And then there was chanting….

And then there was chanting….

or How to Introduce Chanting & Kiirtan to Staff

By Mahajyoti Glassman

In general chanting is simply the rhythmic speaking or singing of words or sounds. Chanting can include mantra as well as other meaningful sounds from other languages. Chants may range from a simple melody involving a limited set of notes to highly complex musical structures . often including sometime lengthy repetition. In the Middle Ages some chants evolved into song, such as the Gregorian chant.

Chanting a mantra, sacred text, name of God, or other words is a commonly used practice. Many spiritual traditions consider chanting a tool to spiritual development. There are diverse examples of chanting around the world: in Africa, Gregorian, Vedic chant, Jewish chanting of Hebrew texts, Qur’an reading, Baha’i chants, various Buddhist chants, different mantras, Roman Catholic chanting of psalms and prayers, and so forth. Various Hindus and Buddhists chant Om. Followers of Islam chant the 99 names of Allah, “the beautiful names”. Around the seventh century Christian developed the “Jesus Prayer” or “Lord, Jesus Christ, Song of God, have mercy on me.” Native Americans also observe chanting in preparation for activities and ceremonies such as healing, hunting, battles, controlling weather, initiation rites and funerals.

Today chants are used in a variety of recreation settings, such sports events, battle cries on ancient battlefields, protesters championing a cause, auctioneers driving the price, jumping rope, and music concerts. In some many cases the chanting creates a feeling of passion and collective connection of purpose.

The ancient practice of chanting can be performed with the accompaniment of drumming, hand-clapping, rattles and other musical instruments with the continuous recitation of mantras or other sounds. There are no hard-and-fast rules for chanting. The most wonderful thing about chanting is that one may chant anywhere — at home, at work, driving in the car, or riding the subway — any time.

There are two basic types of chanting. Personal chanting where one chants alone, called japa. When one chants in a collective setting with others, this is called kiirtana. Kiirtana is usually accompanied by musical instruments and clapping. Both forms of chanting are recommended and beneficial.

What is mantra?
Mantra is the transformation of breath into sound. The sound may be a syllable or group of words that with rhythmic breathing and repetition can clear the mind of debris and bring it into focus. Many consider mantra to be a sacred thought or prayer to be repeated with the full understanding of its meaning.

The science of mantra is based on the idea that sound is a form of energy that has a definite predictable effect on the body/mind. Mantras have the ability to alter defective patterns of the mind as well as the actual chemistry of the brain. The power of the mantra is in the vibration of its sound/s.

Mantras may be chanted internally or externally. It is a formula for controlling and directing the mind in a more positive and ever-expanding way. This science acknowledges that emotions, feelings, and beliefs are vibratory in nature. We can choose the vibrations that define who we are, what we want to feel and believe. We have the power to select the thoughts that occupy the brain.

How and why does it affect us?
Chants, songs, and mantras can provide “technical support” in directing the mind toward a goal. Through this practice we are choosing the positive power that certain syllables evoke. The effect of the sounds corresponds with the degree to which the practitioner feels or understands the meaning of the sounds. Although some benefit can be derived whether the meaning is understood or not.

Many mantras are derived from the Sanskrit language. This Sanskrit alphabet is based on the inner sounds emanating from within the body, specifically from the 50 glands clustered around the chakras. Advanced meditators attuned their minds to these inner sounds and each one of these sounds became one letter. There are 50 glands and subsequently 50 letters in the sanskrit alphabet. So the sanskrit language is the human body’s eternal song. The careful combination of sanskrit letters can vibrate these glands and the mind in a specific manner, creating a powerful elevating effect on the mind.

If you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth,
Listen to the secret sound which is inside you.
The One no one talks of speaks the secret sounds to Himself
And He is the One who has made it all. – Kabir song

Chanting with Very Young Children
With the young child chanting may be with words and/or sounds that have meaning or no meaning, simply because they like to explore sound. They may/should engage their mouths, hands, feet, and body. They can stand, sit, dance, or jump when repeating.

The following are some chanting ideas:

The vowels: Ahhhhh. AAAAA. EEEEEE. IIIIIIII. OOOOOO. UUUUUU.Consonants: MMMMM. SSSSSSS.Om.Shanti. (Peace)Om shanti.Om shanti shanti shanti.Om Jyoti. (Light)Shalom. (Peace)Baba Nam Kevalam. (Love is all there is)Love is above me. Love is below me. Love is all around.

Children love moving their hands: clapping, holding Jnani mudra, Anjali mudra, making other hand/arm movements over the head, behind the back, holding hands, clapping partner’s hands, clapping body parts, etc. Coincidentally this also goes for the feet, such as stomping or dancing. They may chant/sing together or do a copy cat, call response. Chants may be sung loudly, softly, with a whisper, with only the lips moving, inside.

The Uses of Chanting
Chanting may be practiced at any time during a class. It is a great opener and closer, but one may break out in a chant at any moment.

Teachers may facilitate discussions with children about when they would like to chant. Chanting can, of course, be performed any time of the day, but is especially useful when emotionally challenged. …..at night in bed, when trying something new, when someone grabbed your toy out of your hand, when someone gets in front of you in line…. When one is experiencing stressful situations such as when one is scared, unsure about something, crying, sad, frustrated, disappointed, and mad. What other situations call for chanting?

Chanting is one method for regaining and maintaining peace during stressful times. When we are feeling stress, a few moments of chanting (either internal or external) can clear away the dusty negative thoughts that obstruct our connection to our Inner Teacher. When lying down to sleep, mantra repetition can calm the mind/brain, giving the body permission to relax. When sad or frustrated, it can uplift the emotion and refocus the attention toward the positive.

When the mind is calm and clear, we make the best decisions for the well-being of all. The mental equipoise in our mind/body influences others’ feelings of peace and harmony. Our positive kind words and actions bless ourselves, because we feel good in the process of positive thought and action, and have the potential to touch all around us. This is how we make the world a better place.

You know that the science of aesthetics is a special characteristic expression of all microcosms in the entire universe, not only of humans but of all living creatures. This inner spirit of aesthetic science leads all the microcosms to seek a congenial environment for their psychic expression, for all unit minds are searching for a totally congenial environment for their development. This development leads to a state of psychic balance, attained as the results of all one’s actions and reactions. While seeking to attain this state of psychic balance, human beings invented the science of aesthetics. 

Everything in this universe of ours is moving, and this entire universe also is moving around the Macrocosmic Nucleus. This movement is from imperfection to perfection, and this element of dynamism is the essence of aesthetics. While trying to analyze the nature of this dynamism, one is bound to conclude that aesthetics is surely a science, for it moves according to fixed and self-created rules. But the realization of aesthetic feeling is not a science, rather it is a high-grade art. I said just now that this aesthetic science is not only a characteristic of the human mind, but of all living creatures as well. When we say that human beings have attained peace in life, what are the dimensions of this peace? When we say that we are all seeking a peaceful environment, what does it mean? Is it some kind of physical relaxation? No, certainly not. If so, then that relaxation would be physico-psychic, but the subtle feeling of joy in aesthetic science is psycho-physical. Now the question is, is this joy only psycho-physical? No, it is not: it is both psycho-physical and psycho-spiritual. When the mind seeks a subtle feeling of joy without expecting the fruits of its action, this is certainly psycho-physical, but when this experience of joy moves in a well-defined way towards a goal then it is certainly psycho-spiritual.

Shrii P. R. Sarkar, from “Heterogeneity in Aesthetics”, Published in: A Few Problems Solved Part 5