I find that among the daily pressures and demands of running a non-profit it is often hard to have extended periods of Nembutsu during the day. The work just takes too much concentration and thinking. The result is that Nembutsu practice gets squeezed in on the ends of the day — a few minutes in the morning and a bit of time before bed.
However, I am now on vacation. I haver decided, therefore, that over the 15 days of my vacation I would try to accumulate at least 100,000 recitations of the Nembutsu. This sounds like a lot, but Shinran and Honen are said to have recited 60,000 each day. So less than 10,000 a day is really not that much. Also, in previous years, Hawaii Sangha members have vowed to recite 1,000,000 Nembutsu over the course of the year. Having done this for several years, I have pretty good sense of how much time it takes to recite a ten rounds (1000) Nembutsu. Additionally, I will be spending a lot of time flying which is a great time to recite Nembutsu — for so many reasons! (Yes, I am flying United.)
Happily, I am ahead of schedule. This afternoon, of day five, I completed 50,000. I suspect things will slow down a little when I am visiting with family, so I am trying to get a bit a head of schedule.
As you can see in the photo, I use a simple counter to keep track of my rounds on the mala. The counter is showing 500 rounds of my 108 bead mala. Technically, it is a little more than 50K but I like to leave a little buffer for my bombu-ness. Also, once you take up a more intensive schedule, you will find yourself reciting “extras” at odd times: in the shower, over breakfast, or in a break in conversation. I also find that the Nembutsu slides over into my dreams.
In any case, doing more intensive periods of Nembutsu recitation can be very valuable. My experience it that the Nembutsu has its own “power” and works on me in ways that I often do not recognize until much later, if ever. After all, who is really reciting the Nembutsu?
Namo Amida Bu!
It’s inspiring to read this Ananda and to think that all those nembutsu are getting recited… I love the extra ones for bombu ‘luck’! Kaspa & I joined you for the first six months of your last million nembutsu and it was a great thing to do. Dharmavidya told me he recently finished another million at Eleusis…
Done! 100,000 Nembutsu in fifteen days. It was a little uneven. There were lots of recitations while flying. I flew plenty. (Fortunately airport security did not identify the mumbling man wearing a red jacket as suspicious!)
When visiting with friends and family my recitations decreased significantly. Often, I only managed to recite a few malas at the edges of each day.
In general it is not good to judge the quality of one’s Nembutsu recitation. The Nembutsu is, after all, the dynamic expression of Amida’s Awakening. We, as limited and conditioned beings who are confused by fundamental ignorance, misapprehend Nembutsu. As long as we remain involved in self-reification, we will continue to wrongly interpret Nembutsu through the polarized lens of self, I.e. Good vs Bad, Like vs Dislike, Pain vs Pleasure. Nembutsu simply is. It is, ultimately, neither good nor bad.
For myself, as an ignorant being, I found the intensive Nembutsu recitation practice inspiring. It brought about some intense teaching dreams. It has also left me with a desire to deepen my commitment to reciting the Nembutsu.
I encourage all of you to try a short period of intensive Nembutsu practice. Start where you are. If you only recite one mala a day (100 Nembutsu) then maybe try to double that for a few days. See how it feels. There is no right way. The important thing is to deepen your connection to Amida Buddha.
Namo Amida Bu!
Thanks Ananda. I fall into judging the quality of my practice less often than I used to, but it still happens – good to be reminded of how it misses the point. I love how we can inspire each other to connect with the Buddha, and also have some sense that we are doing it on each other’s behalf too. Yay sangha.
I agree. It is quite wonderful when we can inspire and support each other. Namo Amida Bu!
When reciting a great number of mantras, is there any “quality control” to it? With quality I am referring to mindfulness and especially the recognition of being Amitabha while and after chanting.
Your question approaches the Nembutsu from a very Vajrayana perspective. In the Vajrayana there is a lot of emphasis on visualization and concentration. There is also an idea that we undertake practices, like reciting mantras, to become enlightened in the future.
The Amida Shu approach is quite different. We are not seeking to become enlightened! “Quality Control” is impossible. We are deluded human beings. Visualizing precisely, or chanting clearly, or maintaining unwavering concentration does not lead to enlightenment. They are all just tricks and techniques of the deluded mind.
