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Thread: The purpose of chanting ?

  1. #1

    The purpose of chanting ?

    I'm surprised and dismayed by the rather mechanical tone of chanting. Far away from Christian gregorian chants.
    The Heart Sutra is so beautiful, I find it difficult to reduce it to just a noise (this isn't a critism of your vocal qualities Jundo!). Of course no sensations, no perceptions, formations and conciousness...
    There must be a particular purpose to this tradition of chanting ?
    Breathing ? I couldn't tell when you took your breath Jundo ?
    I got confused, blundered ans ended up simply reading.

    Please point me in the right direction,



  2. #2

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Jundo chants sound just like Jundo chanting Perfect!

    Im chanting my sad toneless flat awful sounding face off lately practicing the Heart Sutra in Japanese, Trying to make my voice give life to it.
    It was brought to my attention by a wise bear that when comfortable and not "trying" so sounded natural (though yes still very Robotic).
    When striving the throat closes up changing the whole game. This all said... flat or not, Good or not its melodic or not... its the content and the intent.
    Some times I went through the motions and it shows... avolo bla bla bla bla bla bla gate gate gate... "wth am I muttering here?"
    Othertimes it has grows up and out of me from our toes.(though it still may have a similar sound *ahem*)

    Taigu Chants a mean sutra - Perhaps we should have music classes? But really the best classes and singers still wont make a beautiful sound. Its is in your heart/body/mind

    And i still sound gawd awful no matter what i just said :P


  3. #3

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    I remember a teaching from Deshimaru roshi about chanting. Unfortunately, the only thing I really remember was about the value of chanting as a breathing exercise.
    He was answering to a student who asked him : "why should we chant something we don't understand at the end of each zazen?" (most people in AZI chant the Heart Sutra in japanese - I must confess me too, it feels a bit strange to chant it in French or in English).
    But he also talked about it as a way to finish each zazen, I mean as an interface between "zazen time" and the "rest of the world time" ( distinction wich doesn't exist by the way, but people often feel this distinction).
    He prefer to chant every chant (the 4 vows of the boddhisatva and the heart Sutra + the dedication) at the end of each zazen, but here at Treeleaf we do things otherwise.

    I think he didn't chant at all when he first came to France, but bring these kind of things to his practice at the time his Sangha was growing. But Taigu must know this A LOT better than me!

    Sorry I'm a bit vague on this, but that's all I know on the subject... :roll:

  4. #4

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Hi Sylvie,
    We chant as we do because no one wants to hear me try to sing :lol:

    I was at a Shin Buddhist temple once where the minister was explaining how to chant. Paraphrasing here, but he said it was too easy to get hung up on melodies. A chant was there to help open a path to the mind, not there to help express the mind. Chanting is rhythm, basic, simple, as it is. A melody is complicated, and often the meaning gets lost as we try to maintain a melody in spite of the words.

    For me, chanting does help me get in the right frame of mind for zazen. If there was more than just the near monotone rhythm to focus on, I would begin the chant with sweaty palms and a fear of 'getting it wrong.' I would spend all my time trying to chant right instead of just chanting.


  5. #5

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    A very good topic.

    I confess to being a lousy singer and chanter. I'm tone deaf, have unpredictable rhythm, asthma (our new cat set it off again), sinus troubles, and I often start gagging at some point. I am even banned at some local Karaoke spots. I chant a little bit differently each time, often with my foot tapping and fingers snapping ... and sometimes I whirl around like a dervish. Actually, I have tried to "loosen up" the chanting style from the formal way the Japanese do it ... but the results are sometimes successful and sometimes not. One time, I remember trying to chant in a way vaguely inspired by Billie Holiday.

    Taigu is a wonderful chanter ... in voice and in spirit. I am going to press upon him to present some video chanting lessons around here (much as he presented sewing and sitting lessons). Taigu?

    As to the philosophy of chanting ...

    Well, I recently wrote about this.

    In chanting, we may lose oneself (truly losing "one-self") in the music of the chant ... but study of the meaning of the chant must not be neglected, even if the meaning is not thought about, and merely felt in one's bones, during the chanting. Once you grasp the underlying meaning of the chant ... it is fine to then drop that away into emptiness, drop "you" away into emptiness (that "emptiness" being the Heart of the Heart Sutra, after all), and just chant to chant. "Just chant", just as we "Just Sit" ... for it is all "Zazen". Each note just each note, no where to "get to" even as we diligently and carefully more ahead. Shikantaza.

