Practice Guides September 1, 2020

Practice Texts: Chanting

Sean Oakes

In the Insight Meditation tradition, we chant a relatively simple set of invocations and passages in Pāli from the Theravāda Buddhist tradition. Some teachers also share mantras from the Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna traditions in Sanskrit, Chinese, or Tibetan. Because Spirit Rock teachers have practiced in many different Buddhist lineages, the melodies and words of these common chants often vary from teacher to teacher.

On this page you will find chant sheets that include the primary Pāli chants we use at Spirit Rock and a selection of other commonly shared practice texts, with the translations used by the Thai Forest Saṅgha of Ajahn Chah. You are welcome to download these practice texts to print out for home practice.

Theravāda Chants

Full page format, 2 columns

These are ideal for printing out for home use, or for reading on a desktop or laptop computer.

Single Column/Scroll format, 1 column

These are formatted for easier reading on a phone or small screen.

Mahāyāna Chants

Full page format, 2 columns

Scroll format, 1 column


How to Chant in Pāli

Rhythm

The Pāli chants follow the rhythm of the Pāli language, with short and long syllables based on vowel length and the spelling of the word:

  • Short vowels: a, i, u (e.g., namo, bhagavato)
  • Long vowels are held about twice as long: ā, ī, ū, e, o (e.g., dāna, sīla)
  • Vowels that precede double consonants are held long (e.g., dhamma, anatta)
  • Vowels that precede a final ṃ are held long: (e.g., Buddhaṃ, Dhammaṃ, Saṅghaṃ)

Melody

Chant sheets for Theravāda chanting in Pāli and English includes cantillation marks—up and down arrows—that indicate the melody moving up or down from the primary tone. Where there is no mark, the melody stays on the primary tone.

Though the words of the Pāli chants are broadly standard across the Theravāda world, the melodies for the chants vary widely between cultures and lineages. While many teachers at Spirit Rock use the Thai Forest Saṅgha melodies we have printed on the chant sheets, others use versions from other lineages.

Listen to Pāli chanting from Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery.

The Mahāyāna chants in Chinese are chanted with a steady pulse and one syllable to a beat, often accompanied by a drum, and stay on a single note, which may be ornamented in various ways.

Listen to the Great Compassion Mantra chanted by Sacred Mountain Sangha.


Sean Oakes

Sean Oakes

Guest Teacher

Sean Oakes, PhD, teaches Buddhism and Yoga focusing on the integration of meditation, trauma resolution, and social justice. He received teaching authorization from Jack Kornfield, and wrote his dissertation on extraordinary meditative states. His current research explores identity, ancestry, and rebirth, and working with the body in contemplative inquiry.