Why do people chant at Buddhist centers?

I’ve been invited to a Buddhist center. I want to go, but I worry that the chanting aspect of it might weird me out.

Lion’s Roar
1 March 2017
Illustration by Nolan Pelletier.

Unless you have church-going or carol-singing in your past, the idea of vocalizing with strangers, in synch, may indeed weird you out. But don’t let that stop you. Buddhists chant to deepen their understanding of and sense of connection to dharma concepts. Chanting is also an act of togetherness and selflessness: you’re not chanting to be heard as an individual, but to contribute to a collective voice. It’s not for nothing that the classical Zen advice is to chant “with your ears, not with your mouth.”

While some chants are in English, some are more about pure sound, and others may be in other languages, without translation. But if you’re comfortable with the Buddhist concepts you read about in Lion’s Roar, you can be pretty sure you’re not going to chant something you’d find objectionable. Of course, you don’t have to join in if you don’t want to, but we hope you’ll try it. You’ve nothing to lose, and at the very least a new experience to gain.

Lion's Roar

Lion’s Roar

Lion’s Roar is the website of Lion’s Roar magazine (formerly the Shambhala Sun) and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, with exclusive Buddhist news, teachings, art, and commentary. Sign up for the Lion’s Roar weekly newsletter and follow Lion’s Roar on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.