Question : How often should we dedicate merits from mindfulness of Buddha (回向念佛功德)?
Answer: If mindfulness of Buddha is practised only once daily and/or once nightly, there should be dedication right at the end of each session. This is to express Faith and Aspiration (to reach Pure Land) clearly. Although each moment of mindfulness of Buddha should ideally already be with Faith and Aspiration (信愿念佛), this is important for asserting (re)focus, especially if Faith and Aspiration fluctuates or fades once in a while in the midst of practice due to stray thoughts.
As an analogy, this is a little like ensuring that any loose spiritual ‘change’ earned is gathered in the same ‘bank’, as ‘savings’ invested for their one key purpose. This ensures no merits created are accidentally wasted by being expressed naturally in unwanted ways later.
Question : What if there are other practices done daily or nightly too? What if mindfulness of Buddha is practised sporadically (i.e. scatteredly) throughout the day?
Answer: For both instances, there should be an overall dedication (总回向) at the end of the night, right at the end of the last practice session for the same goal of reaching Pure Land.
However, as it is also taught that ‘with a thought with anger’s fire arising, its fire burns away a forest of merits’ (一念嗔心起，火烧功德林), if there is tendency or fear that there might be an angry episode before the last practice session, there can be dedication after each earlier practice session too.
Question : How often should we dedicate merits from mindfulness of Buddha during support-chanting (助念)?
Answer: During ongoing group support-chanting, there should be dedication in private right after one’s shift ends, so as to not interrupt the patient’s personal chanting, unless the patient is also taking a break. After offering guidance (开示) clearly, as each chant during support-chanting is clearly and directly dedicated for guiding the patient to also express the Three Provisions (三资粮) of Faith, Aspiration and Practice (信愿行), there is no need to purposely take ‘artificial’ breaks to dedicate merits to or with the patient, especially when the patient is on the brink of departure, with support-chanting that should not be interrupted then.
However, if not yet near departure, sincere dedication with the patient when the patient takes a break is useful as a reminder of his or her goal to reach Pure Land. Of course, at the end of post-death, wake and post-wake support-chanting sessions, there should also be dedication as a reminder to all.
Question : What if mindfulness of Buddha is personally practised more or less uninterruptedly throughout the day and night, such as in a retreat?
Answer: Only if one’s mind within is complete with Faith and Aspiration throughout, such practice is already with constant dedication (常时回向) from thought to thought. However, as it does not take much time, it is still best to have an overall dedication at the end of the night, right at the end of the last practice session, also for asserting (re)focus.
As Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) taught in the Contemplation Sūtra《观经》, along with having the utmost sincere mind (至诚心) and the profound faithful mind (深心), which can be expressed with mindfulness of Buddha, the mind of dedication with giving rise of Aspiration (回向发愿心) to be born in Pure Land should be given rise to, to be definitely be born there. While the last mind can also be expressed with mindfulness of Buddha, it is also good to separately focus on it for strengthening Aspiration too. This is why the Pure Land Patriarchs have written various Aspiration texts (发愿文) too, which also function for dedication of merits.
Bearing in mind that universal dedication (普皆回向) of merits to reach Pure Land is part of Universal Virtue Bodhisattva’s Ten Great Vows’ King (普贤菩萨十大愿王), only those already with very strong and focused Three Provisions do not need to separately practise dedication. The Pure Land way of dedicating merits benefits all beings in hope that they reach the same goal too, as part of Bodhisattva practice. Being explicitly taught, it should be clearly practised, unless one is a Bodhisattva even greater than Universal Virtue Bodhisattva, (which is of course, most unlikely).
What Is ‘Mind Of Dedication With Giving Rise Of Aspiration’ Of The Three Minds?
The Tenth Great Vow: Universally Dedicating (Of Universal Virtue Bodhisattva’s Practices’ And Vows’ Chapter)
The six red verses are directly related to Āmítuófó’s Pure Land.]
[The Pure Land Way Of Dedicating Merits]