Japanese way of chanting sutra is usually done by "Go-on(呉音)" which is one of the old pronunciations of Chinese characters.  "Go(呉)" in Japanese means "Wu-dynasty (229-280) " in China. "On(音)" means sound or pronunciation.  "Go-on" pronunciation was believed to be imported to Japan with Buddhism in 538 AD.   Although more "Kan-on (Han-sound)(漢音)" which was the standard pronunciations of Tang-dynasty (618 -907) were imported to Japan with Kan-ji (Han-Character漢字) later , "Go-on" was preferred to read sutras by Japanese priests.


I think it is amazing that Japanese Buddhist temples in USA still read sutras by this "Go-on" pronunciation, which is originated in Wu-dynasty.   We do have some translations of both Japanese and English, but they were almost never chanted.   Why?


For a long time, I believed it was OK to continue this way because there were always something to learn from the words we were not familiar with.  


But very recently, I've changed my mind. I realize this is Hawaii. I thought I should at least "try" something new. In order to find out which is good or bad, all we need to do is "try."


So I did "try" chanting sutra (Shiseige) in the following four ways.


1. Chanting Sutra in English

2. Chanting Sutra in Go-on.

3. Chanting Sutra in Old Japanese or Transcription of Chinese classics into Japanese. 

4. Chanting Sutra in Modern Japanese.


My impression?  It was "not bad" to read in English and modern Japanese.  Rather I thought it was very good not to limit only one way.  By chanting the same sutra in different ways, I can view it in different ways and I can deepen my understanding.

That was a quite discovery for me.


The only problem I felt was my pronunciation of English.   I know it's "not good", but I'm hoping it's "not so bad" for you.  Your suggestion is always appreciated.


Here are my "try."

1. Chanting Sutra in English

2. Chanting Sutra in "Go-on"

3. Chanting Sutra in Old Japanese (transcription of Chinese classics into Japanese) 

4. Chanting Sutra in Modern Japanese

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Comments: 2
  • #1

    Gary Link (Monday, 06 May 2013 18:13)

    Dear Ishikawa Sensei-I love the four approaches to the Shisei-Ge. Your English is very good. I have noticed that the Mokyo is only used during #2, the Go-on version. Is there a reason for this? I sometimes chant the Shisei-Ge in English with the Mokyo, hitting the Mokyo with each syllable. Many years ago, I did the English version of the Heart Sutra in the same way. It is a little slower, but the meaning of the words have time to become clearer in the mind. Thanks for posting!

  • #2

    Kosen (Tuesday, 07 May 2013 14:01)

    Aloha Gary. Thank you very much for your comment. I'm flattered. In Jodoshu, I shall say most priests chant only #2(Go-on). I'm wondering if I might be either the first minister or one of a few ministers in Jodoshu that I officially chanted Shiseige in modern Japanese. So is #1 (English.) Personally I like #3(Old Japanese)because I can be mindful of the meaning of words, and yet they sound like poem. At Zojoji Head Temple in Tokyo, they chant #3(old Japanese) at their morning service without Mokugyo. I think both old Japanese and modern Japanese are not so rhythmical that it's hard to tap out the beat.....But your idea sounds so wonderful that I will try chanting #1,#3, #4 with mokugyo in the future.