Is The Name Of Amituofo Arbitrary?

Question: In the Pure Land tradition, the most common key practice is faithful single-minded mindfulness of Amituofo’s (Amitabha Buddha) name, with the aspiration to be born in his Pure Land. However, as Amituofo is addressed differently in various languages and countries, there isn’t a universal name. Does this mean the name chanted is arbitrary, as in other words will also do? If so, what is the difference between mindfulness of  ‘(Namo) Amituofo’ and ‘(Namo) Coca Cola’?

Answer: Despite cultural differences in how Amituofo’s name is chanted, principles of the practice of Buddha mindfulness will still work – provided that there is right understanding of the essential Pure Land teachings, and most of all, the significance of chanting his name. When Amituofo’s name in any language is chanted with the right faith, aspiration and practice, it will work – because it is with the Three Provisions (of faith, aspiration and practice) via his name, that Amituofo is connected to; more so than via any specifically enunciated words.

If a child is brought up and taught the Pure Land teachings, misled that ‘Coca Cola’ is the name of Amituofo, the child’s practice using that name will still work! (It would be a cruel trick though – if the child later realises he was fooled.) However, for most of us, who already have a strong ingrained perception of what Coca Cola conventionally stands for, and its vast differences compared to what Amituofo means, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to re-subscribe the meaning of Coca Cola with that of Amituofo, and to chant Coca Cola sincerely without laughing!

Words are powerful because of the meanings we ascribe to them, and because of the difficulty in overriding old habitually affixed meanings. For example, of all the words in the world, our names are probably the most significant to us due to our sense of ego. And this significance cannot be easily dismissed. Exactly because words are such powerful instruments, the more we understand about Amituofo, the more powerfully efficacious chanting of his name will be, especially with the Three Provisions continually fortified.

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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