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.
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:
 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.
 Of course, the Buddha, having perfect compassion and wisdom, will never be upset with anyone calling his name many times or impatiently!
 Do refrain from ‘disturbing’ practitioners similarly if it’s unlikely to ‘awaken’ them similarly!
 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.