Evening Bell Chant, by Zen Master Seung Sahn

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In Sino-Korean, the term for “compassion” itself [대자대비(大慈大悲)] is translated as “great love, and great sadness”. True compassion means feeling the suffering of other beings as my own suffering. Not separate. Not different.

So it’s always very interesting business whenever someone says that Zen practice, with its radically direct form of insight into the very nature of reality, is disconnected from emotion. You hear this sort of stuff from time to time. Whenever I hear that, I want to direct the person to this short recording. In this recording of “The Evening Bell Chant” (less than 4′ 00″ — short!!), Zen Master Seung Sahn manifests perfectly the “great love, great sadness” of Zen practice in pure sonic form.

This is a new video, produced by Zen Center Regensburg with Vajra Vlito Studios, Heraklio (@Γιάννης Παπάκης Παπαδοπουλάκης), with a real-time updated translation that is smoother and clearer than the previous translation.

It is good to hear the chant first, without noticing the translation, just receiving the experience of a master’s “great love, great sadness”. Then, on another listening, noticing the words in the moment that he utters them, we can absorb this enormous force of the Great Vow to wake up and save all beings from suffering. It still gives me goosebumps to hear this!

The chant which is done in every temple in Korean (Chogye) Buddhism, the Evening Bell Chant expresses our Great Vow to make effort in practice to wake up and save all beings from suffering.

This is the single recording of Zen Master Seung Sahn chanting this timeless vow of awakening. It was recorded in Morse Hall at Yale University in 1977. I have clarified and refined several dimensions of the previous translation.

We have produced it here as a video because, well, for one, the source-recording is buried deep in some corner on the Kwan Um School of Zen website. It has been very hard for people to find it, because there is also a later sangha-version right there, too. People I’ve sent there get confused which one to learn, and it doesn’t work out. So this video is to bring Dae Soen Sa Nim’s extraordinary pure-compassion sound out of a little box and have it reachable all over the Internet.

Next, we have become much more visually addicted in the 12 years since the iPhone appeared, with its irresistible gorilla-glass crack cocaine. Having this audio-only experience with some image of the master — in a photograph snapped literally in the act of doing this recording — helps ground people otherwise unfamiliar with the personage behind the voice.

But most importantly, I am often asked about the “meaning” of the words that we chant. For some years, I demurred on this. But every time I chant it, there is this experience of conveying such a powerful statement of the Great Vow, and it is conveyed with such a unique emotion (when done well), that the powerful teaching-point that is packaged with this voice-lilt and bell-striking seems unfortunate not to share. We have designed a real-time unfurling of the translation, so that people can perceive the point that Dae Soen Sa Nim is expressing so powerfully — and, yes, so passionately.

We are currently working on another learner’s-version: There will be an unfurling of the Sino-Korean words of the chant as he chants them (transliterated into English), so that anyone practicing anywhere can learn this chant directly from Dae Soen Sa Nim in the real-time of his own chant.

[Many thanks to Yiannis Papadopolous // Vajra Vlito Studios, Heraklion for his bodhisattva soldiering together on this.]