Question: Some say that we should practise such that we think of our parents with every thought (念念想父母). However, this interferes with focus on Nianfo (念佛: mindfulness of the name of Amitabha Buddha – Amituofo; 阿弥陀佛). It was also said that if we cannot fulfil basic requisites as good humans by practising filial piety, it will affect our chances of reaching Amituofo’s Pure Land. I aspire to reach Pure Land but whenever I try to focus on Nianfo, the thought of ‘letting go’ of my parents thus makes me unable to Nianfo well, as there is guilt of feeling unfilial. What should I do?
Answer: During the pure and main focused practice of Nianfo, the only Nian (thought) to have is the name of Amituofo, and that will do. The Buddha never taught in any sutra that we have to be mindful of our parents all the time, even during Nianfo practice. If we have to be mindful of our parents too then, it would be impossible to be wholeheartedly (single-mindedly) mindful of Amituofo (一心念佛), as our minds will be scattered in half-heartedness. Wholehearted (sincere) Nianfo with true Faith in Amituofo and Aspiration to reach his Pure Land is always the key practice to reach it.
Of course, we should practise filial piety in everyday life in various ways, but when it is time to Nianfo, we should only have mindful of Amituofo’s name. Letting thoughts of our parents distract us during Nianfo does them and us no good at all. If we are toggle between mindfulness of Amituofo and our parents on our deathbed, our chances of reaching Pure Land are at least halved. Not reaching Pure Land, it would make it much harder to further help ourselves and our parents to advance towards liberation. We would continue wandering helplessly in the rounds of rebirth. Even forgetting who our parents were, how could we help them then?
What we should do is to Nianfo set to the initial filial motivation of generating and sharing merits with our parents at the end – but without thinking of them during Nianfo itself. We should also guide them to Nianfo wholeheartedly, so that they too can reach Pure Land personally. This is the practice of ultimate filial piety as once it is reached, liberation is guaranteed. All beings should be regarded as our past parents too, in the many rounds of rebirth. This should urge us to practise more diligently, with a greater sense of filial duty.