Concepts

Why Chant Out Loud?

Basics of Buddhism

Photo: Daigo Otobe.


Sitting up straight and voicing something like a song or a chant can improve lung and heart function, according to some medical professionals. Breathing from the abdomen seems to have a relaxing and calming effect, improves circulation and warms the extremities (see On Health and Long Life, pp. 15–16). Recent studies also show that those who sing—or, in our case, chant—are happier. While singing releases endorphins, associated with feelings of pleasure,[1]Jason R. Keeler, et. al., “The Neurochemistry and Social Flow of Singing: Bonding and Oxytocin” published in “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,” Frontiers, Sept. 23, 2015, accessed May 30, 2017, http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2015.00518/full singing in a group is said to release oxytocin, which enhances feelings of trust and well-being toward others, and alleviates anxiety and stress.[2]Gunter Kreutz, “Does Singing Facilitate Social Bonding?,” Music and Medicine, vol. 6, Issue 2 (2014), pp. 51–60.

From the Buddhist perspective, sound and voice have great significance in Buddhism. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the act of voicing the wonderful sound of the Mystic Law, is the bridge that fuses our lives with the Law of the universe.

“Chanting the fundamental rhythm of the universe with your voice,” SGI President Ikeda says, “enables you to tap and draw forth from the depths of one’s own life the great power, great wisdom and great fortune that are one with the universe” (June 1992 Seikyo Times, p. 18).

When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, as Nichiren Daishonin says, we not only manifest our own Buddha nature, we call forth the Buddha nature of all Buddhas. He goes on to say: “To illustrate, when a caged bird sings, birds who are flying in the sky are thereby summoned and gather around, and when the birds flying in the sky gather around, the bird in the cage strives to get out. When with our mouths we chant the Mystic Law, our Buddha nature, being summoned, will invariably emerge. The Buddha nature of Brahma and Shakra, being called, will protect us, and the Buddha nature of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, being summoned, will rejoice” (“Those Initially Aspiring to the Way,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 887).

Chanting activates our own Buddha nature as well as the Buddha nature in all things and people around us, moving them to assist us as supportive functions in our environment.

In My Dear Friends in America, he emphasizes this point with a humorous analogy, stating:

“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of the lion” (“Reply to Kyo’o,” WND-1, 412), the Daishonin says. It is by chanting powerful daimoku, like a lion’s roar, that we can move the Buddhist deities, the protective forces of the universe.

The voice is very important—it has profound power. If a wife is scolding her husband, for example, her words won’t have any effect if she speaks in a weak voice. To get his attention she has to shout, “Hey, you!” with a voice that reverberates throughout the house.

While naturally being careful not to disturb your neighbors, I hope you will try to chant cheerful and powerful daimoku that reaches all the Buddhist deities and Buddhas throughout the ten directions. (third edition, pp. 433–34)

Chanting powerfully doesn’t refer to loudness. It is about using our great voice of compassion that seeks to bring all people to enlightenment. Nichiren emphasizes, “It is the heart that is important” (“The Drum at the Gate of Thunder,” WND-1, 949). As long as our underlying intent is sincere, there is no need to feel guilty about chanting in a low volume.

The point is that earnestly chanting should leave you feeling invigorated, refreshed, positive and full of vitality. This is the driving force for victory in our daily lives.

 

(p. 8)

Notes   [ + ]

1. Jason R. Keeler, et. al., “The Neurochemistry and Social Flow of Singing: Bonding and Oxytocin” published in “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,” Frontiers, Sept. 23, 2015, accessed May 30, 2017, http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2015.00518/full
2. Gunter Kreutz, “Does Singing Facilitate Social Bonding?,” Music and Medicine, vol. 6, Issue 2 (2014), pp. 51–60.