There are people who discourage others to chant because they said that chanting would attract spirits or ghosts to them. It cause those, who wanted to chant for protection to stop doing it. In this article, I would share my experience as well as some advice by Master Lu Hong Jun which I find makes sense.
I started practicing Buddhism more than 20 years ago. During the first few years, I was doing more on meditation practice and did very little chanting. I remember in the beginning when I chanted, I would get quite spooked out because sometimes I kinda get the eerie feeling like there was a group of invisible beings hanging around at the area near my window, listening to my chanting.
This was made worse when my dog would occasionally howl when I was chanting. My bedroom window overlooked a small open area where we hang the laundry and my dog had always slept at the area near my window. If it was not my dog, then it would be my neighbor’s dog which is located not far from my room as well. Sometimes, both would howl together like in a chorus and then some other dogs from the neighborhood would join in together. Other times, the moment I start my chanting, the howls (from other dogs) would start at a little far distance, and then my neighbor and my dog would howl.
When I spoke to some people and they tell me that chanting attracted spirits, I stopped doing for a while. Please read further to see why we should not stop chanting.
However, few years later, I stayed in a temple for a duration to practice where we chanted twice a day (morning and night), I begin to realize the benefits of chanting and resumed the practice when I came back. By then, I was used to the chanting, eg know the sequence and type of chants to do.
And also I already had experience staying in forest monasteries in Thailand with no electricity by myself- in the beginning I was very scared but learned that the fear is due to lack of compassion, a lot of anger and did not observe keep the precepts properly. As I begin to develop more compassion and kept my mind as free as I could from anger, the fear started dissipating.
When I came back and resumed my corporate career, I worked late on most days. By the time I come back, showered and had my dinner, it was already quite late. I could only start chanting at night, most of the time after 9pm. I no longer had that fear but felt compassion even though I occasionally still hear dogs howling. The chanting calms down my mind, give me protection and enable me to transfer merits to other beings. Because I always did this, gradually I started to feel protection with me whenever I go.
I used to have this habit of liking to go out at night. I remember once when I was driving back from my friend’s house at night, when I pass an area, there was suddenly a foul smell in the car. I felt a chill, followed by the hairs at the back of my head rise up. There seemed to be something seated at the back seat. Because I was used to chanting, I started with the chanting followed by transference of merits and soon the eerie feeling was gone.
My advice is it is important to pick up the habit to chant because it is at times like this, that the faith can rise in our hearts and offer us protection and remove our fear. If we do not form the habit, at times when we feel afraid, it is not so effective because the faith is not there hence the recitals are not so effective as our fear could overwhelm us. This applies to any faith because I have heard a number of stories, especially in Karak highway where people of other faiths had supernatural experience. Because they have the habit of doing prayers, the moment the recite the holy verses, the being and the fear disappeared.
Is it not advisable to chant at night?
For beginners or those who have sensitivity and can easily get frightened, it may be advisable in the beginning not to chant at night if they are doing it alone at home. But there is no issue with chants that are meant to offer protection such as Tai Bei Zhou or Ratana Sutta. If one is doing in a temple setting, ie going to a temple where there is a group that does recitals, I believe there is no issue because of the group energy and that most temples have their own guardian beings and protectors.
I believe a lot of illnesses such as depression, psychosis, hallucination and unexplained pain as well as auto immune have a spiritual cause. In the beginning when they are learning, their aura is quite weak. Some already felt disturbed by unseen beings like they are experiencing nightmares, sleep paralysis, seeing shadows, etc. For this type of cases, if they feel a lot of fear during chanting, it is best to do it before the sun sets.
The late Master Lu of Guan Yin Citta (Xin Ling Fa Men) had said that it is not advisable to chant Heart Sutra (Xin Jing) and Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra (Wang Sheng Zhou) at night. But he said can chant the Great Compassionate Mantra (Tai Bei Zhou) as it can provide protection and increase the spiritual energy of the person. His comment had drawn some criticism.
In the video with this link https://youtu.be/M6yCEYcYAok (in Mandarin with Bahasa Indonesia subtitle. I could not embed the video in this blog hence please watch the video directly from YouTube), at 3:07 min, the young man asked the Master after he encouraged him to do chanting. He said that when his mother learned to chant, he also followed recently. He was chanting the Heart Sutra properly and with sincerity. However till about the 4th day, he started experiencing sleeping difficulties. He got scared and stopped the recitals.
Master Lu explained that the chanting of Heart Sutra gives nourishment to spirits. It is a kind of currency for some lesser spirits. So once you start to recite, a large number of them would start to come and rush to snatch the merits/energy (Note: It is like when we are going to a poverty area to bring some food. There is a limit in the food we have but a huge number of people rushed to snatch the food). That is why Master Lu mentioned he discourage the chant of Heart Sutra and Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra (Wang Sheng Zhou) at night (you can read more in this link). But at night to chant more on Great Compassion Mantra.
The man also asked if he could chant it in the day while he was doing his swimming. The Master said no, because it is not respectful to chant as he did not not have a lot of clothes on (same as we should not do it during the time of taking a shower). And also because the water energy (same as night time energy) is very ‘yin’.
If the chanting is done in a group setting where there are monastics and/or experienced people in chanting, I believe there is no issue performing it at night. In fact, a lot of recitals need to be done at night to cater for people to come in after work. During Hungry Ghost month, many temples would conduct a chanting ceremony to transfer merits to wandering spirits. This is usually held at night in order to be more effective.
For beginners who are starting to do chanting to cure illness from a spiritual cause, it is advisable to do chanting before nightfall. Because in the beginning, your faith is not strong and with slightest strange sound or dogs howling at the distance, it may scare you off from doing. During day time when the ‘yang’ energy is stronger, you can chant without feeling a lot of fear.
Chanting has a lot of benefits- it is worse if you do not do it. Chanting and prayers help to increase one’s spiritual vibration, strengthen one’s aura field and provide protection. At the same time, the transference of merits to our family, guardian beings and spirits can help them.
In the beginning, you would need to be patient. Before we can help other people, we must first help ourselves. If you feel fear at night, then keep certain chants during the day and practice more protective chanting at night.
Once you have done it long enough, and your heart has developed sufficient compassion, you would be able to do it at any time. Because by then, you would have protection from devas and local deities, and at the same time, the immense compassion you feel for the suffering of other beings would be felt and spirits/ghosts would not want to harm you.
It is like you are going to a place where many people suffer and you are handling out food to them. In the beginning, they would rush out and snatch. But with time and practice, you would have your own ‘bodyguards’ that automatically helps keep them at check. And then because they know about you (even if you go to a new area, do note that in spiritual world, news get around and there is no distance), they also would not want to harm someone who help them. When you reach that stage, and you would with practice, the chants not only protects you but benefit other unseen beings.
Important note: If you are chanting for someone who is not your family, please do not do the chanting at your own home. For example, let’s say your friend’s parents got sick and you wish to chant, it is better to do in a group in that person’s house. If you are chanting alone, it is better to chant at a temple and request protection from the Buddha and guardian beings while you are doing the chanting. I speak from personal experience. For some people, the critical illness may be due to karmic creditors coming for revenge. By chanting, you may avert the person’s danger time and cause these beings to be angry with you for ‘interfering’ and sabotaging their plans. They will come after you and sometimes when they cannot get you, they will go after your family, usually the weakest and most frail person. That is why it is better to request the direct family members of that person to chant and if you wish to help, then do not do it in your home. If you are chanting to help your own parents, ancestors or child, then no issue because they have strong karmic ties with us.