Amituofo! This account is based on my experiences and views, and what I was taught with regard to Christianity. There is absolutely no disrespect meant towards the Christian faith. These are the two main issues that changed my life. This is the story of my journey.
 Life As A Christian:
I had been subscribing to Christianity for the most of my life, till the middle of last year. Like everyone else, I had my share of trials and tribulations regarding family, relationships and many aspects of life, which led me to question my faith.
One of the biggest bugbears I had with the Christian faith was that Christians had to keep their flock through fear and guilt. I was taught that ‘God’ is all-loving. If really so, why would he punish us and allow there to be pain and suffering, pestilence, disease and destruction in this world? As our loving ‘Father’, would he not love his children regardless, AND love us enough to protect and save us from these disasters? As our loving Father who made ALL of us, why would he not accept ALL of us, with imperfections, ‘sins’ and all? Why would he only save the faithful? What about the rest?
Will we be left to fend for ourselves on ‘Judgement Day’? The Bible even says that those whose names are not found in the Book of Life will be ‘thrown into a lake of fire burning with brimstone’. What?!?!? I simply could not accept this. All this talk of fire and burning, and other violent imagery… What happened to the notion of our loving Father? I was so confused!
There were so many questions and doubts, but try as I might, no one could ever give me any satisfactory explanations that made sense. I was unable to accept selective ‘conditional love’. While fear and guilt can keep some within the faith, that did not work for me. I simply refuse to subscribe to a religion that leverages on fear and guilt, that demands blind faith to reach ‘heaven’. As a result of my confusion, I completely had no interest in all things religious over the better part of 30 years. I was hopelessly lost…
One day, my life changed. A good Buddhist friend invited me to listen to a Dharma teacher’s talks. What did I have to lose? As I listened to the Buddhist teachings over three days, things started to fall into place. As I asked question after question, it slowly became apparent that Buddhism has the answers that I have been searching for all my life! When this realisation dawned on me, it renewed my quest to find the answers to my questions.
This led me to read more to find out what Buddhism is really about. While Christianity demands blind faith, Buddhism teaches the exact opposite, i.e to question what is taught to seek the answers. Never are we asked to follow any teachings blindly. I understand Buddhism to be about all things positive and pure. It is about the cultivation of compassion with wisdom, the sharing of merits with both the living and unfortunate lost beings. Most of all, it is about being mindful of Buddha and his teachings, trying to connect with one’s own Buddha-nature.
One of the greatest difference I found between Christianity and Buddhism is that Christianity deems you a ‘sinner’ from birth and is thus a negative approach to start with. Then, the Church tries to drive home the idea of redemption through fear of being unsaved and one’s soul going to ‘hell’ for eternity. Buddhism however, starts off positively by saying that if we are mindful of the Buddha and his teachings, we too, can reach Buddhahood. This is attainable by all, not reserved only for some. Moreover, according to Buddhist teachings, hell is not eternal. There is still hope of taking a better rebirth if one realises one’s mistakes and makes an effort to repent. It is never too late. As such, with all the positivity, goodness and purity that Buddhism has, why would anyone NOT want to subscribe to its teachings?
 Life As A Buddhist (The Power Of Nianfo):
When I first heard about the benefits and power of Nianfo (practice of mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha’s name – ‘Amituofo’), I decided to find out more to see what the hype was all about. Wow! What inner peace, calmness and clarity of mind it gave me to deal with everyday life issues!
Of course, it took a while to learn to stay focused and chant ‘Amituofo’ just one time [wholeheartedly] but I didn’t give up. Never before in my Christian prayers have I felt such a sense of serenity! I now try and make this a part of my daily routine.
As a child till today, I continue to have encounters with unfortunate ‘unseen’ beings. Before, when I encountered them, in my terror, I would call out Jesus’ name to save me and send them back to the ‘unholy realms’ that they came from. Needless to say, that did not work, possibly due to the lack of Christian faith perhaps. [Or due to lack of efficacy of such prayers.]