    So, "on key" chanting is perfect chanting ... and "off key" chanting is perfect chanting. However, yes, perhaps it is better to stay on key! 8) Taigu?

    Gassho and Wheeze, Jundo

  6. #6

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    So if I understand I just chant zazen as I sit zazen so it can be my own (mezzo soprano ) simple zazen chant ? Chanting on my own is misleading, I feel my voice and the verses, should dissolve into what surrounds me, an offering to the sentient world around me...
    I understand what Jen says about melodie and not getting caught up into that, it makes sense.
    Sounding like a robot would not be sincere,I 'd be forcing myself... unless there's some technical reason for it ?
    Dogen ?
    Taigu ?

    au secours!

  7. #7

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    I know chanting is a human activity....but...sometimes....let chanting be chanting......there is no woman behind the curtain....just this moment when you chant. Like the bell that your ring. You. Bell. Sound. Silence. Everything. This moment. Just this.

    Quote Originally Posted by Silva
    Sounding like a robot would not be sincere,I 'd be forcing myself... unless there's some technical reason for it ?
    Is the bell that we ring in zazen sincere?

  8. #8

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Hi everybody, Hi Sylva,

    Had a very short sleep. It is very early this morning. Beautiful day, really. I will take some time tonight to answer your question.

    Take care and listen to sentient beings, isn't evrything and everybody chanting in a kind of way?



  9. #9

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Is the bell that we ring in zazen sincere?
    Yes it is - it sounds "true".

    the answer was in the question!
    Thank-you I see more clearly now,


  10. #10

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Indeed, Sylvie, when the question penetrates your entire body-mind, the answer manifests itself...

    Nevertheless, I shall write a few clumsy things about chanting later.



  11. #11

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Hi Sylvie, hi all,

    Back home and a bit of time ahead. No, I won't open a singing course because I am not a specialist and I don't really think it is necessary.
    At the last Rohatsu retreat, Jundo was apparently amazed at my Tibetan like singing and stuff. I told him it was practice and training. Well,as I started to sing the heart sutra 33 years ago, in a way, it kind of helps. And I also learned how to open my throat a let the voice bloom in a steady and constant flow. But Jundo amazed me when, with no voice, he started to act and dance an incredible mantra...Much better, I thought, than anything else...(the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence )

    So why do we sing? That's a good koan than can only be answered in the act of singing itself. It is true that sometimes the Zen style of singing sounds a bit robotic...It is because we are not supposed to modulate, phrase and find ourselves spaced out, fusing and merging with all things in the vibrant cosmos. Our singing is the expression of our true voice and nature, uncontrived, not fabricated. No need to carve the voice, allow the sutra to go through the open gate and do it as often as possible. The rhythm given by the mokugyo ( This wooden fish, hollow like ourselves) keeps us on the ground, roots us in this realm which is nothing but Amida-Buddha-original face- Land. No other land that this one, we don't sing to Buddha, we, in singing, express Buddha's presence as a voice. Our voice. Singing is also originally a good bonding practice, monks making one voice, neither one nor many. Chanting the texts is a good way to digest the understanding bypassing the intellect and its dual perception and endless games. Chanting is also taking us to the source, the origin, the spring: chanting does not allow us to think about the verses and stuff, just to act them freely without any extra thinking. Raw. No fancy conceptual sauce in the dish. As it is. The true taste.

    So Sylvie, just sing. You don't need to lower your voice. This is a great vid of a Monja Coen, a Soto Zen nun trained in Japan singing the heart sutra in her native tongue and native sex. What is important is the steady rhythm and the ease you may experience. Notice the traffic sounds, mobile phone, feet and various sounds...Heart sutra too. No difference!!![/video]]

    But I am sure that you feel already much better and can converse with the bell next to you...



  12. #12

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Thank-you Taigu,

    now I am free to "just chant "with "just devotion",



  13. #13

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    I'm sure I could look this up on wikipedia, but can someone please explain the wooden fish? Not in a Zen way, but in a very real way, please explain where the heck the wooden fish came from.


  14. #14

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Hi Chet,

    I have just this... Deshimaru used to explain that the fish symbolizes awareness because even dead, its eyes are wide open. Outside the Zendo, a wooden fish often hangs and is stroken a number of times to anounce the begining and end of the sitting period. That fish often has a pearl in its mouth, that bright pearl that Dogen talks about in the chapter of shobogenzo bearing the same name...



