Hubert von Goisern


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Fairytales for children from the Roof of the World

Dolomiten 12th April 2005 | Photo: D'Yoe
Hubert von Goisern

Bolzano (bv) - There is currently an impressive display of black and white photos from Tibet in the foyer at Bolzano University. Yesterday, exiled Tibetan Tseten Zöchbauer told the children of the Bolzano Marienkindergarten stories about people from the Roof of the World. The Tibetan, who lives in Vienna, was musically supported by Hubert von Goisern on his guitar (see photo). Today, there is something very special to be seen: the Tibetan monks who accompany the Bolzano show are breaking up their sand mandalas and giving them to the water, that is, the Eisack. Meeting point for all those interested is at 2pm in front of Bolzano University.

Hubert von Goisern tells of Tibet

Dolomiten 11th April 2005 | Photo: "D"/eg

HvG and Tseten ZöchbauerBolzano - During his time out from the stage, the Austrian singer Hubert von Goisern became acquainted with Tibet. Since yesterday, the Austrian has been telling of the country in Asia in South Tyrol, as part of the regional council's "Lost Tibet" initiative.

First stop was the film club, where the film Wia die Zeit vergeht showed Hubert von Goisern on stage, afterwards there was a Tibet discussion with von Goisern and the exiled Tibetan Tseten Zöchbauer. Both are telling Tibet stories this morning (Aula Magna of the Realgymnasium Klebelsberg in Bolzano) and tomorrow (10.30am, Bibliothek Haslach).

In the picture (from left): Hubert von Goisern with Heidi Hintner (organiser), Stefan Untersulzner (Regional council), Tseten Zöchbauer, Tibet expert Wolfgang Niederhofer and Herbert Denicolò (Regional council Vice President).

Hubert von Goisern in conversation

Stadtzeitung Kitzbühel April 2002 | Text: Simon Schreyer

The former chief rocker of the Alpinkatzen broke free long ago with individual, cross-cultural music projects and sensitive film scores (Schlafes Bruder) and is one of the few public people in Austria who doesn't beat about the bush with media critical and economically "delicate" statements on the subject of Tibet and Chinese occupation: since the middle of the Nineties, the man from Aussee has been successfully endeavouring to find representation here in Austria for the concerns of the disappearing Tibetan cultural community.

He found time for a detailed interview at the "making of" the "Peter Aufschnaiter and Tibet" exhibition in Kitzbühel: with his chosen kindred spirit Aufschnaiter, Hubert von Goisern shares the pleasantly modest aura of a man who has gone many ways alone and early on discovered spiritual independence as a condition for a free view on things of the world.

Just returned from a four week Africa tour, he seems exhausted but concentrated. Dressed in a black and white patterned wool jacket and accompanied by his almost meditatively good natured husky half-breed, Bongo, who beds down with his nose on his master's laceless heavy "Goiserer" mountain boots, he lights a rollup despite a small cold. As if personal distance to his opposite would be unpleasant for him, he offers me the familiar form of 'you'.

The mountains shape the landscape of Tibet as well as the Tyrol, the homeland of Peter Aufschnaiter. How important are mountains in your life?

They're enormously important to me. It's certainly also down to the fact that I have grown up among them - if I had been born at the sea, I would probably be as intimately connected to water, or a nomad will certainly feel similarly towards the desert. It's just the mountains for me. When I don't see them for a long time, I miss them. The flattest area I've lived in was Toronto, where I became almost a little depressed because I missed the mountain so. Someone recommended going up the Toronto Tower - that was it, but not really ... (smiles)

What do you find appealing about mountain climbing?

Climbing a mountain, when you're struggling a little and sweating and concentrating totally on breathing, you leave behind a lot of superfluous ballast - everyday problems, which are very small and insignificant behind you, like the cars in the valley below. You always climb a bit further up, approach a peak and you can look down at the lower mountains, it's almost like a purification. Right in the times when everything must economically paid off, and what isn't "profitable" is simply rationalised away, it's good to do something as aimless as climbing a mountain and going down again.

