July 17, 2018 at 1:26 pm #2961
I remember a huge Hindu celebration in Leicester, many years ago – thousands of people in a tent of abnormally large dimensions. The vast majority of people were singing a formal Sita Ram chant, in unison, while many, in ecstasy added their own spontaneous, improvised layers. Nembutsu can be a means to experiencing the ever-present light. It can also be a celebration of experiencing the ever-present light. I practise both and they feel very different to each other. In cutting through the confusion of everyday life to find the light, I experience the Nembutsu as a very formal, regular, rhythmic practice. In celebrating the light I experience, I find the Nembutsu as very free form, a direct response to Other Power. In solitary Nembutsu practice, I can move easily between the two, maybe even practise the two together. In group Nembutsu practice, both experiences can be present from different practitioners. I wonder how you see group Nembutsu practice working in this way. Is it possible for us to combine the formal with the spontaneous in group practice, the searching with the ecstatic response, especially if the group is not of huge dimensions?
July 18, 2018 at 10:26 am #2963
Your question reminds me of something you might call ‘improvised nembutsu’ chanting sessions that I remember from Bodhi retreats and events years ago. Each person would be chanting ‘Namo Amida Bu’ in their own way – and at the same time in tune with the group. Perhaps some dis-harmonies would appear, perhaps some harmonies would appear. Sometimes it was very beautiful and at its best it felt like the group process was leading rather than any one persons voice.
Something we can experiment again with, perhaps.
Your ‘means to’ and ‘celebrating’ sounds like another way of saying, nembutsu is sometimes ‘please’, and sometimes ‘thank you’. Often nembutsu as please is associated with Jodo Shu, and nembutsu as thank you with Jodo Shin Shu.
One might think that there is a progression from please to thank you, and perhaps over time there is a general move in this direction, but – as in your experience – the reality of the spiritual life is that sometimes we feel distant to Amida and long to be close, and sometimes we feel close and want to celebrate.
I would also add a third kind of nembutsu feeling. Something like, ‘I know that you are there’. There are times when Amida feels distant, hidden behind clouds if you like, but rather than feeling a longing for closeness I simply trust that at some point the clouds will drift away and closeness will appear again. To me this has a different feel to the ‘please’ nembutsu. You might think of this as another step into Other Power.
I think that all of these can be expressed in a formal constant chanting. Even in a prescribed chant a nembutsu can have a different feeling, and yet there is something important in what you say about the expression matching the feeling. As I say, perhaps we can experiment with some different – or mixed – forms sometime.
Namo Amida Bu
- This reply was modified 5 months ago by Acharya Kaspalita (temple host).
July 18, 2018 at 12:07 pm #2965
July 18, 2018 at 12:57 pm #2967
Thank you, Kaspa. I love the freeform video. How long did this go on for? I think I might go into an altered state if it went on for very long! Appreciate the reply, too. Namo Amida Bu!
July 18, 2018 at 2:02 pm #2968
I think we had an hour maybe? Sure there were some altered states 🙂
July 19, 2018 at 2:04 am #2969
Thank you for sharing the video Kaspa. Very inspiring and cool. It reminds me somewhat of the spirituals and gospel sound here in the U.S.
Speaking of such sounds, I’ve been working on small praise songs in a more southern/mountain gospel style for my individual practice. This gives me some more ideas!
July 19, 2018 at 12:33 pm #2970
Thank you for sharing this video. This bought back some memories. I had wondered if this sort of thing went on as there has been a few times during my own practice of nembutsu I have felt very much like sort of drifting off (not sure if that is the right word or not) into a kind of freeform chanting and singing like this. There has been times when especially during the singing chanting when this feeling of a presence of incredible love and I dont know how to describe it has been very strong..and its during those times I have felt like going into a more freeform style like in this video.
I have experienced that kind of presence before.
I spent some time some years ago in the evangelical stream of Christianity both here in the UK and in America and this type of “spontaneous” style of worship would quite frequently break out accompanied by people singing in I believe its known as glossalia..or “singing in tongues”. And I can tell you some of the most amazing and beautiful harmonies would come out.
There has been over the last few weeks since getting into Pureland Buddhism quite a few things that reminded me of my days in Christianity..some of it not such good memories. Has brought up some issues which I have struggled with a bit. I was into a very sort of fundamentalist stream of Christianity that tried to take the Bible in a very literal sense. A lot of my reasons for leaving all that behind was because I simply could not continue do that.
In a lot of ways I have found myself at times of thinking of Pureland Buddhism because of my previous experiences in Christianity as almost like Christianity but without all the stress..lol 😀
Namo Amida Bu
July 20, 2018 at 8:05 am #2972
Very interested to hear about your songs, Jonathan, maybe there could be a link with Malvern Temple Community Choir – could we try some of your songs? Reading your reply, Jason, I think literalism can wreck spirituality. An hour of this free form chanting sounds amazing, Kaspa, not surprised there were some altered states.
July 20, 2018 at 8:19 am #2973
Thinking about all this I realised there were a couple of aspects of Nembutsu chanting I missed in the initial question and these are based on ‘hearing’ the inaudible but tangible Calling of the Buddhas. This Call could be taken literally to be ‘Namo Amida Bu’ or ‘Namo Amida Bu’ could be a metaphor for the Call, but either way, I sometimes chant ‘Namo Amida Bu’ as a form of harmonising with the Call of the Buddhas. Secondly, I can experience chanting ‘Namo Amida Bu’ as actualising the Call of the Buddhas in my own life and experience. As the Call contains the activity of Bodhisattvas, I can experience chanting ‘Namo Amida Bu’ as harmonising with and actualising bodhisattva activity in my own life and experience, becoming aware of the bright full moon of enlightenment shining over my own efforts, infected as they are with the evil karma of past, imperfect actions.
Often, in formal group Nembutsu, it is these two aspects which come to the fore for me. In individual practice, if I really listen deeply, in order to harmonise with and actualise this unique moment, I find the Nembutsu taking on many different forms and I can allow this to happen and listen to the resulting Nembutsu and what it is telling me about my relationship with Amida right now. Namo Amida Bu!
July 25, 2018 at 9:26 am #2977
Thanks Andrew, I love the idea of singing in harmony with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. I often talk about joining their dance, but we can join their song as well 🙂
July 24, 2018 at 2:05 pm #2976
Thank you to share Kaspa and also thanks to Andrew, Jason and Jonathan who shared their experiences….. lovely, beautiful, interesting and inspirational….. I wish I could enjoy more group-nembutsu’s with you all to express ourselves together in so much good ways. Namo Amida Bu.
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