Why Do We Do That? Questions and Answers about Shambhala Culture and Decorum

By Charlotte Brodie

Photo by Larry Arasin

Photo by Larry Arasin

QUESTION: What is the purpose of chanting, and why are there so many different chants?


We do chants for a variety of reasons, using a variety of chants that are applicable at different times of the day or year.

One reason is to help us transition between our everyday activities and states of mind on the one hand, and meditation practice and the meditative state of mind on the other. In these cases, it’s similar to sitting for a couple of minutes in the post-meditation hall before entering the shrine room. It gives us an opportunity to shift gears, and to start to corral the horse of our mind into a more settled state as we aim towards the beginning of meditation practice. At such times, we typically do chants that help us re-connect with our lineage, past and current teachers, and to rouse a sense of devotion and appreciation for the teachings that we have received. The chants help remind us of our purpose in meditating, focusing our intention so that our session can be as fruitful and beneficial as possible.

In the late afternoons/evenings, we often do “protector” chants. This is a time of day when our energy is likely to wane, and we are more prone to losing our mindfulness. These chants are therefore typically vivid, energetic, perhaps startling. They invoke a compassionately wrathful type of energy that helps us to shake loose from dullness and carelessness.

Chants following meditation sessions are the reverse of the first type. They help us to transition back from the meditative state to the more ordinary activities of daily life. Aspirational chants help to align us with the aspirations of our teachers, and to carry the benefits of our meditation out into daily life.

Chanting helps to enrich, empower and purify our speech–truly sacred activity that benefits self and others. Therefore, the chants should be regarded with veneration and appreciation. As a sign of that appreciation, we treat them with respect, and avoid placing chant books directly on the floor.

Chants are intended to be helpful– everyone is welcome to participate in them if so moved, or to refrain if they prefer.