When did your interest in Tibet begin?

I read about Tibet very early on and at the age of 14, I was given a little brass globe, first of all I looked to see what there was in the world, and everywhere you can go.

The mountains were painted brown on it and I turned the globe to see where the highest mountains are and there I saw Tibet: the brownest spot on the sphere.

When were you in the Himalaya for the first time?

Seven years ago. When I flew there in 1995 with Tseten Zöchbauer (note: head of the Tibetan culture centre in Vienna), I was initially fascinated by the bleakness and vastness of this country and shocked by the situation in which the Tibetans who are still there must live. Tseten, who is Tibetan and who emigrated to Europe at the age of two, for a long time had enormous worries about returning, but I was able to reassure her: since she is a Swiss citizen and I am a public character, there would be a great media furore if anything should have happened to us. That was our protection.

How did the two of you meet?

I met her in 1994 in Saalfelden, when she asked me if I would like to take on the "patronage" of her youth theatre troupe. After a short consideration of whether such a responsibility would work for me with regards time, I accepted and we have been close friends since then.

How did your journey proceed?

When we arrived, I firstly had to acclimatise to the fact that the average height above sea level there is about 3500 metres. You can barely sleep for the first two weeks and you feel the lack of oxygen so strongly, that everything seems like a vision. Under these conditions, the experience of the occupation was even more terrible.

When you consider how barren the Tibetan landscape is, it's really absurd that such a country is occupied. It's like someone deciding to occupy the Großglockner in order to exploit natural resources, but considered with a certain detachment, the Chinese have achieved some things in terms of infrastructure and it is also undeniable that the social situation was not only good before the invasion. I also noticed it when I was in Dharamsala (exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in north India): there is an unbelievable hierarchical system there, with old-established noble families. I endured enormous fights with the then director of the Tibetan Cultural Institute.

About what?

I wanted the musicians with whom I worked on the record (InExil, Ariola, 1998) to have an equal share in the sales, whereupon someone said that he must get everything in order to distribute it as director of the Institute. Then there were, to exaggerate, twenty nosepickers and four people, who are really wonderful musicians and who took the effort to record the album - a process for which creativity is needed for several weeks. I thought that only the four who want something and can also do something should also profit from it. He didn't understand that and machinated against me until he dropped. It was my good fortune to meet the Dalai Lama, who supported me, but it took weeks for the director of the Cultural Institute to stop opposing me.

What impression did the Dalai Lama make on you?

He's really super! One of the most important personalities of our time and a really, really wonderful person, who doesn't have it easy either because he is at the top of a very distinct hierarchy, which is often very pedantically and traditionally shaped. He is very interested in everything, unbelievably open and, despite his divine attribute, only regards himself as a person among people. But in the Tibetan household in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama's word is irrefutable, as it is said in the Catholic church too, "the Pope cannot be wrong!".

In one of his books, he expressed himself critically about the practice of consulting the oracle, because in the Tibetan tradition, this ritual is called upon for every small thing, whether you should now turn left or right. When asked, the theologians said that it's an error in translation!

Are you a practising Buddhist?

What I really like is the respect with which Buddhists meet every living thing - and the dead too - but I wouldn't call myself a Buddhist, nor yet a Christian.

(considers) Or rather: I'm as much as a Buddhist as I am a Christian. In Buddhism there's the theory of the three vehicles with which you draw closer to God. It gets difficult when you are asked to worship the vehicle itself, as is called for in the profession of faith in the church, because I think it can't be that way ... I am even of the view that I am past the stage of needing a religion in order to believe in the divine.

Aha! ...

But that doesn't concern everyone, but it does me. There are many people who need it, because it is very difficult nowadays to believe in God without religion. I sometimes wish for something so united, like before, when I still liked to go to church. I felt happy there, praying with others and feeling this solidarity. That's the word: solidarity.

I think basically the two religions have many elements in common, but to the best of my knowledge, and that is very limited, there has never been a war waged by Buddhists in order to spread their confession, like with Christianity or Islam. It is not a missionary faith and that makes it more likable for me.