The Nembutsu is not simply a mantra — a tool used to quiet the mind or evoke a more subtle but still deluded mind state. Nembutsu is non-different from Amida. To say “Namo Amida Bu” (or some other variation of Nembutsu) is to remember that we are in the presence of Amida Buddha, whether we are aware of it or not.
We do not recite Nembutsu to become Amitabha/Amida Buddha. We recite the Nembutsu so that we may be reborn in Amida’s pureland of love and bliss, “without even knowing what rebirth in the pureland truly is.”
Namo Amida Bu!
Actually my question of quality control came up thinking about hurrying through a great number of recitations. I’ve seen buddhists from many schools absentmindedly hurry through recitations whatever they may be. I was not talking from the cultivation of mindfulness or concentration perspective. However when doing the action of recitation it is a dynamic expression, whether it is considered as something that will eventually bring the result or whether it is considered to have immediate results. In reg. to results I think both are correct since the mind of a deluded human being is made of many layers.
Of course ultimately not a single utterance of Amida’s name makes any difference to ourselves who already are buddhas. But that not being a living reality… Namu Amida Butsu… Namu Amida Butsu…
“ourselves who are already buddhas”
This is not the Amida Shu take – you’ll find Dharmavidya’s post here http://www.friendsofamida.com/forums/topic/no-nature/
Oh sorry, it’s my poor English. I meant that each of us has a buddha nature.
Thank you for a wonderful and thoughtful discussion. The questions you raise come up quite often.
I am familiar the example you give of someone hurrying through a great number of recitations. While there are several ways to respond, I think the simplest answer is that our primary concern is with our own recitation of Nembutsu.
Because we are deluded beings, there is always a tendency to judge and compare. This is very human and very helpful for our survival. It is less beneficial spiritually.
Amida’s Compassion is boundless and unconditional. Judgement, by definition, is conditional. Amida does not judge. Amida accepts us just as we are. We are the one’s who erroneously judge “our” Nembutsu as either “good” or “bad.” There is neither “good” nor “bad” Nembutsu. There is just Nembutsu.
Namo Amida Bu!
There is a practice of meditation where the person visualises Amida whilst imagining that they are the Buddha.
Visualising one’s own body as Amida, you mean? So Amitabha Buddha is practiced in both dharmakaya and sambhogakaya forms?
I have only read about it. But my understanding is you meditate and tell yourself that you are Amida Buddha and you are going to save all sentient beings. You imagine a glow of red light coming from your stomach that fills the air with warmth and happiness. Really don’t remember where I read it.
As a technique that’s classic tantric practice… which is wonderful if you ask me 🙂
My knowledge of PL buddhism is still small so I might be asking an obvious question… Many schools of buddhism have a lot of different forms of practice. Tendai school is a good example of this. I think it might take an hour to list their practices, ha. My question is whether the same applies or doesn’t apply in PL buddhism? Like is nembutsu-based practice applied in different forms or is it mainly chanting/remembering the name and sitting meditation?
In Buddhism one does indeed come across many practices. However, in our tradition we place primacy on Nembutsu. All other practices are considered supplemental or secondary.
Here is a very short article on The Three Fundamental Practices of Amida Shu. I would also suggest that you read The Summary of Faith and Practice. (Below the very short text you will find an extensive commentary.) Personally, I have found both of these texts, along with the shorter and longer pureland sutras, invaluable in deepening my appreciation of Nembutsu.
Finally, I wrote a longer article entitled, “Faith and The Way of the Bodhisattva,” which you might find interesting.
Namo Amida Bu!
Do you live at Hawaii? My former teacher lived there as well and always greeted with aloha. The polynesion languages are beautiful* with amazing depth of meaning in single syllables.
I have read the online sources but they are not very extensive. Thanks for the input.
Yes, I live in Hawaii on the East Side of the Big Island where we have wonderful Amida Shu Congregation. There is, of course, a lot of Buddhism throughout the state. Here we have a variety of Japanese traditions. I used to live in the center of town and could hear the temple bells form both the local Zen temple and the Jodo Shin Shu temple.
Namo Amida Bu!
Oh, so this* is how jealousness feels like 😀
Returning to work was difficult. I enjoy the work that I do and the people I work with. We do good and necessary work. However, I returned to an emotionally charged and stressful situation.
Often, when under stress or in particularly difficult situations, I will — out of habit — increase the amount of time spent in formal spiritual practice. Usually, I don’t notice the change until later. However, this time, after a period of intensive Nembutsu, I recognized what I was walking into at work. I consciously made the choice to maintain the higher (for me) daily counts of Nembutsu. Thus far I have been successful.
