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.
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.
Hoonko no Uta has been added for the Hoonko season and Yube no Uta for the month of December. The current English gatha recording is Nembutsu by Osamu Shimizu by vocalist Hector Vasquez to Rae's piano accompaniment. Copyright is held by BCA Records. Hoonko no Uta which has been added for the Hoonko season. The current English gatha recordings are Nembutsu by Osamu Shimizu by vocalist Hector Vasquez and The Middle-Path by Larry London by vocalist Elizabeth Bishop. All are recorded to Rae's piano accompaniment. 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.