And how do you feel as an Austrian?

Well, fortunately at the moment, you can say "I'm European". That's an advantage which slowly becomes a trap however: when you're now away in Africa for three weeks, you become more conscious of how the "European Fortress" is expanding.

But basically I think you will find the same percentage of idiots and of wonderful, friendly and intelligent people wherever you go.

Thanks Simon

Kalachakra 2002

October 2002
Sounds of Tibet - TIPA

Hubert von Goisern and Tseten Zöchbauer present performances by the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts

What would the world be
Without seas, without deserts
Without mountains, without forests
Without the great variety of people,
Without the sky which spans us all?

The Tibetans are very close to this sky,
Not just because they live on the highest mountains in the world!


THEMA - Kalachakra report

ORF 14th October 2002

Unfamiliar sounds and exotic dances in an enormous pavilion - rituals at the Kalachakra 2002 - the world Buddhist festival in Graz. Visitors from 71 nations come here, they are the most diverse of motives which motivate them to their journey. Some are sympathisers or members of the faith, the others are simply curious.

Hubert von Goisern interrupted his promotional tour in Germany in order to meet his Tibetan friends in Graz for the first time in years - they released the album Inexil together in 1998. Hubert von Goisern took with him many strong impressions from his journey through the occupied country of the Dalai Lama - Inexil is the artistic outlet so to speak: old Tibetan music, combined with new sounds.

This evening a joint appearance approaches - the Goiserer is the guide on an adventure through Tibet - a colourful programme, which should show the various regions and different musical and artistic expression of the country. Hubert presents and arranges - he will not perform - the work with the Tibetans is not always very easy.

Dalai Lama superstar - according to magazines title these days - Buddhism is booming. 15,000 spiritually interested people are expected at the Kalachakra, which lasts until the 23rd October.

The highest level of security is in force when the spiritual and secular leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, gives a lecture. A good 8000 people come, they queue up for hours. Buddhist composure is in demand when you come to the speech an hour too late, but it is worth it: "I am just a simple monk, nothing more," says the 14th Dalai Lama of himself. His friendliness despite the desolate situation in his homeland, is fascinating, thinks not only Hubert von Goisern, who also came to the lecture called "The power of sympathy".

Not far from the pavilion, in the Froschaugasse in Graz, is the home of the Priewalder family. The whole family supports Buddhism, they are not converted, but there are more Tibetans here on the tenth floor than anywhere else in private premises. Up to ten Buddhist guests find a place in the narrowest room and that is not only at the time of the Kalachakra, when accommodation is scarce. For years, Buddhists have been taken in and fed.

Tenzin, a Thangka artist is also a guest. There is also a simple explanation for the fact that Buddhism is currently actively popular and has become a fashionable religion. The Priewalder family is in action right around the clock - despite the frequent contact with Buddhists, none of them want to join the religion.

The Dalai Lama's lecture was over a long time ago - the Tibetan group and Hubert von Goisern have only an hour until their appearance. What connects him and the Tibetans is more than a close friendship, says Hubert von Goisern, who has also noticed a bit of his artistic roots in this culture. On the other hand, it does the Tibetan artists good to work together again with a musician from the format of one Hubert von Goisern. They feel recognised and valuable.

The Buddhist meeting in Graz should promote not just joy, but also peace and tolerance in the whole world. A global high aim, which often fails because of the individual.

I'm curious to see how things progress

Ursache Wirkung Nr. 30, 4/99

Hubert von Goisern and Peter Riedl in conversation

Hubert von Goisern

Hubert von Goisern, as the musician and composer Hubert Achleitner calls himself after his hometown, is frequently called the "founder of alpine rock". Since the big success that the song Hiatamadl from Aufgeigen stått niederschießen found in 1992 in the whole German-speaking area, his combination of traditional folk music with modern means of expression has been widely known. As film composer he created the music for Schlafes Bruder. Inspired by conversations with the gorilla research scientist Jane Goodall in 1994, he travelled to Africa and won impressions, which precipitated into the titles of the CD Gombe. The production Inexil bears witness to the interest in the culture of the Tibetans, for whom Hubert von Goisern engaged himself in humanitarian matters. The musician from the mountains and U&W editor Peter Riedl recently met for a conversation about music, spirituality, religion, Tibet and the way of the search.

