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Practice Method of Amitabha Buddha

The Amitabha Sutra is an extremely important Buddhist scripture in Pure Land Buddhism. How do we practice the Amitabha Sutra in order to unite with the original intention of Amitabha Buddha? In the "Amitabha Sutra", Shakyamuni Buddha explicitly points out that, in reciting the Buddha's name wholeheartedly and undistractedly, chanting the Amitabha Sutra, and hearing the name of all the Buddhas mentioned in the sutra, we can be blessed and protected by all the Buddhas, which in turn helps us to arouse the Bodhi Mind. 

The Amitabha Sutra--- one of the Three Pure Land Sutras*--- is a Buddhist scripture that the Lord Buddha had expounded without being asked to do so. Furthermore, it is considered a sutra of great importance in Mahayana Buddhism. The Amitabha Sutra comprises one of the five compulsory daily tasks of monastic life* and it is ususally recited during the evening service.

* The Three Pure Land Sutras are Infinite Life Sutra, Amitayurbhavana-sutra, and the Amitabha Sutra.
*The morning and evening chanting, the Mengshan Food Bestowal ritual (Mengshanshishi), and the breakfast and lunch practices.

In his book "Commentary on the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Master Sheng Yen mentions that, as long as one hears the Amitabha Sutra or the name of Amitabha Buddha, or recites the Amitabha Sutra, one can receive the blessings of the Buddhas. Thus, if we can hear and uphold the Amitabha Sutra, or even hear the names of all the Buddhas mentioned in this sutra, we can receive their blessings and protection, be reborn in the Western World of Ultimate Bliss, give rise to the supreme Bodhi Mind, and never turn away from the Path.   

Reciting the Buddha's Name in Four or Six Syllables

The Amitabha Sutra points out a very simple method for people to practice: that is, reciting the Buddha's name, which is also the fundamental practice of Pure Land Buddhism. When chanting the Buddha's name, we can recite it in four syllables (Amitofuo, the name of Amitabha Buddha in Chinese) or using six syllables (Namo Amitofuo, homage to the Amitabha Buddha). There are two ways of reciting the Buddha's name: reciting mentally and out loud. In general, some people are used to reciting the Buddha's name using prayer beads, while others are accustomed to using digital prayer counters.  

Reciting the Buddha's name must be a sustained effort. We can adopt it as our daily regular practice and schedule a fixed time everyday to recite the Buddha's name, or set a goal for ourselves. For example, Yongming Yanshou (永明延壽) recited the Buddha's name 100,000 times everyday. Master Lian Chi (蓮池大師) chanted neither sutras nor mantras, but the name of Amitabha Buddha 100,000 times everyday while walking, standing, sitting, and lying Down. In his late years, Master Sheng Yen also maintained his Dharma practice by continually chanting the Buddha's name anytime and anywhere, with prayer beads in hand, immersing himself in the Buddha's name. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh also advocated the practice method of reciting the Buddha's name, encouraging people to do so anytime when walking, driving or doing domestic chores, in addition to their regular practice. "Amitofuo (Amitabha Budda)" is one of the Buddhas' names that people are most familiar with. Whether Buddhist or not, they say "Amituofo" as a form of well-wishing to others. 

Upholding the Dharani: Dharani for Rebirth in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land

People often regard the Pure Land Rebirth Dharani in the Pure Land School of Buddhism as Amitabha Buddha's fundamental dharani. However, its name often leads to the misconception that it is only meant for chanting for the dying or deceased. In fact, the dharani's full name is: "Dharani for pulling out the fundamental cause of karmic obstacles and obtaining rebirth in the Pure Land".

There are four major merits that result from upholding and reciting the Rebirth Dharani:

1. Amitabha Buddha will guard over the reciters, offering protection day and night.
2. Karmic creditors stand no chance of getting revenge.
3. One can enjoy peace and stability in the present life.
4. One can attain spontaneous rebirth to the Pure Land (Western World of Ultimate Bliss) at the end of one’s life.

