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Amitabha practice: Mantra recitation

Amitabha practice: Mantra recitation

Part of a series of short commentaries on the Amitabha sadhana given in preparation for the Amitabha Winter Retreat at Sravasti Abbey in 2017-2018.

  • Focusing the the blissful feeling of light and nectar
  • Focusing especially on areas of discomfort or injury
  • What to do if your mind won’t let go of certain thoughts or feelings

We’ll continue talking about the Amitabha sadhana. Yesterday we talked a little bit about the special verse of prostration, offering, and taking refuge, and then we started talking about the mantra recitation. We talked about,

With heartfelt devotion,

In other words, not with a scattered mind.

I concentrate single-pointedly on Guru Amitabha…

Who is on our head, facing the same direction as we are, with his body made of light.

From his holy body, five-colored nectar light streams down into my crown….

Remember white, yellow, red, blue, green.

…descending through my central channel….

Which starts [at the forehead], curves up at the crown, and then goes down, and then joins the two side channels below the navel, and they start [at the nose] and go up and go down. And then at each of the chakras then there are branch channels come out.

From there it flows through all the other channels of my body, completely filling it [your body] with blissful nectar and light.”

You really focus on this feeling of blissful nectar and light. In some religions, you purify by feeling bad and lousy. Or thinking that you have to feel bad and lousy. In Buddhism, you purify by experiencing bliss from making this very strong connection with Vajrasattva or one of the other deities. It’s quite a different thing. So you really have to let yourself experience some kind of bliss.

Now, I’ve been talking with many people about what does “bliss” mean? One of my friends who has been doing a long retreat and is a direct student of His Holiness, he says he thinks of “bliss” as “fulfillment.” And I thought, yes. Often when I think of bliss, I don’t know, I don’t know what to think about bliss. But the sense of fulfillment, like you’re at peace, you feel good. Or whatever kind of blissful feeling….

Sometimes they say to use the example of sexual bliss, but I don’t think that’s particularly helpful because then your mind starts going to sexual bliss and to sex and then you’re off your object of meditation real quick.

But the thing is to imagine your whole body filled like this.

“All the hindrances…” You can think afflictive obscurations, cognitive obscurations, what they call the inferior obscuration (which refers to the self-centered thought), and any obstacles to attaining the various levels of meditative absorption. All of that is completely gone.

All hindrances, illness, and untimely death are completely purified.

“Illness.” The light and nectar go to every part of your body, if there’s illness or injury, and really feel that it gets healed.

So be aware, and is there part of your body that you hate or you ignore, or somehow your mind is saying, “No, i can’t let bliss into my right side,” or something like that. Just relax and let that happen.

And then it purifies untimely death, so like I said yesterday, we’re born with a certain karmic lifespan but if a very heavy negative karma created in the past ripens it can cause us to have an untimely death without the full lifespan being experienced. We don’t want to have that happen.

All negative emotions and disturbing attitudes, [wrong views], especially grasping at true existence, totally disappear.

Your anger? Gone. Your clinging attachment? Gone. Your emotional neediness, gone. Your jealousy, gone. Everything that you don’t like about yourself, it’s gone. Your self-pity is gone. That’s one of the things maybe you’re most attached to. “I’ll let go of everything, but not my self-pity, because who am I if I don’t feel sorry for myself? Or if I don’t feel like the world’s against me and hasn’t treated me right.” You know, this identity that we have of being a victim of the world, and everything. People are so prejudiced against MY group. All of that stuff we completely put down.

If your mind won’t let you put it down, and your mind says, “But but but…… We live in this world, and this is unfair, and this is unjust…” Then stop and look at your mind and ask yourself. “Okay, I’m holding onto some identity here. I’m holding onto some thought. What is the ultimate nature of that thought? What is the ultimate nature of that identity? If I search and find that thing that I’m holding so strongly what will I come up with?” You do some emptiness meditation on it. And then the thing that you were holding onto so strongly, you can’t find it when you search for what it really is, and then your mind realizes, “Okay, I don’t need to make such a big deal about this. It’s not something that’s findable under analysis. It may exist conventionally, but it exists because it’s part of a dependently arisen world that is created on the basis of ignorance. This is not some kind of ultimate truth or ultimate identity, or something that I need to [grasp] about.”

