November 23, 2011

Ten days continuous chanting: What’s the point?

Fiona writes: Starting yesterday at midday, and finishing at Friday the 2nd of December at midday, eight of my Buddhist sangha will be taking turns to chant. All day and all night long. The chant is in two teams, and so the sound is continuous.

I completely failed to explain the reasons behind this to my mum. And so I may fail here as well. But it feels important to try.

Yesterday, Kaspa & I joined them for a mere six hours. The chant we use (as Pureland Buddhists) is ‘Namo Amida Bu’, which means ‘I call out to Amida Buddha’.

Amida Buddha is the Buddha of infinite light and life, and by chanting we put ourselves in relationship with this ‘ideal’. His sparkling golden qualities rub off on us, just as we become better people when we’re in a relationship with anyone wise, ethical and loving.

But this theology, in some ways, is neither here nor there.

What’s crucially important (and what feels impossibly difficult to explain) is that we are chanting to connect us to a kind of universal love. And we are chanting for the benefit of everyone.

We are reminding ourselves and other people that we are held by something much bigger and more complex than we can imagine. We are expressing our gratitude for this. We are putting aside our usual daily concerns – making a living, watching TV – and dedicating a decent period of time for intensive practice. We are making a point. We are individually renewing and strengthening our relationship with this ‘something bigger’.

You could call this ‘something bigger’ spirit, or the ineffable. You could conceptualise it the spirit of humankind or Gaia. We call it Amida. It doesn’t matter. We’re chanting for everyone.

Yes, sometimes it’s boring. We sit for twenty minutes and then walk for twenty – in six hours that’s three hours of walking. Your hips ache. Your voice gives out, despite the fresh lemon and ginger tea and the throat sweets. Sometimes five minutes felt like four times that. Important things aren’t always easy.

Sometimes, the hours flew past like birds.

The candle-light flickered around our big golden Amida Buddha on the shrine. I sat and chanted, and I walked and chanted. I watched Susthama stroking her glorious pregnant stomach and I imagined her little girl, already listening along. I listened the harmonies as our voices stirred together – sometimes jarring and flawed, sometimes as sweet as the angels. I looked around the room at dear old friends and at complete strangers, all of us working together to keep the chant going. Frequently, tears came – of gratitude and of belonging. To this funny old thing, the human race. I love them all. Namo Amida Bu.

If you have any way of getting to The Buddhist House in Narborough (just south of Leicester in the UK) before they finish on Friday the 2nd, I’d strongly suggest you pop in and experience it for yourself (call ahead 0116 2867476 if you need accommodation  or just turn up if you’re just going for the day (or if you can chant during the night)). You’d be extremely welcome, and our team can do with all the help they can get. Stay for an hour or three, or stay the night.

In the meantime, you can watch them live here.

(The photo is a painting by one of our sangha, Maitrisimha Leo Kouwenhoven, called ‘Nembutsu’ (Namo Amida Bu) – it’s a visual representation of the chanting.)

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