Buddhist Chant and Healing Sounds

Buddhist chanting, similar to Gregorian chant, is an incantation or hymn. Almost all Buddhism schools integrate, to one degree or another, Buddhist chant, or shomyo in Japanese. Singing and even just listening to chanting can also be said to bring in spiritual well-being through the emitted sound vibrations.Learn more about us at Chinnabanchorn Incantations

Ever since my experience with the shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute, which is said to be rooted in shomyo, I have had an interest in Buddhist music. I chant at the Shingon temple every morning, where I am a monk in Nara, Japan, as well as having regular evening community lessons. I also combine my shakuhachi sounds with the chanting during ceremonies. Various instruments such as bells, gongs, conch shells (Horagai) etc. are used within Buddhist chant, so that the tone colours of the shakuhachi match well together. As a complete unison, the small difference in pitch between the chanters and the shakuhachi fits well together.

How to read the notes and intonations are some of the toughest things to understand and there are 2 different ways of chanting the same song; styles of Ryokyoku and Rikkyoku. There are many dense books of chants as ordained monks, but lay practitioners typically chant the Heart Sutra (Hanya Shingyo), and there is a very soothing effect on the repetition and harmony of the voices.

Shomyo originated with Buddhism’s esoteric schools, the schools of Tendai and Shingon. Tendai chants have more varied rhythms in general and a broader tone scale, as many of the Shingon schools maintain less melodic conventional intonations. Many of Buddhism’s more common and newer schools often refer to their songs as shomyo, but in fact the prayers of the temple are set to a modern Western melody, not unlike what you will hear, for example, at a Catholic mass.

It is not always important to grasp the exact meaning of the prayer in Shingon Chant. Often it is assumed that the sound and movements of the words are inherent in force, and the repetition of that is more powerful than concentrating on what the words say. Sounds may often communicate to us more explicitly than words. Our understanding and interactions associated with these terms frequently affect the way we view them, distracting us along the way. Instead of chanting, a historically famous Tendai priest also went so far as to use shakuhachi. It was said that he felt a deep bond with the sounds and he used the bamboo flute to interact more directly.