And then if it is about some injustice, then after you do some meditation on emptiness, when you come back to say, “Okay, well maybe there’s some conventional existence to it,” you come back with a bodhisattva’s attitude which realizes, “Okay, this thing is created dependently on many factors. Dependent on the whole setup of the whole world.” Especially when we say, “This is unfair, this is unjust, there’s bias, there’s prejudice,” all of that depends on how we together have created society. Because society exists because of our thought. And how we think society should be is because of our thought. We have this idea of justice, which incidentally I never hear my teachers talk about, and I don’t know of a Tibetan word for justice. Compassion, yes. Equality, yes. Justice? But anyway… And that’s actually a really good one to question. What do we mean by “justice”? Because I bet you, if we all wrote out our definition of “justice” and if we had everybody in the country write out their idea of justice, you would probably have a whole lot of different ideas about what it is.

So to really question these kinds of things and see how they are created by sentient beings’ thought, and sentient beings’ thought is based in grasping at inherent existence. It’s based in not understanding the law of karma and its effects. We can look at these things, but we look with compassion. We’re letting go of our grasping at these things as inherently existent. So then when we look at societal problems we can say yes, they exist, they’re dependent on many factors. And having a bodhisattva’s perspective, we realize that when the causes cease these problems will cease, so these problems are not a given, they’re not a must. But we also realize that we cannot control everything. That yes, things are created by many different factors, and these different factors pertain to everybody who’s living in this universe. And I can’t control the whole thing. So I’m not going to get all wigged out about things I can’t control. Instead I’m going to have an optimistic attitude and look at the things that I can do to contribute to a better world, and to contribute to a better inside world of love and compassion and so on. But I’m not going to get all frazzled about the state of the world because we recognize that this is samsara and what do we expect? And if we don’t like samsara then we should work to get out of it. And if we don’t like other sentient beings being in samsara and suffering, then we should try and become buddhas so we can help them get out of it. Because who are you going to blame for the existence of samsara? If you trace all the injustice and unfairness back to samsara, what are you going to blame? What’s the root of samsara? Our own ignorance. So there’s no person, there’s no external being to blame for it. It arises due to sentient beings’ ignorance.

So when we do this visualization we try and understand what is the first link, ignorance, that is starting off this whole chain of samsara? And think that that is getting purified and it is vanishing. And so doing some meditation on emptiness at that point as well.

That’s the purification side. then we also think that Amitabha’s good qualities are flowing into us. Remember, this is the point (you think of) the four self-confidences, and the ten powers, and the eighteen un-shared qualities, and everything else, and so really think that those thing are coming into you.

If that’s too inconceivable to think about just think that a calm, peaceful mind is coming into you. Think that you’re gaining more compassion. Think that you’re gaining more self-confidence. And a kind of self-confidence that is together, not with arrogance, but with wisdom. And so the good qualities that you want to develop as the light and nectar comes in think that you are gaining those. And so focus on that for a while. It makes us think, “What kind of good qualities do I want to have? I can list all of the things I don’t like about myself like that. But what kind of good qualities do I want to develop?” Because if we don’t have an idea of the good qualities we want to develop, how are we going to develop them? So think about that. Think about all the stages of developing the three principal aspects of the path. Think of the eightfold noble path, of the ten paramitas, ten perfections. Think of whatever good qualities you think you would like to develop. And think that they’re really coming into you.

My body becomes crystal clear like a rainbow, and my mind becomes peaceful and free from craving.

Now, what would it feel like to have a mind that is peaceful and free from craving? A mind that can sit there and say, “I’m completely content”? Without wanting something to change and bring about something that is a little bit more interesting than the present moment. Or what we’re experiencing at the present.

Because you know how sometimes we get really restless. We feel restless. So we start doing this. Then we think, oh, I can do that. Then we go over and we do that. “Oh, I can go take a walk. Oh, I’ll check my email. Oh, I can go watch this Dharma video. Oh, I can go read this book.” We never finish anything because we’re always looking for something else that is going to be better than what we’re doing right now. Even though the things we choose that we think are going to be more interesting are not necessarily our favorite activities. But it’s just this thing of, “I’ve got to keep moving. I can’t sit still.” So imagine just having that ability to sit there, be perfectly calm, open to the world, full of compassion, full of wisdom, and you don’t need to do anything else. And you don’t need to prove your existence to anybody, or prove your capability to anybody, or do three backflips so you deserve to have lunch. You can just sit there and be wise and compassionate. That’s hard! Isn’t it? With our minds? That’s so hard. I’d better check the microphone. I’d better see if that cover of this book is flat. Look at what our mind does? It’s amazing, isn’t it?