Nembutsu does not magically isolate me from painful emotional states or thoughts, it does not prevent me from experiencing stress or anxiety. It does, however, influence my daily life. In a very concrete sense, the “pressure” to reach my daily Nembutsu recitation goals means that I fill the little gaps in life with Nembutsu. Driving to and from work is now filled with Nembutsu and not the daily news. Standing in line at the store affords me a few minutes of idle time in which to recite Nembutsu. Waiting, generally, is a now a welcome opportunity and much less of an annoyance. Because I am always aware of the benign pressure of Nembutsu, I spend much less time staring at my phone or caught up in social media.
Nembutsu is a field of positive merit. To recite the Nembutsu is to participate in Amida’s dynamic awakening. It is to be in the presence of, and influenced by, Amida Buddha. This affects both ourselves and world around us. Internally, when the mind/body complex is disturbed by agitating energy, our thought stream — a source of much suffering — is continually returned to Amida with the Nembutsu. Externally, we encounter Amida in the world all around us.
While bliss is often viewed as a “side effect,” we should not forget that Amida’s realm is called the “Land of Bliss.” Often, after reciting Nembutsu for some period of time, I will be filled with joy. Maybe it is caused the silence of Nembutsu, the break from the continual stream of mostly judging thought. Perhaps the joy arises from the hum of the Nembutsu or the deep breathing that verbal Nembutsu creates. Or it could simply be a taste of the bliss of the Pureland. No matter the cause, reciting Nembutsu is a source of joy and bliss.
Life is still difficult. There is stress, deadlines, and difficulties. People can be unpleasant, mean and vicious. The Nembutsu does not change any of that. Nevertheless, Nembutsu has made my life better, deeper, richer. It certainly allows me to be more open to the the full panoply of life experiences, positive and negative. Hopefully, it also makes me better able to help those who are suffering and in pain.
We cannot know the full working of Nembutsu. For me, it is enough to have faith in the Buddha and the deep desire to participate in Amida’s Primal Vow to save all beings.
Namo Amida Bu!
Reading this thread was very helpful and informative. I appreciate Ananda’s insights and Kim’s honest questions. I downloaded a counter app on my iPhone to log the # of malas I recite now.
Thanks Ananda . Wish I’d seen this earlier . I was looking for the eureka moment when I started and was constantly evaluating. In the end I dropped that scrutiny and just enjoyed for its own sake and many months later I gently noticed the changes brought about and how inner chatter has been replaced with nembutsu practice that just seems to come naturally instead of time wasting nonsense.
Aloha Brian and Ken,
I am glad this has been helpful in connecting with the Nembutsu. I wrote recently about the the Nembutsu is not Just Another Mantra, on personal blog. The more I recite the Nembutsu the more understand that it is simply a practice of relationship. Nembutsu may or may not quite the mind. Nembutsu may or may not make one’s life easier. Nembutsu will, however, bring Amida into one’s daily life.
Namo Amida Bu!
Having reread this thread I also feel infused with some of Ananda’s inspiration and I’m going to turn off my computer before my next client in ten minutes so I can get out my mala. Namo Amida Bu, gratitude to you all.
May be worth mentioning here that not all of us can do extended repetitive practices, whether for the reason of mental conditions or physical conditions or both. And even if we technically might be able to, it is not always medically advisable to do so. This is on a sliding scale of course, it’s usually on a continuum, although there’s usually one or two people at either end with either seemingly super-human powers or no ability to do so at all. It can move and flow and change both ways sometimes but I find it useful to have one or two other, hidden mala beads in my invisible pocket to pull out when necessary, and one of these may say ‘Just as you are’ on it in case I get worried I may be encased in a lotus bud for a few thousand years or worse. Namo Amida Bu.
Just ordered another mala for the car for traffic and when raining. Is there a resource or can someone post a link to the definitive technique with mala as although I think I’m doing it correctly I know there’s a few different ways.
Namo Amida Bu
Here is piece I wrote for folks in our Sangha who were taking on the One Million Nembutsu practice. It contains suggestions for using a mala. I hope it helps. Ananda
Thank you for joining me on this one million Nembutsu pilgrimage. There are lot’s of different types of pilgrimages. Most are familiar with the exterior pilgrimages that involve travel to far flung destinations.
