The Mantra Mountain Project
- edited excerpts from informal talks by Lama Tashi -
The motivation behind this is to make several CDs of popular Tibetan Buddhist mantras so that Westerners can learn them and chant them.
If we look back to the history of Tibetan Buddhism, the chantings actually came from India, by imitating them and then adding the Tibetan musics and so forth. So now it’s Westerners turn to add your music.
When we listen to chanting, we receive the blessings or commit good karma. However, if we, ourself, join into it, it will be more helpful and more beneficial. So it’s not just listening, but you can chant with it. So that’s why we have the music notation, so you can look at the notation, read it, and then play the music or chant with it.
I thought that instead of just recording lots of long chantings, maybe go on with the mantras, the short ones, so that people who really want to learn the chantings, it would be easier for them to memorize and chant with it. If you want to play it for long time and just chant it then you can really dissolve yourself into it.
This chanting, if you want to do a short version of sadhana, it is kind of like completed form.
First you set the motivation because it is very important from the Buddhist point of view that whatever your action, most of the time good and bad is differentiated by your motivation. If your motivation is not very good, then even seems like you are working for some good things, there can always be chance of a negative action.
Then, as a part of requesting to the master or to the deity for the blessing, or for allowing us to practice this, we make a mandala offering. It’s one of the practices we call practice of generosity. The practicing of generosity is mainly reducing one’s miserliness. Mentally, you try to practice giving away without, or reducing, the miserliness.
Next, we start paying homage to the Three Great Bodhisattvas. Here you can visualize Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani. In brief, you can say Avalokiteshvara is embodiment of compassion and Manjushri embodiment of wisdom and Vajrapani embodiment of mighty power. So visualizing their quality and then by remembering their quality you ask, with a sense of respect and request, please bless me with your quality.
Having this in mind we can make homage and then chant each mantra. First, we put the three of them together in brief homage, one verse for all three together, and then mantra of Avalokiteshvara and second round Manjushri and third round Vajrapani.
Next we can just go on with Avalokiteshvara. There is homage for himself only and then the mantra. We visualize Avalokiteshvara and then absorbing the nectar from him and then purifying oneself. You can visualize Avalokiteshvara sitting in front of you in the space, and from his heart he sends a light and then through that light he sends the nectar and then you can kind of visualize it’s entering or absorbing, dissolving into us from our crown chakra. And then you visualize it’s kind of washing away all of our negativity, particularly the negativity that we committed through our body. And then you visualize that it has blessed us so that I will achieve the pure body of a buddha.
Then we can go to Manjushri with a similar visualization, washing away all our negativity, particularly the negativity we committed through our speech. And then we can go to Vajrapani with a similar visualization, washing away all our negativity, particularly the negativity we committed through our mind.
So with these visualizations, if you chant at the same time, in some part of your mind you have a sense of requesting him to bless me, bless me. Of course that’s why the motivation that we started with earlier – why you want to be blessed, because for the benefit of all sentient beings I want to become a buddha, so bless me with your blessings. So with this in our minds we chant the mantra.
When we talk about deities and the buddhas, we shouldn’t see them as separate beings. We are talking about if we look in ourself we have compassion, right? We have wisdom. We have mighty power to help other beings.
You’ll find lots of paintings of deities, and statues, but those are all, in the case of Buddhism, more to look in one’s self, and whatever one’s compassion, when it perfects itself, the final achievement is what Avalokiteshvara is. When you’ve completely developed compassion, that’s when you become Avalokiteshvara.
And the final destination of development of wisdom is Manjushri. And also we have some power or mighty ability that’s able to help other beings. That’s what we are talking about with Vajrapani, the third one.
In the Dedication of Merit, the fourth stanza is about our music. The spiritual sound of this music, may this become the cause of freeing the sentient beings from the suffering. And may this music or chanting stay for the benefit of all sentient beings, by showing this example.
- a brief biography -
Ngawang Tashi Bapu was born in a Himalayan region of Northeast India in 1968 into a large farming family. He became a monk in 1983 and joined Drepung Loseling Monastery, one of the principle monasteries of pre-1959 Tibet, which had been re-established in South India after Tibetans were driven from Tibet by the Communist Chinese.
Along with regular monastic studies and duties, Lama Tashi took up deep voice, multi-phonic chanting. Beginning in 1991 he visited North America several times as a principle chanter and dancer for Drepung Loseling Monastery’s Sacred Music, Sacred Dance for World Healing tour. During these trips he made many friends in the United States and became an adept English speaker, a skill put to use giving talks on Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan culture, along with workshops on multiphonic chanting.
In December 1999, Lama Tashi was formally appointed Principle Chant Master of Drepung Loseling Monastery. The following summer he was the Chant Master of the Great Prayer Festival, presided over by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, performed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. before an audience of over 50,000 people. In 2004 Lama Tashi took his Geshe examination and was awarded that degree.
Over the years, Lama Tashi has made a number of CDs, both as a member of Drepung Loseling and on his own, all with the deep multi-phonic voice. His most recent solo CD, Tibetan Master Chants received a Grammy nomination in 2006. Mantra Mountain is his first CD using only a regular singing voice.
Notes on the Music
All the melodies are taken from the singing of Lama Tashi. Transcription into Western notation created a number of tonal and rhythmic compromises. Lama Tashi‘s subtle intonational ornamentation of syllables and use of a non-tempered scale, along with rhythms more natural than formal, mean this sheet music is much more an outline than a roadmap.
The Mandala Offering was composed by His Holiness the Second Dalai Lama, Gedun Gyatso (1475-1542), and has come down to the present via monastic oral tradition.
The other melodies are from Lama Tashi’s Himalayan home region of Arunachal Pradesh in India, where, as a child, he heard them chanted on Lama Tsongkhapa’s Day, which comes at the end of the growing season. The ritual master performs a puja to celebrate the harvest and the entire village joins in the chantings. This festival is known informally as “New Year’s for the Animals”, as it begins a period when they may roam as they like through all the village fields.
Lama Tashi adapted some melodies to suit the texts he chose. The melodic scale he uses throughout the CD roughly coincides with our E Minor and G Major (both with one sharp in the key signature). The chords used to harmonize the melodies, some using extra sharps, were chosen in consultation with Lama Tashi.
The instruments on this CD are tuned to A 434, which is slightly flat compared to the standard A 440. When Lama Tashi chants in his deep low voice, his intonation centers on a frequency of 60 cycles per second, which is a note between the B and the B flat two octaves below middle C in A 440. In A 434 this note is exactly that low B.
Several more volumes of Mantra Mountain are planned, each presenting the mantras for a different group of deities. We then hope to bring all the scores and texts together into a properly printed book with various transpositions for all the music, which will give individuals an opportunity to choose a comfortable key for their particular vocal range. Transpositions into “flat” keys, which are more accessible for the transposing instruments, will enable small ensembles of various instruments to accompany the chanting.
Thanks to the musicians and singers, volunteers all.
Thanks to Lama Tashi for his generosity and patience.
Lyle Sanford, Registered Music Therapist
May 24, 2007
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