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Sincerity During & Beyond Nianfo Sessions

During a Pureland Practice Fellowship session (see https://purelanders.com/2017/02/03/why-join-pureland-practice-fellowship), when Brother Shi’an was going through Nianfo guidelines with us (on how to more effectively practise mindfulness of the name of Amituofo: https://purelanders.com/2016/02/17/how-do-i-start-nianfo-practice), he shared that we should practise repentance by chanting the Verse For Repentance before Nianfo –

忏悔文

往昔所造诸恶业,
皆由无始贪瞋痴,
从身语意之所生,
今对佛前求忏悔。

Verse For Repentance

Of all my past created evil karma,
All by beginningless greed, anger and delusion,
from my body, speech and mind as arisen,
I now before the Buddha seek repentance.

This left a deep impression on me as it is very logical and powerful. For repentance to be practised, there should be reflection on misgivings. When repentance is strong and sincere, the strength of sincerity in Nianfo will also increase naturally. When sincerity in Nianfo is thus strengthened, this increases our wisdom, to make our reflections more insightful too. This is a wonderful self-improvement loop! Such tuning of our Buddha-nature to the blessings of Amituofo is how Nianfo makes us better people.

Here is an insight gathered during a practice session. While reflecting on my flaws for improvement, I recalled the teaching to practise sincerity during Nianfo. I thought what could make our sincerity even more sincere is to go one step further, by practising sincerity in our daily lives too. Sincerity should be practised not only towards humans, but animals and all other sentient beings as well. Sincerity should even be extended by cherishing non-sentient things, by mindfully reducing (more consumption), reusing (the present) and recycling (for the future), instead of simply throwing them away. In a nutshell, we should strive to extend the sincerity we have during Nianfo to every other aspect of our lives.

Sincere repentance before Nianfo also helps us to be more readily repentant, which is a sign that the practice is done well enough to seep into everyday life. This is expressed by swiftly apologising for our misgivings, immediately making amends and ensuring such mistakes will not be repeated. This increases our peace of mind while improving all relationships. On repentance’s connection to Pure Land practice, the Pure Land Tradition’s 9th Patriarch Great Master Ouyi (净土宗九祖藕益大师) taught the following –

‘随有所作,若善若恶,善则回向求生,恶则忏愿求生。更无二志,是名为愿。’

‘Following all that is done, be it good or evil, for the good, thus dedicate it to seek birth in Pure Land, for the evil, thus repent it and vow to seek birth in Pure Land. Furthermore, without a second ambition [or intention], this is named Aspiration.’

Difficulty in being sincere might arise from fear of becoming disadvantaged (吃亏). This is due to focus only on ourselves, by being self-centred. We can shift this focus by thinking of the welfare of others. Despite challenging negative emotions to overcome, sincere Nianfo will help to settle troubling emotions swiftly, when we have faith that Amituofo’s blessings will help us make peace with our inner conflicts, to open our hearts, and guide us with wisdom.

As practitioners in this Dharma Ending Age, we must acknowledge that we are far from perfect in our practice, which is why we should all the more sincerely practise Nianfo with the aspiration to reach Pure Land, so that Amituofo will be able to guide us in perfecting our virtues. Meanwhile, as we are still in Samsara, let us strive to practise the Dharma best we can, in ways great and small, in as many aspects as possible – for every effort counts!

Namo Amituofo : Mitobliss
(10 July 2017)

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!