Excerpts

Connect to Inner Buddha

Don’t Forget to Connect to the Inner Buddha While ‘Calling’ the Buddha

The more you understand the Buddha, the more powerful his name becomes.
– Stonepeace

As a young man I heard a story of a lady in North Vietnam who practiced calling the name of Amida Buddha (Amitabha; Amituofo) every day, several times a day, perhaps as many as 10,000 times a day. This is the primary practice of Pure Land Buddhism, for a sincere practitioner it can bring about much transformation and spiritual benefit. Yet this lady’s practice did not change her life at all. She invited a bell, struck a drum, and burned many sticks of incense every day, but it did not bring her any deep transformation or peace. The element of diligence was there, the goodwill was there, but the practice wasn’t effective because it has become rote and meaningless, a mere means to a hoped for result rather than a deep practice of mindfulness in itself.

One day a neighbor, wanting to test her, came to the gate of her house at the time she did her practice. Just as she started to chant he began to call out to her. First she tried to ignore him, but he continued to call her name, again and again. Soon she became irritated and started to strike the bell more loudly, pound harder on the drum, and chanted louder. This was an indirect way of saying, ‘Don’t you know this is my practice time? Go away!’ The man understood the message but continued to call her name, only now even louder. Finally she stopped chanting, put down the bell and drum, came to the door, and shouted angrily, ‘Why do you disturb me at a time like this? Can’t you hear that I’m practicing?’

Her neighbor smiled and said, ‘You know, I called your name only about fifty or sixty times, and you are already so upset! Every day you call the Buddha’s name thousands and thousands of times; imagine how upset he must be!’ We must practice in such a way that our method of cultivating mindfulness and concentration – whether it is in the form of sitting meditation, walking meditation, chanting sutras, or invoking the name or image of a great being – serves to bring about calmness, peace and joy. Otherwise, no matter how long or hard we practice, it will be of little or no benefit.

Peaceful Action, Open Heart: Lessons from the Lotus Sutra – (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Due to possible misinterpretations of the message of the story, here is a summary of the lessons we can learn from it:

[1] The story is not to discourage chanting the name of Amituofo many times, but to encourage chanting mindfully each time, such that it transforms and purifies us.

[2] Of course, the Buddha, having perfect compassion and wisdom, will never be upset with anyone calling his name many times or impatiently!

[3] Do refrain from ‘disturbing’ practitioners similarly if it’s unlikely to ‘awaken’ them similarly!

[4] The more we practise mindfulness of Buddha, the more should we ‘resemble’ the Buddha in thought, word and deed. If not, there is something wrong with our practice that needs improvement.

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6 Comments

  • Due to possible misinterpretations of this story, (which is a bad pureland practice example), and so putting it aside, I think the chanting method is bad.
    First, the sutra say the mere name calling is able to afford a rebirth in the Pureland of Amitabha. As many as ten calls or even just one time at the time of death.
    Then the sutra also said holding the name for one day up to seven without “confusion” is assurance of a good grade of rebirth.
    I believe, the key is in the three provision of Faith, Vow and simplified calling of the name. It is after all said to be a easy vertical, and quick method. No need for all those fancy bell, drum and incenses. Just saying.

    • 1. Possible misinterpretations have been addressed in the points above.

      2. It is not ‘mere name calling’ that leads to rebirth. The Amitabha Sutra clear says – to ‘…faithfully [and firmly] UPHOLD [mindfulness of] his name [Amituofo; Amita(bha) Buddha; Amita(yus) Buddha]…’. The above-mentioned upholding of his name is powered by Faith and Aspiration (Vow).

      3. The sutra also never said upholding the name for one day up to seven without confusion assures good grade of birth. What it says it this – ‘… if for one day, if for two days, if for three days, if for four days, if for five days, if for six days, if for seven days, wholeheartedly without being scattered, when these persons approach the end of life, Amita Buddha, with an assembly of many noble beings, will appear before them. When these persons’ lives [are] end[ing], their minds will not be inverted, and they will immediately attain rebirth in Amita Buddha’s Land Of Ultimate Bliss.’ Higher grades depend on depth and quality of practice, along with other general practices, as detailed in the Contemplation Sutra.

      4. The Pure Land path is not the vertical path – it is the path that enables horizontal escape from the three spheres of existence.

      Please be mindful of accuracy in comments, lest they creates misunderstanding, that goes uncorrected and read by many. The karmic consequences are difficult to imagine. Amituofo

      • I disagree with your comment because point 2 & 3 are exactly opposite from what the article said, and also what the sutras mentioned. Point no 4. was my error. I do mean a horizontal path or escape. Please, however, read again my first reply which is repeated by you. But since we are fearful of karmic consequences, I shall forthwith refrain from all comments. It is pointless for a column to comment. I will however post questions separately.

  • @wsx. Can you please explain what you mean by, “faithfully [and firmly] UPHOLD [mindfulness of] his name…?”
    Thank you.

    • It means to wholeheartedly (sincerely) Nianfo with the right Faith and Aspiration, such that Amituofo is connected to. Good to attend Pure Land classes to learn more systematically. Amituofo

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!