Do we need a new chanting style?


All this talk about music- can someone actually chant a bit and show? :laughing:

with metta


As Bhante S. pointed out, the chanting “musical” elements you’re objecting to is really important in helping out with memory. The more suttas you memorize, the more you’re going to see the need for that. And you’ll see why the suttas are constructed with so many repetitions.

For the suttas I don’t chant daily or weekly, they start fading from memory, and as I chant the sutta trying to remember jthe missing peaces, the different tones and pitches act as checksums and memory tags and keys to alert me something doesn’t “sound” quite right, or something is missing.

So as a device for the oral tradition in keeping accurate fidelity of the suttas, the “musical”-ish elements are necessary. But at a personal level, one has to be careful ti chant it in a way where it doesn’t become a hindrance of sensual desire for pleasant melodies and sound.

I have a simple way to avoid that problem. I chant fast, at fluent speed, with lots of breaks (of silence) between phrases, sentences, and key ideas. I’m aware of the meaning of the sutta as I chant it, so there is no time to appreciate any sonic or tonal qualities that are aesthetically pleasing.

some Burmese monks have another solution, which may be intentional. They chant in really unpleasant tonal pattern which has no musical aesthetically pleasing qualities. So that’s another way, as long as the tonal patterns have some kind of method and logical consistency to help with memory.

But as to your point about having recorded pali readings of suttas with no musical element at all, that would be great to have if someone wants to do that.


It’s interesting that this seems to only appear in AN. Then, it’s tempting to imagine reciters of the other nikayas, oblivious about this recommendation, chanting with sophisticated melodies.


As a personal report, many years ago, I cried profusely during a ch’an chant ceremony (I wish I remember what liturgy was that). On the other hand, I don’t know chinese, so I could not know what was being said. All that was left to focus on was the melody, which was too beautiful.


Much similar to the extreme repetitiveness of early parts of the Bible, which was also traditionally “sung/chanted” as oral literature before being written down during the Babylonian exile.

Many of these exhaustive repeating phrases used to be like the “choruses” of a song, with a particular melodic character that came back again and again, at least in the context of the Bible, which technically comes with its own proto- musical notation.

IMO its actually just the traditional tuning of that region you are hearing. They may well think it sounds quite sweet.

Check out this Indonesian scale this man is singing in at 1:23

It is supposed to sound quite “sweet”, but for cultural reasons, most of us will hear the singer as horribly out-of-tune.

I have had similar experiences with Chinese chanting of the monastic morning service.


Related to the above, and the culturally conditioned nature of things like which tone is “in-tune” and which is not, here is some wild and wacky very traditional tuning from the West:

Believe it or not, this man is not tone-deaf.

Speaking also of the culturally-conditioned nature of things like expression of emotion through music: this lady is supposed to sound very, very, very angry/upset. Does she?



Thank you :slight_smile:


Islamic call to prayer also has many variations.


Perhaps when reciting as a group you do not have a choice except chanting in some or other form. What I am saying is you can’t read something as a group.


I am looking through T1435 currently, but the Chinese is a little beyond me.

For instance, this passage appears to say something like “Do not say the composition of gāthā is a criminal matter” towards the end:


But I am missing a lot of likely-important context.

I did find this from a really old translation of Pāli, advising monks not to get too extravagant (or virtuosic?) with their singing. Apologies if it was brought up already:


Related to this search: is the Sarvāstivāda vinaya in Chinese translation the same vinaya as the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya in Tibetan?


can you give a citation of what part of the vinaya says this? The heart of it should be the same pali as AN 5.209. This translation though, #5 doesn’t make much sense (common people fall into heresy). Compare to #5 on my AN 5.209 based on b.Bodhi’s translation.

