Editor's comment by Householder Jingtu:
MEDITATION, MANTRAS -- AND NIANFO
By Householder Jingyue (Steve Stanley)
I started out wanting to learn to meditate as an aid against depression, as I did not want to use anti-depressant medications indefinitely. So, I joined a local Buddhist group, knowing that Buddhists meditate.
As I learned more about the Dharma, a whole world of options and answers began to open up. The teachings made sense on a practical, logical and ethical level. I began to go on retreats, and then became involved in the functional side of the organization. I helped form a local group for beginners on the Buddhist path, and designed and maintained the sangha's website. Eventually, I took the Triple Refuge. I was involved with this group for more than five years.
Things were okay for a while, but then I began to feel that something wasn't right. While this group emphasized meditation, I discovered that ritual and devotional practice was something that had a profound effect on me. This was surprising, as I had never considered myself a particularly "spiritual" person. I started to use mantras in my daily life, noticing that they just seemed to pop into my mind. Soon, liturgy began to attain a higher profile in my personal practice, as meditation slowly took a back seat.
Finally, I had to move on from this sangha and find something more fitting. It no longer was providing what I needed – as what I needed was another path.
I came across a different Buddhist group in a neighboring town. Participating in this group involved traveling in the winter dark for early morning practice, but it was worth it. This was a Pure Land sangha, and it was here that I was introduced to the nembutsu (nianfo, or Amitabha-recitation). This group used meditation techniques different from those I was used to, but all was fine. The practice was more devotional, utilizing prostrations, refuges and liturgy. I loved it. Sometimes, there were special days of continual nembutsu chanting, and after one of these, I spent three days in a state of total bliss: the normal mental chatter had ceased; the monkey-mind rested at last.
Through these experiences, I felt a growing connection with Amitabha Buddha. The nembutsu gave me clarity, mental stillness, and quickly became my primary practice. After taking refuge in this tradition, I made moves to become a priest in the order. But an unexpected change of circumstances necessitated that, regretfully, I leave the group.
Alone once more, I began an independent study of Pure Land Buddhism, its teachers and lineage-holders. Soon after, I found the Shandao lineage on Facebook; and after making contact with Householder Jingchun and then Jingtu, I asked to take refuge.
I'm thrilled to let everyone know that Master Huijing has given me the Dharma name Jingyue ( 净越, or Pure Surpassing).
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings