Must Chanting Of Āmítuófó’s Name Be Aloud?
Question: Should Āmítuófó’s name (阿弥陀佛) be chanted aloud (i.e. 出声念: verbal recitation) when practising mindfulness of Buddha (念佛)?
Answer: Beginners should chant loudly (i.e. 大声念: loud recitation), to more deliberately (i.e. physically) foster mindfulness. However, it should be sincerely chanted, and sincerely listened to at the same time, for connection between one’s Buddha-nature and the Buddha to grow.
Question: How loud should the chanting be?
Answer: It is sometimes taught that the louder it is, the better, as it is more deliberate, expressing greater diligence.
Question: What if it is difficult to sustain loud chanting?
Answer: It should then be just loud enough for yourself to hear, even if it becomes relatively soft (i.e. 小声念: soft recitation). That aloud does not have to be loud.
Question: What if I find it hard to chant aloud?
Answer: You can chant with your lips semi-loudly and semi-silently, continually and closely, with the sound between the lips and teeth (i.e. 金刚念: vajra recitation). This is with medium physical efforts.
Question: What if I still find this strenuous?
Answer: You can chant silently (i.e. 默念: silent recitation) but just as sincerely in your mind, also sincerely listening to it in your mind. This is especially relevant for the physically weak, such as the old, sick and dying, who might not have energy to chant aloud for long, if at all.
Question: What is the easiest way for the physically and mentally weak to practise mindfulness of Buddha?
Answer: It can be done by sincerely listening to his name chanted by others. As the Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng (净土宗十三祖印光大师) taught in ‘The Three Great Essentials When Approaching The End Of Life’《临终三大要》—
(1) ‘If the dying person has the strength to recite, thus can one follow with reciting at a low volume. (病人力能念，则随之小声念。)
(2) If not able to recite, thus should one gather in the name through the ears with attentive listening. The mind being without a second thought, one can naturally, with the Buddha correspond.’ (不能念，则摄耳谛听。心无二念，自可与佛相应矣。)
There should not be unreasonable demand for the dying person to chant aloud, as during the last phases of dying for most, it is when they are the weakest, when they might even be gasping for air, struggling to breathe.
There should be as advised, to sincerely ‘gather in the name through the ears with attentive listening’ (摄耳谛听). With such sincerity at the level of the mind, this is fundamentally mindfulness of Buddha too.
What Tune & Speed Should Be Used?
Question: What about the version, tune and speed used for practice?
Answer: The most common and thus popular version is with the four words of Āmítuófó, with this tune having four changes, at this moderate speed: purelanders.com/mp3 As this is the shortest version, without the two words ‘Námó’ (南无), with minimum changes in tune (for pacing) and average speed, it is suitable for the dying and deceased too.
In contrast, the longer the version, with more changes in tune, the harder is it for concentration to arise. When the mind is impatient, the speed can be slowed down for the effect of calming down. When the mind is with many stray thoughts, the speed can be swiftened to cut them out.
Are Chanting Beads Needed?
Question: Should chanting beads (念珠) be used? Should there be counting?
Answer: Noting that they can be distracting, use of beads and counting are optional. In fact, beads are used for counting, with counting used for measuring the quota of chants committed to. The simpler way to measure discipline is by time, using a countdown timer, or with calculation of average chants per minute to estimate the number of chants practised.
Should We Chant Loudly Or Softly?
The Second Great Essential