In addition, the Stories on the Amitabha Sutra's Inconceivable Spiritual Power describe how one may benefit from reciting the dharani. These benefits are:

1. Elimination of one's evil karma committed during this lifetime.
2. Granting and fulfilment of one's wishes in this life.
3. Protection from disturbance by evil spirits.
4. Meeting Amitabha Buddha in person.

As the complete name of the Rebirth Dharani suggests, its main benefit is to help practitioners remove all karmic obstacles, with the guarantee of rebirth in the Pure Land. Certainly not intended only for the dying, this dharani can especially help devotees eliminate obstacles that hinder their path of learning the Dharma in the present life, thereby facilitating their future meeting with Amitabha Buddha.

According to Lin Guangming's About Dharanis and Mantras, in addition to the Rebirth Dharani, there are four other short mantras related to Amitabha Buddha: the heart mantra, the abbreviated core Mantra, the one-word mantra, and Tibetan Buddhist version of the heart mantra. However, these four short mantras are not popular in China and there are only a few people who recite them. Instead, many Pure Land practitioners in Tibet, Japan and Korea uphold and recite these four mantras. It is believed that, by reciting these mantras 100,000 times, one will be able to meet Amitabha Buddha in person, and be reborn in the World of Ultimate Bliss at the end of one's life.

Amitabha's fundamental dharani and the four related short mantras

Pureland Rebirth Dharani (in Romaizied Sanskrit)

namo amitābhāya tathāgatāya tadyathā amṛtod-bhave
amṛta-siddhaṃ bhave amṛta-vikrānte amṛta-vikrānta
gāmine gagana kīrta-kare svāhā

Pureland Rebirth Dharani (In Chinese Pinyin System)

南無阿彌多婆夜 ná mó ē mí duō pó yè
哆他伽多夜   dǎ tā jiā duō yè
哆地夜他    dǎ dì yè tā
阿彌利都婆毗  ē mí lì dū pó pí
阿彌利哆    ē mí lì dǎ
悉耽婆毗    xī dān pó pí
阿彌唎哆    ē mí lì dǎ
毗迦蘭帝    pí jiā lán dì
阿彌唎哆    ē mí lì dǎ
毗迦蘭多    pí jiā lán duō
伽彌膩     jiā mí nì
伽伽楉     jiā jiā nà
枳多迦利    zhǐ duō jiā lì
娑婆訶     suō pó hē

The heart mantra

om amrita teje hara hum

The innermost heart mantra


The heart mantra of Amitabha in the Tibetan tradition

om amideva hrih

Reading, reciting, transcribing, and prostrating to the Amitabha Sutra

The Amitabha Sutra is part of the Buddhist evening chanting, and many recite it as their daily practice. There are various approaches to upholding the Amitabha Sutra, including reading, reciting (both with and without Dharma instruments), transcribing sutras and doing prostrations. For example, Master Shandao of the Tang Dynasty transcribed 100,000 copies of the Amitabha Sutra. Master Hong Yi (1880 – 1942) copied the Amitabha Sutra and transferred the merits to his deceased father and all sentient beings in the dharma-realms.

Prior to prostrating to the sutra, one is supposed to first make offerings, and then do each prostration following the recitation of every syllable. With each prostration, one also recites the sutra-prostration verse: "Namo Amitabha Sutra as spoken by the Buddha. Namo Buddhas and Bodhisattvas congregated at the lotus-pond oceanic assembly." Sutra prostration can be practiced during the daytime, or any set time of day. It is a good idea to use a pen or a piece of paper to keep track of your progress by marking where you left off (on which syllable or paragraph), to be continued for the next session.

