Last time I said:
A good example of this is the way we deal with the Heart Sutra, which is considered by many to be the single most important sutra in Zen, the one that defines Zen as a distinct form of Buddhism. It ends with a whole big long section that says how wonderful this one mantra is and how everyone should proclaim it. I do not know, nor have I even heard rumors about, a single Zen Buddhist who chants that mantra.
When I wrote that I took it for granted that most readers had the same understanding as I do as to what it means to chant a mantra. What I was referring to was the way mantras are chanted in Hinduism and Hindu-based religions.
The Hare Krishnas, for example, chant the mantra Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare over and over and over sometimes for hours on end. In Trancendental Meditation, one is given a mantra by one's instructor guru. One then repeats this mantra silently while one meditates. It's usually just a few syllables long. Repeating this sacred word or phrase is supposed to help focus the mind on the divine. Here's a page that talks about the practice.
I just checked Wikipedia's entry on mantras and it appears that what I'm referring to is "mantra japa," which they define as follows:
Mantra japa was a concept of the Vedic sages that incorporates mantras as one of the main forms of puja, or worship, whose ultimate end is seen as moksha/liberation. Essentially, mantra japa means repetition of mantra, and it has become an established practice of all Hindu streams, from the various Yoga to Tantra. It involves repetition of a mantra over and over again, usually in cycles of auspicious numbers (in multiples of three), the most popular being 108. For this reason, Hindu malas (bead necklaces) developed, containing 108 beads and a head bead (sometimes referred to as the 'meru', or 'guru' bead). The devotee performing japa using his/her fingers counts each bead as he/she repeats the chosen mantra. Having reached 108 repetitions, if he/she wishes to continue another cycle of mantras, the devotee must turn the mala around without crossing the head bead and repeat.
That's what I was talking about. And that is what the end of the Heart Sutra appears to me to be telling us to do with the mantra gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.
But loads of people wrote in to tell me that at their temple they chant the Heart Sutra every morning or every Sunday or whatever. Yes. This is true. But I've never been to a Zen temple where they chant that mantra more than once.
I suppose one could read the Heart Sutra in such a way that it doesn't tell us to do "mantra japa" with that mantra. But I've never read it that way. I've always thought it was clearly telling us that we should repeat gate gate etc. over and over and over again.
Sorry for creating confusion.