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NEW DELHI---The bank executive,
the book publisher and the social
worker had one thing in common---
their hectic lives in the crowded Indi-
an capital had become so chaotic and
stressful, they ve turned to chanting
Buddhist mantras in search of calm.
The practice is catching on among
India s well-off urban professionals,
growing by word of mouth as a way
to relieve stress. Most of those picking
up the practice are Hindu, but they
say they see no conflict between their
religious beliefs and the chanting.
Some say it is soothing, others invig-
"I feel it just makes me a better
human being, more humane," says
Gaurav Saboo, 34, a devout Hindu
working at an international bank in
New Delhi. "It enables me to under-
stand the suffering of others and reach
out to others."
Buddhism, he says, "is a philosophy,
a way of life," and the chanting has
brought a positive energy into his life.
While Buddhism began on the Indi-
an subcontinent around the fifth cen-
tury BC, it has waned in both India
and Nepal while flourishing in different
forms in Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka,
Cambodia and other countries. With
its easy rituals and lack of dogma,
Buddhism has long drawn supporters
from afar. Hollywood celebrities,
agnostics, Christians and Jews alike
attend Buddhist spiritual retreats.
Archi Sharma, a housewife who took
up chanting a year ago, says she was
"searching for some meaning" in her
life when she heard about Buddhist
chanting from friends.
"I felt there was a vacuum in my
life," Sharma said. "The chanting has
helped. It stops you thinking about
me, myself. It makes one think of oth-
Sharma, who chants twice a day
between household chores and taking
care of an ailing relative, said she saw
no conflict between her family s tra-
ditional Hindu beliefs and her chant-
"The chanting is not invasive and
runs parallel to what we practice as
Hindus," she said. "It opens a doorway
to another stream of happiness into
one s life."
The practice of repeating a mantra
is not exclusive to Buddhism. Many
across Hindu-dominated India also
include chanting as part of their yoga,
and some Christian groups repeat
While Hindu chanting is often asso-
ciated with religious rituals, Buddhist
chanting is seen as less dogmatic,
aimed at calming the nerves or feeling
a sense of wellbeing, said New Delhi-
based sociologist Abhilasha Kumari.
"Hindu chanting is linked to reli-
gious ritual," she said. "Buddhist
chanting is a free space where you
chant and are not tied down to other
aspects of religiosity."
Many Indians who have picked up
chanting have been drawn to sessions
organised by Soka Gakkai International,
the lay organisation of a major Nichiren
Buddhist sect whose stronghold is in
Japan. The group traces its roots to
the chants and teachings of a 13th cen-
tury Japanese monk named Nichiren.
The group has not been engaged in
an active campaign to promote chant-
ing in India, although it claims to have
introduced the practice to around
100,000 Indians since setting up in
the country in 1986, according to the
group s office in New Delhi.
Practitioners chant individually but
many meet monthly. Many say that
apart from easing their own stress, the
chanting also makes them understand
people around them and working for
the happiness of others.
At a recent gathering in a middle
class New Delhi neighbourhood, par-
ticipants shucked off their shoes and
quietly sat down on thin mattresses
in the basement of an apartment build-
ing. They faced an ornate wooden altar
holding a scroll on which the words
they will chant for the next hour are
which refers to the law
of cause and effect.
joined in, blending their
chant with the ongoing
rhythm. Soon the incan-
tation picked up speed,
building to a crescendo
and then slowing again
while the chanters
recovered their breath.
Faintly, there was the
clicking of wooden beads
that the chanters used
to help focus their
thoughts on the mantra.
Every now and then, one
of them struck a gong.
"You feel invigorated.
It s a great feeling," said
Ruma Roka, 54, at the
end of the chanting ses-
sion as she and the oth-
ers moved to another
room for discussions
over tea. Roka started
chanting about ten years
ago as a housewife, and
has found it helps her
cope with the stress of
her job teaching the
hearing impaired at the
special clinic she runs.
"If I did not chant, if
I went back home with
all the heaviness of this
very challenging work...
would not be able to sur-
vive," Roka said. "I would
have a compassion
Many individuals hear
about the chanting ses-
sions by word of mouth,
and are often simply
looking for new ways of
stress-busting after try-
ing other traditional
Indians take to Buddhist chanting to alleviate stress
In this January 17, 2016 photo, Namrta Bangia chants Buddhist
prayers in New Delhi, India. Chanting Buddhist mantras is catching
on among India's urban elite as a way to relieve stress. Most are
Hindu, but they don't see a conflict between their religious beliefs
and the chanting, which some find soothing, others invigorating.
Bangia, a 32-year-old publishing executive, said she had tried
Pranayama, an ancient Indian breathing practice, and the silent
Hindu meditation of Vipassana before settling on Buddhist chants.
Her family and friends tell her they have noted a change in her.
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