Chanting in English

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RikudouSennin
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Chanting in English

Postby RikudouSennin » Tue Feb 07, 2017 5:05 am

I have been experimenting with different styles to chant liturgies in English. I for one notice that a speedy invocation is good for liturgies without a particular melody.

And I enjoy a slow, harmonic pattern when doing a liturgy accompanied by musical instruments; similar in a way to how Orthodox Christians chant.

In any case:

Do you feel chanting in English is appropriate when reciting traditional liturgies?

Is there a particular chanting style you find compatible with the English language?
Once you have found delight in the garden of excellent meaning, the melodious explanation of whatever you have understood will hum forth. Those who taste this sweet essence again and again perfect the power of blessed confidence.

--Pema Tashi, CM 462

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Zhen Li
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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Zhen Li » Wed Feb 08, 2017 12:02 am

With the exception of Sanskrit mantras, which are still for some a matter of debate, I believe that how and in what language one chants is entirely a matter of preference. Some people feel like it just doesn't sound "right" in English, and others feel like they never have the same experience if they are chanting in a language they don't understand.

Personally, I would say that the words one uses and how one is using them in a ritual setting should be based upon some precedent and tradition because what is considered most vital to focus on has been declared already. But that we should be allowed some variation in the realization of those ideals. For instance, I think it is generally accepted by most Buddhists that chanting/prayer/practice should be capped off by a dedication of merit.

Personally, because with using your own language there is greater unity of intellect/understanding and action, I find it more personally efficacious. Also, for elegance, I also find that using liturgy in verse is nicer than reading prose sentences or literal translations of a foreign liturgy. Sometimes a loose translation of a liturgy, put into verse in English, however one prefers (with/without this or that metre, or rhyme, etc.).

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tomamundsen
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Re: Chanting in English

Postby tomamundsen » Wed Feb 08, 2017 12:13 am

RikudouSennin wrote:Do you feel chanting in English is appropriate when reciting traditional liturgies?

I think this is very much a YMMV type of thing. My own teacher said it's OK to chant in English until I know the meaning of the sadhana. But it's better in general to chant the Tibetan, because (in the particular case of the sadhana) it's the actual words of Guru Rinpoche. But my teacher did advise that one should know the meaning of the words and not just chant in Tibetan without knowing what you're saying first.

RikudouSennin wrote:Is there a particular chanting style you find compatible with the English language?

I kinda just read it quickly with no melody when I use English :-/

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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Fortyeightvows » Wed Feb 08, 2017 1:36 am

Have you ever heard how the people at shambhala centers chant in english?
It is one of only a few examples of english chanting sounding nice that I have heard.

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Tsongkhapafan
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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Tsongkhapafan » Wed Feb 08, 2017 7:48 am

My Teacher says that it's good to chant out loud when doing group pujas but when doing private practice, chanting out loud can be distracting, so it is better to learn the words of the practice by heart and then recite from the heart silently while concentrating on the meaning. It's easier to mix your mind with the meaning and get realisations if you practise this method. This is just a suggestion.

The important thing is concentrating on the meaning of the prayers, so I would say it doesn't really matter if you use Tibetan or English, choose the language that enables you to focus more effortlessly on the meaning.

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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Karma Jinpa » Thu Feb 09, 2017 1:37 am

Tsongkhapafan wrote:My Teacher says that it's good to chant out loud when doing group pujas but when doing private practice, chanting out loud can be distracting, so it is better to learn the words of the practice by heart and then recite from the heart silently while concentrating on the meaning. It's easier to mix your mind with the meaning and get realisations if you practise this method. This is just a suggestion.

I've never heard a teacher say that reciting silently from the heart is more beneficial for solitary practice. My guess is that this advice is from a Westerner to a fellow Westerner (not that there's anything inherently wrong with that). In fact, this advice runs counter to all that I've seen and heard at various gompas in India and Nepal, and the recitation culture of Tibetans.

Tibetans in general, and monastics specifically, use chanting aloud as a method to help them memorize texts. They even learn to read and pronounce Tibetan syllables by spelling aloud as children. Also note that there's a tradition of resounding the Sutras.

Pretty sure that many folks on here can attest to reading practice texts aloud being a technique for memorization, and deeper understanding in the long run. The more you do it, the more you'll be able to retain. It's like learning to speak a language in that way.

Personally, I try to always practice aloud so that it sinks in via three of my senses rather than one. Chanting aloud uses my eyes, mouth, and ears. If disturbing others with noise is a concern, simply adjust your chanting to an appropriate volum
Last edited by Karma Jinpa on Thu Feb 09, 2017 2:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, it happens that a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་མཁས་གྲུབ་ཀརྨ་ཆགས་མེད་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱས་མཁྱེན་ནོ།
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:namaste:

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tomamundsen
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Re: Chanting in English

Postby tomamundsen » Thu Feb 09, 2017 1:40 am

Karma Jinpa wrote:Pretty sure that many folks on here can attest to reading practice texts aloud being a technique for memorization, and deeper understanding in the long run. The more you do it, the more you'll be able to retain. It's like learning to speak a language in that way.

