December 04, 2007

Is this how you feel?

This cartoon from our friend Roberto Guerra more or less sums it up:


And here's a short clip of some beautiful chanting from the annual 24 Hour Nembutsu of the Amida Trust, from Pure Land Etchings. Here's a brief "Theory of Nembutsu" if you'd like to know more. The term roughly means Buddha in Mind, or Mindfulness of the Buddha, and derives, I think, from the Sanskrit Namo Amitabha Buddha. Comments clarifying this would be most welcome!

- Philip Ryan, Web Editor

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prasada's picture

Thanks for all these offerings. Yes, there are many forms of nembutsu. I recall an interesting presentation by Rev Nagasaki of New York Buddhist Church (Jodoshinshu) a the European Shin Buddhist Conference where he talked about which form of nembutsu was best for Westerners. He thought Namo Amida Bu worked best, but there wre many other possibilities.

In our group we are quite experimental and use a number offorms. The important thing is the spirit rather than the detail of words (though of course the history is interesting and adds the weight of tradition to our practice) but the numbutsu is not magical. It is an opening of the heart. For some this has a quality of longing, for others of gratitude. (a Jodoshu priest friend once said the difference between Jodoshu and Shinshu was that "we say please and they say thank you" which I think characterises the difference rather nicely) Despite these doctrinal differences in the lived spiritual life it can have a different "feel" at different times.

On the subject of experimentation, we have just finished our winter retreat on which we had a lovely evening playing with freeform improvisation around nembutsu. We recorded some and made a little video clip which you might like to have a look at:
I notice incidentally that some Jodoshinshu groups are also experimenting with creative forms of nembutsu as you'll see if you put nembutsu ito the u-tube search!

Philip Ryan's picture

Thanks, Gerald! We'd all like to get more Pure Land material on the blog -- there is so much diversity behind the phrase "Pure Land" and, as "the other Buddhism" to Westerners (see above), it is much misunderstood. Thanks again for checking in.

Gerald Ford's picture

Hi Phillip,

Another thing to know is that the Sanskrit phrase that was used as the nembutsu was more like Namo Mitayus Buddha (minus the "A" in the middle), with Amitayus was another name of Amida. :)

The actual phrase really means "Hail to Amida" with "namo" being often used to praise or give thanks to very Buddhist figures. The Pali phrase for the Buddha also begins the same way:

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhasa.

One other note; in the Jodo Shinshu school, the nembutsu takes one more of a tone of gratitude than a practice per se. Here, one realizes that they are being carried along by Amida and compassion, and so in joy one says the nembutsu.

Anyways, thanks for posting all this on the blog. :D

Philip Ryan's picture

Thanks very much, Prasada! Much appreciated. The generosity and warmth in the 24-hour chant is very moving.

prasada's picture

to expand on my previous comment, and respond to your question, nembutsu (Nien Fo in Chinese) is indeed the practice of holding Buddha in mind. Widely practised across the Chinese/Japanese Buddhist world, it is the central practice of the Pureland schools. Nembutsu can be said in different forms, but Namo Amida Bu is a common one. Amida Buddha is Buddha of infinite light and life, an amalgamation of Amitabha and Amitayus. In Pureland Buddhism faith in Amida's vow and recitation of the nembutsu leads to birth in the Pure Land.

For Pureland Buddhists the key teachings are the Smaller and Larger Pureland Sutras and the Contemplation Sutra. The practice of nembutsu is derived from the 18th vow of Dharmakara in the Larger Pureland Sutra in which Dharmakara, who later becomes Amida Buddha, vows to bring anyone who calls his name in faith to his Pureland in the West.

Although in some ways it may appear different from other Buddhist paths, the Pureland approach can be equated with the practice of taking refuge. In our devotion and faith, we take refuge in the measureless (Amida means "without measure") and so step out of our small self-orientated (bombu) world into relationship with Buddha. This latter aspect might be seen as an expression of the teaching of non-self.

prasada's picture

Thanks for your interest in the 24 nembutsu. I've now edited a bit longer version with captions and so on, which is on u-tube at

This is the third year we have done the 24 hour continuous nembutsu practice at our centre - its a really beautiful practice and doing the longer periods of chanting is wonderfully uplifting. Some people do the whole practice, but most take breaks to rest. The important thing is the group working together to create the unbroken chain of nembutsu chanting.

Pureland is pretty new at least in the UK (though we have good Pureland friends in the US) but we hope more people will come to this practice. If people want to know more about our particular take on Pureland, my husband David and I both brought out books on the subject this summer - his is called Who Loves Dies Well and mine The Other Buddhism. Prasada Caroline Brazier