“Namo Amituofo means infinite light, infinite life, infinite wisdom.”Amituofo is the common salutation among monks of The Shaolin Temple Kungfu disciples and lay practitioners. This greeting word is an important part of Shaolin tradition and culture. Many practitioners are chanting it, although they don’t really know what it means. Many forget that our main practice is Buddha remembrance [chin.: niànfó 念佛]. This involves chanting Namo Amitabha [Na mo A Mi Tuo Fo] we can chant out loud, or we can just say it over and over in our minds and it becomes a meditation. Meditations are to ‘guard or protect the mind’.
By Shi Yan Zhuo
When you are reciting a sutra, your mind has a hard time of thinking of much else; so this is one way to protect the mind [chin.: hànxīn 扞心]. With a single recitation of Namo Amituofo you destroy countless eons of bad karma [chin.: nièyuán 孽缘].
Practice of Nian Fo
Nian Fo is a well known practice in Shaolin tradition. Nian Fo is the Buddhist practise of repeating the phrase: “Na-mo A-mi-to Fo,” literally meaning, “Homage to Amitabha Buddha” and emphasizes the Buddha Amitabha’s promise to cause all faithful beings to be reborn in his pure land.
Lord Buddha told us that during this Dharma Ending Age, the primary way to be assured of success in cultivation is to rely on the Buddha Name Chanting Method. Buddha Name Chanting is a translation of the Chinese term “Nian Fo”. The Chinese character for being mindful of the Buddha “Nian” [chin.: niàn 念] is comprised of two parts. The top part Jin [chin.: jīn 今] means the present moment and the bottom part Xin [chin.: xīn 心] means mind/heart. “Fo” [chin.: Fó 佛] is the character for Buddha and means awakening. So “Nian Fo” means to remember or to be mindful of the Buddha, in this moment.
In being mindful of the Buddha, what do we chant? “Namo Amituofo”.
“Namo” is a transliteration from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language. It means to take refuge. This does not mean that we take refuge with the Dharma Master but rather that we return and rely. To what do we return and upon what do we rely? “Amituofo”, is also a transliteration from Sanskrit, meaning infinite life, infinite wisdom. Thus Namo Amituofo means to turn around and rely upon the infinite awakening.
The main practice in the Chan retreatis to recite the name of Amitabha, but there are also three other forms. In one form one recollects the Buddha by looking at a statue or form of the Buddha. Another form is to recollect the Buddha by visualisation, and a third form is to recollect the Buddha by meditating on the true nature of mind.
The recitation of the name of a Buddha has the same effect as reciting a sutra. This is the connection to the esotericcultivation. Buddhist masters of different traditions often commented.”
The sacred word Amituofo contains innumerable sublime teachings, hidden in and springing forth from those words. Reciting the Buddha’s name purifies and stills the three karma’s [chin.: yīnguǒ 因果] of body [chin.: tǐ 体], speech [chin.: yán 言] and mind [chin.: xīn 心].
The 16th century eminent monk Zhuhong [chin.: zhuhóng 祩宏 | Jap. Shuko, 1535-1615], was a master of the Ming Dynasty who combined Chan with Pure Land teaching. He is often credited with the revival of Buddhism in 16th century China. He is referring to the practice of nianfo - reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name, a simple devotion, performed by laypeople and monastics alike. It could be used to express simple faith or to enter deep Samadhi, and often both at once. In Japan, where it became known as nembutsu, the nianfo gradually drifted away from its origins as a meditative practice. In the Chan style advocated by Master Zhuhong, nianfo was a way of realizing “one thought-moment of awareness” for people living in the everyday world.
Later in his discourse to Liu Lo Yang of Su Chou, Zhuhong says:
“This Pure Land Path is the most primal and the most subtle and wondrous. It is also the simplest. Because it is simple, those of high intelligence overlook it. Birth and death are not apart from a single moment of mindfulness. Consequently all the myriad worldly and world-transcending teachings and methods are not apart from a single moment of mindfulness. Right now take this moment of mindfulness, and be mindful of buddha, remember buddha, recite the buddha-name. How close and cutting! What pure essential energy, so solid and real! If you see through where this mindfulness arises, this is the Amitabha of our inherent nature.
This is the meaning of the patriarch coming from the West”
Why we must Chant or repeat Amituofo?
What are the benefits of Buddha name chanting? Upon what principles is it based?
The Buddha told us that “everything arises from our mind” [chin.: yīqiè wéixīn zào 一切唯心造]. In other words, the environment is a reflection of our thoughts. Not yet having become Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, we still have discriminating and wandering thoughts, afflictions and attachments, still have greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance. The increase of these thoughts is affecting and shaping our world today. Our thoughts of ignorance cause disasters. These disasters will continue to increase in frequency and severity if nothing is done to neutralize them.
How can we neutralize them?
Chanting “Amituofo” enables us to restore our mind to purity, equality, awakening and peace. When our minds are at peace, the environment will in turn reflect serenity and tranquillity. Our thoughts create waves. Westerners referred to this as “Vibrations”. What we did not understand was the breadth that these “vibes” had. We simply thought of them on an interpersonal level. But the strength from this kind of thought wave is amazing, able to neutralize the turbulent thought waves even from other’s greed, anger, ignorance. Thus having many Buddha Name Chanters in a region will bring peace, stability, prosperity and happiness to that area.
A great Master once told to his Disciples:
For the sake of all sentient beings, may you all learn and practice mindfulness of the Buddha so that your lives will be happy and the world will be happy.
In the Shaolin tradition some old masters said that Namo Amituofo is the compassionate way of the Bodhisattvas [chin.: Púsà 菩萨].
Shaolin Master Shi Yong Po explains: “Behaving towards others with compassion and chanting only “Namo Amituofo” will enable us to enjoy infinite life. In this way we will develop our virtuous nature and uncover our infinite merits and virtues. Thus, when we pay respect to the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we need to understand that each is representative of a way of cultivation and of the truth of the universe. Shaolin tradition is a Buddhist order so we must practice the Buddhist teachings whilst we are practicing mindfulness of the Buddha.
When a Monk says “Amituofo” is like sending a blessing from his heart straight to the heart of the people. We then become a perfect guide for living beings.
With our omniscient mind we are able to effortlessly and directly see without mistake the level of mind of every living being and all the methods that fit them in order to bring them from happiness to happiness, to the peerless happiness of full enlightenment.
When a Monk says “Amituofo”, he is like saying “Everything arises from our mind”. We must give up feelings of pride, the desires for fame and wealth. We must let go of thoughts of trying to control others. Let go of narrow-mindedness and biased viewpoints. Let go of criticizing, of blaming, of gossiping. Let go of the thought of those who owe us, of those we owe. We must let go!
Only by letting go we can return to purity and tranquillity. Only in this way, our hearts will become gentle; our minds will become serene; as we give rise to the wisdom to accord with all beings, animate and inanimate. For only with gentle hearts and serene minds will we be able to solve our problems. The goodness that we can bring to others by using our loving-kindness and compassion is boundless. And this is our best, our only way to bring true peace to our world.
Not for ourselves but for the sake of all sentient beings.”
May this merit and virtue, Adorn the Buddhas' Pure Lands, Repaying the four kindnesses above, And rescuing those in the three suffering realms below. May those who see and hear of this, Bring forth the Bodhi mind and, At the end of their lives, Be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
If we had the power to control our moods we would all live a fulfilled and harmonious life.
Master Shi Yan Zhuo [Chin.: shìyánzhuó dàshī 釋延卓大师 | 1965 - ?]