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A Musical Intonation
“Bhikkhus, there are five dangers of reciting the Dhamma with a musical intonation. What five?
Oneself gets attached to the sound others get attached to the sound, householders are annoyed, saying, “Just as we sing, these sons of the Sakyan sing”, the concentration of those who do not like the sound is destroyed, and later generations copy it.
These, monks, are the five dangers of reciting the Dhamma with a musical intonation.” (A.iii.250)
“Pañcime, bhikkhave, ādīnavā āyatakena gītassarena dhammaṃ bhaṇantassa. Katame pañca? Attanāpi tasmiṃ sare sārajjati, parepi tasmiṃ sare sārajjanti, gahapatikāpi ujjhāyanti — ‘Yatheva mayaṃ gāyāma, evamevaṃ kho samaṇā sakyaputtiyā gāyantī’ti, sarakuttimpi nikāmayamānassa samādhissa bhaṅgo hoti, pacchimā janatā diṭṭhānugatiṃ āpajjati. Ime kho, bhikkhave, pañca ādīnavā āyatakena gītassarena dhammaṃ bhaṇantassā”ti.
The sacred discourses of the Buddha are full of meaning. When reciting and listening to them it is vital to reflect on the meaning as well as to listen with respect and devotion. Reciting suttas is the traditional method for preserving the sacred texts, and passing them on to future generations. It should not be allowed to degenerate into a form of entertainment. While listening to discourses, the devotees should sit with hands in añjali, paying respectful attention. The way of chanting by many monks these days is incorrect, and contrary to the Vinaya rules, because they are striving to make a melodious sound rather than merely striving for clear pronunciation of the words.
Buddhist monks should regularly teach the meaning of frequently recited suttas such as Metta Sutta, Mangala Sutta, Ratana Sutta. Every Buddhist devotee should be very familiar with these discourses, and most could probably recite them by heart. However, if the meaning is not understood, the excellent Dhamma teachings contained in these discourses will not be put into practice.
If lay persons recite devotional stanzas such as this beautifully clear enunciation of the Pāli text of the Jajamaṅgala Gāthā it is acceptable in my opinion as it is not for musical entertainment, but for adulation of the Buddha’s wonderful qualities. Compare the same Paritta Sutta recited as musical entertainment, where the meaning is almost entirely lost to someone untrained in Pāli. If one does not know the meaning of the Pāli text being recited, one may miss the point of the teaching, being enchanted by the sound of the reciter’s voice, which is what this Gītassara Sutta stresses.