Teacher Shi’an, I’ve been wanting to share some of my recent experiences (during the last two months), that set me reflecting on the benefits of Niànfó. Having attended your Pure Land courses, I now look forward to PPF sessions every week. I have certainly benefitted much from Niànfó (念佛: Practice of mindfulness of the name of 阿弥陀佛: Āmítuófó; Amitā[bha] Buddha). There are areas which I may not have progressed well yet, such as not being able to stay focused. I’m working on it though. I told myself that if with my scattered focus, I’m still able to benefit much, what more if I am more focused?
[Reply: Good thinking! Having stray thoughts is the most common challenge. The key solution to be more focused is to niàn (念: recite) more sincerely, and to listen to what you niàn more sincerely – without strain, after having the resolution to let go of your body, mind and environment (放下身、心、世界) to minimise distraction. It also helps to have the motivation that you’re practising for offering guidance and creating more merits to help all beings.]
I’ve since cultivated the habit to chant Āmítuójīng (阿弥陀经: Amitābha Sūtra) whenever I can, with regular Niànfó, especially when driving and trying to solve problems (at work or otherwise). But I’ve yet to reach the stage when this comes naturally with encounters of unpleasant surprises. I need to work on this too.
[Reply: It is good to also spend time on nothing other than focused Niànfó, instead of doing Niànfó only while multi-tasking. This ensures there is more sincerity or wholeheartedness. Also, as Niànfó is the Main Practice (正行), it should be practised more, by itself. The chanting of Āmítuójīng can be a Supportive Practice (助行).]
Experience : Avoidance Of Car Accident
I was driving on a three-lane road along Bukit Merah at about 10 pm in the middle lane. About 30 metres ahead, I noticed a car in the third lane slowing down, as there was a stationary van in front of it. I slowed down as well, anticipating that the car might cut into my lane to overtake the van.
However, as I approached the car, it did not move at all. Thinking it was stopping to let passengers alight, I decided to accelerate, to not hold up any traffic. As I accelerated, probably up to 70 kmph, less than 5 metres away, the car suddenly swerved into my lane.
Instinctively, I did a sharp right turn. I did not have time to see if there was any car to the right. With my car still accelerating, I brought it back to the original lane immediately. If not, I would had smashed it against the railings that divided the road. I broke into cold sweat with fear. I really do not know how I did it. As I don’t face such situations on a regular basis, it was amazing that I handled it so well.
Karma was definitely on my side as there was no car on my right when I switched lane. How I was able to immediately switch really puzzled me. I’d absolutely no time to think how to react, but steered out of danger, moving on as if nothing happened. It was however almost a nasty accident. I attributed it to divine help that I must have gotten, to avert trouble.
[Reply: Niànfó in everyday life offers protection for safety (念佛保平安). Also, Niànfó practice could had readied you to have faster and more skilful reaction than usual. Try recalling if your cold sweat with fear came before or after your reaction.
Reply To Reply: It was after driving on a short while after the incident, when I reflected on what happened, that I felt fear and broke into sweat. The maneuvering when done, was so smooth and fearless, that I was amazed.
Reply: This means the physical symptoms of fear arose more due to past habit and biology naturally. What is significant is that there was no fear during the crucial moments. (For most, it is the other way round, having fear before something terrible happens, or even despite it never happening.) The more we practise well, as you mentioned (below), the more calm confidence we will have, with clearer ability to handle the challenges of life – including danger, pain, sickness and dying.]
Experience : Relief Of Frozen Body
One night, while sleeping at home, I felt my body become extremely stiff and couldn’t move. I could feel hands with fingers gripping my lower arms, pulling me back to the bed, not allowing me to move. There was a feeling of sinking into the bed. It seemed like a dream, but I do not know what the experience was.
[Reply: It could be a nightmare, or hallucination effects of sleep paralysis (that usually lasts 1 to 2 minutes), before waking, that are considered ‘natural’. With what described, it might be supernatural disturbance too.]
I remembered to Niànfó mentally after about 10 seconds in this state, but nothing happened. I felt helpless and could feel my body further tense up, with even more fear welling up. However, I was also able to wonder why my Niànfó was not working, and told myself to put in more mindfulness to continue.
