Question: When we were chanting a sutra during a relative’s wake at a temple, a family member experienced involuntary tremors, after which she had to stop. She said she felt like she was going into a ‘trance’. What happened? Someone said she may be hypnotised by the chanting?
Answer: Buddhist chanting does not hypnotise listeners because its contents are for waking us up spiritually. The tune might seem ‘hypnotic’ to those who do not pay attention to the words though. There can be several reasons why the trembling happened. These come to mind:
- Subconscious rejection or fear of the Dharma for some reason carried over from a past life, or created in this life.
- Ripening of karmic obscurations when chanting or listening to it, with whatever reasons from the past.
- Resonance with the chanting yet not recalling why there is a sense of connection. Maybe she was entering a state of concentration without being aware of it happening.
- Disturbance of unseen beings.
What should be done is to not so much to listen to or practise chanting for now, but to study more about the Dharma by attending courses and reading for increasing understanding. Short articles like those in ‘The Daily Enlightenment’ books might be useful for increasing general knowledge of Buddhism, for reducing any possible rejection of the Dharma, and for increasing positive affinity. There should be more good deeds done to dilute negative karma that created or sustains the obstacles too. She should know that it is not that there is something wrong with Buddhist chanting per se, but that she has personal obstacles of her own making when doing it, which should be cleared.
She can start with a simple chant when more confident later – e.g. just Amituofo’s (Amitabha Buddha) name – to check her ‘response’ and familiarise with chanting’s effects. She can use an audio track as a guide with a qualified Dharma teacher’s or friends’ presence in case she needs support. Ideally, the chanting is with understanding of its significance, which you should share with her. You can explain that the practice of mindfulness of Amituofo’s name helps to create blessings by linking to him, and to clear karmic obscurations too. Chanting done well should lead to calm, clear and blissful states of mind.
If the trembling is due to the last listed possibility to disturbance of unseen beings, there should be even more diligent Dharma practice in general, including chanting – because with sincere practice, especially in terms of mindfulness of Buddha(s)/Bodhisattva(s), there will be direct connection to their blessings for protection. It should be noted that if one is indeed prone to being disturbed and avoids Dharma practice instead, when the day comes when one’s body and mind is further weakened due to sickness or when approaching death, such disturbances might be even more intense. This is why Dharma practice in everyday life is important.
Q: I have been sharing with her about the Dharma whenever the opportunity arises, but never pushed her. She is very opinionated and a hard nut to crack.
A: You should note her opinions and systematically address them one by one. You can seek help for those harder to address too. A hard nut to crack can still be cracked with time and effort!
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