Question: In Nianfo (practice of mindfulness of the name of Amitabha Buddha – ‘Amituofo’), are there differences between ‘singing’ and reciting Amituofo’s name?
Answer: Originally, Sakyamuni Buddha did not teach Nianfo in terms of using a tune or not as a guide. It was simply about mindfulness of the name, expressed aloud or not. One can simply sincerely say Amituofo ‘normally’, which is natural in emergencies.
As the practice developed over time, as is the case for many other Buddhist chanting practices, some tunes developed to be popular. Such tunes are useful for seamless pacing when there are many chanting together. They can help energise Nianfo too.
Some prefer tuneless Nianfo while some have favourite tunes. However, there should be no attachment to any tune or even to ‘no tune’, lest there is frustration when chanting with a group with a different one. Done sincerely, ‘singing’ is in essence the same as reciting.
However, some tunes, though alright as ‘ambient music’, might not be suitable for actual Nianfo practice – due to being too slow, too fast, too complicated, too emotional… These factors make it hard to practise towards greater calmness and clarity.