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A study of Buddhist music and instrument (ghanta)


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Cheng, Hsin-I




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Lancaster, Lewis R
Guruge, Ananda W. P.
Locke, Kenneth A.


This dissertation is a study and analysis of Buddhist music from various aspects, such as historical, instrumental, rhythmic, and special salvation power. Excluding the introduction at the beginning, this study is divided into five chapters.

The first chapter is an introduction of Buddhist music. This chapter briefly discusses the origin of Buddhist music and how it may have been developed. It then discusses how Buddhist music can be categorized using different sets of characteristics, perspectives, and relationships. Because this study primarily refers to the Mahayana Buddhism that was propagated into China, discussion on when and how Buddhism arrived China is also included. Furthermore, this chapter also discusses when and how Buddhist music has arrived in Chinese society, and its influence on Chinese society.

The second chapter is an analysis of a unique Buddhist instrument, the ghanta, using CBETA as foundation. This instrument is analyzed because of its characteristics and uniqueness. Instead of being the name of a specific instrument, the Sanskrit word “ghanta” really is used to name instruments or devices that serve specific purposes. In this chapter, a total of 21 different Chinese versions or transliterations of the word “ghanta” are used to find its occurrences within the Buddhist texts included in the CBETA. The occurrences are then analyzed and discussed using criteria such as purpose, volumes and canons where the occurrences appear, translators or authors of the Buddhist canons where they appear, and dynasties when the Buddhist canons were translated. With these analyses of the ghanta, we can see that through the study of ghantas, it is possible for researchers to examine closely the day to day life of a monastic community during the Buddha’s time, to a certain degree of detail.

The third chapter discusses the rhythmic patterns of the ghanta. The chapter begins with a discussion of the main differences (regarding respective purposes and functions) between Buddhist music and Christian music. The main discussion on the rhythmic patterns of ghanta is based on the signals used within the Fo Guang Shan monastic order. Various signals are discussed in this chapter, such as signals for waking up, signals for the beginning of ceremonies, signals for the beginning of a class, signals for the end of a class, signals for evening chanting, signals for bed time, and signals for lunch.

The fourth chapter covers a special ability of religious instruments: salvation. Religious instruments are believed to have soteriological ability. This chapter discusses examples of scientific studies and experiments on how audio can be used to provide remedies to patients suffering different symptoms, and then explains how religious instruments may possibly produce salvation. These studies and experiments serve as evidence to explain how religious instruments are able to produce salvation results. This chapter then uses the instrument studied in the second chapter, the ghanta, and explores how it is used for salvation in various Buddhist texts.

The fifth chapter summarizes all the previous chapters and concludes with this study’s findings.

The Purpose of the Research

The original impulse that inspired me to conduct this research was to find a subject that would involve both Buddhism and music, and bring out a stronger understanding of both topics. This research intends to make a contribution to the field of studies in Buddhist music, as this is a field that seems to attract less attention among the studies of Buddhism. Furthermore, I have been educated and trained with western music education, and I would like to see how, if possible, western musical theory may be applied to an eastern religion.

The Methodology of the Research

In this research, a historical study of Buddhist music has taken place. Discussions on various aspects of the topic and different studies and researches are also included. The research methodology used in this dissertation utilizes the textual tradition of the Chinese Buddhist canon. Both qualitative and quantitative methods have been used in this dissertation. For quantitative method, various lists and charts have been prepared and included.

As a result of this research, a number of findings discussed in different chapters and the conclusions included in Chapter Five give us a better understanding of Buddhist music. We also explore a possible reason for religious instruments to contain the power of salvation.

Degree Granter

University of the West

Library Holding