I have composed the following short F.A.Q. [‘frequently asked questions’] essay to explain some basic points about Amida Shu practice. I hope that it may be useful to individuals and to Amida Shu groups.
LET’S CHANT TOGETHER
A BRIEFING ON PURELAND BUDDHISM
Q: Why should I chant?
A: Chanting the name of the Buddha of Love opens a window to let love into your life.
Q: What is that name and how should I say it?
A: The Name is Amida. We often write ‘Name’ with a capital letter as it is so important to us. Usually we say ‘Namo Amida Bu’. There are lots of different tunes and rhythms. There are also other longer or shorter forms of the chant. ‘Namo Amida Bu’ comes from the Sanskrit language. It is short for ‘The Name that I call on is Amida Buddha’.
Q: Will it make me kinder, more peaceful or more creative?
A: It will do all of that, but, more importantly, if you chant with or for others, the love will spread, like light coming in through one window spreads through the room.
Q: What is your aim in teaching people to chant?
A: The ultimate aim is to create harmony throughout the universe. The immediate aim is that each person feel a little more love in their life. When people feel that love they grow as people and become more effective and fulfilled.
Q: I find it difficult to chant because I do not have a good voice and because I am self-conscious. What should I do?
A: It is nice to chant harmoniously with others, but all that is actually needed is to say the name of the Buddha of love. You can say it anytime either out loud or silently whatever activity you are involved in
Q: I’ve heard people say ‘Namo Amida Bu’ or ‘ Namo Omito Fo’ to one another. Why do they do that?
A: Yes, for those who chant regularly, among themselves, the Name tends to become an everyday term – a greeting, an encouragement, an apology, an acknowledgement. Whatever happens, ‘Namo Amida Bu’ brings a little love and harmony into the situation.
Q: I’m not a very loving person. I don’t think that I can make love appear like that.
A: Love is a power. It is not something that you make by your own effort. It works in a mysterious way as soon as you let it and give yourself to it.
Q: Do you have to be a Buddhist to chant?
A: If you chant the Name you ARE a Buddhist, so you don’t have to worry about it. At the same time, if you want to learn more about Buddhism, there are formal ways of getting more involved, but only if you want to.
Q: What if I belong to another religion already?
A: That is not a problem as far as Pureland Buddhism is concerned. Any religion, if it is a good religion, believes in love and spreading it in the world.
Q: Does it matter what you chant?
A: Yes, what you chant resonates throughout your life so it matters what it means because that is what you are invoking to be the power in your life.
Q: Why is it in a foreign language?
A: It works more sub-consciously that way. You can chant ‘Love Buddha, please love me’ if you like or
‘Infinite Light, / Be my delight / Shine on me / An ordinary’
or whatever, – it’s OK to be creative – so long as it means the same thing. The standard forms, however, are more international and more ancient and so connect us with more people.
Q: What does ‘Buddha’ mean?
A: A Buddha is a being who has woken up to the principle of ‘unconditionality’ – which, in practical terms, means unconditional love. Everything depends upon conditions and our spiritual life depends on the spirit of love. A Buddha fully understands and embodies this.
Q: Are there many Buddhas or just one?
A: There are many Buddhas.
Q: Why Amida particularly?
A: Amida is the Buddha of complete acceptance. The word ‘a-mida’ means ‘does not measure’. Amida loves us just as we are whereas many Buddhas expect us to be good or wise or to have done something special before we are admitted to their heaven. For Amida we only have to chant. The Buddha then does all the rest.
Q: Do you worship Buddha?
A: Sort of. We invoke Buddha. ‘Invoke’ means we ask him to come into our lives. We place our trust in him – in that process. In Buddhism, this is called ‘taking refuge’ We may have many problems in our life and we take refuge in calling on the Name. This allows a change to happen at an unconscious and collective level.
Q: Is Buddha a god or the same as God?
A: ‘God’ can mean different things. Buddhas love us and try to help us but they do not judge us and they did not make the world.
Q: Can one believe in Buddhas and in God?
A: Some people do.
Q: What happens when you die?
A: What happens to you after you die depends on your karma in this life. In particular upon your ‘karmic affinity’. What you connect yourself to in this life you will be drawn to in future lives. Chanting connects you to the Love Buddha and there is no better place to go. Amida appears to everybody at the point of death as a bright light, but not everybody is prepared to be received into that light.
Q: What if one does not believe in future lives?
A: It does not make any difference. Chanting still brings love into this life. Chanting works in all conceivable lives.
Q: Why do Buddhists live in communities?
A: Whether Buddhists live in private houses or in groups there is always a tendency toward harmony. That is what it is all about and that is what the world needs.
Q: How can I start chanting?
A: Let’s do it now.