I have been asked, what practice should one do daily as a follower of Amida Shu?
The simple answer to this is: say the nembutsu.
Many people do, however, like to have a routine. The important first thing to realise is that any such routine or ritual is what we call ‘auxiliary practice’. In Buddhism, there is no magic in ritual. Shakyamuni taught us to do rituals in a good spirit and not to think that they have magic power. Ritual is celebratory. When Ananda asked Shakyamuni what guidelines to follow, Shakyamuni said – Do what works. So, with that caveat…..
You might like to establish a particular place and routine for practice. This might have a rupa (an object, picture or calligraphy symbolising the Buddha or the Dharma) as a centre piece. It is nice, but not essential, if you can have a representation of Amida Buddha. In the shrine room at The Buddhist House we have a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha in the centre facing east, facing toward a picture of Amida Buddha on the west wall: the Buddha of history contemplating the Buddha of the cosmic era.
You might have a table on which you can put associated items and offerings. There are many traditions in Buddhism to do with offerings. The important thing from an Amida Shu perspective is that one regard whatever offerings one makes as nembutsu – as acts of refuge in Amida Buddha or in all the Buddhas, in a spirit of gratitude. Whatever ways we enact the nembutsu, there is the possibility of feelings arising. The practice is touching. This is as it should be.
….We commonly have three formal sessions in the morning.
1. The first is a sutra recitation. We either read the whole of the Smaller Sutra or a part of the Larger Sutra. This usually takes anything from 15 to 45 minutes depending on time available.
2. We then have a practice session in which we do three practices. This can take between 30 minutes and several hours.
a. Walking nembutsu: walking while chanting, circumambulating the rupa.
b. Nei Quan: reflecting upon the past 24 hours using the questions
i. what have I received or been supported by?
ii. what have I done in return?
iii. what troubles has my existence occasioned for others?
c. Chih Quan: offering the fruits of the practice and receiving the Buddha’s blessing, grace, peace. Sitting in that tranquil abiding.
3. We then have morning service which includes recitations from the Nei Quan Book (see Friends of Amida, Main Page, right column), offering verses, nembutsu, Summary of Faith and Practice, Tan Butsu Ge, Verses in Praise of the Buddha and performance of prostrations. Again this can be ten minutes or anything up to an hour depending on how much one includes.
We also do practice sessions and services in the afternoons and evenings but not everyday. These also include walking nembutsu, sitting nembutsu, recitation, prostrations, Dharma talks, offerings and so on.
Most of our meetings end with the verse:
The original and sacred vows
Are the unique and essential path
To enter the Pure Land
Therefore, with body, speech and mind
We are devoted to the teachings
That all may attain the state of bliss.
Now there is no necessity to do all this much practice every day, or even ever. While this is possible in a Dharma centre, it is not possible for most people living work-a-day lives. It just depends how much time one has. One might do Nei Quan and Chih Quan twice a week. One might omit some of the recitations. One might add in other Buddhist texts. One might do walking nembutsu outside. If one goes to different Amida Shu groups one will encounter many different local patterns of practice. The only absolutely essential element is chanting nembutsu. Reciting “Summary of Faith and Practice” regularly can be a great help as can making offerings and prostrations.
Amida Shu is not the kind of sangha in which there is a prescribed form of liturgy centrally determined. Each local group and each practitioner even, is encouraged to be creative and to find what works best for them within some broad parameters, or, more properly, within the spirit of the nembutsu.
A practitioner with fifteen minutes for practice each morning might go to their practice place, bow, light a candle, say half a mala of nembutsu, pause in silence for three minutes, say the closing verse, bow, and then go to work. If they have a little longer, they might additionally, read Summary of Faith and Practice. When they have longer, at the weekend, perhaps, they might additionally do nei quan and chih quan. They might also vary the practice in detail from time to time so that it not become stale or meaningless. And, perhaps once a week or once a month they might meet with other practitioners, if there are any in travelling distance, or visit an Amida centre, and have a more extensive practice session and gathering for sharing.
Through the day, the person may say the nembutsu whenever he or she remembers – while walking along the street, paused in a queue, meeting another practitioner, when something goes well or badly, in fact, when anything happens.
One can have short practice sessions in the morning and/or in the evening. Please, however, do not make this into a chore. If you miss a few days [or weeks 🙂 ], don’t worry – just say, Namo Amida Bu. Buddha loves us just as we are.
Three further points:
1. Non-possessive Practice
It is important not to be possessive about one’s practice. There are people who will go to a temple and refuse to join in because “I have my practice”. This is improper. So long as the practice of the house where one is a guest is not actually unethical then there is no reason why an Amida Shu follower cannot see the local practice as a form of nembutsu. I have joined in the services in many different denominations of Buddhism and also in the temples of other religions. I would not, however, join in offerings and sacrifices that involve the killing of animals, say.
2. Self-power Practice
It should be clear from the above that the spirit in which one practices is more important than the precise form. Some practices, like zazen, say, are particularly associated with schools that are linked with the idea of ‘self-power’. It may be inappropriate for the beginner to do such practices regularly if one wants to follow and other-power path. However, the genuine Zen adept, for instance, actually does zazen in an other-power spirit once the conceit of self has ‘dropped away’. Adherents of Amida Shu are not forbidden from doing any practice that is helpful, but the important thing for a Pureland Buddhist is that all practice should be nembutsu.
3. Other Pureland Practices
If you are already used to doing some form of Pureland practice as a result of exposure to Jodo-shu, Jodoshin-shu, or Chinese Buddhism, say, it is unlikely that anything that you have already learnt will be inappropriate to include in an Amida Shu practice. If you want to move in an Amida Shu direction in your style, then do incorporate elements from those mentioned above, but you do not have to feel that elements that you have learnt and found useful already have to be discarded. Amida Shu reveres Honen Shonin and all his teachers and disciples. What you are likely to find is that Amida Shu is more creative and flexible in the matter of liturgy than other schools, while still holding to the nembutsu as the bedrock. In fact, it is because we regard the nembutsu as the bedrock that we can be flexible.