When 13-year-old Dawa Choegyal left his home and parents in Tibet for India, little did he know that two decades later he would be anointed by the Dalai Lama as the chief chant master for Sera Thekchenling Lachi Cultural Society, Sera Mahayana Buddhist Monastery, in Karnataka’s Bylakuppe, among the largest Tibetan settlements in India.
What is the significance of chanting in such a deep voice?
We invoke the deity, Yamantaka, a wrathful form of Bodhisattva Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom – who is committed to giving up enlightenment for the sake of others, as Yamantaka, the Bodhisattva, vanquishes Yama, the god of death. In
Vajrayana Buddhism, Vajrabhairava, that is Yamantaka, is a wrathful, buffalo-headed meditational deity. It needs a strong voice. So when I chant, I visualise Yamantaka and, therefore, the voice is this deep.
Your emotions should be in sync with that of the deity’s. Yamantaka is one of the eight Dharmapalas, protectors of Buddhism, prominent others being Mahakala, Hayagriva, Vaisravana and Palden Lhamo.
There are different chants for invoking each one of them.
What training do you undergo for deep-voice chanting?
It is a rigorous training process that goes on for almost 20 years, by then one completes the Geshe degree, which is equivalent to a doctorate. You need a good voice and remarkable memory, besides a sharp and focussed mind. This kind of chanting involves studying a range of Tibetan texts. We need to memorise nearly 1,200 pages for our examinations. I cleared the examination before I was anointed as the chant master by the Dalai Lama.
How did you become a chant master?
As a child, I was told that I had a good voice and a great memory. Growing up in Tibet, I studied our scriptures. I joined Kanzhi Gomba monastery where my teacher told me that I had a good voice and wanted me to go to India. I left for India in 1993 when I was 13 years old.
We walked for 22 days before we reached Nepal where we were arrested by the local police and imprisoned for three days before a Tibetan organisation rescued us. We then reached Delhi from where I was sent to Sera Jey Monastery in Bylakuppe.
I joined a special group to train in deep-voice chanting for rituals and regular chant sessions, simultaneously pursuing my Geshe studies. At 22, I was the youngest chant master in Sera Jey Monastery then.
Today, apart from training young monks in deep-voice chanting, I am engaged in monastery management and decision-making with the Abbot and the discipline master.
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