Reciting nembutsu with a distracted mind

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ford_truckin
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Reciting nembutsu with a distracted mind

Post by ford_truckin » Mon May 13, 2019 9:29 pm

Do the recitations still count as valid? Anything the masters had to say about it?

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Mönlam Tharchin
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Re: Reciting nembutsu with a distracted mind

Post by Mönlam Tharchin » Mon May 13, 2019 9:32 pm

From Master Honen in "Promise of Amida Buddha":
Q. (5): Remembering to repeat nembutsu continually seems to be difficult. Although I hold a string of prayer beads in my hand, my thoughts wander. Under these circumstances, would my nembutsu not be the true practice for birth in the Pure Land? If it is not, would my attainment of this birth become uncertain?

Master Honen: The teaching of the continual recitation of nembutsu without cessation means to do your best given your capacity. Reflect upon yourself and evaluate yourself mentally and physically as to what extent you can devote yourself to nembutsu. To think undesirable thoughts during nembutsu is a matter of habit for all common mortals. However, the wandering of your mind does not become a hindrance for birth in the Pure Land if you recite nembutsu with the aspiration for birth in the Pure Land. For example, there may be misunderstandings at times between parent and child, but as long as they do not think of disowning each other, these misunderstandings do not sever the relationship. One who wishes to attain birth in the Pure Land through nembutsu may, during recitation, stray toward the worldly passions of greed and anger. But if one maintains faith in the promise of Amida Buddha for birth in the Pure Land through nembutsu, one will certainly achieve birth in the Pure Land.
Myohen: ... I would like to ask you another question.
Although I recite nembutsu, my heart is still distracted. What does one do?

Honen: Even I, Genku, am powerless over distractions.

Myohen: What, then, can I do?

Honen: I believe that birth in the Pure Land is possible by relying upon the power of the essential vow, reciting the name of Amida Buddha in spite of distractions. In brief, the primary cause for birth in the Pure Land is nothing but reciting nembutsu fervently.

...

After Myohen-sozu's departure, Honen-shonin addressed the priests in his presence as follows: "The hearts of all beings born into the realm of desire are wracked by distracting thoughts. This state is because all beings born human have eyes and noses. Therefore, it is impossible to extinguish distractions in the mind completely and then attain birth in the Pure Land. Nonetheless, birth in the Pure Land is possible through nembutsu, despite one's distracted thinking, and this is the wonder of the essential vow. I completely understand Myohen-sozu's doubts regarding how to cope with a distracted mind in spite of his recitation of nembutsu."
With a heart wandering in ignorance down this path and that, to guide me I simply say Namu-amida-butsu. -- Ippen

If in your heart you hold the thought, "I shall continue to utter the nembutsu," the Buddha will turn his attention to you, and thus you are one among those who are thought about and cherished. -- Master Hōnen

ford_truckin
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Re: Reciting nembutsu with a distracted mind

Post by ford_truckin » Mon May 13, 2019 9:49 pm

That was helpful. Thank you

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Mönlam Tharchin
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Re: Reciting nembutsu with a distracted mind

Post by Mönlam Tharchin » Thu May 16, 2019 1:01 am

I'm surprised no one else has said anything yet.

I'll add a little more info based on what I've read. Apologies if any of this repeats what you already know.

In the Chinese Pure Land materials I've seen from Masters Yinguang and Chu-hung, distracted nianfo (nembutsu) is a necessary tool in daily life, but focused nianfo, during a practice session at home for example, is more efficacious in bringing benefit and removing obstacles.
Nembutsu-samadhi is a goal.
So you nianfo whether distracted or not.

There's sometimes an emphasis on the various grades of lotus pool birth in the Visualization Sutra, and teachings on attaining samadhi or "turning the ilght around" or asking "who is reciting the Buddha's name?"

In Honen's school, Nembutsu-samadhi is understood to be very difficult and unlikely for the average person.
The emphasis is on developing a mind of reliance on Amida and his Vows in daily life.
He relies on Shandao's teaching on the Threefold Devotional Heart as the epitome of that attitude.

Honen taught that nembutsu nurtures and develops this Threefold Heart, so we can say nembutsu in any condition or state of mind, and still benefit.
From that view, the continuity of practice (and the benefit nembutsu brings) is spread over your entire life, not necessarily only in an unbroken line from thought to thought.
So you nembutsu whether distracted or not.
Funny how that works out, isn't it? :smile:

The interplay between distraction, remembering nembutsu, and saying nembutsu is very interesting to explore.

I can provide some resources/readings on any of the above if interested.
With a heart wandering in ignorance down this path and that, to guide me I simply say Namu-amida-butsu. -- Ippen

If in your heart you hold the thought, "I shall continue to utter the nembutsu," the Buddha will turn his attention to you, and thus you are one among those who are thought about and cherished. -- Master Hōnen

steveb1
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Re: Reciting nembutsu with a distracted mind

Post by steveb1 » Sat May 18, 2019 11:01 pm

In the Jodo Shinshu/Shin school of Shinran, Amida Buddha himself invests our Nembutsu with the necessary gratitude to make it an expression of perfect faith, or Shinjin. So for Shin practitioners, even though the Nembutsu is obviously meant to be said with full alertness and gratitude, sometimes when our attention lapses, still we rest easy in the knowledge that the Buddha's grace is sufficient to make each Nembutsu recitation "perfect". So for Shin people, it's never a matter of repeating the Nembutsu until we "get it right", because its "rightness" is a function of Amida Buddha's grace and merit - not our own self-effort.

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