Nembutsu as Self-Reflection

From time to time, when life gets me really flustered or frustrated, or I am just frustrated with myself, I use my special rosary from Kamakura, and recite a full cycle (about 1080 times) of the nembutsu (the Buddha’s name). This doesn’t sound as intense as you might think since the nembutsu is very short, and you can do this in about 15-20 minutes.

But within that 15-20 minutes, I started noticing the same cycle of thoughts in my head:

  • Joy – “I’m glad I am doing this. I should do it more often.”
  • Laziness – “This is too hard, I should quit or end early.”
  • Impatience – “How much further?”
  • Mind wanders – I start thinking about how this will sound great on a blog…. ironic, no?
  • Determination – “I will make it!”
  • Pride – “I am proud I made it this far.”
  • Doubt – “Am I doing enough? Is it really working?”
  • Ambition – “Hey, I’ve made it this far, why not just do another cycle?”
  • Fatigue – “OK, that’s enough.”

This is more or less the same order that goes through my head on an “average” night when I recite the nembutsu like this. The order isn’t important, but it’s really interesting how in only 15-20 minutes, I have so many different thoughts shifting and changing.

The Buddha explained that people’s minds, when untrained and unfocused, are like monkeys constantly jumping around from branch to branch, such as this verse from the Dhammapada:

334. The craving of one given to heedless living grows like a creeper. Like the monkey seeking fruits in the forest, he leaps from life to life (tasting the fruit of his kamma).

As written in a recent post, this happens all the time, but normally we’re not aware of it because it’s our normal mode of existence, and we get pulled along this way and that by all these thoughts that arise. But Buddhist practice is useful because it helps you build focus so that even if these thoughts arise for no good reason, you are not necessarily ruled by them.

The fact that I can finish the full-recitation of the nembutsu without quitting after the first feelings of laziness means there is hope for me yet. :p

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About Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.
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4 Responses to Nembutsu as Self-Reflection

  1. Jeremias says:

    Sounds familiar… I have the same train of thoughts during, well, almost any project :) And I never learn.

  2. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi Jeremias, i don’t think it’s a matter of learning. It’s almost impossible to stop those thoughts because they build up so much momentum from your past.

    Instead, I think it’s about being aware of them so they don’t control you. That’s where concentration meditation is helpful. :-)

  3. Danny C says:

    This is only sort of related to the post, but when reciting the Nembutsu, how exactly should one pronounce it? I usually say the entire thing (Namu Amida Butsu), but I saw in one of your Beginner Buddhism videos that you pronounced it something like “N’amida buts'” which sounds easier to recite. I’ve also seen “Na man da bu” and “Nanmaida.”

  4. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi Danny,

    Good question. I tended to learn it the Jodo Shinshu way even though I am not affiliated with them anymore.

    Part of it is Japanese language. The “tsu” at the end can often be shortened to just “ts” sound in casual speech plus other shortcuts exist. Thats some of what you’re hearing.

    As to what’s right, there is no clear answer. The Immeasurable Life Sitra says that reciting Amitabha’s name as little as 10 times will help you be reborn in the Pure Land so how you recite it is not clarified. So in the past there were many, many ways to don’t. I think the intention is really important as well as the sense of determination.

    Hope that helps.

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