Practice of Chanting in Buddhism
is very common to any religion. Buddhism is no exception in
this regard. However, the aim and purpose of chanting is different
from one religion to another. Buddhism is unique
in that it does not consider chanting to be prayer.
Buddha in many ways has shown us to have confidence in our own
action and its results, and thereby encouraged us to depend
on no one but ourselves. This in fact is the sum and substance
of His last message in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. One of the
passages in this discourse reads: "Ananda, be dependent
on yourself, take refuge in yourself and not in others, by this
mean be dependent on the Dhamma, go for refuge to the Dhamma
-- the righteous principles".
a Buddhist does chanting, he is not asking some one to save
him from evil nor is he hoping to be given a place in heaven
as a result after he dies. Instead, through chanting he may
be learning, teaching, philosophising or re-memorising
in the Anguttara Nikaya there are some discourses dealing with
chanting like Dhammavihari Sutta. It mentions five categories
of people who make use of the discourses.
first one studies it just for the sake of study without putting
it into practice or explaining it to others. He even does not
reflect deeply on what he has studied. He is known as 'Pariyatti-bahulo'
who is keen on studying it alone.
second one preaches or teaches what he has learnt from the discourses
but does not follow it himself. He is 'Pannyatti-bahulo' who
is keen only on teaching.
third one does chanting. He philosophises about the discourses,
trying all the time to satisfy his philosophical thirst. He
forgets to make use of as mode or life. He is called 'Vitakka-bahulo'
who is eager only to indulge in philosophical aspects of the
fourth one is the one who chants the discourses to make them
last for a long time in his memory. He memorises and re-memorises.
Nevertheless, he does not go further to follow it in daily life.
He is 'Sajjhayaka-bahulo' who is enthusiastic only in memorising
or chanting the teachings of the Buddha, He may even expect
some magical power from chanting.
fifth and last one is who studies the discourses, teaches them
to others, reflects on their philosophical points, chants them
regularly and above all actually practices it in daily life.
He is the one the Buddha praises to be 'Dhammavihari' -- a practitioner
of the Dhamma, which he has learnt from the discourses.
reflected on this Sutta, it is left to us to judge ourselves
to which category we belong and why we study or chant the discourses.
would like to dwell a bit more on chanting in general.
This is, after all, an All-night Chanting ceremony. It is nothing
but right for us to be fully convinced of what we are doing.
Initially I did mention that Buddhism is unique because it does
not consider chanting to be a form of prayer.
why do we, Buddhists, chant?
the olden days, before there were sufficient support materials
for study like books, translations and computers we had to memorise
to learn a discourse. After we had learnt it, we still had to
chant regularly to protect it and hand it down to future generations.
If we did not recite it daily we might forget it and omit some
part of it. The Anguttara Nikaya says that if the
discourses are poorly maintained this will lead to the disappearance
of the Sasana. It was so important those days
to memorise and chant it regularly. This must have definitely
contributed in developing chanting practice. Chanting meant
almost for the survival of the Dhamma itself.
we have sufficient support materials, why we should then be
still chanting? Is there any more reason to do this?
are some reasons sufficient to continue chanting practice. Regular
chanting gives us confidence, joy and satisfaction, and increases
devotion within us. This devotion is really a power. It is called
the Power of Devotion (Saddhabala). It energises our life in
general. I do not know about the others. For me I often have
a joyous feeling when the chanting goes right. I become more
confident of myself. I see it as a part of developing devotion.
Buddhist monastic education tradition, chanting and learning
by heart still forms a part of it. We study some of the Theravada
Abhidhamma texts -- the highest teachings of the Buddha which
deal with the ultimate nature of things -- in that way in
Burma. We are explained the meaning and how the logic develops
in the Abhidhamma. In the night we try to chant without having
learnt it by heart. We could do it because of the technique.
It is known as evening-class (nya-war) over there. It means
a certain technique of studying the Abhidhamma and some of the
Suttas. It is very helpful as it helps you to reflect very quickly.
we examine the nature of the discourses, the reasons for chanting
will become clearer to us than ever.
NATURE OF THE DISCOURSES
Sutta (Discourse) like Mangala Sutta was an answer to
the Deva who asked the Lord Buddha about the real progress in
social, economic and spiritual life. It is the vision of the
Buddha on those issues as much as his advice to all of us who
genuinely want those progresses in social and spiritual life.
It is some thing that we should follow throughout our life starting
from childhood to the day we take our last breath. Most of the
Suttas are of this nature. They are descriptions as well as
prescriptions for the common diseases like Lobha, Dosa and Moha
(Greed, Hatred and Delusion).
nature of the discourses is protection or healing. Ratana
Sutta is one of the best-known examples here. It was first
taught to Venerable Ananda who in turn chanted in Vaisali to
ward off all the evils and famine the people were then facing.
Angulimala Sutta also falls into this category as it
relieves the pains and trouble of a would-be mother. Mahasamaya
Sutta and Atanatiya Sutta come under the same category
because they emphasise much on protection and healing. Remember
that Venerable Ananda and Venerable Angulimala did cultivate
love and compassion before they chanted the discourse for this
particular kind of blessing.
three Bojjhanga Suttas  (Maha Kassapa/Moggallana/Cunda)
 have been in common use to help relieve the suffering of
a patient. This is the third nature of the discourses I am trying
to understand and reflect.
the Buddha asked Venerable Cunda to chant this Bojjhanga Sutta
when He was ill. He himself did the chanting of the Bojjhanga
Sutta when his senior disciples, Venerable Maha Kassapa and
Venerable Maha Moggallana, were sick. These are the kind of
Suttas that have both instructions for meditation practice and
healing power. Karaniyametta Sutta has these same natures: instruction
for daily practice to develop our spiritual benefit and to ward
off the evils.
other words, Buddhist chanting serves as a reminder of the practice
we need to follow in daily life. If we understand and learn
how to do it properly, it is another type of meditation in itself.
It is also at the same time a healing or blessing service.
last benefit we may get from chanting discourses is meditative
one. When we chant if we try to concentrate well on the chanting,
our mind becomes contemplative, not wandering, not engaging
in unwholesome thoughts. The late Venerable Dr. H. Saddhatissa
Mahanayaka Thero, the founder of SIBC , has rightly remarked
in his work  that almost all Buddhist practices are nothing
else but some form of meditation./.
"Dve 'me bhikkhave dhamma saddhammassa sammosaya antaradhanaya
samvattanti. Katame dve. Dunnkikkhittam ca pada-byancanam attho
Samyutta Nikaya, In the Mahakassapa Sutta, the
Buddha chanted the Sutta to ailing Venerable Maha Kassapa while
the second to another patient, Venerable Maha Moggallana, His
own chief disciple. In the Mahacunda-bojjhanga Sutta, Venerable
Cunda was asked by the Buddha who was then ill to chant (expound)
the Bojjhanga. All were reported to have recovered at the end
of the Sutta.
Also Girimananda Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya; Girimananda
bhikkhu was ill. That was reported to the Buddha by Venerable
Ananda who was then taught this Sutta and asked to go back to
Girimananda for expounding, reminding him of ten factors. At
the end, he got recovered.
Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre. London
Facets of Buddhism by Venerable H. Saddhatissa; World Buddhist
Foundation, London, 1991; p. 267.