Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Buddhist Chant in Japanese sōtō Zen: From Traditional Ceremonies to Crossover Rituals

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Thurgood Marshall South, Mezzanine

Western literature on Japanese Zen Buddhism rarely mentions any sound or music, and thus implicitly suggests that the life in Zen temples and monasteries is rather silent. However, one encounters a rich sounding world when visiting a Japanese Zen temple. Throughout the day, various percussion instruments are played to signal the beginning or end of religious activities. Zen clerics chant sutras with the use of a wooden fish(mokugyo) or with the energetic playing of drums. At special occasions, clerics perform highly musical rituals, during which they sing texts with elaborate melodies. In addition to these regular observances, a few priests have composed new ritual music in a traditional style. Interestingly, some priests collaborate with musicians of other music genres to create innovative crossover rituals. This paper examines these new crossover rituals in the Sōtō Zen School. It argues that Sōtō Zen clerics create new rituals in response to contemporary needs and concerns, such as the secularization of Japanese society and the urgent need to attract young people. First, I demonstrate what kinds of rituals were adopted or created and how these rituals were structured, paying special attention to the musical features and the adaptation of elements from other rituals. Next, I analyze the motivations of the clerics who participated in the invention of new ceremonies. Finally, I consider how Zen clerics interpret Buddhist chant as part of their Zen practice.

Michaela Mross

Stanford University, California

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2 - Buddhist Chant in Japanese sōtō Zen: From Traditional Ceremonies to Crossover Rituals



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