Chanting is used as preparation for meditation or as part of meditation itself. Buddhists chant alone or together. If together, they chant in unison. Chanting is not like hymns sung to worship God (for example, in the Christian faith). It helps Buddhists to enter into a calm, meditative state on their own path towards enlightenment.
Mantras are phrases that are chanted. ‘Mantra’ is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning ‘instrument of thought’. Mantras were used in Hinduism before Buddhism existed, and they are present in many Eastern faiths.
The different Buddhist traditions all have their own mantras. One of the most well-known mantras is
om mani padme hum, which is associated with Tibetan Buddhism. This mantra expresses hope of wisdom and compassion. A mantra prepares the mind for meditation or evokes the calm wisdom of enlightenment.
Buddhists use malas, or prayer beads, to keep count when repeatedly chanting a mantra. A mantra may be chanted hundreds of times. Malas are also used to count breaths during meditation. Buddhists move their fingers along the beads in order to focus on chanting, breathing or meditating rather than counting.
Tibetan malas are 108 beads long. The Buddha taught that humans are afflicted by 108 desires. In Japan, malas might also have 108 beads. Alternatively, they might be shorter and be made up of two rings – one to count single recitations, the other to count full recitations of a set.
The word puja, meaning ‘worship’ or ‘adoration’, originally came from the Hindu culture of the Buddha’s childhood. Although the same word is used in Buddhism, it does not refer to worship in the sense of honouring a god or gods. Instead, it is a sign of commitment to the Buddhist path, the Dhamma, or to a Buddha or Bodhisattva. Buddhist puja can be performed at a shrine in the Buddhist’s home, in a temple or monastery, at a stupa or at a site of pilgrimage.
During puja, Buddhists make several offerings:
What is a mantra?
A word or phrase that is chanted.