[For offering] blessings [to the] sick [and] delivering [the] deceased, people nowadays often [do so] with reciting [of] sūtras, prostration [with] repentance [prayers, and] conducting [of the] Water [And] Land [Dharma Assembly; 水陆法会], as [Buddhist] ceremonies.
[I, Yìn]guāng, with close friends say, [that] all [should be] enabled [to be focused on] mindfulness [of Amitā(bha)] Buddha[‘s name: Āmítuófó; 阿弥陀佛].
With mindfulness [of] Buddha’s [i.e. Niànfó] benefits, [they are] more than [those from] reciting [of] sūtras, prostration [with] repentance [prayers, and] conducting [of the] Water [And] Land [Dharma Assembly, surpassing them by] very much.
Why is [this] thus? [With] reciting [of] sūtras, thus [are there] those [who do] not recognise [some] words, [who are] not able [to] recite [them]. Even if [they] recognise [the] words, yet [some recite as] fast as flowing water, [while some others with] slightly slower mouths [and] tongues, [thus] also not able [to] recite [together].
[Those who are] very lazy, although able [to recite], also [are] not willing [to] recite, thus [with the ceremony] becoming existing [in] name [only], without [having] real [benefits].
[For] prostration [with] repentance [prayers and conducting [of the] Water [And] Land [Dharma Assembly, they] also can [by the above] example [be similarly] inferred.
[With] mindfulness [of] Buddha, thus [is it] without one person who [is] not able [to] recite.
Even if [those who are] very lazy [are] not willing [to] recite, yet [with] everyone’s one voice together reciting, those [who do] not block their ears, thus [will have the] one line [of the] Buddha’s name, definitely then, distinctly [and] clearly, irrigating into [the fields of their] minds within.
Although not reciting, with reciting, [these are] also without [much] difference [as there is some mindful listening].
Like [a] person perfumed [by] incense, [the] body has fragrance. [Although] not especially desiring [to have the] fragrance, with no expectation [of] so yet [having] so.
For relatives, [to] ensure peace [and to] deliver deceased ones, all must not not know [this].
[Note: The above perspectives on reciting of sūtras, prostration with repentance prayers, and conducting of the Water And Land Dharma Assembly are generally true for many of their ‘participants’ who do not understand them much, thus only half-heartedly ‘participating’ in them. This is while learned and experienced practitioners can still practise them efficiently.
Even so, mindfulness of Buddha is definitely the easiest and most skilful means for guiding all kinds of participants to practise together, including the sick, dying and deceased, for the direct and best results. Blessings can be created to aid recovery, and the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice to reach Pure Land can be expressed.
Synergising many factors of practice at once, it can create meritorious virtues, express repentance with reverence, and offer guidance, encompassing all the benefits of the above practices. Even the most elaborate Water And Land Dharma Assembly ultimately aims to deliver all beings to Pure Land, which guided mindfulness of Buddha already does.
These reasons and more are why Great Master Yìnguāng taught as he did. As he wrote in ‘One Letter [As A] Common Reply’《一函遍复》, ‘[It] must [be] known [that when] conducting Buddhist ceremonies [for delivering the deceased], only [the] meritorious virtues [from] mindfulness [of] Buddha [are the] most great.’ (须知做佛事，唯念佛功德最大。)]
Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng
(First reply letter to layperson Huáng Hánzhī)
Namo Amituofo : Translation and note by Shen Shi’an