Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

18 September 2023

Recording of the week: Chanting

Many yoga classes begin and end with the practice of chanting. Chanting aims to purify the mind by increasing both the mind and body’s attention. This in turn helps various people focus on the present, silencing the noise around them by releasing a smoothing feeling.

One of the benefits of chanting is full body relaxation, which is achieved by the repetition of mantras. I first became interested in chanting after attending several kirtan sessions in London. I discovered chanting as a meditative experience, a way to surrender from worries of daily life. Kirtan derives from a Sanskrit root, meaning call or recite; ultimately, it is the act of devotion to some divinity. I found the social aspect of chanting particularly healing, as the voice of many in unison can be a powerful instrument to connect people. The practice of chanting is integral to many religions, including Buddhism.

Photo of Maio Cheuh Si Temple

Listen to Nianfo chanting excerpt

This recording is part of the Miao Chueh Temple Collection, recorded in Taiwan in the late 1970s. The recording comes from a particular type of Buddhist school, Pure Land Buddhism, which originated in India around 2nd century BCE.

Nianfo, to which the recording refers to, is the practice in Pure Land Buddhism consisting of the oral invocation of the Buddha Amitabha that will bring the reciter to the Land of Utmost Bliss. Through his invocation, the believer should reach a higher start of consciousness in the graded path towards becoming a liberated being. , the ultimate aim of any Buddhist tradition.

Mu yu is the wooden block used in Mahāyāna Buddhist practice during chanting. It is usually struck with a beater, and can be made in varying sizes. It is part of the baiqi ritual instrument group.

You can listen to the full recording on our Sounds webite. 

This week’s post was written by Giulia Baldorilli, Sound & Vision Reference Specialist.