Our year long pilgrimage is an inner pilgrimage towards the Buddha. We ill be traveling along the path of the Nembutsu. Like a physical pilgrimage, our journey will involve both hardship and periods of overwhelming joy. There will be times when you want to stop saying the Nembutsu and give up. At other times you will wish that the Nembutsu never ends.
Like with any pilgrimage, it is good to start off prepared. Of course, there is no preparing for the true pilgrimage, but at least you can try to ensure that you have enough clothes to wear and dependable guide.
To start this pilgrimage, our supplies will be simple. You will want to have a mala (nenju) with 108 beads plus a “guru” bead where the threads come together in a knot on the mala. You might also want to have a smaller wrist mala of 27 beads. Four rounds of the smaller mala equals one full mala.
When using the mala it is good to train yourself to always move to the next bead on the same syllable. Personally, I move on the “Na” or first syllable of the Nembutsu. You, however, may decide that you prefer moving with the “Bu” or last syllable. The main thing is to be consistent. This consistency will prevent you from zoning out and losing you count on the mala.
When using the mala, you begin with one of the beads next to the “guru” bead. As you recite the Nembutsu, you move around the mala, one bead at a time, until you reach the bead on the other side of the “guru” bead from where you started. At this point you do not count the guru bead or cross the guru bead. Instead, you turn around and continue counting back down the mala. So you never actually make a full circuit of the mala. The need to stop and turn around will help jar you back into attention if I have drifted off into some reverie or train of thought.
Other useful items to have on your pilgrimage: A method for counting your accumulated recitations. You could jot them down in a journal or on the calendar or as little hash marks in a notebook. I have found a mechanical counter the most useful. Mine can count up to 9999. I use it to track each time I count a full mala. When it roles back over to 0000 I know that I have recited 1 million malas.
Sometimes, you will not have your counter with you so you will need another means for tracking the accumulation of recitations. As mentioned before, you can just make little notations in a notebook and add them to your totals later. Also, you can count them on your fingers. If you start with your finger tips you can count up to 16 on one hand. That is the four finger tips and the 3 sets of joints in the fingers. You count using the thumb on the same hand.
You can also buy bead counters to go on your mala. I have never gotten in the habit of using them, but I know practitioners — especially in the Vajrayana — that have used these reliably.
The main thing is to come up with a system that works for you and stick with it.
Finally, you will want to choose a good “route” for your pilgrimage. Where and when will say the Nembutsu each day? As we all know, habits can be our friend. So figure out your daily Nembutsu habit? This is very important. Getting to the end of your day, exhausted, and realizing that you have not recited a single Nembutsu can be dispiriting. After several days, it is downright defeating!
I suggest that you try to have a few minutes at the beginning of your day and right before you go to bed. If possible, try to get a mala of Nembutsu in during the middle of your day. If you plan to say the Nembutsu during your commute, don’t multi-task. Turn off the radio and just say the Nembutsu.
I am really looking forward to making this pilgrimage with you. Do reach out to me with any questions or issues that arise.
Namo Amida Bu!
Hello Ananda .
Most informative and helpful.
Namo Amida Bu
Ananda, Thank you so much for this pilgrimage of one million nembutsu! This is truly inspiring. Namo Amida Bu!
As a newcomer to nembutsu, I found this thread really useful and inspiring. Thank you, Ananda, for all these posts. I assume that in our practice there is no particular mala preference? I own several malas that I have bought when visiting temples in the past – as a tourist, but now it looks like those visits had an impact! I know various Japanese Buddhist sects have different styles of mala and ways of holding and using them, but Amida Shu is ok with any mala or none? Thanks for any guidance.
Namo Amida Bu!
You got it right. There isn’t a special mala necessary for reciting the nembutsu. I have a small wrist mala that I wear on my wrist and use throughout the day. I also have a 108 bead mala that I wear and use for more formal practice. The longer mala is nothing to look at, a simple rosewood mala that I got when I was 18 or 19. It has been restrung many times. It has received the blessings of many great teachers. It holds tens of thousands of hours of practice and millions upon millions of repetitions of Nembutsu and other mantras.
The mala you hold in your hand is only the outer mala. It is energized through constant use and becomes a tangible token of Amida’s presence. The inner mala, however, is the mantra chain of Nembutsu that connects your heart directly to Amida’s Heart of Boundless Awakening.
I hope this helps.
Namo Amida Bu!