Question: Should my eyes be open or closed during nianfo?
Answer: In the practice of nianfo in terms of mindfulness of the name of Amituofo, there is no image to look out for within or without. As such, to facilitate reduction of visual distractions that stimulate the mind to stray away from the name of Amituofo, it is better to close one’s eyes, to focus only on personal intoning of the name of Amituofo clearly and hearing one’s intonation clearly. Closing one’s eyes can help gather in the sense of sight, along with that of smell, taste and touch. Only the sense of thought and hearing is to be used – for mindful chanting and listening.
Q: I may doze off easily if I close my eyes. Is it compulsory to close the eyes? I have a monkey mind that makes it hard to concentrate, and may observe here and there before settling down, especially in a new environment.
A: There is no problem with opening the eyes per se, but only if they are not easily distracted. It is common to see some fellow practitioners during group practice sessions keep their eyes wide open. However, this does indeed allow for easy distraction. They might not even be mindful enough, to realise they are visually distracted, which also leads to mental distraction. This can be seen when you see their eyes moving around during nianfo itself. If it’s a new environment, just look around mindfully for less than a minute before settling – with no more need to look around (as you have done so already).
To keep drowsiness at bay, you can half-close your eyes in a slightly downcast way to just let in enough light without looking straight ahead or around. This is a ‘Middle Way’ between totally closing or totally opening your eyes. Remember, when it comes to nianfo, there are just two things to do – chant and listen to your chant. Everything else should be regarded as distractions. It is important to join regular group practice sessions too – to motivate and keep check on one another. Otherwise, we might repeat certain mistakes for years. Amituofo