Chanting can take a primary or secondary role in your overall practice. It plays a part in Zen Buddhist practice but tends to take a backseat to zazen and servesas a suppliment. Other schools (Nichiren and Shin comes to mind) do use chanting as the primary focal point of their practice. Recently, chanting has become, out of necessity, more of a prominent part of my practice now with little time to get to the zendo and sit formally (as opposed to informal sitting?).
Chanting practice is as engaged as zazen but the manifestation is more explosive. Chants aren’t refined, subdued or quiet. There is definitely a feeling of power and integrity that radiates outward when I chant. My breath, the sound created, and my posture unites to create an essence that exemplifies Buddhist practice as much as my seated meditation. We read the words but the sounds flow out like breath. Personally, I prefer the Japanese and Korean chants since I don’t need focus on the meanings and allow the concepts to internalize until it becomes a meditation itself. With little hesitation I can get through a liturgy without mistake but when I focus on the words and meanings I begin to stumble. Just like in my last post where I stated that the distillation of zen is “Wake Up” the chanting penetrates those of us in the zendo and fortifies us to the task at hand. That continues throughout the day and helps mykeep my mind clear and focused. The meaning of the task no longer outshines the task itself.
Each step is a syllable, each syllable a breath. Everything we do comes back to the breath in Zen even the chanting (it’s so annoying sometimes). The meaning of the chant isn’t the point but the chanting does train us to let go of the conception without losing the concept (*pop*). The sound of the chant is the actualization of the moment’s integrity – any moment. Our chant radiates.
I included some zen liturgies below that I use daily to facilitate my practice (mostly the Zen ones) in lieu of being at the zendo.
- San Fransisco Zen Center ~ Love this one! They have the entire liturgy for different days and occasions on MP3 as well as chant books. The recording’s quality is not great but works fine for my purposes.
- Great Vow Zen Center ~ I almost consider this one home since it was the first resource I found for Dharma talks and chants. The Jizo Shingon is amazing, it almost sounds Renaissance. Only four chants but they are clear and loud! I hope they update soon with a full liturgy.
- Kwan Um School of Zen ~ Down near the middle of the page but a great array of Korean chants as well as chant book. I still can’t follow the korean but I adore the sound of the moktak.
- BuddhaNet ~ Lots of chants but mostly Pali or Chinese devotional. Not my cup of tea.
- Rochester Zen Center ~ The standards: Heart Sutra, Harmony of Relative and Absolute but I do like the Kannon Sutra (I can yell KANZEON all day) although I swear I can hear Beaker from the Muppets in the background.
- Vermont Zen Center ~ All I can say is Affirmation of Mind is like listening to RENT.
- Shingon Chants ~ Only a few here and I had to search for them. (here, here, here, here) and more (here, here, here, here) I have no idea what is going on but they sound great. Check them out before end of month, site is shutting down.
- The Juseige Chant ~ The Juseige is the second of three gathas (Songs of Praise) in the primary sutra of Shin Buddhism, The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life. This sutra passage recounts Chapter 8 of this mythical Sacred Story, where the Bodhisattva Dharmakara makes 48 Vows to the Buddha Lokes-vararaja. After declaring these vows he praises these vows with this gatha (poem).
- Jodo Shinshu Liturgy ~ Interesting but not my favorite. I prefer the nembutsu done in the Korean style.