Sunday, August 06, 2006

24-Hour Chant for Peace

I actually wrote this post on July 29, and am only now getting it posted. I have another one from a couple of days ago that I'll get to next.

I ended up participating in the 24-Hr-Chant for Peace put on every year by Great Vow Zen Monastary out near Clatskanie. Ryushin, who was organizing it, sent a post to several of us at Dharma Rain inviting us to participate, and I immediately jumped in and said, oh, yeah, I'd love to do this. The time slot ended up being midnight to 1am, and I hoped I'd stay awake for it, since I'm not a night person. But I remember from last year that chanting was so energizing that I couldn't sleep anyway. The 24 hours runs from 7pm Friday to 7pm Saturday. I had no intention of trying to stay the 24 hours, but figured I'd be able to do 7pm to 1am.

Then I had to think about what to chant. I didn't want something too long and complicated, because people chant while walking for 15 minutes. That is, the format is that we chant seated in the zendo for 45 minutes, and then get up and walk around the monastary for the last 15 minutes of the hour. When you re-enter the zendo, the new group is in place and the new chant is starting. So you need something that people can chant easily while walking. I also didn't want it to be too short, since we were going to be chanting for an hour, and someone could get very tired of a one-liner chanted over and over for a whole hour. I picked out a couple of possibilities, and decided on the Fudo Myo-o Dharani, which we chant (in English) as part of the Fudo Ceremony a couple of times each month. We typically chant it 7 times, but in this case, of course, we chanted it many more times than that. We started slow, and gradually got faster and faster, ending up so fast we could barely keep it going, and then stopped to breathe and let the sound slowly die away before starting up very slowly again.

Here's part of an e-mail I sent to Kyogen (my teacher, who is in California on family business right now) about how it went:

Well, it went okay. I think the Fudo Myo-o Dharani chant worked well, though I had a lot of misgivings while I was chanting that people were bored because it had no melody -- every other chant before that had involved a lot of singing. But afterwards I had a couple of people thank me, and as I looked around the hall it did seem that at least some people were very involved in the chant.

I learned some things. There are reasons why you seldom see someone leading a chant alone -- there are usually from 2 to 6 or even more people sitting up front. Even when there is one clear leader, there are often people supporting that person. About 15 minutes into chanting I stopped and called Blair up to help me. She blew her voice out right along with me, bless her heart. It's difficult to sustain that level of chanting for that long, and of course I haven't been chanting Full Morning Service every morning for a while. If I do something like this next year, I will work up to it by practicing ahead of time. And definitely have a group of people -- there's something about having other voices to lean on so you don't feel bad about dropping out for a little bit to recover. The others in the hall did a fine job of carrying the chant along when I faltered, but it's nice to have someone up front beside you.

The pattern I did -- gradually speeding up and stopping when it gets too fast to say, then starting slow again -- worked pretty well. I was probably accelerating too fast, and I would relax that another time. But Ryushin mentioned in his notes ahead of time that it was fine to stop for a bit and let the chant settle, and I did that between times. The silence was quite nice. Letting the sound of the last gong float away slowly was cool.

I haven't tried talking yet this morning, but I am aware that my throat is a bit stressed. I can't blame it all on our chant, because I blew it out ahead of time on a couple of the others. It was fun, though.

It would have been nice to stay longer, but I remember how I felt last year staying up all night chanting and then driving back, and I just didn't want to do that again.

All in all, I found it a lot of fun. I e-mailed Blair a thank-you for joining me without any notice, and here's what she said:

"You're welcome! It was a lot of fun for me too. And an exhilerating excercise in persistance. I was actually starting to wonder at that point why I hadn't volunteered to lead a chant myself, seeing as Rich and I go to nearly the whole event every year- so it was a much wanted opportunity for me to participate.

"I think the Fudo Myo-o Dharani in that format was really bad-ass. The energy of it seemed very appropriate, though not common, to the event. And especially good for a late night chant.
"At one point I fell asleep a little and forgot where the gong was : )"

When I saw her comment about the Dharani being "bad-ass" I had to stop and think for a moment -- I think she means it was good!


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