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Sounds of the Dharma
BUDDHISM AND MUSIC
By Venerable Master Hsing Yun
Music gives us the capacity to express the deepest feelings of the human soul. Whether through holy hymns or sincere chants of praise, it is capable of lifting our minds to an almost sublime state, and, as such, is regarded as having an important role in the promotion of religious teachings. In the world’s religions, music has a very important function and a wide range of applications. The teachings of the Buddha mention music on many occasions. In the Amitabha Sutra, it is written that heavenly singing and chanting is heard all day and night as mandara flowers softly rain down from the heavens. All kinds of birds produce beautiful and harmonious music throughout the day and night. Upon the blowing of a gentle breeze, the movements of jewel trees bring about a kind of wondrous music, as if thousands of gentle tunes are being played together in harmony. Upon hearing these melodious sounds, those present naturally become mindful of the Buddha, mindful of the Dharma, and mindful of the Sangha. In accordance, all Buddhas and bodhisattvas are very skilled in utilizing music to spread the Dharma and guide sentient beings to enlightenment.
In Buddhism, sutras sung as hymns and other songs praising the virtues of the Buddhas have attracted and helped purify the hearts of countless disciples. One of the Buddha’s teachings (Treatise on the Perfection of Great Wisdom) says, “In order to build a pure land, the bodhisattvas make use of beautiful music to soften people’s hearts. With their hearts softened, people’s minds are more receptive, and thus easier to educate and transform through the teachings. For this reason, music has been established as one type of ceremonial offering to be made to the Buddha.” In addition to propagating the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), there is a long history of adapting Buddhist songs for use in various ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, etc. In this capacity, Buddhist music plays an integral role in common cultural practices.
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