How Do I Start Nianfo Practice?

Question: How do I begin my Nianfo practice (of being mindful of the name of Amitabha Buddha – ‘Amituofo’)?

Answer: It is best to attend a course personally to learn the above systematically and comprehensively, such as through the next run of this course (Understanding Amituofo Via The Amitabha Sutra): http://thedailyenlightenment.com/?s=via+sutra+run which uses this book for reference (Amitabha Sutra): http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2012/10/new-amitabha-book Nevertheless, here are some brief tips for beginners on how to practise seated Nianfo daily. May they also serve as reminders for non-beginners. Note that these tips equally apply to practice of mindfulness of any other Buddha’s or Bodhisattva’s name and mantra too.

[1] Three Provisions: As proper Nianfo should be with the Three Provisions (of Faith, Aspiration and Practice), their definitions should first be at least generally understood by reading this: http://purelanders.com/2015/12/30/%E5%BE%80%E7%94%9F%E5%87%80%E5%9C%9F%E4%B8%89%E8%B5%84%E7%B2%AE-the-three-provisions-for-rebirth-in-pure-land Even if one is not practising Nianfo directly for birth in Pure Land yet due to lack of understanding, and prefers to Nianfo for other general purposes first (such as wanting blessings), one should still be open to learning more later.

[2] Reverence & Repentance: Prostrate sincerely thrice before an image of Amituofo to express reverent refuge. (The image at http://purelanders.com/mp3 can be used.) Chant the ‘Verse For Repentance’ listed [10] at http://purelanders.com/2015/12/30/important-guidelines-2-during-dying-pure-land-passport-section-4b sincerely to help settle the mind. (The full meaning of the verse is shared in the course above.)

[3] Physical Posture: Sit upright and still in the Lotus (or Half-Lotus or Burmese) Posture, with one-third of the buttocks on a meditation cushion for stability. (If not familiar with these, sit cross-legged the common way on somewhere firm with some cushion support, or on a chair with feet planted firmly on the ground.) Straighten the back but do not strain anywhere (such as the shoulders). Be upright but not uptight; relaxed but not lax. Place your hands in the Samadhi Mudra (concentration posture), or palm down on each kneecap, or with palms joined together in reverence. Close or half-close your eyes (to let in some light if you become drowsy easily). Whether open or closed, do not look anywhere in particular, by positioning your eyes in their natural positions.

[4] Mental Posture: Be mentally relaxed but alert. Where there is detection of tension at any part of the body, or of stray thoughts arising, make a resolution to let them go by not bothering about them. Do not deliberately be mindful of any physical feeling or thought. Let go of all sensations, thoughts and the environment by dissolving any attention on them.

[5] Centering: Stay centred in the present moment by letting go of thoughts of the past and future. Breathe normally, as you watch your breathing calmly and clearly. If it is too fast, take a deep breath before normalising. Once settled, move on to the next step.

[6] Actual Nianfo: Using the ‘Amituofo’ track at http://purelanders.com/mp3 as a guide (unless not needed), chant along as sincerely as you can, with each word clearly enough for yourself to clearly hear. This is to ensure your chanting is done properly and mindfully, without the mind straying away from the name of Amituofo. It is natural for beginners to have many stray thoughts, including physical aches and pains, but simply swiftly return to the name of Amituofo each time they arise, and they will gradually lessen. Abide peacefully only on Amituofo’s name (安住佛号) and nothing else.

[7] Chanting Aloud: For beginners, it is best to chant aloud (not loudly but loud enough for yourself to hear) to increase mindfulness. If inconvenient, chant silently in your mind, while also listening to your chanting in your mind. As only the sense faculties of thought and hearing should be used, do not think of or visualise anything else. Maintain and increase focus on Amituofo’s name with continual mindfulness. Wholehearted sincerity is key for good and fruitful practice.

[8] Dedication Of Merits: Chant the ‘Verse For Sharing Of Merits’ listed [16] at http://purelanders.com/2015/12/30/important-guidelines-3-after-dying-pure-land-passport-section-4c (The full meaning of the verse is shared in the course above.) After which, merits can be dedicated to specific groups (such as family) or individuals for particular aspects of their well-being using your own words. (Note that as it is a natural universal law that only one-seventh of merits created can be dedicated beyond oneself to others, it is ideal that those we wish well practise Nianfo personally too. Wisdom too cannot be dedicated, and can only be learnt for realisation. However, merits can be dedicated for offering more opportunities to become wiser.)

[9] Progress Factors: With regular (daily) and diligent practice (of at least 5 to 15 minutes, or longer), and as much as possible in spare time, or while doing mundane tasks that does not require much thinking, there will be progress factors experienced, of increase in calmness, clarity and blissfulness through connecting your Buddha-nature (potential to become Buddha) to Amituofo’s blessings. Nianfo is best done not when very tired, but when reasonably wakeful, so as to not fall asleep or lose concentration. For example, it can be done after freshening up at night, after settling the day’s work and bathing, when it is not yet too late. The more diligent should have a Nianfo session in the morning too. (The use of prayer beads as a counter to measure committed quotas of chants is optional, while a kitchen, watch or phone timer can be used to countdown the committed duration for practice.)

[10] Group Practice: It is very beneficial to join a proper Nianfo practice group for more motivation in practice, clarification of doubts, exchange of pointers and experiences. One such group is the Pureland Practice Fellowship, which is for all past participants of courses such as that listed above. Group practice not only provides spiritual friendship for support, there are also more merits generated during collective practice for everyone’s benefit. Retreats are important too, for the more advanced.

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