What Is Sincerity In Nianfo? 何为至心念佛?

Question: When we speak of Sincerity in Nianfo (念佛) practice (of mindfulness of the name of Amitabha Buddha – ‘Amituofo’;阿弥陀佛), what does it mean to be sincere?

Answer: The Heart And Mind Of Utmost Sincerity (至心/诚心/至诚心/至诚恳心) can be defined in many ways. What crucial is that it is the synergised expression of the Three Provisions (三资粮) of Faith (信), Aspiration (愿) and Practice (行). The Contemplation Sutra (观经) also teaches that the Three Minds (三心) of Utmost Sincere Mind (至诚心), Profound Mind (深心) [of deep Faith] and Mind Of Aspiration And Dedication (发愿回向心) are needed for reaching Pure Land. These are alternative expressions of the Three Provisions. There is much mention of Sincerity because it binds the Three Provisions and Three Minds together. Sincere Nianfo (至心念佛) is also powered by more virtues below –

[1] Heart & Mind Of Utmost Sincerity (至心/诚心/至诚心/至诚恳心)
[2] Heart & Mind Of Profound (Deep & Unshakeable) Faith (Or Conviction) (深心/信心)
[3] Heart & Mind Of Aspiration & Dedication (Or Devotion) (愿心/发愿心/回向心/发愿回向心)

[4] Heart & Mind Of Reverence (Or Homage) (恭敬心)
[5] Heart & Mind Of Refuge For Life (归命心/皈依心)

[6] Heart Of (Heartfelt) Wholeheartedness (Or Heartfulness) (全心全意)
[7] Mind Of (Single-pointed) Single-mindedness (Or Mindfulness) (一心一意)

[8] Heart & Mind Of Truthfulness (真心)
[9] Heart & Mind Of Attentiveness (Or Focus/ Concentration) (专心)

[10] Heart & Mind Of Repentance (忏悔心) & Humility (谦虚心)
[11] Heart & Mind Of Gratitude (感恩心)

[12] Heart & Mind Of Purity (清净心) (as free from the Three Poisons as possible)
[13] Heart & Mind Of Determination (决心) / Diligence (Or Perseverance/ Discipline/ Regularity) (精进心)

[Note that the heart and mind of Bodhicitta (菩提心) is optional, unless there is aspiration to attain a higher grade of birth in Pure Land.] With utmost sincere Nianfo practised, the virtues above will arise and grow naturally. As such, they are not so much a list of criteria to fulfill, but for us to self-check whether we have them, to help us to Nianfo better. However, the Three Provisions are the absolute minimum to be nurtured for reaching Pure Land. Again, utmost Sincerity is what holds all together, in case all else is forgotten.

In utmost sincere Nianfo, we use our entire heart and mind to Nianfo and listen to it (用心念,用心听), cherishing (treasuring) each moment we chant each word of Amituofo’s name, as it is what brings us closer to his Pure Land. Each chant should be as fresh as if it is our first, and as earnest as if it is our last. Perhaps the most relatable worldly example of what it means to have utmost Sincerity is how one listens wholeheartedly to one’s love interest during courtship, to the extent of forgetting one’s own body, all other thoughts and even the environment!

Related Articles:
How To Easily Remember How To Nianfo Well
How Do I Start Nianfo Practice?
The Three Provisions For Rebirth In Pure Land
How Does Nianfo Eradicate Our Five Poisons?
Great Master Lianchi: How Buddha Mindfulness Completes The Six Perfections (1)
Great Master Ouyi: How Buddha Mindfulness Completes The Six Perfections (2)

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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