At my 5th chant, when the hands let go, I felt great relief. The sensation was indescribable, with my entire body relaxing, feeling that a comforting divine being was around to shield me from harm. I woke up then, and felt a great sense of peace.
[Reply: Sometimes, especially for those newer, it can take some effort to muster sincere Niànfó. Once there is enough Faith for sincere enough Niànfó, there will be instant connection and release from fear – be the cause natural (e.g. due to nightmare or sleep paralysis) or supernatural (e.g. due to ghostly beings). Remembering to Niànfó within 10 seconds, and connecting upon the 5th thought is excellent for new practitioners. It will be even more instinctive with more practice. This is why the Amitābha Sūtra mentioned 1 to 7 days (or more if needed) for connection, while the Immeasurable Life Sūtra also mentioned 1 to 10 thoughts (or more if needed).]
I’d similar experiences but without Niànfó. In those instances, I usually ended up trying to scream and struggle, and after I woke up, great fear still gripped me. But this time, there was only peace and comfort, without fear. I’m extremely pleased that I was able to remember to Niànfó. It must be the inspiring testimonial you shared with us, about the ability to Niànfó even in dreams and during such experiences, that gave me encouragement to do so.
[Reply: Wonderful! Regardless of the actual cause of the frightening experience, how you responded with Niànfó, with your clear experience of Āmítuófó’s Other-power’s blessings, that were never experienced before makes it an authentic testimonial on the power of Niànfó.]
Experience : Hotel Room ‘Retreat’
I checked into a renowned hotel in Tokyo 2 weeks ago during a business trip. My experiences staying in hotels are mixed. Some will end up in nightmares and others may be fine, but I normally can’t have a good night’s sleep, waking up numerous times and feeling uneasy about the surroundings.
This time, after learning about the ‘practice’ before entering hotel rooms, I decided to do it. I knocked on the door before entering. Once entered, I said aloud and confidently ‘Āmítuófó’ a few times, saying that I will only be here for a few days.
[Reply: The recommended ‘practice’ in its simplest form is to knock thrice (to make sure it is heard), and to chant ‘Āmítuófó’ with good will at least once, before entering. This is in case there is an unseen being residing in the room, so as to politely announce one’s arrival, and for excusing any possible inconvenience. Other than chanting ‘Āmítuófó’, other words are not a must. Chanting of ‘Āmítuófó’ offers protection to oneself and merits offered to the hearers. Guidance can be considered to be offered if there is feeling of the unseen’s presence.]
I brought along a portable 3-in-1 wooden sculpture of Āmítuófó, Guānshìyīn Bodhisattva (观世音菩萨) and Dàshìzhì Bodhisattva (大势至菩萨) and placed it on my side table. As I still had some time before my meeting, I chanted Āmítuójīng, with the guidance track at purelanders.com/mp3. The Niànfó player that you gifted us (through another PPF Purelander) came in handy. I played it to guide Niànfó practice as I went around preparing and dressing up for the meeting. In this way, I turned it on whenever possible, to practise Niànfó while doing other stuff.
Throughout the 5-days’ and 4-nights’ stay, I’d never experienced so much peace and comfort, without any fear, even when I woke up at night to go to the toilet. Although I’m a light sleeper and still woke up at night sporadically, there was no fear at all. It could be that there were no unseen beings to begin with, but I’m glad that I did Niànfó practice, to have such a pleasant stay.
[Reply: It is with Niànfó practice that we can break free from past negative habitual patterns of thought, to give rise to peace of mind more readily. With ample Niànfó, this work trip became a kind of retreat in the room! Whether there are unseen beings or not, fretfulness about their presence might to some extent attract them instead. In reverse, when we are more attuned to the Buddha and our Buddha-nature with Niànfó, connecting with Āmítuófó’s blessings, there will be more of both inner and outer peace.]
Experience : Lost & Found In Shopping Mall
On the same trip, I tried to shop for work clothes. My family had told me that there was a shop that I could go at Tokyo Station, where the usual well-fitting brand I buy could be found. However, I’d never been to the shop there. I was told that it is at its basement 1. So, I took a train to the station, which was filled with many people, with many train operators running various lines. Even looking for the right exit was a treasure hunt.
