North American Adaptations of Zen Chanting: Four Strategies

Stephen Slottow, University of North Texas

Japanese-derived Zen Buddhist practice has its own indigenous music: the ritual chanting which, along with bells and other percussion instruments, forms a part of virtually every Zen ceremony and formal event. Like the other aspects of Zen teaching and practice, Zen chanting has undergone a widely varied range of adaptations as part of its migration to and continuing development in the North American context. These adaptations can be classified under the following strategies: (1) imitation, (2) simplification, (3) eclectic experimentation, and (4) combination with pre-existing Western popular or religious musical styles. This paper will examine examples and of each of these categories, along with rationales and considerations involved in transplanting Japanese-based Zen Buddhism practice to a North American context.