Buddhist Monks of
Maitri Vihar Monastery,
Tibetan Mantras & Chants
(Interra, 1996;
Sounds of the World, 1999)

The Maitri Vihar Monastery is located in Swoyambu Nath in Nepal and is home to some 50 monks from both Nepal and Tibet. On this CD, producer John Matarazzo presents a compilation of 10 samples of Buddhist liturgical music.

Tibetan Buddhism, or Lamaism, is part of Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) Buddhism. This strand of Buddhism is prevalent in the northern and eastern parts of Asia: China, Korea, Japan and, of course, Tibet. A key feature of Mahayana Buddhism is the recognition of savior figures, embodied as Boddhisatvas. These are enlightened ones who have chosen to remain in this world in order to realize the release of the rest of mankind from the cycle of rebirth as well. In the course of its history Tibetan Buddhism -- borrowing from the Tantric traditions as well -- has developed an elaborate system of ceremonies, of which chanting is an integral part.

Most of the selections on Tibetan Mantras and Chants are chants by a choir composed of the temple's resident monks. Apart from a cappella performances, some of the mantra chants are accompanied by bowls and cymbals. The closing track is a short instrumental number featuring the famous ceremonial horns and cymbals.

The CD's tracks vary in length from one-and-a-half minute for the instrumental performance to over a quarter of an hour for the three extended choir chants. It is a pity that the descriptions given leave much to be desired for. We have to satisfy ourselves with extremely brief characterizations like "Three Mantra Chant," "Buddhist Monk's Choir" and "Triad Mantra Chant." I for one would like to know which mantras and from which Suttras the monks' choir is chanting, for which purpose are these chants performed, what is their religious significance, etc. The producer or label would have done well if they had included an explanatory flyer addressing such issues. Now all we are just left with some arcane and exotic sound bits from a -- for most of us -- enigmatic religious tradition.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 3 May 2003

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