Yep :twothumbsup:

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Tsongkhapafan
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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Tsongkhapafan » Thu Feb 09, 2017 2:17 am

Karma Jinpa wrote:I've never heard a teacher say that reciting silently from the heart is more beneficial for solitary practice. My guess is that it's from a Westerner to a fellow Westerner (not that there's anything inherently wrong with that).


My Teacher is Tibetan.

In fact, this advice runs counter to all that I've seen and heard at various gompas in India and Nepal, and the recitation culture of Tibet. Tibetans (mostly monks and nuns) use recitation out loud as a method to help them memorize texts. They even learn to pronounce Tibetan syllables by spelling aloud as children.

Pretty sure that many folks on here can attest to reading practice texts aloud being a technique for memorization, and deeper understanding in the long run. The more you do it, the more you'll be able to retain. It's like learning to speak a language in that way.


That's great, different techniques suit different people; I've found my Teacher's suggestion very effective. His point is that it is easy to recite 'from the mouth' without thinking about the meaning and the meaning is the most important thing because that's what changes your mind.

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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Karma Jinpa » Thu Feb 09, 2017 3:51 am

Tsongkhapafan wrote:My Teacher is Tibetan.

It simply strikes me as odd, then, since he was surely taught to chant aloud whenever doing practice. But to each their own, I suppose.

His point is that it is easy to recite 'from the mouth' without thinking about the meaning and the meaning is the most important thing because that's what changes your mind.

Sure, of course our focus should be on internalizing the meaning. No one here is advocating for someone to simply mouth the words without truly contemplating them. That said, reading them silently isn't necessarily a guarantee any more than chanting is. In both cases it's up to the practitioner to take the words to heart. And it's just as easy to read the pages without meditating on the levels of meaning in the sadhana.

My point, borne out by the Tibetan tradition of praxis, is that engaging more of the senses during practice helps make karmic impressions on more than one level. Consider that by engaging the speech and the body, we are able to provide supports for the mind. We are purifying our ordinary speech by uttering the words of the buddhas and past realized masters. It's planting the seeds of liberation in nearby beings. There are many Sutras, prayers, and other texts that mention the benefits for both those who recite and those who hear them.

Jangter Kunzang Mönlam wrote:Ah Ho! Hereafter, whenever a very powerful yogin with his or her Awareness radiant and free from delusion recites this very powerful prayer, then all who hear it will achieve enlightenment within three lifetimes.

During a solar or lunar eclipse, during an earthquake or when the earth rumbles, at the solstices or the new year, you should visualize Kuntuzangpo. And if you pray loudly so all can hear, then beings of the three realms will be gradually liberated from suffering through the prayer of the yogin, and will finally achieve enlightenment.

Mantrayana would be missing a crucial element if chanting were limited only to group practices. Mantras themselves are meant to be spoken, being the speech of the buddhas. Not to belabor the point, but if the argument held water that reading silently were truly better for realizing the significance, then it would follow that mantras could be read silently to get their point, too. And we know that's simply not the case.

Reading to yourself is all well and good, but ritual efficacy, in short, requires ritual practice.
"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, it happens that a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་མཁས་གྲུབ་ཀརྨ་ཆགས་མེད་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱས་མཁྱེན་ནོ།
ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོཿ


:namaste:

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Tsongkhapafan
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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Tsongkhapafan » Thu Feb 09, 2017 9:17 am

Karma Jinpa wrote:
My point, borne out by the Tibetan tradition of praxis, is that engaging more of the senses during practice helps make karmic impressions on more than one level. Consider that by engaging the speech and the body, we are able to provide supports for the mind. We are purifying our ordinary speech by uttering the words of the buddhas and past realized masters. It's planting the seeds of liberation in nearby beings. There are many Sutras, prayers, and other texts that mention the benefits for both those who recite and those who hear them.

Jangter Kunzang Mönlam wrote:Ah Ho! Hereafter, whenever a very powerful yogin with his or her Awareness radiant and free from delusion recites this very powerful prayer, then all who hear it will achieve enlightenment within three lifetimes.

During a solar or lunar eclipse, during an earthquake or when the earth rumbles, at the solstices or the new year, you should visualize Kuntuzangpo. And if you pray loudly so all can hear, then beings of the three realms will be gradually liberated from suffering through the prayer of the yogin, and will finally achieve enlightenment.

