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Practice Diligently On Amitabha Buddha's Birthday

Amitabha Buddha's Birthday

November 17 of the Lunar calendar is regarded as the birthday of Amitabha Buddha, founder of Western Land of Ultimate Bliss. According to historical documents, this day was actually the birthday of Yongming Yanshou (904~975), a Chan master who lived during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period of China.
Yongming Yanshou not only attained liberation through Chan practice, but also recited Amitabha Buddha's name 100,000 times every day in order to be reborn in the Pure Land. He is considered the first to combine Chan and Pure Land practices.
People regarded Yongming Yanshou as an incarnation of Amitabha Buddha. Thus, his birthday became Amitabha Buddha's Birthday. Every year on this day, monasteries hold a seven day Amitabha Buddha name recitation retreat in commemoration of him.

Practice Events in Monasteries

Seven-day Amitabha Recitation Retreat
Seven-day Amitabha Recitation Retreat is an important Dharma assembly in Buddhism. Chanting Amitabha Buddha's name is the core method used throughout the retreat. To practice diligently, practitioners chant while sitting, circumambulating the Buddha's statue, prostrating, and so on. The most unique part of the retreat is Running to the West, a Grand Transfer of Merit ritual practiced every evening during the retreat. While chanting the names of the Three Sages of the Western World of Ultimate Bliss * and circumambulating, practitioners visualize that they are walking peacefully into the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss. Later, they quicken their pace, which symbolizes that they want to go to the Pure Land as quickly as possible. Finally, they transfer the merit from the practice as the conditions through which to be reborn in the Pure Land.

Why does the retreat last for 7 days? It is said that it took the Buddha 49 days to practice under a Bodhi tree before he attained enlightenment. Thus, there are practice methods based on 7 or multiple-of-7 days described in Buddhist sutras.

From the standpoint of the Pure Land method, the Seven Day Retreat of Amitabha Buddha is derived mainly from the Amitabha sutra, which states: "if good men and women hear Amitabha Buddha mentioned and hold firmly to his name for one day, two days, three, four, five, six, or seven days, wholeheartedly without distraction, then when these people are near the end of life, Amitabha Buddha will appear in front of them with a host of sages." The Amitayurdhyana Sutra also mentions "… for one to seven days, they attain re-birth."
Seven-day Buddha Name Recitation Chan Retreat
Buddha Name Recitation Chan is one the most important practice methods in Chan Buddhism, as reciting Buddha's name is also a way to practice meditation. During the Buddha Name Recitation Chan Retreat, practitioners continuously focus on Buddha's name, whether standing or seated, with fast-walking or with prostration.
Reciting Buddha's Name, also called Recollection of the Buddha, is one of the six recollections*. It is the method used both in the Seven-day Seven-day Buddha Name Recitation Chan Retreat and Seven-day Amitabha Recitation Retreats. However, unlike that of Seven-day Amitabha Recitation Retreats, the goal of the Seven-day Buddha Name Recitation Chan Retreats doesn't lie in the pursuit of spiritual responses, auspicious signs, or the chance to be born in Buddha's Pure Lands. Instead, it allows practitioners to practice meditation through wholehearted recitation of Amitabha Buddha's name, without harboring any other thoughts.

One-day Amitabha Recitation Retreat
Are Amitabha Recitation Retreats limited to 7 days? How do busy people practice?

In The Buddha Speaks The Mahayana, Infinite Life, Adornment, Purity, Impartiality, And Enlightenment Sutra, the Buddha told Ananda that those who want to be born in Pure Land and don't have time for diligent practice on longer retreats, can sit up straight and practice whole-heartedly with a compassionate mind in their free time. "Continuously recite Buddha's name for one day and one night without stopping, and one will be born in Pure Land after death." In other words, even if we are too busy to attend longer retreats, we can obtain peace of mind and joy through a moment of chanting free of wandering thoughts, as we mindfully recite, chant, and hear Buddha's name. Recently, many monasteries hold one-day Amitabha Buddha retreats, combined with Fasting with The Eight Precepts. These developments, in fact, originated from this sutra.

*Six recollections include Recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, Generosity, Virtue, and Deva virtues. "Buddha", "Dhamma", and "Sangha" here means all the Buddhas, Dhamma, and Sangha. Generosity means giving. Virtue means upholding precepts. Deva virtues means the Ten Virtuous Precepts. By practicing the doctrine of Ten Virtuous Precepts, one will be reborn in the Heavenly Realm.
Issue 354 of Life MagazineDharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Text: Hsu Tsui-Ku (許翠谷)
Translation: Hsiao Chen-An
Shu Jen-Yeh(葉姝蓁), Keith Brown

​Extended Reading:

Bodhi Day: Buddha's Enlightenment Day