Monks Give Peace A Chant

by Bening De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle, Oct 23, 2006

Great Barrington, MA (USA) -- Thirteen Iraqi civilians were killed yesterday. More bones were found at the World Trade Center. North Korea continues to talk nuclear trash.

But here, inside a small theater on a small college campus, 23 Buddhist monks from Japan chanted for 100 minutes to bring peace to people on Earth.

The event at Simon's Rock College of Bard was called Shomyo for Peace, and it was the idea of Monshin Paul Naamon, a Simon's Rock professor and abbot of the Tendai Buddhist Institute in Canaan, N.Y.

'Creating peace by sound'

Naamon said shomyo is a form of Buddhist chanting that dates back more than 2,000 years.

It praises compassion and love — the hallmarks of Buddha and his teachings — and is believed to create spiritual power and transform consciousness.

"It is creating peace by sound," Naamon said. "We cannot have peace throughout the world unless we have inner peace. It starts with peace in ourselves. And if everyone here today takes this out into the community with them, they can pass it on. They can be ambassadors of peace."

Naamon said the monks were in town from Japan to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the opening of a temple at the Canaan facility.

He thought this would be a good opportunity to provide some of his students and Berkshire residents with a window into Buddhism and its spiritual chants.

The Tendai Buddhist Institute is a temple that offers spiritual, religious and pastoral services.

The central authority in Japan has authorized it to train people for ordination and considers it a center for Tendai studies in the West.

Yesterday's event began with both the Japan contingent and a small group of monks from the Canaan temple performing an opening chant, trading off in Japanese and English. Naamon urged the crowd to drop all previous notions of music and chants.

"Let go of all your thoughts," he said, "and let the music wash over you."

Visuals for relaxation

Photos of sunsets, clouds, fallen leaves and waterfalls alternated on a large projection screen, providing a serene backdrop for the monks, who were dressed in green,
A group of Tendai Buddhist Monks perform a Shomyo Chant for peace at Simon's Rock College of Bard.

Burnt incense filled the auditorium. A monk blew into a conck shell to signal the procession of senior members. In a synchronized manner, they slowly shuffled on stage, their silken robes brushing the floor.

Sounds from a hachi (cymbal) and a nyo (gong) signaled rhythmic changes. The chants rose like the idling engine of a World War II-era plane. At times, it looked as if the monks were not even moving their mouths as the sounds and tones changed.

Voices and beads

The doshi (leader) of the shomyo sat in the middle of the stage, making symbols with his hands, rubbing beads and softly chanting over the louder hum of his fellow monks, who flanked him.

At one point, the monks pulled colored-paper discs from inside their robes and threw them in the middle of the floor. This was the sange (a scattering of flowers), which is an offering to Buddha so that people and all living beings may accomplish the path of Buddhahood.

'It was like levitating'

Sarah Perkins, 17, of Medway and Christina Carvalho, 18, of Illinois said they came to the event to learn about another culture.

"It was very relaxing," Carvalho said. Kathleen Ward of Tyringham said she let her mind "drift into the calm of their voices."

"It was like levitating," she said. "Inner peace can lead to a relaxed state of mind. It floods your whole realm."