Chanting for Concentration Meditation

Last night, R and I attended Rev. Keisho’s continuing class on Shikan meditation. I missed last week while I was on retreat but last night was the “practice” night.

The primary method for concentration practice that Keisho is teaching, drawing from the Tendai tradition, is the use of mantra recitation. This acts as a focus for the mind (leaving aside any questions of the efficacy of mantras in general) and, since it is done aloud, gives immediate feedback when concentration falters since you can hear your voice lose its place or pronunciation with your ears.

After some further discussion and the basic Tendai service that we always open with (confession, precepts, heart sutra recitation, and dedication of merit), Keisho turned the lights down and we started chanting together. The chanting was much slower than the mantra chanting that I’d done before and our goal was 200 recitations. Keisho mentioned that we actually stopped 21 short but the 179 took an hour for us to do. While my throat was a little sore, I was surprised how quickly the time passed. I’m not sure what to say about the experience. I have done this kind of practice before but this was the first time I had worked with this particular mantra so I had to expend more effort than I’d normally like just to make sure I didn’t forget the mantra in the middle of recitation (you can’t read a card in the dark and it is easy during chanting to lose what a specific syllable is supposed to sound like in a new mantra).

All in all, I do think it is a worthwhile practice and definitely a good adjunct to the sitting meditation that I normally do. Of course, if you want serious mantra recitation, you can try doing 100,000 of the 100 syllable Vajrasattva mantra. That will keep you busy for a while!