“I Take Refuge in Amida Buddha”

The Pure Land is right here, right now, says Sensei Alex Kakuyo. Chanting the nembutsu can help you see that.

Alex Kakuyo15 July 2022
Japanese calligraphy (detail) of the nembutsu, which is pronounced “Namu Amida Butsu” in Japanese. Calligraphy via stringfixer.com

Pure Land Buddhism teaches that there was a monk named Dharmakara who lived in the distant past. Horrified by the defiled nature of the world, he engaged in ascetic practices for many years until he realized enlightenment, becoming Amida, the Buddha of Infinite Light.

Amida Buddha used his miracle-powers to create a land of ultimate bliss, which provided its inhabitants with the ideal conditions to realize enlightenment. When the bodhisattvas of the ten directions asked how they could enter his pure land, Amida replied, “If you wish to be born in my realm, call me to mind again and again.”

The beauty of Amida’s pure land is that it doesn’t just exist in some faraway place; it exists in this present world. The caveat, however, is we must purify our minds to see it. One method of purification is the nembutsu chant: “Namu Amida Butsu,” which translates to, “I take refuge in Amida Buddha.”

When we recite the chant, we purify the three mysteries of body, speech, and mind, which create our volitional karma. In this way, we plant seeds of merit, and cleanse ourselves of defilements. We also express gratitude for the small pleasures of life, such as a warm cup of coffee, a good night’s rest, and a pleasant conversation with friends.

Nembutsu is a simple, three-step practice that anyone can do.

Step 1. Purify Your Mind

Look upon an image of Amida Buddha or visualize him. Practitioners often envision him wearing robes with a halo around his head. He is standing and both of his hands are held in the “okay” gesture, with the tips of his thumb and index finger touching. The fingers of his right hand point toward the sky, while the fingers of his left hand point toward the ground.

Step 2. Purify Your Body

Hold your hands in gassho by placing your palms together in front of you. This gesture calms the mind and is an expression of friendliness and gratitude.

Step 3. Purify Your Speech

Recite Namu Amida Butsu ten times, focusing on the physical sensation of the words in your throat.

The nembutsu chant is an expression of gratitude. It allows you to remove your defilements by reflecting on the qualities of Amida Buddha. When you do this, you realize Amida is not separate from you. He lives in your heart and the heart of everyone around you.

Alex Kakuyo

Alex Kakuyo

Alex Kakuyo is a Buddhist teacher and breathwork facilitator. A former Marine, he served in both Iraq and Afghanistan before finding the Dharma through a series of happy accidents.  Alex holds a B.A. in philosophy from Wabash College and his life’s work is helping students bridge the gap between the finite and the infinite.  Using movement, meditation, and gratitude practices he helps them find inner peace in every moment.  Alex is the author of Perfectly Ordinary: Buddhist Teachings for Everyday Life.