Posted in Zen Buddhism

Perceiving Sound

I had an opportunity recently to participate in a “sound healing.” It was a deeply moving experience. The lady who gave it, Kabalah of Gaia Mama, uses Tibetan singing bowls, Tingshas, gongs, chimes, and her voice. The sound pressure made the cells of my body vibrate. I forgot to breathe. There was nothing else, only the sound. The sound was everything. The sound was me, and I was the sound. The sound was the world, and the world was the sound, and I was the world.

“Perceive World Sound” is the translation of the “Kwan Um” School of Zen, founded by my grand-teacher, Seung Sahn. He was an advocate of chanting the Great Dharani which, according to him, has no translation. At my Zen Center (which has since split off from Kwan Um in the time-honored tradition of Zen Masters striking out on their own), we chant the Great Dharani as well as several chants in Korean. No one at our center understands Korean. It’s about the sound.

The story of the Great Dharani’s origin is that the Buddha gave it to a monk (or a monkey, depending on the version of the story) who had done something that he was feeling remorse over. He kept worrying about it, focusing on his past and thereby missing out on the present. The Buddha said he was creating karma for himself by dwelling in the past. The mantra was designed to help him concentrate on something other than his own misdeeds, thereby purifying his karma.

Some people don’t care for chanting. Personally, I enjoy it. It deepens my breathing and calms my mind. And it immerses me in sound until there is no me, and only the sound remains.


Ven. Dr. Myodo Jabo (Sandy Gougis) is a Zen Master and Priest in the Five Mountain Zen Order. She began studying Theravâdin Buddhism in 1998, adding Zen in 2003, and Vajrayana Buddhism in 2008. She currently practices in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions. Her Zen teacher is Most Ven. Wonji Dharma of the Five Mountain Zen Order, and her Tibetan guru is Lama Tsultrim Allione of Tara Mandala. In her free time, Myodo enjoys painting, jewelry making, and other creative endeavors.

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