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Becoming the Buddha through Chanting
First Jogye Order Chanting Competition
The first Buddhist chanting completion ever to be hosted by the Jogye Order Bureau of Monastic Training opened on July 17, 2014. What first began with the intention to promote interest in novice monks and nuns, to allow them to see the significance of chanting and to popularize Buddhist recitation amongst the general public, attracted a great number of people, far beyond what was ever expected.
Crystal clear chanting by novices from various National Monastic Training Centers echoed through the Jogyesa temple courtyard. A large crowd of reporters, including the presence of numerous global broadcasting systems, reflected the general interest of the public.
At first, only a small event had been planned, but with over 108 individuals, along with 12 teams from different institutes making applications, the event transformed into one of the largest competitions ever held. This demonstrated the very high interest in Buddhist chanting held by members of the Sangha.
Ritual chanting is one of the practices every beginning Buddhist come across. By rejoicing in the great merits of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and with aspirations to become like them, chanting soon becomes a practice that one is most familiar with. During different Buddhist ceremonies or teachings, the sounds of solemn chanting by the monks often inspire people, beyond religious dogmas.
This year’s chanting competition was especially valuable as it not only inspired people but brought Buddhist chanting to a whole different level, opening a door to the future – with endless possibilities. The novices did not insist on traditional chanting, but a new world of chanting was born, introducing many original and creative modern styles of chanting.
Taking on motifs from popular styles such as rap, even the young generation of Buddhists could chant along with the monks and nuns. Also, the ‘Imjongyeombulkeo: Chants of Parinirvana’ which resembled a musical, told the story of a Buddhist entering in the Pure Land upon encountering the Amitabha Buddha. There was also a chanting demonstration in Korean (not a transliteration inSanskrit or Pali) for the children.
42 novice monks and 66 novice nuns in training from 15 different monastic training centers entered the stage with elaborate props, drums, bells and various chanting styles. They had all been practicing diligently for the last 4 months for this competition, but out of 108 participants, those selected for the final were only 6 novice monks, 6 novice nuns, and the final 6 groups. Winners may have been selected due to nature of competition but every single performance on the stage was precious, and not a single chant went unnoticed.
As a result of this competition, many different ideas began to pour in. Lay Buddhists who simply sat inthe audience began to dream of a competition designed for lay Buddhists. Ven. Seoljeong, the spiritual master from Sudeoksa of Deoksung Comprehensive Monastic Training Center even suggested forming a committee to promote Buddhist chanting.
Based on such great responses, this chanting competition should not end simply as a single event. It is important for the order to continue its support, providing enough funding for the projects to gain interest. With the profound Buddhist tradition as its basis, perhaps we can begin to encourage a more creative and original Korean chanting style.
We came to realize through this competition that it is not an exaggeration to say that the chanting ritual is a great Korean traditional cultural asset. We could perhaps expect Buddhist chanting to be the next ‘Templestay’, a renowned cultural property known around the world. Thanks to events such as this one, people can be inspired and gain strength through chanting. This is the very reason why people should anticipate another chanting competition in the very near future.