Origin/history of liturgy

Curious what knowledge the learned folks here can share about the history of Buddhist chanting and liturgy. Until recently, I only had much exposure to Theravadin chanting, which despite some minor textual changes and more significant melodic variances, seems quite consistent among Theravadin countries. However, I was just listening to some Tibetan chanting from the Karmapa lineage and was surprised that many parts were word for word translations of the Pāli into Sanskrit (obvious with many parts such as mantras etc that aren’t in Theravadin chanting). Does this similarity point to a very early origin of basic chants that predates the division into the various early Buddhist schools (ie pre-Mahayana) or are the similarities the result of later copying of liturgy from one school to another? Thanks!


I don’t think there’s a whole lot in the way of liturgy from an EBT standpoint. What comes to mind is the Uposatha, but apart for the monks, what is to be done on such days is not told in detail, as a lot of leeway is left for everyone to appropriate that practice in their own way. Even monks can decide to practice dhutangas on such days.

For chanting, in ancient times it had the purpose of memorizing the teachings as there were no books, so it is easy to imagine that it was done with a very different purpose in mind.

That being said there are some chantings that probably haven’t changed much since the beginnings and across branches of Buddhism. For example the 3 Anussatis (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha) or the reflections on the requisites.

Hope that helps

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There is a significant difference between Thai and Sri Lankan liturgy in terms of what is chanted. The Thai was, I believe, composed by one of the modern kings. The Sri Lankan is believed to be composed by Arahant Mahinda.

I find it hard to believe that daily liturgy could be an indication of anything ancient.

This quite a lot of similarity from 2:16 in this video, eg sugato, lokavidu etc

Yes, of course the qualities of the triple gem will be identical. I was talking about the rest. I understood liturgy to include everything that might be chanted at a puja.

For example, In Sri Lanka there will almost always be something like this:

That will never be chanted in Thailand.


So what is the origin of the attributes of triple gem in liturgy? Is it just some sutta I’m not thinking of?

You mean the “itipiso” part? It’s all over the suttas.

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Here is a nice sutta that has all three. And it’s a setting where one might even imagine people chanting them…

AN 3.70: Uposathasutta