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Thread: Chanting...

  1. #1


    Dear Jundo,

    It just struck me the other day (I am not sure why it didn't strike me earlier!) that the Sotoshu chanting of sutras etc. in Japan is not conducted Japanese at all, but a sort of 'Sino-Japanese' (is it onyomi readings from the Chinese text...?); is that correct?

    If so, I suppose a 'Western' analogy would be the old Catholic mass in Latin (a language no one actually speaks for communication), I suppose...?

    In the 'West', we tend to translate the chant into understandable, gramatically-correct English (as the Church did with its Latin texts).

    I was wondering then, if there are any (reformed?) Zen schools that actually chant in Japanese (modern spoken Japanese, with grammar, etc.) as opposed to the Sino-Japanese 'scripture-speak'...?

    Thanks and Gassho

    -sat today-

  2. #2
    Hi Anshu,

    Since most of the standard Zen Buddhist Chants came to Japan many centuries ago from China, they are written in a classic form of Chinese (but pronounced a Japanese way ... the Heart Sutra is so) or a Sino-Japanese hybrid (neither one or the other). A few texts (like Fukanzazengi) are written in Japanese, but in the 13th century classic version very different from modern Japanese. Most modern Japanese who are not Buddhism specialists find it almost impossible to read and understand much of any of the foregoing. To make matters even more complicated, some of the old Chinese texts are themselves Chinese reworkings or pronunciations of Sanskrit!

    I do not know anyone who chants in "modern Japanese" (there may be some I do not know about). However, it is common these days to provide access to a modern Japanese translation (and maybe explanation) to accompany the old school chanting.

    Gassho, J


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