[13] Just Nianfo: How Buddha Mindfulness Is Healing My Mental Illness

I have been suffering from mental illness for 10 years. As the last relapse took me a year to recover from, it is not a coincidence at all that the moment I started to nianfo, my condition took a turn for the better. I am doing very well now and am almost symptom-free, though I still take some anti-psychosis medication. The condition I suffer from is schizoaffective disorder, which is a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The symptoms could range from hearing voices to delusions, impaired judgment and speech, mood disorder etc.

I realised that there isn’t a way simpler to practise the Dharma than nianfo [mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha (Amituofo) with his name]. As long as we chant, we would experience the benefits. I usually chant for the well-being of others, or just ‘casually’, with no particular reason, but still with mindfulness and sincerity. I believe Amituofo will hear me. His Pure Land is a wonderful and beautiful place for learning and practising the Dharma, where he will guide us to enlightenment. I just nianfo with faith in this. I haven’t give much thought to the rest because I tend to be more confused when knowing more.

I just put my deep trust in Amituofo, and praise his merits and blessings every day. Just nianfo. The blessings felt are gradual but steady with practice. I couldn’t explain more because I don’t feel a drastic change. Nianfo helps me to get through each day better. I believe it is important to be less result-oriented, to just nianfo mindfully and sincerely. It is also important to focus on daily life, to complete necessary tasks and face any challenges we are supposed to fulfill. Learn and do, do and learn, together with nianfo. With the great blessings of Amituofo, we can better go with whatever comes in life.

I read Amituofo’s great vows and resigned to the fact that these are vows from a great being, that could be quite hard to follow, but I can affirm my faith in him and express my gratitude to his vast compassion to save us from the sea of suffering through nianfo. I find 普贤菩萨行愿品 [Chapter on the Vows of the Practices of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva] easier to understand. Along with nianfo, I am trying to practise these vows, especially by respecting and rejoicing in the merits of all Buddhas, and learning to relieve others’ suffering by taking responsibility for their welfare.

Amituofo, Lee Way (name changed for privacy) Feb 2011

As long as we not fully enlightened, we are all still ‘infected’ by the three poisons of attachment, aversion and delusion to various extents, which means we all suffer from mental (or spiritual) illness in one way or another. Some illnesses are subtle and others more obvious. Most of our mental illnesses, such as habitual anger and craving, are so common and taken for granted that they are not regarded as illnesses! However, they are truly illnesses as they keep us away from total well-being that is enlightenment. In a way, the subtler three poisons are more serious as they are harder to be mindful of for transformation. When we practise nianfo, we are creating and connecting to the three antidotes of generosity, compassion and wisdom, which counter the poisons instantly in the moment.

Nianfo is particularly relevant for those suffering from mental illness as it is common for some of them to think in excess, which might aggravate their condition. While there is some thinking needed before one practises nianfo (e.g. for setting the motivation), the actual practice does not require thinking (or visualising). Instead, mindfulness of Amituofo’s name makes the scattered or moody mind more anchored in calmness (instead of agitation), clarity (instead of confusion), single-mindedness (instead of scattered-mindedness), equanimity (instead of emotionality). Being the panacea for all diseases of the mind, nianfo practice is truly suitable for all beings – be they of lower, medium or higher mental capacities (三根普被). It is no wonder that all Buddhas, as stated in the Amitabha Sutra, recommend nianfo to all beings.

‘Take for instance, the case of a schizophrenic friend, who occasionally hears a voice hurling abuse at him. Obstructed by unpredictable hallucinations, it is difficult for him to engage in basic mind-training practices such as Anapanasati meditation (where mindfulness of breathing is practised). The worst-case scenario would be to hear the disturbing voices amplified while he attempts to “silent” his mind in meditation. Though the mind can entertain many successive thoughts within a very short span of time, it can only entertain one thought at any one moment.

