Singapore DharmaNet Homepage


Subject: Questions about Buddhism
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 01:21:08 -0800 (PST)
From: Ruth Wong

Dear Mr Tan,

As I am new to Buddhism, I have a couple of questions which I hope you can help clarify.

1) Why do Buddhist chant? Must Buddhist chants be in Pali? Can one chant in English instead?

2) What is the difference between reincarnation and rebirth? Do Buddhist belief in reincarnation or rebirth?




In the Vimuttiutta (discourse on liberation), the Buddha mentions 5 ways for liberation, the third being: "one recites the Dharma in detail to others" (Anguttara 3:21). [For full text, please see "Numerical Discourses of the Buddha" tr. & ed. By Nyanaponika & Bodhi, Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 1999, pp. 130-131.]

However chanting as a spiritual practice should be done with focus and concentration, that is, as a meditation. Then, when deep rapture arises, one watches it as being impermanent, as such unsatisfactory, and having no abiding entity–-this leads one to spiritual liberation.

Pali is the sacred language of the Theravada texts. It is a poetical language and actually meant to be chanted (since it is an oral tradition). Sanskrit is also good for chanting if one is comfortable with the Indian sounds. In other words, one should chant in a language one is comfortable with. Decades ago, when I was a monk, we (my students and I0 experimented with chanting in English plainsong). I remember the Ajahn Sumedho's monasteries also chant in this manner (perhaps even better).

It is good to be able to reflect on what one's chants. The melody helps in concentration, too, but is secondary.


Scholars use a number of big words in connection with rebirth: reincarnation, metempsychosis, metensomatosis, transmigration of the soul, even renaissance.

Reincarnation simply means "taking physical form again", in other words, a physical body is involved. For Buddhists, rebirth may occur in a formless realm.

Metempsychosis is not a disease, but a Greek-derived word, meaning "the passing of the soul (psyche) into another body (a human or animal). In Buddhism, we do not accept the idea of an unchanging soul. Moreover, we believe that rebirth can occur in forms other than human or animal, such as hell-being, asura demon, or heavenly being.

Metensomatosis is another Greek-derived word, meaning "the migration into one body of different souls". Again Buddhists find this definition problematic.

Transmigration is a literal translation of the previous two Greek terms. These three terms can be used in connection with the Hindu doctrine of rebirth.

Renaissance is French for "rebirth" but has been used exclusive in the cultural and historical sense in English.

In my opinion, the best English term here is "rebirth" (easy to remember) or "re-becoming" (more exact).


Main Page | Biography of Webmaster | Introduction | What is Dharma | Questions and Answers
Links | Schedule of talks | Buddhist Articles | Sutra Study | Virtual Interfaith Dialogue | Sutta Translation

Webmaster Piya Tan
Email :