Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Gitassara Sutra and the insanity of chanting

Say there was a devotee of physics. Say also that he was engaged in trying to understand quantum mechanics. If he were to keep a small photograph of Max Planck in his study and touch it often, one might pass that off with an indulgent smile as a sign of adulation of a great quantum physicist.

If he decorated his walls from top to bottom with pictures of Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Louis de Broglie, Arthur Compton, Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Max Born, John von Neumann, Paul Dirac, Enrico Fermi, Wolfgang Pauli, Max von Laue, Freeman Dyson, David Hilbert, Wilhelm Wien, Satyendra Nath Bose and Arnold Sommerfeld, one might sit up, slightly pop eyed and consider the man eccentric. 

If he also lit joss-sticks and oil-lamps under each of the pictures one will not be too much at fault to think he is a crank. 

If he then proceeds to keep piles of scientific tomes in there and worships them five times a day believing that the action would somehow impart their contents to his mind, one will definitely think he has lost quite a few of his marbles. 

If he is then heard intoning the various theories, theorems and formulae of quantum mechanics in a long drawn out, sing-song in the fond hope that singing some facets of quantum truth will ward off evil counter arguments and attacks from inimical meta-physicists, then Planck, Einstein and you will be right in calling him a raving lunatic. 

So far, thankfully, I know not any practitioner or devotee of science who has done that.  None who are so full-out bonkers that they will lament with sonorous gravity that “the change in mass…is equal to…the inertial mass….as a ratio of…the square root of…one minus…the ratio of…the square of… the velocity of… the moving mass… to the square of…the speed of…. Light(amen) and somehow, by some trick, hope to extricate the equation E= mC2 from that. Rather, they would soberly contemplate the equation describing the mass of an object in motion as δm=m0 /(SQRT(1-v2/C2)) and mathematically derive the famous equation from that, fully cognitive of  the process, Lorentz transformations and the application of the integral calculus. Oh, in case you are wondering, that textual gibberish that I typed are the lyrics of that second equation there - δm=m0 /(SQRT(1-v2/C2)) .  *chuckles*

Why do I bring this up? Because there is a group of people who do this on a daily basis. Not scientists but Buddhists… or rather so-called Buddhists. 

A hundred thousand of them are right now chanting away to glory, stanzas and sutras in a language they have no clue about, fondly hoping for  protection from evil and an eventual enlightenment. Will they be protected from evil by this incessant singing? No. Will they achieve enlightenment by this continuous dirge? No. Will such singing have a retro-effect? Yes. Who says so? The Buddha himself.

First, the Buddha says “Dhamma rakkanthu have dhamma chari” - those who live by the truth are protected by the truth. Nowhere in the canon does he or any other arahant state that either speaking it or singing it will protect someone. So, regardless of what the current crop of robe wearers say, there is no protection in voicing it. The only way to protection is by contemplating the truth, and, fully cognizant of the process and discipline (patipada, vinaya), living according to it and arriving at nirvana. So, just as much as there is no understanding of quantum physics by virtue of chanting the ganitha sutras associated with it, there is no sampling of enlightenment by virtue of chanting the dhamma sutras associated with the Buddha's teaching.

Second, the Buddha warns of the danger and expressly forbids the chanting of the dhamma in a long drawn sing-song voice (àyatakena gitassarena). He states this in the Gitassara Sutra (Anguttara fives, Kimbilavagga, 9) outlining five dangers. Subsequently there is an episode in the Vinaya where six monks who chant the dhamma in a long drawn sing-song are said to have irritated the people and the Buddha upon hearing this, lays down a disciplinary rule sanctioning such singing, naming it a Dukatta offence.

Third, the Buddha issues a blanket sanction on dancing and singing (nacca, geetha) in the 10 precepts and in the Runnamdana Sutra (Anguttara threes, Sambodhivaggo, 5) he states “Bhikkhus, singing is crying in this discipline of the noble ones and dancing is insanity. Bhikkhus, it is childish to laugh too long showing your teeth. Therefore give up singing, dancing and it is suitable that you, delighting in the Teaching, should laugh to a certain extent only”.

Well, that’s it folks. “Svakkatho Bhagavatha Dhammo” (The Buddha’s Dhamma is unambiguous and requires no external analysis, treatise, discussion or qualification to clarify). It is simple, easy, clear, succinct and near impossible for the deluded masses of so-called Buddhists to understand. These poor people are doing themselves immense harm, blindly believing that there is some unknown good in their singing, songing, lamenting and chanting.

Additionally, and very importantly, one of the five dangers outlined in the Gitassara Suttra is that future generations will copy this chanting. Clearly the Buddha saw this eventuality and despite the strong canonical sanction, this schism has entered into the mainstream of the external trappings, culture, and social madness that arose out of the Buddha's teaching in direct violation of that teaching itself, yielding for every single monk who indulges in it an anantariya karma (heinous crime). This practice, with its dark results has now even trickled down to the laity who are also gaily singing their way to their own doom as a result of heeding and copying the robe wearers.

Just as much as one would brand a man singing the theory of relativity a mad fool, so too, every single person who sings the dhamma is equally well suited for that qualification.

If you are interested, here are the details of the canonical proofs:

Namo Thassa, Bhagavatho, Arahatho, Samma Sambuddhassa.

The Gitassara Sutra (Anguttara Nikaya, Pancakanipata, Kimbilavagga, IX):
pañc’ime bhikkhave àdínavà àyatakena gitassarena dhammam bhaņaņtassa. katame pañca?
Bhikkhus, these five are the dangers for reciting the dhamma in a long drawn sing-song  (àyatakena gitassarena) voice. What five?

1. Attanàpi tasmiü sare sàrajjati,
One’s own self gets attached to the tone,

2. parepi tasmiü sare sàrajjanti,
others too get attached to the tone,

3. gahapatikàpi ujjhàyanti: yath’eva mayam gàyàma, evam ev’ ime samanà sakkiyaputtiyà gàyantà' ti,
householders laugh at it: In the manner that we sing, the renunciate sons of the recluse Gotama sing in a drawn out voice,

4. sarakuttimpi nikàmayamànassa samàdhissa bhaïgo hoti,
the concentration of those who do not like musical notes gets destroyed,

5. pacchimà janatà diññhànugatiü àpajjati. 
The later generations copy it.

Vinaya II, 108,5
Again, this advice against reciting the dhamma in the style of non-monastic singing corresponds to an episode in the Vinaya where the Buddha censured the dhamma being sung in a drawn-out voice. 

tena kho pana samayena chabbaggiya bhikkhu àyatakena gitassarena dhammam gàyanti.  manussà ujjhàyanti khiyanti vipàcenti: yath’eva mayam gàyàma, evam ev’ ime samanà sakkiyaputtiyà gàyantã' ti”

At that time, six bhikkhus were singing the dhamma in a drawn out voice. People were offended, vexed [and] annoyed [saying]: Just as we sing, so do these ascetic followers of the Sakyan sing the dhamma, in a drawn out voice”.

Vinaya II, 108,21

Therefore, the Buddha goes on to sanction such singing by defining it as a Dukkata Offence (Vinaya II, 108.21: na bhikkhave àyatakena gitassarena dhammo gàyitabbo. yo gàyeyya,apatti dukkatàssa ti).

Namo Buddhàya! 


  1. This is excellent! Can you have it published in the Sinhala papers?

  2. You seem to forget, that the object of the chant is to materialize food. And you have to admit, it works wonderfully for that purpose.


For those of you who want to know...