Question: I get easily distracted during Nianfo (念佛: mindful chanting of Amituofo’s name: 阿弥陀佛) while circumambulating (绕佛; Raofo) as a group. Though I wish to pay attention only to the chanting and hearing of the Fohao (佛号: name of Amituofo), even with lowered eyes to cut distractions, I still notice when others talk, or when the one in front walks too slowly. Is there a solution?
Answer: Once you are aware of ANY sensual (e.g. mental, audial or visual) distractor, see it as a reminder (instead or distractor) – to return to Nianfo; to not Niandong Nianxi (念东念西: be mindful of this or that other thing) instead. This is a form of thought transformation. The more you remind yourself of this, the more swiftly can this be done, which also lessens repetition of being distracted.
For example, when you hear something that is not Amituofo’s name (such as someone whispering), immediately tell yourself that, ‘This is a reminder to have even more sincere Nianfo!’ This is so as if Nianfo is done very sincerely, with letting go of body, straying mind and environment, no distractors will be able to penetrate and disturb.
If Nianfo during group-walking presents too many challenges due to others in front being too slow or fast, try stepping out for a while, to change position in line. Or if possible, do it solo. Or you can drop walking, to sit and Nianfo instead. Of course, if any distraction is too severe due to others’ great unmindfulness, for the sake of more, the organisers should be informed to rectify it.
Group-walking is usually more challenging as much coordination is needed. Also, needing to see and walk makes the mind busier, thus harder to wholeheartedly Nianfo. Though walking helps to prevent drowsiness, seated Nianfo makes it easier to abide peacefully on Amituofo’s name (安住佛号), as potentially distracting thoughts about the body (i.e. how to walk) and environment (i.e. where to walk) are not needed. Thus, depending on the conditions, stationary and moving Nianfo have their pros and cons.