Question: Some say mere Nianfo practice (of mindfulness of ‘Amituofo’s name) is not enough as a Dharma practice, that many other practices are needed too – such as the chanting of this or that mantra or sutra, so as to eradicate negative karma. Some say this is necessary, even for facilitating eventual rebirth in Amituofo’s Pure Land. Is this true?
Answer: There are many other very valuable practices beyond Nianfo itself. However, it is not true that we must practise all of them in one go for steady advancement towards the ultimate goal of Buddhahood. What is more, none of us have enough time and energy for mastering all practices in this one limited lifetime. Although the Buddha taught many practices, he does not expect us to learn and practise every single one of them straightaway, but to choose what is most suitable for ourselves as a main focus. That said, Nianfo is a practice suitable for beings of all spiritual capacities, with lower, medium and higher roots – because it is a streamlined practice that is comprehensive at the same time.
In fact, we must first learn to focus upon one main practice for there to be any substantial spiritual advancement at all, while possibly using other practices as optional bonus supports. This is especially true for those short of time and energy, such as the old and weak. As life is short and unpredictable, focused practice of Nianfo is central for all who wish to reach Pure Land, which means more time and effort should be invested in Nianfo. Nianfo should then be the main practice, with others as supportive practices. Just as a good meal has a staple main dish with variable side dishes, Nianfo should be the main dish for our spiritual nourishment, and other practices as side dishes for extra nutrition.
As Nianfo is capable of leading us to Amituofo’s Pure Land, where full mastery of the Dharma can definitely be attained, Nianfo is already a fully adequate practice. What more, with sincere Nianfo that connects to Amituofo’s blessings, and with the mindful protection of all Buddhas attained through Nianfo, as stated in the Amitabha Sutra, this helps us to practise repentance, to clear much negative karma for facilitating our smooth journey to Pure Land. The Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng (净土宗十三祖印光大师) likewise teaches so, as we can see below, from his ‘Reply To Zhōu Zhìmào’《复周智茂书》.
[As it] should [be] known [that with the] one line [of] ‘Āmítuófó’, upholding it [to] reach [the] utmost, [this is] still more than enough [for] accomplishing Buddhahood, [by reaching his Pure Land, for the swiftest non-retrogressible spiritual progress there, who] will assume [that] those [who] recite [the] Amitā[bha] Sūtra, [or] recite ‘Āmítuófó’, [are] then not able [to] eliminate ‘fixed’ [evil] karma?
[The] Buddha’s Dharma [doors are] like money, depending [on] people [to have] good use [of it]. You, [if] having money then, what matter [such as buying what you need], cannot [be] done?
You, [if] able [to have] focused cultivation [of this] one Dharma [door], what request cannot [be] attained?
How can it be that [to] merely uphold this mantra, [or] recite this sūtra, attains these meritorious virtues, [and does] not attain those other meritorious virtues?