When I first came to Buddhism I was one of those people who thought that chanting and puja were meaningless and useless rituals. But I don’t think that now.
I was spending time in monasteries and because I wanted to be polite, I went along with what everyone was doing and gave it my best effort. In giving sincere effort to the practice of chanting and rituals I discovered for myself some direct experience of benefits and usefulness. I have seen that if you put effort and concentration into your chanting it fulfills the the 4 right efforts of the “Right Effort” path factor.
I will share with you my direct experience of the benefits of chanting and puja type rituals. Some of the benefits were obvious and some were subtle. There may be benefits you can discover that I have not yet discovered.
1) Chanting can be very tranquillising and calming. The process of chanting calms the mind and clears away much of the wandering thinking. From this you get the obvious benefit of the suspension of toxic thinking. The harmful, painful thinking such as anger, hatred, criticism, discontent, jealousy, lust, anxiety, fear etc and on and on. Even the chanting of nonsense syllables such as om om or ooh aah waaa laaa can divert the mind away from thinking harmful thoughts. The chanting of more complex chants that you have to put your mind to is even more effective at this.
This is the first of the 4 right efforts: the abandoning of the harmful unwholesome thoughts. (Akusala)
Unfortunately chanting a chant that you know really well and don’t have to pay attention to won’t necessarily provide this benefit. To gain benefit you have to pay attention to the process of chanting. If you chant on “remote control” your mind can wander off into thinking very easily.
2) A well known chant can provide the benefit of the second right effort: the preventing the arising of new harmful thoughts. As you go around your daily life, allowing the echo of the chanting to come to your mind can prevent those habitual complaints from coming up. Intentionally silently chanting in your mind in situations where you would normally be preyed upon by “bad” thoughts can protect the mind. For example in heavy traffic or around difficult people.
3) Paying attention to the meaning of the chanting can bring up beautiful states in the heart and mind. This is the third right effort. I often find lines and stanzas from the Karaniya Metta sutta echoing around my mind bringing happiness and kindness with them: Radiating kindness over the entire world, spreading upwards to the skies and downwards to the depths, out wards and unbounded. Aaahhhh. That brings a smile to my heart even as I type it.
4) the fourth right effort is to bring those beautiful mind states to perfection. I can’t claim perfection, but as they say – “practice makes perfect.” Carrying the chanting around with us during our daily life embeds the meaning of those chants deep into our psyche, creating new habits. We make a habit of kindness. A habit of serenity. New habits of happiness and kindness, peace and serenity are established in the heart.