What Should Be Our Main Buddhist Practice?
Differences Between Main And Supportive Practices
Question : Are we supposed to adhere to a single Dharma practice only, such as recitation of one Buddha’s name or mantra?
Answer: It is alright to have various secondary Supportive Practices (助行), but among them, there should be one primary Main Practice (正行), with which there are the most efforts and time spent for sincere and regular practice.
This Main Practice is also the final practice to again practise on the deathbed, for ensuring there is the best possible rebirth, with which Buddhahood is assured, since liberation in this Dharma-Ending Age (末法时期) is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
As taught by the Pure Land Tradition’s 9th Patriarch Great Master Ǒuyì (净土宗九祖澫益大师) in Spirit Peak Tradition’s Treatise《灵峰宗论》,
‘With Faith and Aspiration already complete, recitation of [Amitā(bha)] Buddha’s name (Āmítuófó: 阿弥陀佛) is then as the Main Practice, while correction of evil and cultivation of good are all as Supportive Practices.‘
‘Correction of evil and cultivation of good’ here refer to all other Dharma practices, including recitation of other sacred names (圣号), mantras (咒语), sūtras (经) and more.
Question : How do we know what should be our Main Practice?
Answer: As mentioned by the Great Master’s teaching above, it should be mindfulness of Buddha (念佛) – specifically, Āmítuófó’s name.
Question : Why is this so?
Answer: This is so as the Main Practice should be concise yet powerful, thus easy to focus on for practice, be it physically (i.e. verbally) or mentally, especially when sick, weak and dying. It is the practice that is the adequate ‘catch-all’ of all meritorious virtues (功德), for cultivating blessings (福) and wisdom (慧).
According to Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛), as taught in the Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Amitābha Buddha’s Fundamental Esoteric Spiritual Mantra《佛说阿弥陀佛根本秘密神咒经》, Āmítuófó’s name, being the Ten Thousand Virtues’ Great Name (万德弘名), fits the criteria clearly and fully, with eight key worldly (世间) and two world-transcending (出世间) benefits.
‘Amitā(bha) Buddha’s name (Āmítuófó) is complete with immeasurable, boundless, inconceivable, extremely profound, esoteric, excellent, subtle, wonderful and unsurpassable meritorious virtues…
Within the three words of “Ā-Mí-Tuó (Tā)” Buddha, are the ten directions’ and the three periods’ all Buddhas, all Bodhisattvas, Voice-Hearers, Arhats, all sūtras [i.e. all 84,000 noble teachings], dhāraṇīs, spiritual mantras and immeasurable practice methods… That Buddha’s name (Āmítuófó), is the same as the unsurpassable true and most ultimate Dharma of the Great Vehicle [i.e. Mahāyāna], the same as the unsurpassable excellent, pure, definitive and wonderful practice, the same as the unsurpassable most supreme, subtle and wonderful dhāraṇī…
(「阿弥陀」佛三字中，有十方三世一切诸佛，一切诸菩萨、声闻、 阿罗汉，一切诸经【八万四千诸圣教】、陀罗尼、神咒、无量行法。… 彼佛名号，即是为无上真实至极大乘之法，即是为无上殊胜清净了义妙行，即是为无上最胜微妙陀罗尼。…)
 [Those with] sincere minds reciting his name (Āmítuófó), with profound faith untiringly, thereupon manifesting on their bodies, they will receive incomparable bliss. Perhaps  transforming poverty and lowliness, to obtaining of wealth and honour. Perhaps  attaining the fruit of avoiding that pursuing by suffering of sicknesses from past karmas. Perhaps  transforming short lifespans, to attaining lengthened lifespans. Perhaps  with enemies changing their hatred.  Attaining children, grandchildren and prosperity,  peace and bliss of body and mind, and  fulfilment according to their wishes. Such meritorious virtues, cannot be counted…
( 至心称念，深信不懈，于现在身，受无比乐。或  转贫贱，获得富贵。或  得果免宿业所追病患之苦。或  转短命，得寿延长。或  怨家变恨。 得子孙繁荣， 身心安乐， 如意满足。如是功德，不可称计。…)
 [Those] wholeheartedly without being scattered in focused upholding of his name, with reciting of his name thus, many transgressions will be eliminated, then with much good roots and blessed virtues as cause and condition.  When these persons approach life’s end, Amitā[bha] Buddha, with many in his noble assembly, will appear before them. When these persons’ lives are ending, their minds will not be inverted, and they will immediately attain rebirth in Amitā[bha] Buddha’s Land Of Ultimate Bliss.’
( 一心不乱专持名号，以称名故，诸罪消灭，即是多善根福德因缘。 其人临命终时，阿弥陀佛与诸圣众，现在其前，是人终时，心不颠倒，即得往生阿弥陀佛极乐国土。)
Question : If we have images (i.e. statues and pictures) of various other Buddhas (and/or Bodhisattvas), should we give up their associated practices?
Answer: As mentioned, ‘it is alright to have various secondary Supportive Practices (助行), but among them, there should be one primary Main Practice (正行), with which there are the most efforts and time spent for sincere and regular practice.’
That said, there is no obligation to have all associated practices, just as having studied various sūtras does not mean we have to practise every single teaching in them every day. Many practices are also interconnected in essence. Although the Buddha gave many teachings, he always skilfully chose what to teach different beings. This means we should choose what is skilful for us to practise too.
