Shomyo is a kind of music that adds melodic patterns to the chanted words of shingon, that is, sacred Buddhist words in Sanskrit, or other Buddhist texts in all kinds of languages. It originated in India, the birthplace of Buddhism and then went to China. In China, the Buddhist scriptures were translated into Chinese and new texts were written as well and the forms of singing were arranged and adapted. In the 5th and 6th centuries, this was transmitted to Japan along with Buddhism and was called Shomyo. This oldest form of Shomyo played an important part in the ceremonies for the dedication of the great Buddha at Todaiji Temple in Nara in 752.

In the 9th century, Saichu and Ennin traveled to Tang Dynasty China and brought back new forms of esoteric and Pure Land Buddhism and new forms of Shomyo as well. Saichu founded the Enryakuji temple on Mt. Hiei, and established a new form of Shomyo called Tendai Shomyo, which included and elaborated on the earlier Shomyo. But it was Ennin who should really be considered the founder of Tendai Shomyo. In his ten years of study in Tang Dynasty China, he gained a profound knowledge of the rituals of Buddhism and established the foundations of Shomyo chanting.


"Shichisanbongo" means, "Hymn in Sanskrit in Praise of the Four Wisdoms of the Buddha." It uses "bongo," which is using Chinese characters to phonetically transcribe Sanskrit words, and is a representative piece of Shomyo in the esoteric Buddhist tradition, suggesting what Shomyo was like in Tang Dynasty China.

The text is a poem praising the four wisdoms of the Buddha. They are, namely, the wisdom to perceive everything like a mirror without any discrimination, the wisdom to judge oneself and others equally, the wisdom to see individual differences within this equality and the wisdom to lead all beings to complete development. This piece is recited once as all the priests are lined up outside the study hall and then once more when they have entered the hall.

Sokushin Sonrei, Tendai Shomyo Onritsu Kenkyu-kai
(Sokushin Sonrei Tendai Shomyo Music Research Group)