Practicing Merits as the Threefold Karma of Purity

The Amitabha Sutra says, “Not with a wholesome root of inferior measure do beings arrive in the Buddhaland of Limitless-Life (Amitayus) Thus-Come-One (Tathagata).” Hence, one of the requirements for rebirth in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land is to practice generating merits and do one’s best to accumulate virtues. In his book, Mindfulness of the Buddha for Rebirth in the Pure Land, Master Sheng Yen pointed out that the “wholesome root” mentioned in the Amitabha Sutra actually represents the “threefold karma of purity” listed in the Sutra of Contemplation on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, namely:

  1. Caring for one's parents, attending to one's teachers and elders, compassionately refraining from killing, and performing the ten good deeds.
  2. Taking the three refuges, keeping the various precepts, and refraining from breaking the rules of conduct.
  3. Generating the bodhi-mind (aspiration for attaining the ultimate enlightenment), having deep faith in the law of causality, reciting the Mahayana sutras, and encouraging people to follow the sutras’ teachings.
This threefold karma of purity actually marks the essential attitude required of Buddhists on their path of practice. It covers the six paramitas of giving (Dāna), virtue/discipline (Śīla), patience (Kṣānti), diligence (Vīrya), one-pointed concentration (Dhyāna), and wisdom (Prajñā), as a starting point for practitioners to accumulate their merits and virtous karmic roots. It also represents the spirit of the bodhisattva path that encompasses a myriad of good deeds that are comprehensively included within the teaching in the Amitabha Sutra.

Dharma Assembly – Buddha-name Recitation Group Practice & Seven-Day Amitabha Recitation Retreat

Most monasteries have Buddha-name recitation groups and hold regular Buddha-name recitation group practice events. There, with the help of Amitabha Buddha's spiritual empowerment, practitioners can more easily become concentrated on the recitation as opposed to practicing alone at home. In doing so, they can better experience the benefits of reciting the Buddha's name.

November 17 of the lunar calender is regarded as Amitabha Buddha's birthday. To celebrate this auspicious day, Buddhists will recite the Amitabha Sutra and his name, thereby developing their aspirations to be reborn in the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss through the power of the Buddha's vow.

For a period of seven days prior to or after the Amitabha Buddha's birthday, most Buddhist monasteries organize a Seven-day Amitabha Recitation Retreat. What is the origin of this seven-day retreat practice? As mentioned in the Mindfulness of the Buddha for Rebirth in the Pure Land, the Amitabha Sutra states that "virtuous men and women shall hear the name of Amitabha Buddha, and having heard it, shall keep it in mind, and with thoughts undisturbed shall keep in mind for one, two, three, four, five, six or seven nights. When a son or daughter of a good family comes to die, then Amitabha Buddha, surrounded by an assembly of disciples and followed by a host of bodhisattvas, will stand before them at their hour of death, and they will depart this life with tranquil minds." Therefore, to celebrate the Buddha's birthday, the seven-day Amitabha recitation retreat can also enhance our practice, thereby encouraging us to diligently practice reciting the Buddha's name, particularly within the time frame of seven days, so as to achieve the realization.

Just as the Chinese culture values the importance of honoring and remembering ancestors, so for the Tomb Sweeping Festival it is customary for Buddhists to take part in seven-day Buddha-name reciation retreats. These retreats form an opportunity for practitioners to recite the Buddha's name and the Amitabha Sutra in order to transfer the merits to their decased parents and ancestors, thereby repaying their kindness.

Extended Reading:

The Amitabha Sutra (the Shorter Sukhavativyuha Sutra)

Practice Method of Amitabha Buddha

Questions and Answers about the Amitabha Sutra - Q1: Why did the Buddha expound the Amitabha Sutra without being asked?

Questions and Answers about the Amitabha Sutra - Q2: Why is Amitabha Buddha's land called "World of Ultimate Bliss"?

Questions and Answers about the Amitabha Sutra - Q3: Why are the teachings expounded by the Lord Buddha in the Amitabha Sutra difficult to believe?

Questions and Answers about the Amitabha Sutra - Q4: Why is it possible to be reborn in the Pure Land by reciting a single Buddha's name?

Questions and Answers about the Amitabha Sutra - Q5: Why is "Amitofuo" considered a phrase for blessing?

Questions and Answers about the Amitabha Sutra - Q6: Is the "Amitabha Sutra" a sutra chanted exclusively for the deceased?

Resource: Issue 344 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Issue 344 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Translation: Pin-an Chen (陳品安), Vicky Wei (韋徵儀), Cheng-yu Chang (张振郁)    
Editing: YKL, Chia-cheng (Chang 張家誠), Keith Brown