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The content of the Ancient Buddhist chant was invariably Buddha‚Äôs own Teaching (Dharma), usually his own discourses to his disciples.
It is mentioned in the Buddhist literature that people from various religious traditions sought benedictions from Sakyamuni Buddha, who became known as a healer, at different times when people encountered misfortunes and when they were scared of invisible evil forces.
For example, the royal family and the people of the Kingdom, when stricken by menacing epidemics, sought protection and blessings from Sakyamuni Buddha who later asked his personal attendant, Ananda, upon the request from the royal family, to chant the Discourse on Jewels (Ratana Sutta) by sprinkling water around the city of Visala.
The chant itself, devoid of any sensual stimuli, is intended to inspire in both the chanter and the audience total dispassion and detachment (anatta) and concentration. Usually chanted in unison by an entire congregation of Buddhist monks in ‚Äúrecto tone‚ÄĚ, ancient Buddhist Chant creates an impressive atmosphere of serenity and even grandeur.
While no such mystical union as in the care of the Gregorian chant forms intended, its gear, earthly appeal renders one to be intensely contemplative.
The Ancient Buddhist chant has been used for therapeutic purposes since the time of the Buddha. It‚Äôs no small significance that early Buddhist missionary monks sent to West by Indian Emperor, Asoka the Great came to be known as therapeutics in the Greco-Roman world.
Among the many discourses, Buddhist chant derives from three fundamental discourses, normally chosen by ancient Buddhist teachers, of Sakyamuni Buddha, the Fully Awakened One.
These discourses, which contain the word of Sakyamuni Buddha, were preserved in Pali, the ancient language the Buddha spoke. The Discourse on Blessings, the Discourse on Jewels and the Discourse on Universal Goodwill are the three key discourses. These are daily recited by Buddhist monks and lay people alike for inspirational experience.
The Discourse on Blessings (Mangala Sutta from the Sutta Nipata) contains thirty-six characteristic benedictions identified by the Buddha himself as being most noble and propitious.
These benedictions, when recited with focused attention, advance inner peace and serene joy. The Discourse on Jewels (Ratana Sutta, another discourse from the Sutta Nipata) offers a remedial technique through contemplation on spiritual riches bestowed by the Holy Triple Gem - Buddha (Fully Awakened One), Dhamma (Doctrine) and Sangha (the community of monks and nuns).
It is said that an ancient city stricken by three menacing epidemics, evil spirits, diseases and famine was saved and continued to be protected by the healing power of this discourse.
The Discourse on Universal Goodwill (Karaniya Metta Sutta, another discourse chosen from the Sutta Nipata) contains a meditative theme on universal love and compassion which during Sakyamuni Buddha‚Äôs own life time came to the aid of a group of monks to continue to live in their forest habitations unhindered by fear of evil spirits.
Building self-confidence and strength seem to be the primary objective of this popular Discourse on Universal Goodwill At the end of chanting of each discourse, the chanters, mainly the monks, perform an act of truthfulness.
That is to say that the chanters use their spiritual powers to invoke blessings by saying, ‚Äėby the power of the Holy Triple Gem may all blessings be always upon you (the audience), may you enjoy good health and may you live long.‚ÄĚ
According to the modern psychologists, human language and mind can bring either evils or blessings to another human being. If the language is wrongly used, this act could hurt the listeners where as if the language is compassionately and rightly used, this act will definitely bring blessings and healings to the listeners.
This is a scientifically experimented fact. Knowing the power of wholesome language, Sakyamuni Buddha admonished the monks to do the chanting with a compassionate mind and with pure awareness.
Following Sakyamuni Buddha‚Äôs advice, even today the Buddhist monks perform the chanting out of great love and compassion with an undivided attention. It is the teaching of Sakyamuni Buddha that a human mind, replete of love, compassion, altruistic joy and equilibrium (four divine virtues of Buddhist doctrine), can absolutely bring healings to others.
And also, a mind, replete of greed, anger, hatred, jealousy, pride and self-centredness, would certainly bring miseries to oneself and others alike.
Now, one may wonder as to why do Buddhists still listen to the discourses that have been taught about two thousand five hundred years ago by the Buddha. How could such words bring healings to others?
Sakyamuni Buddha, as a Fully Enlightened One, would never speak words empty of meanings and benefits. The Enlightened One is always concerned about sufferings of other beings and happiness of all living beings.