As such, mindfulness of the name (nianfo) might prove to be a skilful means for him to train his mind – for when his mind is occupied by the physical or mental sound (if chanting is done silently) of the name, his mind in that moment cannot simultaneously generate an imaginary voice to distract him… In the mean time, the practice might even lessen the voices in everyday life (if he switches to mindfulness of Amituofo the very instance he hears voices)’ (From ‘Miscellaneous Uses of Pure Land Practice’: https://purelanders.com/2009/09/14/miscellaneous-uses-of-pure-land-practice/) Not all are suitable for meditation but all are suitable for nianfo. Nianfo is also a meditative practice, but it is easier than ‘classic’ meditation practices. It is also infused with the Other-power of Amituofo, that enhances Self-power greatly, in ways Self-power is difficult to achieve by itself. The only part of nianfo practice that might be difficult for some is learning to generate the right faith and aspiration for practice.

While nianfo can benefit us in everyday life, its ultimate benefit is to lead us to Pure Land and enlightenment. ‘With the availability of Amituofo’s great blessings, troubling lifelong mental illnesses will also cease to be when one arrives in Pure Land. In the mean time, mindfulness of Amituofo aids healing of the mind too. If those with physical or mental illnesses do not seek birth in Pure Land, there remains the possibility that their ailments might continue in their next life elsewhere if their corresponding negative karma is yet to be exhausted.’ (From ‘Birth in Pure Land as Total Healing’: http:/purelanders.com/2011/12/15/birth-in-pure-land-as-total-healing/) Due to the less steady condition of their minds, it is natural for those with mental illness to experience the benefits of nianfo in a more gradual way. However, as above, the definite benefits can definitely be experienced if one practises sincerely, mindfully and regularly (e.g. daily).

To truly practise nianfo for the well-being of others (e.g. by sharing the merits of doing so with them), we should firmly and repeatedly aspire to be born in Pure Land too. Once there, we can train to be the best of Bodhisattvas, who swiftly return to guide others to Pure Land and enlightenment. This aspiration is in fact embodied in the last vow of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva too (More at ‘How Amitabha Buddha is Related to Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’: https://purelanders.com/2011/12/15/how-amitabha-buddha-is-related-to-samantabhadra-bodhisattva/) If we study Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s 10 Vows fully, we will realise that they are not easy to practise perfectly too (though we should still do the best we can). This is why even Samantabhadra Bodhisattva aspired for birth in Pure Land to perfect his vows! If even he, a great Bodhisattva, aspires to be born in Pure Land, and to guide beings to reach it, what more should we ordinary beings! The 48 Vows of Amituofo (https://purelanders.com/2011/12/15/the-48-vows-of-amitabha-buddha-from-infinite-life-sutra/) are definitely difficult for us to emulate. However, the good news is that these vows were made and fulfilled by Amituofo already. Though it is ideal if we try to follow his vows by example, the main reason he made the vows is to benefit us, to inspire us to reach his Pure Land and to inspire others to do the same!

Related Articles:
Can Those with Dementia Practise Buddha Mindfulness?
How Many Vows to Reach Pure Land?
Brief Introduction to Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s Vows
How Buddha Mindfulness Connects to All the Buddha’s Teachings

More Inspirational Pureland Testimonials:
1. My Relative’s Birth in Pureland
2. How I Saw Amituofo
3. How I Joined the Pure Land Path
4. How Amituofo Saved My Life
5. Gratitude to Amituofo
6. My Mother’s Birth in Pureland
7. How Mindfulness of Amituofo Comforted My Uncle
8. How Three Dogs Helped Me To Be Mindful of Amituofo
9. An Unexpected Group Practice Session
10. My Grandfather’s Deathbed Experience
11. Just Nianfo: How Buddha Mindfulness is Healing My Mental Illness

Animated Pureland Testimonials (Must-see)
Experience of the ‘People’ of Pure Land
How a Chicken Went to Pureland
Story of My Father’s Rebirth
Amituofo’s Wake-up Call?
Another Wake-up Call
Yet Another Wake-up Call
Another Pureland Retreat Reflection

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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