Peter Riedl: You come from the mountains. Does that play a role in your love for Tibet?

Certainly. The origin of the interest was the fact that I'm always interested in where there are mountains. On the map, it draws someone who has grown up in the mountains to these these dark brown spots. I was then in Asia for the first time in winter 82/83 and hiked for two months in the Himalaya.

Do people from the mountains have something in common?

I think so. But perhaps I only imagine that because I recognise things that I know from my environment. I don't want to assert that it is so, but I feel it is that way. The hardness that life in the mountains demands from someone, this bleakness, shapes the people. There, where things simply fall from the tree and one lives without great effort, the people are just different, perhaps less careful with their resources, not just with the food resources, but any resources, the people in the mountains are less laid back about that.

You really come from the mountains?

I come from Goisern, from the Salzkammergut, but not from an agricultural milieu, but from a working family. My father built a house himself, in which I grew up: ten metres beneath the forest and after 100 metres, it goes into the mountains.

Many people ask themselves, how somebody from a rural area in Austria comes to concern himself with Buddhism or Tibet? On the one hand it's modern, but despite everything there is often more than fashion behind it.

At some point, what the homeland offered was no longer enough for me. For example, what was played musically at home was not enough. Then over the radio comes rock or pop music, which corresponded more to my attitude towards life than folk music. It was like that with religion too. I grew up in the Catholic church, I didn't feel at home there with my spiritual requirements any more.

Did you consciously take yourself on the spiritual search at a specific point?

The question as to the meaning of life came up when I was 16 or 17 years old. I looked everywhere, tried to classify things, learn to understand, whether it was work or school. Why should I learn, why should I work? Just to fulfil a planned target set by somebody? Then the artistic careers and religion interested me. My parents only went to weddings and didn't give me the idea that one has to go to church. I was just interested in it. What are they like, what happens inside? Is there something there that you can feel? Or does everyone go out of pure tradition? Then I simply learned to go into a church when there was no mass, to feel this atmosphere, this silence. Then I started to question the prayers. Something in me bristled against praying an Our Father, praying to a masculine God. Because I just think that God can't have a gender and then I cannot pray to the Father in Heaven.

Is there a God? And if he isn't masculine, can he be neutral or feminine?

That is this unanswerable question, because it is a feeling that I know that from exactly what I have heard and read. Perhaps it is simply just a concept that makes things more bearable. But I feel taken care of and secure in this concept or in God.

Is there a spiritual homeland to which you feel you belong today?

No, I deeply regret that, I miss that. I blame the Catholic church, that was my homeland, for the fact that they don't offer me that any more.

What can the church do about it?

Well. I can deal with it, but I see it in our society, that the church is not fulfilling its function. I think that society needs a moral authority and that used to be the church, but most people, quite rightly, don't accept it any more. The last religious service I enjoyed was a Latin service in the Augustinerkirche with Father Gottfried in the eighties. I have no problem at all with the Latin prayers, because the immediate meaning isn't so clear. I know that Pater Noster also means Our Father. But it's simply mystified through the Latin.

Mysticism is missing for you in the church?

Yes, the ritual is missing. There's no more spiritual ritual for me. I can't get on with Buddhism that way either. I just liked that, so you go into the Augustinerkirche and there's a ritual taking place, with the help of which I enter this transcendence. It's much more difficult alone, it happens, but it is much, much more difficult!

What do you mean by transcendence?

Simply transcending these superficial thoughts and worries, these worldly things, to come into this feeling of being connected to everything.

Have you ever practised in a specific spiritual method?

