zeb Lim
5 mins read
Published on Apr 25, 2024

TLDR: Taylor Swift, despite being a global music superstar and billionaire, is not beyond suffering.  Using songs to transform her struggles, she inspires people to use the power of love, appreciation, letting go, and transformation to soften the inevitable challenges in life.  

Would being rich and successful in life make us suffering-free?  Going through life, most of us dream of being rich, thinking that money will solve all our problems, okay, maybe not all, but most of them anyway.  

Taylor Swift, an international music superstar is rich and successful in her own right, but as with everyone else, has her own set of worldly problems, such as challenges with finding a long-term romantic partner, and health trials of loved ones – both of her parents have had cancer.  

By facing her challenges in life, she was able to transform her pain and suffering into inspirational music, to help her move on, and inspire others in turn. I listened to some of her songs and was inspired to reflect on how we can let our challenges in life transform us into better people.    

Joy, Heartbreaks, and Triumphs:

Image Credit: Taylor Swift

Finding a romantic partner in one’s life is a natural thing to do, and the joy and happiness over meeting a potential date is exhilarating, however, we are not guaranteed success in our quest to meet our significant other. 

When I was younger and actively seeking out love, I was enthralled with Swift’s Love Story – I was very inspired to find my own Juliet or Romeo, depending on my feelings. Do we close off our hearts after rejections and heartbreaks? It depends on you. 

For Taylor Swift, despite numerous heartbreaks, she chooses to heal up and choose to love again.  

In recovering from challenges, Swift reminds us that we are quite Delicate and need to be gentle with ourselves.  Choosing to love oneself and prioritizing one’s well-being is an important part of the process.  In the Karaṇīya Metta Sutta – The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness, there is the stanza: 

So with a boundless heart

Should one cherish all living beings;

Radiating kindness over the entire world:

Spreading upwards to the skies,

And downwards to the depths;

Outwards and unbounded…

I find that the Karaṇīya Metta Sutta reminds us to spread love to everyone, including ourselves, especially ourselves, I would emphasise.

Sometimes, challenges seem to continue, long after we thought we had the strength to hold on, and we find ourselves asking ourselves, Are we Out of the Woods? In Buddhism, we learn that everything is impermanence, so yes, things will change, and get better or worse, so we just hang in there a bit longer, just a tad bit longer.  

Appreciation:

image source: Taylor Swift – The Best Day (Taylor’s Version) (Official Music Video)

Taylor Swift’s love for her parents is very inspiring and a timely reminder for us not to forget the key benefactors in our lives, which are our parents. The Buddha said: “I tell you, monks, there are two people who are not easy to repay. Which two? Your mother & father.”  

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In her song, The Best Day, we get a glimpse down memory lane, of how her parents, Scott and Andrea Swift, have been a great source of support and encouragement to her and her brother, Austin, growing up.  

Taylor Swift’s appreciation, love, and recognition of her parent’s sacrifices and contributions towards moulding her to be who she is today would win the approval and endorsements of Asian parents everywhere.  A+ for Taylor Swift! 

As we journey on the Buddha’s path, we may want to share the Dhamma with our parents too, to honour their contributions, but how?  We are probably not musically talented enough to show our love and concern to our parents in a song like Soon You’ll Get Better.  

I remembered the time when Ajahn Brahm suggested leaving Dhamma books around on the coffee table, so our family members could check it out.

I was a little skeptical of this initially but I am heartened to see that my father did read some of the Dhamma books that I left behind and even asked me to bring more Dhamma books home to Malaysia whenever I visit my parents.  

The Buddha reminded Ananda that: “Good friends, companions, and associates are the whole of the spiritual life. A mendicant with good friends, companions, and associates can expect to develop and cultivate the noble eightfold path.”

Swift’s Long Live song reminds us that we should appreciate and value the friends who had journeyed through life with us and remember their contributions.  

Letting Go:

Taylor Swift in the album artwork for Red (Taylor’s Version).

Impermanence is part and parcel of our life.  Swift’s song Everything Has Changed, drives this point home.  Of course, we usually hope the change is for the better.

However, hanging on to something that has passed its time and value is suffering. There is always something new to look forward to in our life. 

Can you recall the time when you hung on to the past?  How has it helped you?  

In the song, Back to December, Swift highlights that there will be moments in life where we make mistakes and we have to learn the lessons – to swallow our pride, to say sorry to someone, to forgive ourselves, and to reflect on how we can do better in one’s life.  

Being stuck in life can be tough, we lose the momentum to pick ourselves up and push on again.  Swift’s Shake It Off song visually reminds us to get moving to move on.  Take time to heal up but do move on eventually.  

Running a marathon may be too hard when we are feeling depressed, but we can consider doing walking meditation for a start.

In life, we need to alternate between periods of passivity and activity, just as in meditation retreats, there are alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation too. Walking meditation benefits us by bringing our mind and body together peacefully, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us

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We may get so lost in our thoughts, that we disconnect from our body.  Hence, light exercises are also recommended by mental health professionals for those dealing with depression and other mental health challenges.    

Transformation:

image source: bbc.com | Beth Garrabrant

Can we start again with a “new life” like a computer game character, after we fail in the quest, the first time around?  Begin Again reminds us that there is always an opportunity to start anew in our life’s adventure and have a Clean start.

It is expected to have some fear and trepidation after facing some setbacks, but it is okay to pick ourselves up again and rejoin the journey when we are ready to continue.

Just think of a setback you had 1 year ago, I am sure back then, you may have cried, got angry at the unfairness of the incident, and may have sought out comfort and care from friends or family members, but now, having grown and gotten over the incident, you are much stronger and better now.  

In the song, Look What You Made Me Do, Swift reminds us that we can always stop doing what we have been doing and take steps to transform and better ourselves.  

In the story of Angulimala, the serial killer that Buddha was able to stop from further killing, we can stop our unwholesome behaviours, be reminded of the Buddhanature within ourselves, and walk the Noble Eightfold path to get out of the cycle of samsara.  

As a reader of the Handful of Leaves (HOL) blog, you are already walking on the path of transformation, upgrading your understanding of the Buddha’s teachings, and working on applying them in your daily life.  Keep up the good work and keep reading HOL articles or listen to the HOL podcast.  

Music can be a powerful medium to help us navigate through the ups and downs in life.  Whether you are a Swiftie fan or not, hopefully, you glean some inspiration from her songs on how we can use our life challenges to propel us forward. 


Wise Steps:

  • Put yourself first – seek out ways to love yourself.  If you meet someone who loves you back, that is a bonus.
  • Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are coming up, show your gratitude and bring them closer to the Dhamma by bringing your parents out to participate in the Vesak events where they may be inspired by Buddhist music and Dhamma activities.  
  • Get inspired by Dhamma music, Buddhist musicians such as Malaysian singer, composer, and producer Imee Ooi; Indonesian Dhamma speaker and musician Irvyn Wongso; and Nepalese nun Ani Choying Drolma have moved many people’s hearts with their songs.  You may be interested to learn more about some of the Buddhist chants after hearing them sung so beautifully too. 

Author: Zeb Lim

Zeb Lim is an enthusiastic lifelong learner, who likes to learn diverse subject matters under the sun. He holds both a Masters in Counselling Psychology and Masters in Buddhist Studies. He used to work as a counsellor, and currently looking into a career change into Data Analytics.

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