AN 5.209 chanting is not singing

gītassara-suttaṃ (AN 5.209)
AN 5.209 Intonation
♦ 209. “pañc'-ime, bhikkhave, ādīnavā
“[there are] five-(of)-these, *********, dangers
āyatakena gītas-sarena
(in) drawn-out song-like-intonation
dhammaṃ bhaṇantassa.
(for) dhamma reciting.
katame pañca?
What five?
attanāpi tasmiṃ sare sārajjati,
(1) One-self, (with) one's intonation (becomes) infatuated.
parepi tasmiṃ sare sārajjanti,
(2) Others, (with) one's intonation (becomes) infatuated.
gahapatikāpi uj-jhāyanti —
(3) Householders complain:
‘yatheva mayaṃ gāyāma,
‘Just as we sing,
evamevaṃ kho samaṇā sakya-puttiyā gāyantī’ti,
so, too, these ascetics (of the) Sakyans’-son sing.’
sara-kuttimpi ni-kāma-yamānassa
(4) intonation-refining (for) one-desiring (that),
samādhissa bhaṅgo hoti,
(their) concentration breaking-up happens.
pacchimā janatā diṭṭhānugatiṃ āpajjati.
(5) [Those in] the next generation follow one’s example.


I’m still trying to find it, if you are looking for the Pi-yen Chen citation. On terms of this translation, I will send you the link in PM. It is an old translation with questionable or defunct citation.


Sounds like the Chinese version may have further additions. This causes some issues of authenticity, which was discussed about, re: some EBT suttas.

with metta,


Whyso? They didn’t just “say” the Pāli Canon in its oral stages. It was chanted/sung like any other long piece of oral literature from any other culture. That is why it is how it is, so repetitive, etc. Ancient oral texts are like this.


@Coemgenu, no I meant just this bit above. Maybe I am mistaken- on taking a second look, it looks like something from the Vinaya with reference to dukkata etc. Maybe there is a 1:1 parallel in the Theravada vinaya, which would make it quite interesting, actually!

with metta


Yes, this section is from the Pāli vinaya, not Chinese. But it is a very old translation. Who knows if it is reliable. We need an expert to chime in, I suppose.


I send it to @frankk in PM, but I might as well put it here. This is the aforementioned “old” translation from the Pāli vinaya in full that the above citation was pulled from:


found it, with DPR search for some key pali words in vinaya:
Vin 5, 5. khuddakavatthukkhandhakaṃ, para. 20 ⇒

  1. tena kho pana samayena chabbaggiyā bhikkhū āyatakena gītassarena dhammaṃ gāyanti. manussā ujjhāyanti khiyyanti vipācenti — “yatheva mayaṃ gāyāma, evamevime samaṇā sakyaputtiyā āyatakena gītassarena dhammaṃ gāyantī”ti! assosuṃ kho bhikkhū tesaṃ manussānaṃ ujjhāyantānaṃ khiyyantānaṃ vipācentānaṃ. ye te bhikkhū appicchā . pe . te ujjhāyanti khiyyanti vipācenti — “kathañhi nāma chabbaggiyā bhikkhū āyatakena gītassarena dhammaṃ gāyissantī”ti! atha kho te bhikkhū bhagavato etamatthaṃ ārocesuṃ. “saccaṃ kira, bhikkhave . pe . “saccaṃ bhagavā”ti . pe . dhammiṃ kathaṃ katvā bhikkhū āmantesi — “pañcime, bhikkhave, ādīnavā āyatakena gītassarena dhammaṃ gāyantassa. attanāpi tasmiṃ sare sārajjati, parepi tasmiṃ sare sārajjanti, gahapatikāpi ujjhāyanti, sarakuttimpi nikāmayamānassa samādhissa bhaṅgo hoti, pacchimā janatā diṭṭhānugatiṃ āpajjati — ime kho, bhikkhave, pañca ādīnavā āyatakena gītassarena dhammaṃ gāyantassa. na, bhikkhave, āyatakena gītassarena dhammo gāyitabbo. yo gāyeyya, āpatti dukkaṭassā”ti.