about the Chants


Chanting plays a small, but nevertheless an important part of sesshin. Each afternoon of the sesshin a chanting ceremony is held which lasts about twenty minutes. There are also chants before meals and at the close of the day's formal activities. The afternoon ceremony includes 'The Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra', the ten-verse 'Kannon Sutra' and the Four Vows.

Although chanting does not take up much sesshin time, the chants, particularly the Four Vows, represent a necessary part of Zen practice.

Zen Chanting is very vital. It is accompanied by the steady beat of a mokugyo, a round wooden drum, and accompanied by the striking of a keisu, a large bowl-shaped gong. On the whole, one chants around a monotone with hara as the source of the chanting. During a sesshin chanting is both an inspiration and welcome relief.

The Chanting Ceremony

The Three Refuges (Standing, hands in gassho, facing altar)

I take refuge in Buddha ...........(full prostration)

I take refuge in Dharma...........(full prostration)

I take refuge in Sandha............(Full prostration)

(Take a seat facing centre of room)


The Bodhisattva of Compassion, from the depths of prajna wisdom,
saw the emptiness of all five skandhas
and sundered the bonds of suffering.
Know then: Form here is only emptiness, emptiness only form
Form is no other than emptiness,
Emptiness no other than form.
Feeling, thought and choice, consciousness itself, are the same as this.
Dharmas here are empty, all are the primal void.
None are born or die,
Nor are they stained or pure, nor do they wax or wane.
So in emptiness no form, no feeling, thought or choice,
Nor is there consciousness.
No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;
no colour, sound, smell, taste, touch, or what the mind takes hold of,
nor even act of sensing.
No ignorance or end of it, nor all that comes of ignorance:
no withering, no death, no end of them.
Nor is there pain, or cause of pain, or cease in pain,
or noble path to lead from pain.
Not even wisdom to attain, attainment too is emptiness.
So know that the Bodhisattva, holding to nothing whatever,
But dwelling in prajna wisdom, is freed of delusive hindrance,
rid of the fear bred by it, and reaches clearest nirvana.
All buddhas of past and present, buddhas of future time,
through faith in prajna wisdom come to full enlightenment.
Know then the great dharani, the radiant peerless mantra,
the supreme, unfailing mantra, the Prajna Paramita, whose words allay all pain.
This is highest wisdom, true beyond all doubt, know and proclaim its truth:

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, sva-ha!

(lead chant introduces Kanzeon by chanting it once through and then giving the introducing "Kanzeon" - all come in on the "Praise....)


Praise to Buddha
All are one with Buddha
All awake to Buddha.
Buddha, Dharma, Sangha,
Freedom, joy and purity.
Through the day Kanzeon,
Through the night Kanzeon,
This thought comes from Buddha-mind,
This thought is one with Buddha-mind.

(lead chant introduces Return of Merit - hands in gassho)

Ten Direction, Three Worlds,

All Buddhas, Bodhisattva-mahasattvas

Maha Prajna Paramita.

(Kneel upright, facing altar, hands in gassho. Lead chant introduces The Four vows: "All beings without number")

All beings, without number, I vow to liberate.

Endless blind passions I vow to uproot,

Dharma gates, beyond measure, I vow to penetrate.

The Great Way of Buddha I vow to attain.

(Stand, facing altar, hands in gassho. Three prostrations).


At the end of the formal activities 'Hakuin Zenji's Chant in Praise of Zazen' and the Four Vows are chanted.

Hakuin was a seventeenth-century Japanese Zen master. He was a deeply awakened man and his teaching helped to inspire a revival of interest in Zen practice in Japan.


From the beginning all beings are Buddha.
Like water and ice, without water no ice,
Outside us no Buddhas.
How near the truth, yet how far we seek,
Like one in water crying "I thirst".
Like a child of rich birth
wand'ring poor on this earth,
we endlessly circle the six worlds.
The cause of our sorrow is ego delusion.
From dark path to dark path we've wandered in darkness,
How can we be free from the wheel of samsara?

The gateway to freedom is zazen samadhi,
beyond exultation, beyond all our praises,
the pure Mahayana.
Observing the precepts, repentance and giving,
the countless good deeds and the way of right living
all come from zazen.
Thus one true samadhi extinguishes evils;
it purified karma, dissolving obstructions.
Then where are the dark paths to lead us astray?
The pure lotus land is not far away.
Hearing this truth, heart humble and grateful,
to praise and embrace it, to practice its wisdom,
brings unending blessings, brings mountains of merit.

But if we turn inward and prove our True-nature,
that True-self is no-self,
our own Self is no-self,
we go beyond ego and past clever words.
Then the gate to the oneness of cause and effect is thrown open.
Not two and not three, straight ahead runs the Way.
Our form now being no-form,
in coming and going we never leave home.
Our thought now being no-thought,
our dancing and songs are the voice of the Dharma.
How vast is the heaven of boundless samadhi!
How bright and transparent the moonlight of wisdom!
What is there outside us, what is there we lack?
Nirvana is openly shown to our eyes.
This earth where we stand is the pure lotus land,
And this very body, the body of Buddha.


Before meals, the Meal Chant is chanted. This chant asks us to remember the toil of others and to be be moderate in all things. All chants should be done mindfully and with vigor.

To invoke the compassionate nature is to awaken to the sufferings of others and to arouse the will to work for the salvation of all.

Food is symbolically offered to hungry and thirsty ghosts. This is a very ancient ritual, and in Zen it is interpreted to mean that an offering is made to appease those parts of ourselves which are too restless, so greedy for attention and thirsty for sensation, that they cannot join in with the practice but are always striving to pull away from it.


The Meal Chant

(hands in gassho)

With all that lives, let us honor the Three Treasures,
Let us recall the exertions of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

This meal is the labor of countless beings,
let us remember their toil.
Defilements are many and exertions weak,
do we deserve this off’ring?
Gluttony stems from greed,
let us be moderate.
Our lives are sustained by this offering,
let us be grateful.
We take this food to attain the Buddha Way.

(food is served)

(All, with raised bowls or plates)
Our meal is offered to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
With teachers and family, with nations and all life
let us equally share.
To beings throughout the six worlds, we offer this meal.

(plates set down, hands in gassho)

All hungry ghosts!
All tortured spirits!
Now we give you this Dharma-food.
May it fill the ten directions
and satisfy hunger in realms of darkness.
All hungry ghosts!
All tortured spirits!
Abandon greed and rouse the desire for enlightenment.

To you spirits tortured by thirst, we give this liquid offering.
May your thirst be relieved,
May your suff’ring diminish,
May all beings attain Buddhahood!

(meal is eaten)



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