Question: A nominal Buddhist friend is open to the suggestion of chanting with his wife to benefit their arriving baby. Which sutra should they chant?
Answer: It is very common for parents to chant the Ksitigarbha Sutra (Di Zang Jing) when the child is not yet born, as the sutra focuses on filial piety as one of its main themes. There are Buddhists who say that the born child tends to be more obedient as a result :-] But the sutra might be too long and complex for your beginner friend. Actually, chanting almost any sutra will do, as all sutras express the compassion and wisdom of the Buddha in one way or another. The Heart Sutra can be a good alternative – as it is short. It might help nurture growth of wisdom, as it is on the ‘perfection of wisdom’. It will benefit the parents too. Hopefully, it will make them curious as to what the sutra means, and learn more about the Dharma.
Q: Can they chant ‘Namo Amituofo’?
A: Yes, this is fine – as a simple but good practice. There is only one consideration to note. Many Chinese tend to associate the chanting of Amituofo’s name with death (while the case above is about birth). Of course, this need not be so, as the benefits of chanting Amituofo are aplenty for those alive and well too, or for those yet to be born. For example, please see some of these benefits at http://tinyurl.com/Amituofo40. Chanting the name will help to create solid karmic affinity between Amituofo and the child (and parents) too – which will be beneficial for this and future lives. Yes, it can also lead to a child with better temperament… if chanting is done sincerely and calmly. It is good to share these benefits with your friend. You might wish to get a nianfoji (Buddha-name chanting device) or a CD as a guide for him to chant along with too. It would be even more beneficial if the parents eventually learn about Amituofo’s teachings, and share them with the child.