Clean Mouths and Foul Mouths: Oral Hygiene and the Efficacy of Chant in Medieval China

Clean Mouths and Foul Mouths: Oral Hygiene and the Efficacy of Chant in Medieval China

Kelsey Seymour - Postdoctoral Associate at the Institute of Sacred Music and Lecturer in East Asian Studies

Thursday, October 25, 2018 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Graduate Club See map
155 Elm Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Yale Institute of Sacred Music cordially invites you to join the ISM Fellows for lunch. To attend, please RSVP by Tuesday, October 23rd, to

In 667 the Buddhist monk Daoxuan narrated a fantastic vision of the hospital at Jetavana monastery, where the Buddha had preached. In this hall of healing, the king of the Brahman heaven cures all manner of illnesses through the production of musical sounds. Although fabricated - Daoxuan himself never actually visited Jetavana monastery - imaginative descriptions like this, and other scriptural sources espousing the efficacy of sound as a healing agent proliferated. Just as important were texts explaining how to efficaciously produce these sounds. Not only did monks participate in healing the sick, but oral hygiene regimens existed to maximize the potency of chanted texts. This talk explores the ways through which Chinese Buddhists achieved oral purity as well as the motivations behind these actions. More broadly, we will look at how individuals experienced religious behaviors through the senses.

Kelsey Seymour received her Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Pennsylvania in June 2018. At Yale, she will expand her dissertation, “The Buddha’s Voice: Ritual Sound and Sensory Experience in Medieval Chinese Religious Practice,” and prepare it for publication. The project explores chanting practices surrounding Chinese Buddhist texts during the Six Dynasties and Tang periods, and how these sonic activities and aural experiences affected not only people’s religious lives in a ritual context, but also the larger role of chant in the lives of medieval Chinese Buddhists, both lay and monastic.

Presented by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music