Zen & Buddhism Q&As

Why doe we chant in Japanese?

The chanting is mainly in Japanese because the origins of the group lie with a Japanese Master, and we simply continue his practice. It’s not a big deal. Zen is Universal, there’s nothing particularly Japanese about it. Some groups — Throssel Hole for example — chant entirely in English, and others chant in either language. There are points both ways. Chanting in English is immediately comprehensible. But, the physical sensation of chanting in English is different, and also, there are problems with translation. For instance, our main chant, the Heart Sutra (which is in Chinese kanji characters pronounced with Japanese onyomi sounds) has the line shiki soku ze ku,ku soku ze shiki, which is usually translated as form is emptiness, emptiness is form, except the word emptiness is apt to mislead (see the entry on emptiness), but there isn’t really a better word in English. So, we think the meaning is better preserved by chanting in the source language, but providing extensive explanatory material in English.