WHAT WE CHANT
(and why we chant it)
Below is a brief introduction to the Sutras, Chants and Texts that relate to our typical practice. By following the links you can view, print or download them to assist with your practice/sitting.
Sutra Book: You can download the New York Zendo Sutra Book with all the chants used there. Some of the wording may be slightly different from the versions we use, which you can access individually by clicking the links below..
The Practice Principles are, in effect, the Ordinary Mind version of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths… they are normally chanted together three times at the end of each practice session.
The other chants are ‘traditional’ — they are one of the more ‘Buddhist’ aspects of Zen — and used more occasionally. They are all ‘teachings’ in their way, and as we come back to them again and again over time, we marinade in them as they slowly gain in personal meaning to us.
is about having the aspiration to become the master of our practice, our thoughts, and ourselves, while helping everyone and everything on this planet at the same time. And acknowledging, at the same time, that we actually know this is completely unattainable! It’s the great paradox at the heart of our practice.
is a way of ‘taking life whole’ by taking ownership of the ways in which we have all messed up and continue to do so, hurting both other people and ourselves in the process. The name ‘at-one-ment’ points to the idea that we become whole, ‘at-one’, by bearing witness to the harm we have done, and so help to put a stop to that self-hatred and denial that causes much of the damage we do. Our Zen practice, done seriously, is the most obvious way we have to do this.
has the beautiful image of the ‘robe of liberation’ traditionally worn by the Buddha and his disciples as being vast enough to include under it everyone and everything in the universe, an image more fitting still as the traditional pattern of the robe is an image of the patchwork landscape of the paddy-fields of Asia.
The Gatha on Opening the Sutras
is normally recited before the teacher gives a Dharma talk, it’s a reminder of how lucky we are to be able to practice together.
The Heart Sutra is given in three versions, it’s one of the most important sutras in Buddhism, and one that is often chanted every day by different communities. The first version, The Maha Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra is the one we normally chant in Ordinary Mind, but I think is rather unclear, so the second, freer version A New Heart Sutra is offered as an alternative. The Maka Hannya Haramita Shingyo is the Heart Sutra in its Sino-Japanese form, as traditionally chanted in Japanese Zen.
Sandokai is a Zen poem written in ancient China, and is a wonderful, if hard to grasp, study of the contrasting understandings of the world given as we see it from the perspective of one and many, absolute and relative, non-separation and separation. As with the Heart Sutra, it infiltrates slowly into our hearts, minds, bones and bloodstream…
The Enmei Juku Kannon Gyo is a traditional Japanese chant, normally repeated nine times at ever increasing energy and speed to the accompaniment of percussion and bells. It’s about keeping constant mindfulness of compassion, and virtually impossible to translate,
I give Kaz Tanahashi’s translation here:
Avalokitesvara, perceiver of the cries of the world
Takes refuge in Buddha
Will be a Buddha
Helps all to be Buddhas
Is not different from Buddha, Dharma, Sangha
In the morning be one with Avalokitesvara
In the evening be one with Avalokitesvara
Whose heart, moment by moment arises
Whose heart, moment by moment remains