    Attached files

  15. #15

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    This is a great vid of a Monja Coen, a Soto Zen nun trained in Japan singing the heart sutra in her native tongue and native sex. What is important is the steady rhythm and the ease you may experience. Notice the traffic sounds, mobile phone, feet and various sounds...Heart sutra too. No difference!!![/video]]
    Thank you for that, including the cell phone that went off right at the heart of Rev. Coen's Heart Sutra ... and became a lovely part of the whole. Nothing is left out. :wink:

    The ceremony that Taigu mentioned during our last "2-day 'All Online' Rohatsu Retreat: ... ... 09---.html

    ... when my voice completely left me due to laryngitis ...and all that remained was to stamp my feet and sway and spin and twirl like a top ... was a very special chanting for me too.

    But ya know ... in my heart (no fooling) ... I feel the chant-dance of the Heart Sutra should sound/look like this ... and I will find a may to get there ...

    I'm Goin with Kannon![/video]]

  16. #16

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Chanting....Heart sutra.....hmmm...this is one way to do it....[/video]]

  17. #17

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Quote Originally Posted by unofficialsamurai
    Chanting....Heart sutra.....hmmm...this is one way to do it....[/video]]
    Oh, the Heart Sutra is endless, of myriad varieties ...


  18. #18

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    I think I have mentioned this before, (we oldies tend to repeat ourselves a bit), In the OBC we did chant it all in a plain chant method written by Rev master Jiyu Kennet Roshi who trained in church music before going to the far east to study Budhism. Funily enough I was watiching an old vid this afternoon from Throssel Hole, it reminded me how moving the plainsong can be, especially vespers.



  19. #19

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    I've been thinking about this for the last few days. I was trained in classical music for many years, and did Nichiren practice about 20 years ago, which included chanting. As to the music:
    What is music? According to Webster's II: New Riverside University Dictionary, music is "the art of arranging tones in an orderly sequence so as to produce a unified and continuous composition"
    It just says 'arranging tones' but not whether it is the *same* or *different* tones that are arranged. Even the same tone, in the chant rhythm, becomes wonderful music. I found that once the sutra was thoroughly embedded in memory, it truly becomes a song in the heart. Even now, 20 years after I stopped chanting 'gongyo' every day I still remember 'the song' and 'sing' it to myself from time to time. It's just become a natural part of me. On the other hand, the primary chant of one sentence over and over for lengthy periods of time...well, that gave me a headache, so I realized I wasn't meant to stay in that tradition.

    Reading through this thread has brought back good memories, since chanting IS very enjoyable once the text is fully memorized. I think it's time for me to memorize the Heart Sutra in both English and Japanese. Thanks to all, and thanks for the incentive.

    Gassho, Ann

  20. #20

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Breathing ? I couldn't tell when you took your breath Jundo ?

    Heh. During the retreat, I found myself unable to breathe-a-long with either Jundo or Taigu. Is it something like trumpet/saxophone/bagpipe players do, where they sort of inhale and exhale at the same time? Or do I just need to learn the right times to sneak in a little air?

  21. #21

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Hi Jennifer,

    Breathing should be natural in Soto Zen, we don't fiddle with it, it arises as is. So there is nothing to learn. As we practice our breathing becomes broader, there is more freedom and flexibility in it. So we sing and running out of air, we breath in. That simple. As to chanting itself, you might develop with experience a voice with harmonics. But it is not necessary. Put your all heart into it, and it will be beautiful.



  22. #22

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    Thanks, Taigu.



  23. #23

    Re: The purpose of chanting ?

    I'm very interested by and grateful for this thread, I have been wondering about the purpose of chanting.

    I like to chant, and I prefer to chant in Japanese. I don't feel it's robotic; the rhythm makes it fresh like breathing, but it's more than's moving like kinhin, in a smaller way.

    I remember I used to sing to myself a lot when I was playing on my own as a child, and then I would stop, and notice the silence. How it kind of filled the room. Without having the words to describe it, I know I felt a kind of energy that I'd created. Chanting puts me back in touch with that childhood feeling and experience.

    I don't know what I sound like, possibly silly to others, but in my head the sound is smooth. Not very booming, kind of small. I do feel self-conscious chanting while my daughter is home, even though she doesn't care what I'm doing (or, does she like it too?) But the syllables feel good to say. I guess that's why I am a devotee of linguistics and learning languages.

    But all this has just been feelings, so it's nice to put it into a context and have better awareness of what I'm doing and why.


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