Foreword - A Book of Buddhist Chants

THIS BOOK CONTAINS PASSAGES recited during the morning and evening chanting sessions at the temple, together with other passages chanted on special occasions. The passages are given in Pali—the language of the oldest Buddhist texts—but we have also included English translations so that those who chant and those who listen will understand what is being said.

The custom of holding daily chanting sessions is an old one in the Buddhist tradition. Chinese pilgrims to India in the fourth century C.E. report that monks would assemble every evening to chant verses in praise of the Buddha. Venerable Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara (the current Supreme Patriarch of Thailand) speculates that the tradition goes back further than that. He writes: “The present practice of morning and evening chanting originated from a practice at the time of the Buddha. Every day, in the morning and evening, his disciples would gather to attend upon his needs and then to ask questions and receive his instructions. After his Parinibbana (passing away), his disciples continued to meet each morning and evening to chant the passages extolling the virtues of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. This is called ‘Tam Wat’—to do the duty of attending upon. After this, a discourse would be chanted, taking the place of listening to the teaching directly from the mouth of the Buddha himself. This is called ‘Suat Mon’—sacred word chanting.”

The benefits of chanting are many. The act of chanting helps focus the mind and make it calm. The content of the chanting reminds us of the Buddha’s teachings and gives us confidence in putting them into practice. The passages are not prayers or petitions made to a god, for the Buddha was the teacher of all gods and human beings.He taught us the way out of the sufferings, stress, and troubles of the world not through requesting help from an outside power but through developing our own inner potential for goodness and insight. To follow this path, we must understand its principles and be confident in their efficacy. This is where chanting plays a part in directing our practice. Some of the chanting passages are straightforward explanations of principles that must be kept in mind as we follow the Buddhist path. These passages function as reminders and aids in understanding. Other passages offer blessings and protections. These passages function as aides to our confidence.

The question arises: if the Buddha was not a god, and the blessings are not prayers or petitions, how are they effective? The answer is that if we look at the English translations, we can see that the protective passages ward off evil influences and wish the listener well through the power of the Buddha’s perfections, the Dhamma’s purity, and the Noble Sangha’s right practice. These passages take effect through the purity, practice, and good will (metta) of the reciter and the understanding and receptiveness of the listener. In short, the passages are made effective by the power of the mind. As Venerable Piyadassi Thera has noted, “Mind not only makes sick. It also cures.” The passages we chant are skillful means for diverting the power of the mind away from its ordinary random—and often harmful— ways and focusing it on a healing purpose.

To chant so as to gain understanding and confidence in the Buddhist path is an important part of the practice but cannot take the mind to its highest potential for good. As Venerable Ajaan Chah has said, “Walking the path to reach the Buddha-Dhamma is something each of us must do individually for ourselves. No one else can do it for us. And we must walk along the proper direction of virtue, concentration, and discernment until we find the blessings of purity, brightness, and peace of mind that are the fruits of walking the path. If all we have is knowledge of books and scriptures, sermons and suttas, that’s just knowledge of the map or plans for the journey. Even in hundreds of lives we’ll never know purity, brightness, or peace of mind. Instead, we’ll waste time and never get to the real benefits of the practice. Teachers only point out the direction of the path. Whether—after listening to teachers— we will walk the path of practice and taste the fruits of practice ourselves is entirely up to each one of us.”

So, as we chant to focus and calm the mind, and to gain understanding and confidence in the Buddha’s teachings, we should also put those teaching into practice so as to gain their full benefits, developing to the utmost the mind’s potential for bringing happiness to ourselves and to the world around us.

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We would like to express our deepest gratitude to Phra Ajaan Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff), abbot of Metta Forest Monastery, California, USA, for providing us with the romanized Pali and English translation used in this book. Our heartfelt thanks also go to Phra Ajaan Maha Prasit and Ajaan Kitti, our resident bhikkhus, for their assistance.

MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY!

Executive Committee
Palelai Buddhist Temple
2553 B.E. / 2010 C.E.

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