After some exploring, I exited and found my way to basement 1. But to my horror, it was a complex mall, fully packed with many smaller lanes. As I can’t speak Japanese, I couldn’t ask for directions. I told myself that I needed to choose a direction. There were four directions and many other lanes branching out from each.
I thought I could perhaps seek help from Āmítuófó to bring me to the shop. I asked for guidance and did Niànfó mentally. Having chosen one direction, I walked towards it confidently, while still doing Niànfó. What surprised me was that after walking for 10 mins, the shop appeared in front of me, where I bought what I needed.
The above might had been a karmic ‘coincidence’, but I’ve started to develop a sense of good confidence whenever I practise Niànfó, to seek guidance in various situations, though I’m not sure if this matter was too minor. Often, I would Niànfó for family members, to ask for help to resolve some of their issues. I know that Niànfó may not solve everything instantly, as the workings of karma are complex. However, the comfort I get is from knowing that Āmítuófó is always there to assist with his blessings and guidance, while I’m able to practise Niànfó to offer help.
[Reply: No worries. Niànfó can indeed help us in many aspects of life big and small, to relieve all kinds of suffering, physical and mental. As long as guidance and blessings asked for are not immoral or unreasonable, they are alright.
There is confidence with Niànfó when we have strong Faith in Āmítuófó, and as Niànfó is the very means to connect to Āmítuófó. Knowing we are connecting, and that we are connected, is how calmness and clarity arises, from within ourselves, and from the blessings of Āmítuófó, for helping ourselves and others. Niànfó also creates merits for dedicating, to help relieve others’ suffering. With sincere Niànfó, our state of mind and karma will purify. This is how it directly improves our lives now.]
Experience : Painless Backstabbing
An unfortunate incident happened at work just last Friday. A colleague whom I’d been helping him to settle down in a position that I vacated turned around to backstabbed me in front of our boss. I’d been helping him for the last 2 years though I did not have the obligation to do so. The time that spent was substantial. At times, I had to share his burdens too.
Although from my perspective I was backstabbed, I did not really feel outraged. My other colleagues who came to know about it advised me to confront him. Although feeling it to be unjust, I remember what you taught about karma. It could be that I’d wronged him in a past life.
[Reply: It was great that you did not feel outraged, as most would be boiling mad. But why punish ourselves with anger, for others’ mistakes, by making ourselves more miserable? What more, to be a victim is a reflection of our own negative karma’s ripening.
As the dynamics of karma can be complex, it could also be that you did not wrong him in the past, but did some kind of equivalent harm to someone else. While he was expressing your past negative karma, since he backstabbed deliberately, he unfortunately created new negative karma for himself. Even if you do not retaliate, and if he does not change his karma by making amends in time, he will receive similar harm in future.]
In fact, I felt relieved that I’m able to repay for my past negative karma, with just this little inconvenience. My boss doesn’t buy his allegation anyway. It seems that others who knew about it are more outraged than me. I could be feeling so as there was no actual harm, but if I am to turn the clock 5 years back, I would be not be feeling this way.
I would have been outraged and confronted him. It could be that I’m getting older and able to better understand letting go, but I do think that regular Niànfó helped me tremendously, to calm myself down, to look at things more holistically, and not be upset over situations that we have no control over. Now, I just Niànfó regularly, and wish all to be well and happy. If the unpleasant still happens, I hope Āmítuófó will help me learn to accept and handle them.
[Reply: Regular practice of Niànfó to connect our Buddha-nature to Āmítuófó definitely helps us to have greater calmness and clarity of mind. For this matter, it might be good to not suffer in silence – by at least ensuring the key people hear your side of the story, which you do not have to share with anger, but with calmness and clarity instead. This can also help the backstabber realise his antics are not working, and to dissuade him from karmically creating more harm to himself and others.]
Teacher, I’ve learned much from you, and sincerely want to thank you for bringing my understanding of Buddhism to another level. These are just some experiences that I thought I should share with you, and to let you know that you’ve definitely made a good difference to someone’s life. Do feel free to share the experiences.
BHT (Name changed for privacy)
[27 October 2018]
[Reply: Yes, your experiences will be formatted (as above), to share and inspire more. Thank you for your very interesting and ample sharing, with wide variety too! Namo Āmítuófó]