Brief History of Buddhist Music

Choir: Guan Yin background

Music is the world's common language reaching far and wide unrestricted by time, space, political boundaries, ethnicity or religion. It expresses the emotions of the human spirit. A hymn or a sincere praise to the Buddha can often raise the human spirit to a sacred realm. In Buddhism, music is a form of offering amongst many and an important part of Buddhist cultivation.

Traditional Buddhist chanting is called "fanbei" in Chinese. Buddhist fanbei has contributed a unique style of chanting to the world of music. Characterized by a relaxed and easy pace, soft tones, and a dignified, solemn manner, Buddhist chanting gives elegant expression to the five virtuous qualities of sincerity, elegance, clarity, depth, and equanimity.

Buddhist music originated from the age of the vedas in ancient India. During the Buddha's time, chanting was employed as a skillful means to propagate the Dharma. When Buddhism was first introduced into China, monastics made use of many means, such as recitation of the scriptures, chanting, and writing stories from sutras, etc, to popularize Buddhism.

Over the past two thousand years, Chinese Buddhist music had developed into many schools and traditions delineated by geographical regions or practices. It has integrated with the music of the common folk, the imperial court, and other religions, each influencing one another and developing together. The long history of development and the order of its inheritance have made Chinese Buddhist music invaluable and impressive.

Choir with Dunhuang Dance