Then I learnt of compassion through Buddhism. These unfortunate beings do not deserve our hatred and fear, but rather, our compassion [by sharing of merits] and guidance [to reach Amituofo’s Pure Land]. We can help them through Nianfo, to remind them to be mindful of the Buddha [by being good examples in practice]. Coupled with our sharing of merits, they can then work towards taking a better rebirth. Ever since practice of Nianfo, I now sense fewer presences around me.
As an example, I used to see ominous black mists nearby in my peripheral vision on and off. I used to ignore them and hope they would go away, but they never did. Then I started to sincerely practice Nianfo. While these mists still appear occasionally, they now appear much further away. I believe that through sincere Nianfo, I have gained the protective light of Buddha which surrounds and protects me.
Although I had many encounters in my ‘pre-Buddhism’ phase, I never knew what to do. Aside from the usual house ‘blessing’ and ‘cleansing’ rituals by Church priests, no one really told me what else to do. So, I remained ignorant in this aspect (and many others, to be honest).
Although I came to know about Buddhism recently, I use whatever little knowledge I have and my utmost faith to sincerely Nianfo to deal with these ‘post-Buddhism’ incidents with substantially less fear. While I wish to not have any more encounters of this nature, should they happen again, I now know what to do. Armed with this new understanding, unwavering faith in Buddha, and utmost sincerity that I can muster, I hope to face these beings with more compassion.
To summarise, I was lost on the streets (of Christianity) for many years but now I have finally come home (to Buddhism). With this precious second chance, I will strive to be constantly mindful of Buddha. I do not claim to be very learned, however, this will NEVER stop me from learning more and striving harder. Neither should you, even if you are a born and bred Buddhist.
As Brother Shi’an reminded us before, ‘Life is uncertain; death is certain.’ As such, let us not waste precious time and energy on matters that are petty and insignificant, which creates more negative karma. Rather, let us aim to fully utilise our time and focus our energy on being mindful of Buddha’s teachings and connecting with our own Buddha-nature.
When we get caught up in our daily activities, we tend to forget what is truly important. Everything in this lifetime is transient, so let us not lose sight of the ultimate true goal, which is to be liberated from the binding cycle of Samsara, so that we can be reborn in Pure Land. What guides me daily? The vow to take refuge in the Triple Gem, strong aversion to the Three Poisons, and to be mindful of the Three Provisions.
P.H. (April 2014)
Hi Shi’an, I just wanted to say thank you for the lessons over the last 10 weeks. I have learnt so much from you about the Pure Land teachings. I am glad I took the plunge and attended this course (Understanding Amituofo Via The Amitabha Sutra).
Your rock solid, unwavering faith continues to inspire me, and makes me vow even more to be reborn in Pure Land. I especially enjoyed the sutra teaching today. Your lessons are always interesting and inspirational, with never a dull moment. You teach with humour, examples and analogies that are current, which makes it easy to relate to everyday life.
I appreciate all the effort you have put into the course preparation. After having done this 12 times before [with the 18th run is upcoming], I imagine that one with less faith and conviction could feel bored or worse, complacent teaching similar materials over the years. In this case, I feel that as you grew spiritually over the years. Your faith has strengthened continually and your passion to teach the Dharma is incredible! You are truly a wonderful, motivational and inspirational teacher.
Lastly, in a nutshell, you have taught me more in the last 10 weeks than the Church has in the last 40+ years. Therefore, I thank you and I salute you. I look forward to attending more of your future courses.
P.S. Notice how many times I use the word ‘inspirational’? 😉
Understanding Amituofo Via The Amitabha Sutra (18th Run)
How Do Pure Land & God-Centric Teachings Differ?
Are Buddhas Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent & Omniscient?
Is There A God Who Allows Suffering?
How Is Amituofo Our Loving ‘Father’?