Mantrayana would be missing a crucial element if chanting were limited only to group practices. Mantras themselves are meant to be spoken, being the speech of the buddhas. Not to belabor the point, but if the argument held water that reading silently were truly better for realizing the significance, then it would follow that mantras could be read silently to get their point, too. And we know that's simply not the case.

Reading to yourself is all well and good, but ritual efficacy, in short, requires ritual practice.


Okay, so you're talking about different cases here. Yes, it's true that reciting out loud have benefits for others. We all know the stories of Stirmati and Vasubandhu who were benefited by hearing the sound of Dharma. I chant mantras out loud to animals, for example. In group pujas it is beneficial to chant out loud as it is beneficial to create actions with body, speech and mind together. It would be extreme to say that we should never chant or recite out loud, I'm not saying that. However, ritual practice requires concentration and externalising sound isn't always the best way to develop concentration. As Shantideva says:

Buddha, the All Knowing One, has said
That reciting mantras and prayers, and enduring spiritual hardships,
Even for a long time,
Are to no avail if the mind is distracted elsewhere.


When it comes to mantra recitation, there are different types of recitation. Verbal recitation is just one, but then there is mental recitation and vajra recitation which require no physical sound at all.

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Re: Chanting in English

Postby byamspa » Tue Feb 14, 2017 12:25 am

Chanting in English can sound like the participants are trying out for the Klingon Army Chorus if the text is not metered. In the case of non-metered text, i've heard people 'chanting' in a monotone that is a bit annoying.

However one zen center near me kinda figured it out, and had rules for varying the pitch up and down that reminded me a bit of plainsong.
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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Feb 14, 2017 2:12 am

Couple things come to mind:

One, some translations of Tibetan words kind of suck. I don't even know much Tibetan at all and I can tell this just because I know the breakdown of a few terms. Some sadhana shortcut terms into weird, only borderline acceptable English variations etc.
In that sense, For me it's been good to know enough of the meaning of the actual Tibetan terms to "get" them, as the poorly translated English alone would have left me uninspired. The other part of singing in Tibetan is that I learned actual melodies for some prayers, and for me the melody is indispensable to practicing with sound.

For Mantra, I can imagine there's any reason to do anything other than Sanskrit lol..

The other thing that is interesting, if you are doing liturgy with Sanskrit, Tibetan, and English, you are doing your practice in all three languages that the transmission occured in, English being the most recent, and appropriately, usually coming last.
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Re: Chanting in English

Postby RikudouSennin » Tue Feb 14, 2017 6:55 am

So I discovered from personal experimentation chanting in English just doesn't vibe or flow that good, at least not to me. It always feel like I have to force it. So I hav abandoned chanting in English 8-) and will stick to the Tibetan :twothumbsup:
Once you have found delight in the garden of excellent meaning, the melodious explanation of whatever you have understood will hum forth. Those who taste this sweet essence again and again perfect the power of blessed confidence.

--Pema Tashi, CM 462

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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Fortyeightvows » Thu Feb 16, 2017 12:02 am

RikudouSennin wrote:So I discovered from personal experimentation chanting in English just doesn't vibe or flow that good, at least not to me. It always feel like I have to force it. So I hav abandoned chanting in English 8-) and will stick to the Tibetan :twothumbsup:


I posted this on this other thread some time ago
viewtopic.php?f=40&t=18569&start=20&hilit=indispensable

Fortyeightvows wrote:I hope i don't get lambasted for this post, but:

The thing about chanting in english is that it almost always sounds terrible. Some of the shambhala centers have a tune they use that works well and sounds good but for the most part english chanting is terrible. This tun works well for almost any text.

There are ways of translating english so that it can be chanted to the same tune that tibetan uses, some fpmt centers have been very good about this.
let me give you one example

'The gods and demi-gods bow
To your lotus feet, O Tara,
You who rescue all who are destitute
To you, Mother Tara, I pay homage."

compared to

"Gods and asuras with their crowns,
bow down to your lotus feet,
liberator from all problems,
Mother Tara homage to you"

Try chanting them both. especially with tune, the first one just won't sound good.
same for this one

"In this pure realm, surrounded by snow moutains,
Is the source of complete happiness and benefit,.
Avalokiteshvara, Tendzin Gyamtso.
May you stand firm until the end of existence."

compared to

"in the snowy mountain paradise
your the source of all good and happiness
powerful, tenzin gyatso, chenrezig
please remain until samsara ends"

with the second one you could easily use the common tibetan tune and have it match beautifully.

in chinese the translations are standardized and the version that can be chanted nicely is the one made standard. this happened a long time ago. i think that since some of the translation were sponsored by the emperor they were of a very high quality.
another thing about chanting in english is that because every hymnal contains a different translation even two people who both have the prayer memorized can't just chant it together from memory and then when reading it together because some parts will be similar it can get sloppy very easily. In los angeles there are tibetan temples where the prayers are read in tibetan, chinese and english. I don't know tibetan so i can't speak to the accuracy of pronunciation but listening to the english is sad, the people can never read it in sync. this situation is made even worse when people who's english isn't very good try to join in, but without any type of tune it's very difficult to stay together and have the chant flow.