A long time ago Ken Wilber was very important and constructive for me. I put together my own programme according to his Wege zum Selbst and other books. I recorded cassettes with music and texts, so that the practice wouldn't develop a momentum of its own. Otherwise it could be that I sit and think about something else for ten minutes without noticing. I have now left everything behind me, I don't have a programme any more. I simply sit down now and again and try to draw my attention to breathing. And then I just try to keep this feeling of disengagement as long as possible and to let it come into my handling and treatment of other people.

Do you have visions?

Yes (very decidedly). Personal visions about what I want to achieve, where I want to go, people, whom I would like to meet, situations I'd like to experience. It is often the case, when I experience something, that I remember inside that there was a vision.

Is music a means to deeper concentration or consciousness?

For me, music is a means of being happy. Music has a very cleansing effect, singing above all. Music simply provides an access to levels for me, where I otherwise only manage with great difficulty.

Have you ever made spiritual music?

My approaching to making music is a strongly spiritual one. Music is something holy for me. I can't bring myself to say that I do that now because I earn money with it or can win fame with it.

That doesn't have to exclude holiness.

I don't know how to explain it. Music is so important to me, that I can't stand it when I go into a shop and hear incidental music. Because I think you're just giving something away. You dull your ears by using them any old way. I can't imagine making something that I'm not 100% convinced by.

Is music holier than other things for you?

No, for me it is something that I inherited. I have an approach via music, which I don't really have via skiing, for example, although I like doing that too. Walking along across the mountains in deep snow and then swinging through the powder snow. Or making a dollhouse for my daughter in the workshop, that's fun too. But I don't come so easily into this all embracing feeling that music gives me.

You've now expressed music almost like a sexual union.

Yes, but sexuality generally takes place between two partners, while at a concert there are 2000, 10000 or more people, who are all concentrating on the music. The eye may wander, but the ears are all tuned in. That's what fascinated me at the masses in the Augustinerkirche: 2500 people doing the same thing every Sunday. Something quite fantastical develops. I don't like mass things, but nevertheless they fascinate me. I went specially when the Pope was in Salzburg. Although I had left the church, I wanted to experience it. 15,000 people in the Domplatz, but really it was nothing. One time a feeling arose, when they sang Heilig, heilig by Schubert. Then everyone was really together. But the figure of the Pope was not strong enough to focus things so that it could have tuned in on the one point.

In the old cultures, the village communities could still experience that at the communal celebrations. Today people perhaps only come into this feeling of unity at rock concerts, but unconsciously, they have no idea how they do it, in drug experiences and with sexuality. All other things have largely been lost in the western societies.

Did you have an experience of unity in Tibet or at Buddhist rituals?

No, I didn't attend any great festivities. The Chinese don't allow them any more. My engagement for Tibet is primarily a social one. As far as the spiritual dimension is concerned, I must honestly say that it hasn't done Tibetan Buddhism any harm going into the diaspora. It has enriched the western world, while hurting the people, the culture. I have had a big problem with these exiled Tibetan oscillations for some time.

In what way?

I have to strike out more. Since the people emigrated in 1958/1959, two generations have already been born, who have never seen Tibet. But for a few old people, folk here must safeguard a tradition that they never experienced themselves. I deliberately say "must" . The pressure of their own community is great. They were born and grew up in India, already have children in India, who are essentially closer to European and American culture than Tibetan. A big problem is that they were professional paupers. They have never learned to have to provide for their own lives.

Do you mean the monks?

Not just the monks, the whole commune! They are still given a lot of money. They need not to live, work and think that it is necessary because they will be maintained. They are bluntened that way. They are dependent and they see it as natural that they will be helped, that a different rule applies to them because they were driven out. And I have difficulties with that. In addition - and these are things that one almost cannot talk about - there's the fact that they are still at home in very feudal structures, although they've been gone a long time and have never seen their country. You are therefore not allowed to talk about it at all, because you are immediately considered to be pro-Chinese and anti-Tibetan. That's the problem.

Are you pro-Chinese?

Not at all.

Then you can talk about it!

