The chants played at our Satsangs, as well as other chants and meditation music, are are available to members of the We Are Sentience Sangha who are registered to come to the Satsangs.
The following was written 15 years ago, however, it does provide an interesting tale and adds another pointer for those who never chant. Those who do, don't need this.
Many people have written about chanting, from how to do it, to what and how it affects the mind and heart. I do not know any of this technical stuff. Each style and tradition has a different impact on different people. Here I include only my own experience in Zen, with Muktananda and with Robert.
My introduction to the overwhelming impact of powerful chanting was during a retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center during the winter of 1971. Arising in the deep cold of winter at 3:00 a.m., we were off to the Zendo by 3:20 a.m. for opening services, then a half hour of meditation, a brief morning tea, and then off to the Dharma Hall for chanting at 4:20 a.m.
Japanese Zen chanting is an extremely powerful mind-stilling device. It starts slowly with voices keyed in a low register. Slowly the speed builds until there is no room for thought and the slightest inattentiveness leads to becoming hopelessly lost and subject to being hit by the monitor’s stick. The energy it creates (Joriki) just adds to the energy generated by all the other practices, such as Zazen, working on a koan, Kinhin (walking meditation), and total silence.
About the third day into any of the given one-week intense retreat sessions (sesshin), I began to notice an odd occurrence that I have encountered hundreds of times since in the presence of powerful chanting ― the voice of an angel.
When the energy level climbed and all voices were chanting nearly in unison and key, one began to hear what seems like a ghost voice, two or three octaves above the key of the chant. I have always attributed this to harmonics generated by closely coordinated tones, but it feels like the presence of an angel blessing our pursuit of God and Self.
Not everyone heard these voices, but those who did, knew that the sesshin was going well. The angel voices were a sign of growing samadhi-power.
Soon, a few students with the best sitting meditation and chanting would begin to walk barefoot in the near zero degree weather through several inches of snow. It is difficult to describe how that power felt and the confidence it lent to all other practices including meditation and koan work. One’s sense of well-being increased tenfold, as did one’s ability to carry on daily tasks in the bitter cold. One could easily discern the state of other students' minds by the clarity and authority of their bell ringing and by their ability to tolerate the cold. In the deep cold silence of the mountain and the Self, came crystal clarity and the disappearance of mind.
Every Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh tradition has its own form of chanting, practiced in most centers every morning to begin the day with a fresh mind, cleared of mental trash. Each Asian tradition has its own style of chanting, its own language, simplicity, repetitive style and duration. Vietnamese style chanting is lilting, effeminate, and charming, leaving a sense of peacefulness. Korean Zen chanting is very forceful, generating great power and clear mindedness. With Hindu-style chanting, I discovered an entirely new range of effects: feeling deep love, the sense of loss, and eventually the constant feeling of ecstatic bliss.
One day during 1979 or so, I decided to go a local ashram run by one of Swami Muktananda disciples, Swami Shankarananda. The ashram was located 10 blocks from the Zen center where I lived at that time. The meditation hall was the second floor of a converted apartment building. Perhaps eight residents lived there. At first, I sat in the back, and just listened to the talks and chanting. Soon, I was chanting with every atom within me.
Chanting was done Chetana style, meaning men sat across the room opposite the women, and each chanted a verse to the other, in what was called, call-and-response. The effects are far different than I ever felt in any Buddhist tradition. The music was softer, the tones gentle, lilting, and very emotional. It pulled at my heart, eliciting feelings of love and compassion for all. I do not know why it works that way, whether it is purely the sounds, or whether it was the mystical calling out of God’s name. I tend to think the former. Just chanting creates its own mind states.
Robert loved chanting, but he also enjoyed playing oddball music at Satsang to stir things up, to prevent anyone becoming dependent on one style of music. Therefore, Satsang never developed a strong chanting tradition of its own, and most of the people who came had no taste for it. To me, they all seemed a cerebral bunch and I missed the sweetness of chanting.
So during the early 90's I began playing Muktananda and other style chanting tapes during my daily three mile walks, and I also played the chanting tapes at home, after work. I began to notice that I was playing the tapes more and more each day, and I did it because it made me feel good. I felt happy and relaxed after an hour of listening, and my mind was stilled, just feeling the flow of Consciousness through my body into the world.
One day, half way through my walk, while listening to Baba’s chanting tapes, I noticed an entirely new feeling. Deep inside my chest, in the pit of my heart, I felt a tingling, a new energy, and my first taste of bliss (Ananda). The bliss was first characterized by a sense of complete well being, and a change in my vision that was much like the No-body experiences I had had years before (Described elsewhere). My consciousness pushed forward into my eyes, and there was no room for thoughts. My attention pushed outwards into the world, and the world became very vivid and clear. I was just in the now, and the now was incredibly happy.
Over the next few months, that tiny energy spot in my heart grew and took over more of my being and body. Within four or five months, I felt a wonderful, vibrating energy throughout my body. Every cell, every pore pulsed with the bliss of the music, until the bliss became permanently established. I felt I finally understood the bliss of chanting and Consciousness. This state persisted. It was always there, either in the background or foreground of my consciousness.
However, several months later, I began to notice how distracting it was. I was always feeling and carried away by the bliss to the detriment of other activities. It was almost like experiencing a low-level orgasm every waking minute. I was completely happy, completely relaxed, and completely healthy. Still, I wondered what was the the point of all this. The intensity of the blissful sensations became somewhat grating, and I still did not know the Absolute. My body was in bliss, but, so what? After awhile, it was just another experience.
Whenever I had certain kinds of unusual experience, Robert would tell me to hold onto to it and to go with it. After nearly a year, the bliss was no longer unusual, and had grown somewhat irritating in its insistence on my attention. That is when I began to turn my attention to experiencing other aspects of Consciousness, such as knowingness and beingness. Knowing-beingness, I felt then, was the final key to knowing oneself, and dwelling in beingness, the I-Am as the final practice before awakening. The bliss had been a milepost that let me know I was heading in the right direction and the key to that bliss was chanting.
My long time friend Swami Shankarananda invited me to his one of his early Satsangs after he returned to Santa Monica during the mid 1980's. Muktananda and his successor Nityananda, were both unmatched in their abilities to create energetic Satsangs with profoundly ecstatic chanting.
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