Al et al,

I've been BOTHERED ever since I sent the attached post because of my bad
advice on chanting.

I didn’t think about it properly and responded more to be consistent with
the previous postings rather than specifically on chanting.


The 4 Bodhisattvas vows are good for vowing: for sharpening your focus,
grounding you, refreshing your resolve and reminding you of your connection
with the patriarchs - but they are not good for chanting.

Zen practice leads you to freedom from attachments.  The biggest of all
attachments is the attachment to illusions.  The key illusion is the
illusion of self, and the biggest supporting mechanism for the illusion of
self is rational, dualistic thinking.  To be free from attachments you must
be free from illusions.  To be free from illusions you must quit making the
concept of self by ceasing your dualistic thinking.

Zazen (shikantaza - clear mind) is (in my opinion) the best way to do this.
There are many other ways (maybe an infinite number of ways), however, and
chanting is one of them.  Koans are another.

In order to help cease your dualistic thinking the chant (in my opinion)
should be something that does not carry any 'meaning' for you - nothing
which you could be tempted to think about.  One way to do this is to choose
a chant in a foreign language you don't know, or even nonsense syllables
that do not mean anything at all.

I don't chant often, but when I do I use Sanskrit words which are in the
final passage of the Heart Sutra:

     gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha  ('gate' is pronounced

Although I know generally what this translates to in English, I don't think
about that.  I like this one because it is long enough that I can chant in
one, long exhale without having to repeat it multiple times, although I
don't think repeating a short syllable would necessarily be less effective.

Another chant that is commonly used in zen koan study is 'Mu'.  The student
is given the koan and encouraged to 'sit with Mu, become Mu'.  At first the
student might try to 'figure out' or understand or 'solve' the koan with
their rational mind.  When they can't (because their teacher will reject all
those types of answers), they finally give up and then maybe will shut down
their rational mind.  To assist in that they are sometimes encouraged to
just sit and chant loudly (bellow, really) the syllable 'Mu' over and over
again.  If this technique is used then Mu becomes like a chant.

A good example of a chant traditionally used by non-zen segments of
modern-day Western culture are the Catholic Hail Mary and Lord's Prayer.
When either of these are repeated over and over and over, they become
'meaningless'.  By that I mean the mind becomes 'bored' with them and no
longer processes the sounds as carrying a meaningful message.  Then they are
(in my opinion) a true chant.

Chant's don't have to be verbally expressed, they can just be thought.  I
think this is less effective because if you verbally express the chant it
helps with your exhaling, and proper breathing is very important to zazen.

Okay, now I feel I've more fully addressed chanting, from my perspective.
No longer bothered!


From: [mailto:[EMAIL PROTECTED] On Behalf
Sent: Thursday, August 21, 2008 9:33 AM
Subject: RE: [Zen] Test of Character


Either you're getting better concealing your sarcasm or this last post was
really sincere.

Since I prefer sincerity to sarcasm I'll assume it is sincere; and in that
case I have some changes to make to my last post:

- change 'command' to 'invite'
- change '100 Bodhisattva Vows and 500 bows' to 'just sit'
- change 'send a small donation to PayPal' to 'post more frequently'
- change 'Your Personal Guru' to 'Your friend'

Don't get me wrong, I do like sarcasm at times and think yours in some of
the best. Don't abandon it altogether. Use it when you think it's called
for, like when we're getting too pompous and babbling on about things which
really don't make a difference - which is probably most of the time. 

If you really want something to chant, try the 4 Bodhisattva vows. A
Bodhisattva is an enlightened being who has elected to forgo Nirvana in
order to stay in the world to help others become enlightened. I'm reminded
of these vows every time I fly and the uniformed Bodhisattva's who attend
the flight remind me to 'remember to put on your own oxygen mask before
attempting to help those around you'. This is a clear reference to Hinayana
Buddhism (putting on your own oxygen mask first), and then Mahayana Buddhism
(then help others). Getting off the plane is going to Nirvana. Extending
this analogy, zen is realizing that after all, one place is not any better
than another; THERE is not better than HERE, and in fact there is no
HERE/THERE duality - so there is no need to be on the plane in the first

Here are the 4 Bodhisattva vows I know: 

- Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them.
- Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to put an end to them.
- Dharmas are boundless, I vow to master them.
- The Buddha way in unsurpassable, I vow to attain it.

...or something like these. There are many different translations. Google
'bodhisattva vows' or check out This version is the one I
learned, but it might not be the best one since I've chanted at the end of
every one of my zazen sessions for over 40 years and I'm still not a

Still sitting and chanting, and happily hyperventilating oxygen - Your

From: [mailto:[EMAIL PROTECTED] On Behalf
Of Al
Sent: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 9:17 PM
Subject: Re: [Zen] Test of Character

<[EMAIL PROTECTED]> wrote:I command you to chant 100 Bodhisattva Vows and 
do 500 bows.

I am going to do that. What is a good vow to chant? By the way Bill, 
if it was not for you and a couple of other folks (but mostly you), I 
would have given up on this group a long time ago. 

Hopeful to get back into zazen and then I can give up on this group 
for a good reason. 

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