Buddhist chants in praise of the sacred feminine

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Sometimes I recite the name of Guanyin, when I feel like connecting with Buddhahood in female form.

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The monks of Laos and north-east Thailand chant a very long, beautiful series of verses to mae thorani, “mother earth”. Sadly, as this comes under the heading of “cultural accretions”, it doesn’t feature in the forest tradition, not to my knowledge anyway. But I heard it from a recording the Ajahn Chandako made once. He met a monk who chanted it beautifully, and was so moved he got him to put it on tape, and later played it for me. Sorry I can’t recall anything more about it!

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“Bhikkhus, there are these five dangers in reciting the Dhamma with a drawn-out, song-like intonation.1217 What five? (1) One becomes infatuated with one’s own intonation. (2) Others become infatuated with one’s intonation. (3) Householders complain: ‘Just as we sing, so, too, do these ascetics who follow the son of the Sakyans.’ (4) There is a disruption of concentration for one wanting to refine the intonation. (5) [Those in] the next generation follow one’s example. These are the five dangers in reciting the Dhamma with a drawn-out, song-like intonation.”

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Yes, when one listens mindfully, or one chants with some heart and rhythm, done with right intention, isn’t this a practice that can elevate the heart and mind, and focus the practice with some measure of joy and beauty?

I don’t suggest that we should encourage singing and melodic chanting as a rule, but just like many other practices and rituals, chanting is a powerful (IMO) practice to raise the heart and to intensify the beauty of the Dhamma. Like many here, I’ve spent a lot of time chanting in a wat…there’s nothing worse than Pali chanting by rote, without a measure of heart and confidence.

As a side note, the original post (beautiful, @Timothy ) reminded me of an old Irish chant, that I must confess brings a tear to the eye. Maybe these chants bring so much emotion as they are tied to a part of my brain that recalls my long ago student life in Dublin, with Maria, pints of Guinness, and the beat of a bodhrán. The post reminded me of https://youtu.be/K4gjc8p7qzo .

Se/ mo laoch, mo Ghile Mear
’Se/ mo Chaesar Gile Mear
Suan na/ se/an ni/ bhfuaireas fe/in
O/ chuaigh I gce/in mo Ghile Mear

Grief and pain are all I know
My heart is sore
My tears a’flow
We saw him go …
No word we know of him…

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Wow, thank you @AnagarikaMichael! What a lovely song! Though I share no such heritage as far as I know, it gave me goosebumps immediately!

:anjal:

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(just adding the sutta number and link: AN5.209)

On top of the five reasons given in the sutta, I guess chanting or listening to melodic chants is a sense pleasure; so it comes with all the issues of sense desires (addiction, painful when it stops etc).

I actually find it remarkable that the Theravada tradition managed to respect this advice so well after 2500 years. It is astonishing and very inspiring! And once more the Buddha was thinking about future generations with remarkable prescience.

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I just hope that we don’t squeeze all of the juice and energy out of Theravada, and it ends up like an old, dried lemon.

I’m not advocating singing, or bringing entertainment into the practice, but there can be a tendency, it seems to me, to relegate Theravada to a dry corner, while other forms of western “Buddhism” thrive. We become so enamored with being pious and withdrawn that we discourage cultivating energy and joy in the practice.

This is a difficult thought to put into words. One thing that SC seems to do, is what no other prior platform for the early texts does, and that is to create community around the early texts, and to bring the word of the Buddha to a wide audience in an energetic and engaging way. We have D&D, which creates community, engagement, discussion and debate, another form of energy and spiritual friendship. SC has this capacity to bring this traditional practice to a wider audience and inject some real energy into the Path of Practice. Yesterday, Facebook kind of exploded over some discussion that originated here; D&D planted a seed that resonated widely, and drew a new audience into SC. I saw people writing in asking for the link to SC, so that they could join this community, too. Juice and energy for the Dhamma, all created by a seed planted here, that some might feel went beyond what Theravada study and practice might entail.

There are sense pursuits that we all agree are mundane and not consistent with development on the Path. Chanting, though, seems to occupy a special space and has a capacity to bring energy to the Dhamma. This is my own view, and I am sure others rightly feel differently.

I can mention that I don’t listen to music. Before taking precepts, music, like for many of us, was an important and beautiful part of life. When I was at university, I was a “disc jockey,” and produced and put on a radio rock music show every morning. Music was important to me. But today I have no means or desire to listen to music; I keep my precepts, as best as I can. And so, I find, like with Timothy’s original post, incredible energy and beauty when I allow myself to listen to something like Buddhist chants in praise of the sacred feminine. This triggered in me a memory from long ago of an old Irish chant.

So, for me, as in all sense things, I just have to be mindful. I have to recall that that a beautiful chant is a form of practice and not an entertainment. I see the capacity for chanting to elevate Theravada, and bring life and juice into what can become, for some, unfortunately, an old, unattractive, sour lemon. The historical Buddha’s teaching and the energy from this practice is too valuable, it seems to me, to let that happen.

Also, Ayya Yeshe is kind of a hero, in my book. Her personal story, her overcoming of harships, and her work in India to bring food and education to the children of the slums there is amazing and worthy of great respect. To hear her chant, on these recordings, is also quite powerful and beautiful… all the more so knowing her story.

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I remember that in ‘The Broken Buddha’, S. Dhammika seems to have a similar view:

There is one other area where Buddhayana might be enriched by dialogue with Christians. Theravadian hostility towards all forms of beauty has prevented the development of any sacred music or plainsong beyond the most rudimentary forms. Thai chanting is not unpleasant to the Western ear although its simple tune and rhythm offer limited scope for further development. Burmese and especially Sri Lankan chanting is little more than a caterwaul. Sonorous music, song and chanting can have an enormous value in communal worship, they can give expression to saddha and they can even be an adjunct to meditation. The Buddhayana would study the rich Christian tradition of plainsong and sacred music and try to develop forms of each that would be suitable to use with Pali gatha and other mediums.

But in my understanding, it’s not about discouraging the cultivation of energy and joy, and definitely not about ending up lile an ‘old, dried :lemon:’ (I hope!). Because the suttas tell us that the joy can be cultivated and generated at will from other sources than sense pleasures: from one’s own faith (SN12.23), diligence (SN55.40), unsullied mind (SN35.98), or directing one’s mind to an inspiring sign (SN47.10), recollecting the Buddha/Dhamma/Sangha etc.

But you’re right energy and joy should be encouraged :anjal:

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