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 [Dhamma Talk]


On Chanting

[VP CV 5.3] PTS: Chapter 3, Horner, trans.

About Dhamma Recitation in Sing-song or Plain-song or chanting

I have a personal bias against chanting Dhamma which is commonly practiced today throughout Asian Buddhist countries and which is becomming common in the West. It seems to me to be just an outright breaking of a Vinaya rule and the logic behind that rule.

The Pali is confusing or is clear and being misunderstood. On the one hand there was this rule made against āyatakena gītassarena dhammaɱ gāyanti. [long, extended, prolonged, kept up, lasting] [sung, recited, solemnly proclaimed, enunciated]-[sounding, voicing, intoning, accentuating] dhamma [singing].

Then, when some bhikkhus asked about sarabhañña. [sounding, voicing, intoning, accentuating]+[color] they were told that voicing with color was permissable.

My persuasion is that this means giving life (a certain amount of appropriate emphasis to occasional phrases) to ordinary recitation even to the point of dramatization, but not the rhythmic chanting as it exists today.

Going to the reasons makes my case more dramatically.

Both the Bhikkhus and the listeners are obviously being carried away by the sound. You can see evidence of this in the comments made to u=Tube videos of chanting.

The chants are listened to like pop-music. The delivery is too fast and the words are not distinct. And there is in fact no color discernable where color would clarify meaning and this evidences the fact that this method of remembering is carrying forward the word without the spirit.

I know this is a losing issue, but I think the practice needs to be questioned at least by anyone whose goal is the goal.



'Monks, there are these five disadvantages
to one preaching Dhamma
in a long-drawn, plain-song voice.

What five?

He is either carried away himself by the sound;
or others are carried away thereby;
or householders are offended and say:

"Just as we sing,
for sure,
these recluse Sakya sons sing!";

or as he strives alter purity of sound,
there is a break in concentration;
and folk coming after
fall into the way of (wrong) views.

Verily, monks, these are the five disadvantages
to one preaching Dhamma
in a long-drawn, plain-song voice.'

AN 5.209 — Hare translation.

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