Buddhist Music

Buddhist music is music created for or inspired by Buddhism and part of Buddhist art.

The teachings or Dharma of the Buddha mention music on many occasions. It is written in an important Buddhist text the Amitabha Sutra, that heavenly singing and chanting is heard all day and night in the world around us: as flowers softly rain down from the heavens; as birds produce beautiful and harmonious music; the blowing of a gentle breeze; the movements of jewel trees… all being played together in harmony, in order to guide sentient beings to enlightenment.

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Buddhist Music in Bhutan


Honkyoku (本曲) are the pieces of shakuhachi or hocchiku music played by wandering Japanese Zen monks called Komuso. Komuso temples were abolished in 1871, but their music, honkyoku, is one of the most popular contemporary music styles in Japan. Komuso played honkyoku for enlightenment and alms as early as the 13th century. In the 18th century, a Komuso named Kinko Kurosawa of the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism was commissioned to travel throughout Japan and collect these musical pieces. The results of several years of travel and compilation were thirty-six pieces known as the Kinko-Ryu Honkyoku.


The chanting of mantras used in or inspired by Buddhism, including many genres in many cultures:

  • Repetition of the name of Amitabha in Pure Land Buddhism.
  • Repetitious chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and excerpts of the Lotus Sutra within Nichiren Buddhism
  • Shomyo in Japanese Tendai and Shingon Buddhism.
  • Throat singing in Tibetan Buddhist chants

Tibetan styles

Tibetan Buddhism is the most widespread religion in Tibet. Musical chanting, most often in Tibetan or Sanskrit, is an integral part of the religion. These chants are complex, often recitations of sacred texts or in celebration of various festivals. Yang chanting, performed without metrical timing, is accompanied by resonant drums and low, sustained syllables. Individual schools such as the Gelug, Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyu, and even individual monasteries, maintain their own chant traditions.


Shomyo (声明) is a style of Japanese Buddhist chant; mainly in the Tendai and Shingon sects. There are two styles: ryokyoku and rikkyoku, described as difficult and easy to remember, respectively.

Notable Buddhist musicians

Bibiladeniye Mahanama - Sri Lankan Buddhist Monk, Spiritual Music Composer

Bibiladeniye Mahanama – Sri Lankan Buddhist Monk, Spiritual Music Composer

  • Ven.Bibiladeniye Mahanama Thero
  • Ani Choying Dolma
  • Kinko Kurosawa
  • Imee Ooi
  • Eliane Radigue
  • Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra
  • Adam Yauch
  • Premasiri Khemadasa
  • Dinesh Subasinghe
  • Victor Ratnayake
  • Master Shekhar Bodhakaro
  • Leonard Cohen

Greater China

Li Na, a famous Chinese singer who became a nun in 1997, produced many popular Buddhist music albums under her new name Master Chang Sheng (释昌圣). Influential C-pop singers like Faye Wong and Chyi Yu (who released 4 albums featuring Buddhist chants) also helped Buddhist music reach a wider audience.

Beyond Singing

In 2009, the Beyond Singing Project produced an album combining Buddhist chants and Christian choral music.

The musicians involved were:

  • Tina Turner
  • Regula Curti
  • Dechen Shak-Dagsay

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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