Chanting - Turning the Pages and Alleviating Suffering
Venerable Weragoda Sarada Nayaka Maha Thero
From time immemorial, people knew that chanting has powerful effects. In Buddhism, chanting is commonly associated with rituals, meditations and spiritual practices, and thus it is a common misconception that it is merely a ritualistic aspect. However, it is more than it meets the eye as Masters, practitioners and people have attested to how chanting has a positive effect on the physical body, mental and emotional well-being. And many by experience, have recognised that chanting has produced
positive energy which can calm our emotions, enhance our general health and even cure diseases. Recent research has shown that this trust that the ancients have placed on chanting is not groundless as it has convincing scientific grounds. According to a research done at the Cleveland University, USA, the rhythmic tones produced in chanting create a melodious effect in the body and induces the curative chemicals in the brain, concluding that it helps with restoration and the building of healthy life in us.
To find out more about the wonderful benefits of chanting, For You Information speaks with Venerable Weragoda Sarada Nayaka Maha Thero, a multi-hypenated monastic who is talented in many areas and two of which that most are familiar with are being; the ‘Golden Voice of Malaysia and Singapore’ and an avid author who has written more than 185 titles, with a well-known work, also his magnum opus – Treasury of Truth, The Illustrated Dhammapada. We also find out more about Venerable’s recent efforts in the digitisation of the Buddha’s Teachings for free online distribution.
Chanting to Alleviate Suffering
Right at the start of the interview, Venerable Sarada explained that there are several effective parittas that are especially used to bring health to ailing bodies and minds. The most important amongst them are the Bojjhanga Suttas, which can be accessed via the Internet Archive.org. There are 3 Bojjhanga Suttas in the collection. The sutta, Maha Kassapatthera Bojjhanga was chanted by the Buddha himself to bless Venerable Maha Kassapa, a very senior Arahant, during his severe illness.
The second sutta also was chanted by the Buddha when Venerable Maha Moggallana, one of the two chief disciples who had fallen ill. At the end of the chanting, both Maha Theras are reported to have come round of their painful illnesses.
The third Bojjhanga Sutta is far more important since it was chanted by Venerable Maha Cunda to bring recovery to the Buddha who had fallen ill. And, the Buddha also recovered immediately after chanting. Thus, it is proven that the Bojjhanga Suttas are extremely powerful chants in relation to their healing effects.
The Seven Factors of Enlightenment
All three suttas are very much similar in content, and the theme of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment forms the content of them. The suttas present the Buddha’s claim that he not only had immaculate insight on these Seven Factors but practised them perfectly. The suttas affirm that the Seven Factors of Enlightenment are conducive for attaining Enlightenment and consequential realisation of Nibbana. From the time of the Buddha, these three suttas were frequently chanted by the Buddhist monks to bring health to their devotees and thus proven to be of very high healing potential. The power of the chanting, undoubtedly is in the doctrinal content of the suttas; the Seven Enlightenment are:
1. Mindfulness (Sati)
2. Investigation of the Dhamma
3. Effort (Viriya)
4. Happiness (Piti)
5. Calm, relaxation or tranquillity
6. Concentration, calmness, one-
pointed state of Mind or Clear
7. Equanimity, to accept reality as it
is without craving (Upekha)
These remind the listener of highest arenas that the human mind can escalate to. Even if the listener does not understand the meaning, the chanting of these truths brings extraordinary healing blessings as those are the highest possible spiritual achievement human beings can reach.
The Girimananda Sutta
The Girimananda Sutta is another significant chanting used by many generations of Buddhists in their
healing sessions. The scenario of chanting if it is recorded in the Sutta itself. The Buddha when he was informed of severe illness that Venerable Girimananda was suffering, the Buddha entrusted Venerable Ananda to chant ten contemplations, viz:
Impermanence (aniccasanna); Soullessness (anattasanna);
Abandonment (pahanasanna); Detachment (viragasanna); Impermanence of All
(sabbalokeanabhiratasanna); and Mindfulness of Breathing (anapanasati) in order to bring health back to his ailing disciple. All these contemplations are rather meditative investigations of reality and thinking of them would help to relax, calm down and attain spiritual heights.
Invoking the Power of the Three Jewels
Venerable Sarada added that on top of these extremely important chanting, the present volume of Blessing to Conquer Sickness, The Maha Kassapatthera Bojjhanga contains the Dhajagga Sutta, Jina Panjara, Jaya Pirita, and Maha Jayamangala Gatha. The Dhajagga Sutta is taught by the Buddha to the monks to chant in case they were confronted with any danger. He reveals that Sakka, a Lord of Gods, once advised the gods to seek refuge in his victorious flag-symbol or that of Pajapathi, Varuna or Isana, all being very powerful gods.
The Buddha, commenting on that, says that it might work or might not work since these gods have not eradicated defilements. He advised the monks to seek refuge of the Buddha, Dhamma or Sangha at times of danger and assures that they would be out of all fears and dangers. The other three suttas also invoke the power of the Three Jewels and establish protection to guard the listeners against evil influences. It has become a tradition amongst Buddhists to get monks to chant these in order to arrange protection whenever they come across bad times or encountered by evil forces.
One of the highlights of the interview was being able to see first-hand what goes on behind the scenes of how Venerable Sarada converts the print versions of the Buddha’s Teachings, chanting manuscripts and his books into digitised e-copies. If one thinks that because of age, there may be a generation gap in how Venerable Sarada approaches the propagation of the Dharma, especially in this fast-paced era dominated by technology, one would be pleasantly surprised by how forward-thinking and techonologically-adept he is.
Resonance of the Golden Voice
Known as the “Golden Voice of Malaysia and Singapore”, Venerable Sarada's sonorous chanting and recitation, coupled with modern recording technology has brought another dimension to recorded audio chants. Quite literally, listening to them makes the listener feel as though one is seated right in a Dharma hall, in front of Venerable Sarada himself. The audio recordings are like an amalgamation of ancient wisdom, veneration for the Buddha Dharma, faith in the teachings and modern technology – transcending time, space and geographical boundaries – certainly a welcomed move!
In Glory of The Buddha
In addition to recording chanting and recitation, Venerable Sarada also played key production roles in compiling and producing classic suttas, such the compilation of In Glory of The Buddha that can be found online in the Internet Archive. This is a compilation of soothing Pali Buddhist recitals presented with music, and the chants selected are chanted by Buddhists for more than 25 centuries; Maha Mangala Sutta, Ratana Sutta, Karaniya Metta Sutta, Jayamangala Gatha, and Narasiha Gatha. The vocalists are the late Ms. Malani Bulathsinhala, veteran classical Sri Lankan singer and Ms. Champa Kalhari Jayasekara, the popular artist. The music is composed and directed by late Mr. H. M. Jayawardhana, and production was made possible by Venerable himself.
Age is not a factor, in fact, Venerable Sarada who is turning 80 this year, is in the midst of digitising his library of works into e-books, some with audiobook function. Access to books and collections compilated by Venerable Weragoda can be accessed via https://archive.org/ details/@ven_weragoda_sarada.