Special Topics

Let's Recite the Buddha's Name

For many people, "Amitofuo (Amitabha Buddha)" is a Buddhist chant they had heard even before they were familiar with Buddhism. However, "reciting the Buddha's name" is still a method of practice not fully understood by many, even after years of learning Buddhism. So why recite the Buddha's name?

Chanting the Buddha's name originated from the Six Recollections during Buddha's time: recollection of the Buddha, recollection of the Dharma, recollection of the Sangha, recollection of virtue (morality), recollection of generosity, and recollection of gods (deities). There are frequent narratives in the Agamas scriptures of Buddha teaching his lay disciples to utilize the Six Recollections to protect and rein in their minds when faced with pain and ailment, life and death separations, feelings of helplessness or incapability, or when travelling alone or afraid from being in the wilderness.

Among the Six Recollections, the recollection of the Buddha is a form of meditative contemplation. While reciting the Buddha's name, practitioners recollect the virtues and deeds of the Buddha: contemplating how the Buddha took the path towards inner awakening and liberation and transcended the endless cycle of birth, aging, sickness, and death. Hence, reciting the Buddha's name is not just chanting verbally but, more importantly, chanting from the heart while recollecting the features, characteristics and qualities of the Buddha, so as to attain a pure and clean mind, filled with happiness, peace and stability.

In the early stages of Mahayana Buddhism, numerous expedient methods of Buddha recollection were developed such as reciting the Buddha's name, visualizing the Buddha, and contemplating the Buddha. More so, Buddha-name recitation was expanded to include the names of all Buddhas of the ten directions and three existences. Among all these Dharma methods, Sakyamuni Buddha has the highest recommendation and praise for the recitation of Amitabha Buddha's name. The fundamental vow of Amitabha Buddha is to accept all sentient beings without discrimination. Therefore, even a person who commits wrongdoings may be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss upon his death , as long as the Amitabha Buddha's name is recited ten times with the deepest sincerity. In this way, Amitabha Buddha has the strongest karmic affinity with sentient beings in this Saha world, and reciting the Buddha's name is also the easiest method of practice. Not only do Pure Land practitioners recite the Buddha's name, but also patriarchs of the Tiantai, Huayen, and Chan Schools. The best example is Venerable Master Sheng Yen, an internationally renowned Chan meditation instructor, who not only practiced Buddha-name recitation himself, but also taught and encouraged his followers to do the same.

One extraordinary and praiseworthy element of Buddha-name recitation is that although it is one of numerous methods of practice, it covers all of their essence. A single chant of "Amitabha Buddha" can connect all the methods of practice, from the most rudimentary to the most advanced. Beginners in Buddhism can learn to attain peace of mind and body through reciting Amitabha Buddha's name; Pure Land practitioners are guaranteed to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss through the power of Amitabha Buddha's vow; and Chan practitioners can also return to their intrinsic nature through meditative contemplation while reciting the Buddha's name. Even if the recitation method is not one's chosen practice, one can always rely on "Amitabha Buddha" chanting to reinvigorate oneself, and continue practicing with diligence when faced with life's hardships, setbacks, or stagnation in one's practice.

Extended Reading:

Let's Recite the Buddha's Name

Q1: Why do Buddhists always greet each other with "Buddha Amitabha (Amituofo, in Chinese)"?

Q2 : To perform Buddha-name recitation, should we limit ourselves to only reciting Amitabha Buddha"? Or would reciting several Buddhas'names afford additional blessings and protection?

Q3: Is reciting the Buddha's name a practice exclusively for the sick and the elderly?

Q4: Are prayer beads or counters necessary when reciting the Buddha's name?

Q5: What is the difference between reciting the Buddha's name and chanting a dharani?

Q6: Is it proper to recite the Buddha chant while having a shower or using the toilet?

Q7: When ill, is it more effective to recite the name of Medicine Buddha or Guanyin Bodhisattva?

Resource: Issue 392 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photo: Rui-en Wu (吳瑞恩) 
Translation: Cheng-yu Chang (張振郁)
Editing: Jessie Goulter, Keith Brown