Living in Mindfulness of the Vows of Amida Buddha

Is being mindful the same thing as meditating? Rev. Jundo Gregory Gibbs invites you to explore some Buddhist questions with him.

Gregory Gibbs
26 September 2010

What does it mean to chant (inwardly, or outwardly) the name of Amida Buddha, as those in the Pure Land school of Buddhism do? Is being mindful the same thing as meditating? Rev. Jundo Gregory Gibbs invites you to explore these questions with him.

Is being mindful the same thing as meditating?

Buddhism’s eightfold path mentions mindfulness and meditation as distinct categories of practice. The six paramitas, which I would argue have, in Buddhist history, been more influential, only mention meditation.

Did mindfulness get forgotten? Is it not important? Is it something more natural than a formal practice?

I am a Jodo Shinshu minister. Mine is the Pure Land school of Mahayana Buddhism, founded in Japan in 1224. (I trained both here and in Japan.) In my school of Buddhist spirituality we often say we don’t meditate.

However, our practice of saying the name of the Buddha of Limitless Wisdom-light and Endless Life may strike some of you as meditative. We, as do hundreds of millions of Buddhists in various streams of tradition, say aloud or hold silently to Amida Buddha’s name. The most common form worldwide is “Namo Amida Butsu” — literally, “I rely on Amida Buddha” or “I rely upon the Awoken source of limitless wisdom light and endless life.”

The distinctive aspect of Jodo Shinshu nembutsu/Buddha-recollection practice is that we don’t endeavor to be especially focused on what we are saying; nor do we try to make numerous repetitions. We see the voicing of the Buddha’s Name [Amida Butsu] and the phrase expressing respect and reliance [Namo] as expressions of the Buddha’s commitment to liberate all suffering and deluded beings. It is my voice — but the Buddha’s reassuring call. We hope to live lives of gratitude on the basis of this Vow Power picking us up and taking us along to eventual Enlightenment.

Experience shows that those who think of the nembutsu, the saying of Amida Buddha’s name aloud or reflecting upon it silently, gradually move away from Greed, Hatred and Stupidity. As we see any positive change as being based on the Buddha’s karmic merit and not on our own endeavoring there is little room for feelings of superiority. Amida names the transformative energy that is carrying us along to the wholesome way of living we aspire to find. We just say his/her/their Name occasionally to remind ourselves that this wonderful change is coming.

As Monshu Koshin Ohtani explains in his book The Buddha’s Wish for the World, “We can think of A-mita, or Amida Buddha, as the Buddha not limited by time or space, who illuminates us constantly, wherever we may go.”

We don’t doubt that you have received your own treats from the Buddha, but we would love to share ours with you. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have been paying into a fund of karmic merit to liberate all living things for longer than I, or anyone, can remember. I plan to make deposits into that Buddhist liberation fund myself one day. For the time being I’m making withdrawals.

Wouldn’t you like to withdraw a little karmic energy yourself? We would love to share this nembutsu/Buddha recollection treat with all of you. Making a withdrawal is easy: it sounds like “Namo Amida Butsu” [or “Namu Amida Butsu” or “Namandabutsu”…]

Let me know if you have any questions about making withdrawals. All the tellers are nice.

Gassho/With Palms Together,

Gregory Gibbs

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Gregory Gibbs

Gregory Gibbs of Oregon Buddhist Temple in Portland has been a former Catholic and loner Zennist for 15 years and is an avid fan of Honda Minako, Ian Hunter, and His Eminence, Go Monshu Koshin Ohtani.