This is because of his infinitely great compassion and wisdom which have been cultivated by eradicating all evils and cultivating spiritual virtues. Sakyamuni Buddha, attaining the ultimate evolution of human consciousness, became an embodiment of universal love and compassion.
He spoke with absolute purity of mind and hence, he brings inner-transformation in the audience who is paying utter attention to the words. It‚Äôs the inner-transformation that generates the spiritual healing in the listeners. It is the belief that spiritual teachers invariably use powerful and spiritually profitable words which became an art of healing technique.
In order to reap the healing from the ancient Buddhist therapeutic chant, the audience have to observe few steps. One must take a comfortable sitting posture having the back straight so as to have a balance between the mind and physicality.
In order to avoid all unnecessary distractions, the disconnection of mind from the external world is recommended. It is imperative that the listeners maintain the mind in the present moment to have an undivided attention. Take a deep breath consciously so as to let the entire body relax.
Conscious inhalation and exhalation are indispensable to become natural within by following the breath all the way in and out. All unwholesome thoughts and energies must be released along with exhalation and all wholesome thoughts and energies must be developed along with inhalation.
Finally, pay absolute attention to the melodious chant and keep on inhaling and exhaling mindfully by feeling wholesome vibrations of the chanting.
The following are benefits the audience may reap. Stress-tension-Problem-free life, life of confidence free from fear, all embracing Protection assurance, protection from unforeseen harm and danger to one‚Äôs own self, good health, longevity, physical and mental relaxation and calm, inner peace, serenity, healing physical & psychological ai well-being are the immediate results that the audience experience.
(The writer is a resident at the Westend Buddhist Centre Toronto, Canada. He has a Pundit degree from Sri Lanka, M. A. from McMaster University Hamilton and PhD from University of Toronto Canada).
Seeking solace in Buddhism
Thousands of low-caste Hindus seeking to escape the oppression of India‚Äôs rigid caste system embraced Buddhism in a mass conversion recently.
Some 5,000 Dalits ‚ÄĒ those at the bottom of the ancient religious hierarchy who were once known as untouchables ‚ÄĒ converted to Buddhism in Mumbai, state capital of Maharashtra in western India, a Dalit group said.
‚ÄúWe estimate that close to 5,000 Dalits have chosen the path towards Buddhism by the end of the day,‚ÄĚ said Shravan Gaikwad, representative of the Samatha Sainik Dal, a Dalit group.
Large-scale Dalit conversions take place periodically in India, with close to 10,000 changing faith in October to mark the 50th anniversary of the conversion of their deceased political leader Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.
Ambedkar, a low-caste Hindu who rose to become a distinguished jurist and played a key role in drafting India‚Äôs constitution, galvanised Dalits with his public rejection of caste and Hinduism itself.
The conversion came just two weeks after a Dalit woman was sworn in as chief minister of India‚Äôs largest state in an unexpected majority win that some saw as a sign of how far the group has come.
But many Dalits say they still face severe discrimination and the conversions are a way to make a fresh start, as well as to draw attention to their plight.
Despite legislation banning caste discrimination, Dalits commonly perform the most menial and degrading jobs in India. On occasion, they are ostracised, beaten or even killed by members of upper-caste groups.
Sushil Kathe, who travelled thousands of kilometres to convert on Sunday, remembers not being allowed to drink from the local well as a child growing up in a village in a rice-growing district of the state.
‚ÄúThe upper caste came and did not allow us to drink water. They said the place would be impure if we were allowed to take the water,‚ÄĚ said Kathe, 25, who sells religious booklets.
The conversions have been opposed by right-wing Hindus who have pushed some Indian states to legally restrict the practice, calling them ‚Äúforced.‚ÄĚ
But landless labourer D.G. Khade said conversion was his only hope of a life of dignity in India.
‚ÄúThe Hindu religion is structured in such a way that we lower-caste people will never get dignity,‚ÄĚ said Khade.
‚ÄúI am 45 and I don‚Äôt want my children to suffer my fate.‚ÄĚ
During the conversion, many of the Dalits wore blue caps to show their brotherhood in their new religion, as they repeated the hymns being chanted by Buddhist monks. Some also had their heads tonsured.
Low-caste Hindus constitute some 16 percent of India‚Äôs billion-plus population and more than a fifth of Maharashtra‚Äôs population.