Practice : Chanting

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Why We Chant

Chanting meditation means keeping a not-moving mind and perceiving the sound of your own voice. Perceiving your voice means perceiving your true self or true nature. Then you and the sound are never separate, which means that you and the whole universe are never separate. Thus, to perceive our true nature is to perceive universal substance. With regular chanting, our sense of being centered gets stronger and stronger. When we are strongly centered, we can control our feelings, and thus our condition and situation.

In our Zen centers, people live together and practice together. At first, people come with strong opinions, strong likes and dislikes. For many people, chanting meditation is not easy: much confused thinking, many likes, many dislikes and so on. However, when we do chanting meditation correctly, perceiving the sound of our own voice and the voices all around us, our minds become clear. In clear mind, there is no like or dislike, only the sound of the voice. Ultimately, we learn that chanting meditation is not for our personal pleasure, to give us good feeling, but to make our direction clear. Our direction is to become clear and get enlightened, in order to save all beings from suffering.

So when you are chanting, you must perceive the sound of your voice: you and the universe have already become one, suffering disappears, true happiness appears. This is called nirvana. If you keep nirvana, your mind is clear like space. Clear like space means clear like a mirror. Red comes, red. White comes, white. Someone is happy; I am happy. Someone is sad; I am sad. Someone is hungry; give them food. The name for this is great love, great compassion, the great bodhisattva way. That also means great wisdom. This is chanting meditation, chanting Zen.

Perceiving sound means everything is universal sound: birds singing, thunder, dogs barking - all this is universal sound. If you have no mind, everything will be perceived just as it is. Therefore, when you are chanting with no mind it is also universal sound. If you have "I" then it is "my" sound. But with a mind clear like space, sometimes even the sound of a dog barking or a car horn honking will bring enlightenment, because at that moment you and the sound become one. When you and the sound become one, you don't hear the sound; you are the sound.

One famous Zen master heard only the sound of a rooster crowing and was enlightened. Another Zen master was just sweeping the yard when his broom threw a rock against a piece of bamboo with a loud knock and he was enlightened. He and the sound had become one. So this matter of sound in Zen practice is really very simple. Any sound will do. What's important is to perceive the sound and become one with it, without separation, without making "I" and "sound." At the moment of true perceiving, there is no thought, no separation, only perceiving sound. This is the crucial point. So during chanting time, perceive your own voice and the voice of others, just perceive this bell or drum sound, and cut off all thinking. Then your wisdom-mind will grow, you will get enlightenment and thus save all beings.

Zen Master Seung Sahn

CZC is part of the
Kwan Um
School of Zen
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