That said, the most relevant practice in this Dharma-Ending Age is indeed mindfulness of Buddha. As taught by Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) in Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》,
‘In the world of the future, [towards the end of the Dharma-Ending Age] when sūtras’ paths are destroyed completely, I, with loving-kindness, compassion and sympathy, will specially retain this sūtra [which encourages mindfulness of Buddha], to abide and dwell for one hundred years longer. If there are sentient beings, who encounter this sūtra, accordingly as wished, with that aspired, all can attain deliverance.’
Also taught by Śākyamuni Buddha in Meditation’s Secret Essential Methods’ Sūtra《禅秘要法经》,
‘You and others should teach those future sentient beings [i.e. those who surely include us in this Dharma-Ending Age] with transgressive karmas many, for eliminating transgressions thus, teach to enable them to be mindful of Buddha. With mindfulness of Buddha thus, eliminate all karmic obstacles, retribution’s obstacles and afflictions’ obstacles.’
As in the Record Of Pure Land Sages《净土圣贤录》, also taught by Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva (文殊菩萨), when asked by the Pure Land Tradition’s 4th Patriarch Great Master Fǎzhào (净土宗四祖法照大师), on which practice beings of the Dharma-Ending Age should have, he replied that,
‘Of all doors to cultivate practices, nothing surpasses mindfulness of Buddha, and offering to the Triple Gem [i.e. the Buddhas, Dharma and Saṃgha], to cultivate both blessings and wisdom. These two doors, are the most virtuous essentials. I, when within past kalpas, due to contemplation of Buddha thus, due to mindfulness of Buddha thus, due to making of offerings thus, attained all-knowing wisdom [of Buddhas].
Therefore, all Dharma teachings, Prajñā Pāramitā [i.e. Perfection Of Wisdom], extremely profound meditative concentrations, and even all Buddhas, are all from mindfulness of Buddha thus born. Thus know that mindfulness of Buddha, is the King Of All Dharma [Doors]… From this world, to the West, is Amitā(bha) Buddha (Āmítuófó). That Buddha’s vows’ power is inconceivable. You should continuously be mindful [of his name], enabling it to be without interruption. When life ends, you will definitely be reborn there, to forever never retrogress… You, with mindfulness of Buddha thus, not long after, will realise Unsurpassable Right And Equal Bodhi [i.e. enlightenment of Buddhahood]. If there are good men, women and others, those who aspire to swiftly accomplish Buddhahood, nothing surpasses mindfulness of Buddha, to then be able, to quickly realise Unsurpassable Bodhi.’
(是故一切诸法，般若波罗蜜，甚深禅定，乃至诸佛，皆从念佛而生。故知念佛，诸法之王。… 此世界西，有阿弥陀佛。彼佛愿力不可思议。汝当继念，令无间断。命终，决定往生，永不退转。… 汝以念佛故，不久证无上正等菩提。若善男女等，愿疾成佛者，无过念佛，则能速证无上菩提。)
It should be noted that although the Bodhisattva initially taught both ‘mindfulness of Buddha and offering to the Triple Gem’, he eventually focuses on the first by saying, ‘mindfulness of Buddha, is the King Of All Dharma Doors‘. It is after all with its practice, that all Buddhas, including himself (as an ancient Buddha: 古佛), attained Buddhahood.
This means that mindfulness of Buddha is the Main Practice, while other practices like offering to the Triple Gem is a Supportive Practice. Thus, we have the Buddha with his Perfect Wisdom, and the Bodhisattva who represents all Buddhas’ Perfect Wisdom, both encouraging us to focus on mindfulness of Buddha.
As the Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng (净土宗十三祖印光大师) taught in his Letter To Venerable Guǎnghuì (致广慧和尚书),
‘Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva, is thus the Teacher Of Seven Buddhas… All past Buddhas, were still due to mindfulness of Buddha thus arising, what more this Dharma-Ending Age’s sentient beings, with evil karmas heavy and blessings light, obstacles deep and wisdom shallow, who look down on mindfulness of Buddha, and are not willing to cultivate it?’
Question : Should we still recite verses on the Threefold Refuge and such?
Answer: In many monasteries, this is practised daily. This can be emulated if wished. That said, sincere mindfulness of Buddha already expresses the essence of taking refuge.
As mentioned above, ‘Within the three words of “Ā-Mí-Tuó (Tā)” Buddha, are the ten directions’ and the three periods’ all Buddhas, all Bodhisattvas, Voice-Hearers, Arhats, all sūtras [i.e. all 84,000 noble teachings], dhāraṇīs, spiritual mantras and immeasurable practice methods.’
This means the Triple Gem, with all Buddhas, all Dharma teachings and all of the enlightened Saṃgha is already within Āmítuófó’s name.
Question : Why do some teachers praise various chants on various occasions, while encouraging focus on a particular chant on other occasions?
Answer: Even the Buddha did the above. As mentioned, ‘Although the Buddha gave many teachings, he always skilfully chose what to teach different beings. This means we should choose what is skilful for us to practise too.’
While the Buddha praised and encouraged certain chants on certain occasions for certain beings, as above, Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva and himself urged us, as beings in this Dharma-Ending Age, to focus on mindfulness of Āmítuófó.
The Three Provisions
Immeasurable Life Sūtra
 Thirty-Seventh Chapter On Those Hearing This Sūtra Obtaining Benefits (Of Immeasurable Life Sūtra)
The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Amitābha Buddha’s Fundamental Esoteric Spiritual Mantra
Āmítuófó’s Name Is A Supreme Mantra
 Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva’s Teachings For The Pure Land Tradition’s Fourth Patriarch Great Master Fǎzhào
 All Past Buddhas From Mindfulness Of Buddha Thus Arise
To Swiftly Accomplish Buddhahood, Nothing Surpasses Mindfulness Of Buddha