Yesterday one of my friends took me to her Nichiren Buddhism chanting class. Though she is a practising Hindu she has been attending this class for a year. She says this has helped her tremendously. Chanting, she feels, has made her serene and tranquil. Out of sheer curiosity, I decided to go there to figure out what made her so enthusiastic about Buddhist chanting.
The class started with a chant of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, (I bow down to the mystic laws of cause and effect). The group, which consisted of women between 30 to 50, also chanted some other prayers, which went completely over my head. They were all in Japanese.
I am not very religious, though religion fascinates me. I do not perform Puja every day. I rarely go to the temple. I do not believe in rituals. But I do have a strong faith. I believe there is a power above. I firmly believe if offered sincerely, prayers come true. I have experienced it many times myself. For me, understanding the language of that prayer is very important.Though the chants were mesmerising and sounded really beautiful, I felt completely out of place.
The leader of the group, who thankfully did not take offence at my scepticism, asked me if I understood all the Sanskrit prayers that I was more used to hearing. Most Hindu prayers are from the Vedas or the Upanishads. They are in Sanskrit which has been dead for centuries. If I could place my faith blindly in them, why could I not show the same faith in this. In my defense, I did point out that I do not chant mantras blindly. The few shlokas that I know and chant, I know their meaning. Moreover, even now, in India, there are people who can explain the philosophy behind these mantras. Sanskrit is still not so dead that we do not have teachers. How many people would I find who can explain some 13th century Buddhist texts in Japanese?
But the whole session did make me think. Is language really important when it comes to religion? How many Muslims are there in India who can fully understand the Koranic verses which are in Arabic? How many Hindus have studied the Vedas or the Geeta which are in Sanskrit? But does that make these people less devout? Do they really need to connect with the language before they connect with the faith?
You decide. All I know is that though God is universal, my relation with Him/Her is private. My prayers are unique. They are not found in any religious texts. When I chant some prayers, I want to know what they exactly mean. I pray because I want to be a better human being. I pray for strength. I pray to be a better mother. I pray for the well being of the society that we live in. I pray for my family and for my near and dear ones. What good is it to me if I do not understand that prayer?