BCA has a rich history of chanting and music that is incorporated into temple services and special events. The spread of Mahayana Buddhism from India through Asia to Japan and then to America is reflected by hymns sung in Pali, chanting and music composed in Japanese, and English-language music developed in Hawaii and the mainland United States since the 1920s.
BCA Music Committee Events
BCA Music YouTube Channel Latest Feature
Temple services also include gathas (songs). Lyrics may contain poems/verses from Buddhist texts or be based on Buddhist themes. Composition styles range from traditional hymnal music to more contemporary sounds, and reflect the contributions of many Shin Buddhist musicians, ministers, and members. Gathas are sung together as a sangha, sometimes featuring an accompanist and group of singers or choir.
Perhaps the most notable gathas originating from Japan are Ondokusan I, Ondokusan II, and Shinshu Shuka. Both versions of Ondokusan are based on a poem (wasan) written by Shinran Shonin to express deep gratitude for the compassion of the Buddha and all of our dharma teachers. Shinshu Shuka (Anthem) debuted in 1923 in honor of the 700th Anniversary of the Jodo Shinshu teaching's establishment.
When the BCA Shin Buddhist Service Book was published in 1994, the Gatha Committee also created companion audio recordings for most of its songs and music, coordinated by the late Rae Imamura. The first three gathas below were recorded by the late opera vocalist Mika Shigematsu with piano accompaniment by Rae Imamura. They also recorded additional Japanese language gathas. Featured for the month of May are Shinran Sama and a choral piece Mihotoke no Osugata, recorded by the Pacific Mozart Ensemble, in Japanese and English. Namo Amida Butsu by R. R. Bode has been added again along with Quest of Life with music composed by Toshiro Mayuzumi, commissioned by Hawaii Music Committee. Both of these English gathas were recorded by Hector Vasquez, accompanied by Rae Imamura. Copyright is held by BCA records.
Gagaku, the oldest orchestral tradition in the world, is imperial Japanese court music performed for special services in Shinto and Buddhist temples. Gagaku was introduced into Japan along with Buddhism around 600-700 ACE from China and Korea. Incorporated into Shin Buddhist liturgy in the 17th century, gagaku is used in processional music and in some formal chants.
A dharma message by Rev. Katsuya Kusunoki with more information on gagaku is available here:
The contribution of music has been invigorated recently by a new BCA Ad Hoc Music Committee established in 2020. The Music Committee has a broad scope of work, with many subcommittees for various areas of music at our temples. Future plans include documenting and sharing music history and recorded music on this website to support temple services.
To experience the range of music at BCA temples, watch the Seattle Betsuin 12th Annual Music Service, which includes sutra music, gathas in Japanese and English, and contemporary musical offerings.