I don't see this situation changing anytime soon.

just my thoughts

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Re: Chanting in English

Postby DharmaChakra » Thu Feb 16, 2017 7:46 am

Namaste

Interesting topic, in one Theravadin monastery I visit they alternate between Pali and English and some chants are sometimes done with Pali and then the English. I think this is very good. Most people even in practice will think in their own language and if one gets to learn Pali, Sanskrit or Tibetan even mid term in their native toungue all of these the words will still be translated in the mind to ones conditioned thoughts. This is good and aids reflection but still not complete.So these practices are good for contemplation and reflection in early and mid way practice.

In sanskrit the terms sabda and nada are used to describe sound and its effect and the deeper one goes into these sounds one gains newer insights into what precedes sounds and thoughts, so all should end in either non conceptual thoughts. What is purifying to the deeper levels of mind is the vibration of these sounds, which leads to concentration and raising the inner vibration. Its an ancient science, how much is known today is debatable.

With japa and gayatri there is recitation externally, this can be of benefit to oneself and to others, so its good to chant them out loud for the benefit oneself and others, the more subtle it goes they become ajapa and ajapa gayatri and one then goes into in the substratum of energy which produces consciousness, and one can then purify oneself and all other beings on a deeper level, or a level not ordinarily perceived through the senses. Is there any comparison to these teachings in the Tibetan tradition. I would be interested if there is any same comparison in Tibetan Buddhism with sabda and nada.



If I am correct or rather if this translation is correct sound should go more silent the more one advances on this path.

In the Surangama Sutra, Avalokitesvara says that he attained enlightenment through concentration on the subtle inner sound. The Buddha then praises Avalokitesvara and says that this is the supreme way to go.




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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Miroku » Fri Feb 17, 2017 5:29 pm

I prefer chanting in Tibetan because I believe ChNN when he says that the melody itself has a power because it is connected to masters who have gained realization with that practice. The fact that I do not understand Tibetan can be easily fixed with learning the meaning of the text and by learning the tibetan words by heart so I can focus more on the translation and therefore the meaning of the text.

I have tried chanting in english (and czech) and it doesn't work as much for me (unless it is sutra, for some reason I kinda prefer to recite sutras in czech or english), but it is better than nothing or just mere singing without any understanding.
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Re: Chanting in English

Postby tingdzin » Sat Feb 18, 2017 8:20 am

Miroku wrote:I prefer chanting in Tibetan because I believe ChNN when he says that the melody itself has a power


I think this is very true. Music can touch areas of the mind deeper than words by themselves, in whatever language.

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Re: Chanting in English

Postby bryandavis » Sat Feb 25, 2017 4:52 pm

Paragraph and quote below are taken from www.gartrust.org

Translations suitable for Buddhist chant, while common in the Himalayas and throughout Asia, are rare in Western languages. As Garchen Rinpoché has for years encouraged his followers to practice in their native tongues, he has greatly supported the development of English verse translations. In December of 2014 Rinpoché said the following:

“Regarding translations for chant, many of the pointing-out instructions refer to ‘thoughts that grasp the merged sound and meaning.’ When one combines an understanding of the meaning of the words with chant or melody, a special feeling arises. This experience has a distinguishing quality that is not present when one chants in a language that is not understood or when one merely reads prose aloud. Reading prose is like covering the outer body with clothing, whereas the union of sound and meaning while chanting in verse is like eating food that nourishes the body from within. When the verses are read repeatedly, they can be easily memorized. Then the inner meaning will clearly and spontaneously dawn in the mind. This brings manifest benefit to those who wish to practice.”

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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Fortyeightvows » Sat Feb 25, 2017 11:48 pm

tingdzin wrote:
Miroku wrote:I prefer chanting in Tibetan because I believe ChNN when he says that the melody itself has a power


I think this is very true. Music can touch areas of the mind deeper than words by themselves, in whatever language.


That's why I encourage keeping the same melody, only changing the language!

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Re: Chanting in English

Postby Miroku » Sun Feb 26, 2017 1:02 am

Fortyeightvows wrote:
tingdzin wrote:
Miroku wrote:I prefer chanting in Tibetan because I believe ChNN when he says that the melody itself has a power


I think this is very true. Music can touch areas of the mind deeper than words by themselves, in whatever language.


That's why I encourage keeping the same melody, only changing the language!


Would be nice, but it would mean more work for the translators (atleast I consider it to be extra work for them) and also in this way international sanghas lose the possibility to sing and practice together in a nice harmony.
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