But it is a problem. I was pleased when I heard that this critical book from the Trimondis had come out (editor's note: The Shadow of the Dalai Lama by Victor and Victoria Trimondi). I was invited to a television debate about it and thought, finally there will be a critical discussion. Then I saw the book and thought, I don't believe it! They're crazy! It's the same with Haider (editor's note: head of the Austrian Freedom Party). But then that leads to criticism being suppressed too, where it would be appropriate. Just out of the concern of having demands made by such people.

That's the difficult thing in differentiated approaches: they are very often misunderstood and have demands placed upon them.

I see that too. As far as I can judge, the Dalai Lama is one of the few people who also lives this differentiation. He is full of integrity. He is not someone who is above criticism. I have experienced him in that you can talk to him about everything. And he considers these things critically. But many in the next squad down don't play along any more. I've met him three times, have had a private audience with him and went around with him the whole day in Bad Ischl. But I couldn't say that I really know him. The man has an unbelievable charisma and energy. It's almost unbearable. It goes in like a drug. It's something that he has realised through his years of practising. Something happened. He is not like the others.

You have spoken previously of your spiritual search. You were interested in the church, you looked at Buddhism, but nevertheless you don't feel at home anywhere. Where does that come from?

I fear, or perhaps hope, that the time of religions is over for me. There will be no new religion that catches people like me and allows something newly collaborative to develop. Tibetan Buddhism is also a very folkloristic affair, just like our Catholic processions. I think it's nice and go with my children to the blessing of the palms or Corpus Christi Procession on the lake, because it is simply beautiful, like an inspired procession. So Tibetan Buddhism has its eligibility as folklore, simply as a culture.

Do people accompany you, are there spiritual friends?

Yes, in the broadest sense, people who live a similar spirituality to mine, without an affiliation. It's difficult. For example in music you can't just say, we'll make music, but rather you take a structure, inside which you build things. I can take any, but even in free jazz, there are things you hold to. The pure principle of chance is too little for me, too absentminded and too out there. I'm too human still, I have a body and my boundaries with that.

Do you aspire to something like enlightenment?

I strived for that for years, I now find it to be totally presumptuous that I once imagined that I could actually achieve it. That I would not have despaired. I always thought that there is this moment and from there on you are enlightened. Now I think that I had a few moments and instances where I was enlightened. But they are not to be kept. And in this state, life isn't suddenly understood, it has little, perhaps nothing at all to do with it. Living actually requires non-enlightenment. So it seems to me. I don't need to drink a good red wine in the enlightened state, and I don't need any more music.

So you don't want to be enlightened because red wine and music are so important to you?

And sexuality!

Could it be that these enlightenment experiences are ultimately not the enlightenment, but rather the next super illusion, which leads to the next super disappointment? That is the trap: now I am enlightened.

I made music my career quite late. (In the background the Goiserer church bells ring). I began as a musician when I was 30, I had my success when I was 40. I meditated a lot before the seven years, alone every day, occupying myself with lots of spiritual things. At some point I thought to myself, "Hubert, stop it, don't think about these things." Because for me it was somehow a form of thinking, even though you try to transcend thought. "Never sit down, do, move yourself, because it's not sitting." And the moment I stopped meditating, it suddenly went "whoosh". When I left many and moral principles - all gone -, then I suddenly had success, it just happened. And that's one of the central problems for me, that this success was closely connected to that fact I was holding no more moral principles. And didn't meditate any more either!

That's really logical as far as I can see.


Previously everything was still in old limitations. Then something substantial fell away, this obligation: "I must go this way too, learn to meditate and be enlightened." Thus you reach the next platform. The problem is just: through this solution of throwing everything away, I am on a peaceful platform again. The next trap is to believe that it's over there. But it goes further. At some point, you have to continue on your way. It's then not so much about meditation. This goal is then reached. You can test it well in everyday life: am I suffering, am I angry, are there negative emotions? Am I really living 24 hours without showing myself something in an awareness - calmly, peaceably, compassionately? So if that is not the case, then things are already continuing.

I don't doubt that things will continue. So I'm not under the illusion of having reached the end. But I'm curious to see how things progress.

I am too.