Last week I decided to drop into the San Francisco Buddhist Center, where I have attended meditation classes in the past. I was excited to learn that a class was just starting as it was Sangha Night (Sangha is the Buddhist word for spiritual community). The class started of a 25 minute group meditation followed by a lecture/discussion on chanting.
The evening brought me back to my time spent in Laos just over a year ago. Young Buddhist monks would gather in the temples each day around 5:00, drawing my attention by their beautiful chants that would stream out of the temples. I remember my first experience of the practice as I sat cross legged in the back of a beautiful Wat in Luang Prabang. Twenty young devoted monks dressed in orange robes sitting in front of me chanting in a language i did not understand but mysteriously captivated me all the same. I loved the rhythm and uplifting vibrations of the chants and as I closed my eyes a calmness came over my body and I felt peaceful.
Below is a video of the monks chanting in Luang Prabang.
At the time I did not understand the purpose of chanting to a Buddhist, but during class I learned that chanting is done to help settle us down and prepare for meditation. Meditation in turn is a healthy practice that can help to interrupt a person’s patterns of thought and bring attention to the present day allowing one to enjoy what is happening now instead of worrying about the past or future. Staying present is something I struggle with daily and one of the reasons I choose to meditate. One does not have to be a Buddhist to practice and reap the benefits of meditation or pursue a path to enlightenment.
Chanting requires attention and mindfulness and the act of chanting with others takes us out of our tight focus on ourselves, which can be such an obstacle to meditation. The rhythm of the chant can help to relax us, its liveliness can wake us up, and its beauty can open up meaning of the words we are saying. The chant we learned was “The Tiratana-Verdana (Salutation of the Three Jewels)” which was chanted in Pali. The instructor provided us with a copy of the translation so we would understand the meaning of the words.
Chanting is a crucial component of the Buddhists as singing of hymns is to Christians. Despite the differences of spiritual practices throughout the world, a common similarity is the integrally close relationship of religion and music.
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