We can focus on just the visualization for a while, and then add the mantra to it. Like I said yesterday, sometimes having the visualization stronger, the mantra in the background. Other times the mantra is stronger, the visualization in the background. Sometimes with the mantra just focus on the energy of the mantra, the feeling of the mantra. Because the mantra has a certain energy, and when you’re saying it you can feel the energy of your mantra in your own body. And I know sometimes, when I say whatever mantra that it is, it’s very clear to me that the energy of the mantra and my energy are not matching at this moment. My energy is frazzled, it’s competitive, whatever it is. The mantra is peaceful. I can’t get my mind completely to settle in the vibration of the mantra. It’s good to notice that, and then you think, “Oh, I walk around all day like this.” And so trying to just let that go. And then by saying the mantra and getting your whole body and mind, the internal vibration of your winds, in tune with the mantra, it can really make you feel quite settled. So you can do that sometimes, too.

Now, the mantra here. Here it has:

Om amideva hrih

I always looked at that and said, “That’s very strange. Om amideva hrih.” Because it should be “Amitabha.” And “deva” usually means like a god. And sometimes it’s spelled with a W: d-e-w-a. And so some people think it’s referring to dewachen, Amitabha’s pure land, but Dewachen is the Tibetan name, and this mantra is supposed to be in Sanskrit. And also you remember when Pari Rinpoche gave us the jenang he gave us the mantra “om Amitabha hrih soha.” Then I came across something that said the mantra should be “om Amitabha hrih.” I went, yes, that makes much more sense. Om Amitabha hrih. You know how when the Tibetans try and pronounce Sanskrit sometimes it turns our very, very different than the Sanskrit. Vajra becomes Benza. And if you look, many of the words. Svaha becomes Soha. Many other words, the way the Tibetans pronounce them very far from the Sanskrit. Same with the Chinese. The Prajnaparamita sutra. It comes out quite different. So some people say to say it according to the Sanskrit. Some people say to follow your teacher, how your teacher pronounces it. So it could be either way. But to me it makes so much more sense, om amitabha hrih. Or om amitabha hrih soha. I think you could do it either way like that.

It says:

Recite the mantra as many times as you like, while continuing to do the visualization. At the end of the recitation, rest the mind single-pointedly on Amitabha and feel completely free from obscurations.

Next time we’ll talk about the aspirations, and go through that. Because that’s something you can think about after you say the mantra and do the visualization. Sometimes it’s good you can think about this during the mantra. Because sometimes you need to keep your mind occupied because it doesn’t just stay on the visualization and the mantra so easily, so you need to have some other virtuous thoughts to put in your mind so that you aren’t meditating on your boyfriend, girlfriend, lunch, or what somebody did to you 35 years ago. Keep the mind in virtue somehow when we’re doing the mantra.

Audience: Can bliss be compared to rapture? Could it be referring to, like in the jhanas, there’s rapture.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): There are many different kinds of bliss. You aren’t in jhana at this time, so it wouldn’t be the same kind of bliss that you find in dhyana. Also, as you go up the dhyanas, by the time you get to the third dhyana, joy or rapture is gone. The fourth jhana also bliss is gone. So equanimity is considered actually better. Because they say joy and bliss, they can be slightly [stimulating].

[In response to audience] You’re not just chanting, you’re not just light coming, but really feel like you are creating a relationship with Amitabha Buddha. And Amitabha’s available to all of us all the time, and we need to create that relationship.

Audience: It says in the prayer that you can think of the past, present, and future buddhas, the past, present, and future merits that you have, and you imagine all of that. Can you talk a little bit about this?

VTC: When we talk about past, present, and future buddhas, we’re really seeing that there are buddhas here all the time, and there will be buddhas. From the side of the buddhas, the buddhas are never going to abandon us and leave us alone. It gives us that kind of confidence. From the side of past, present, and future merit when we dedicate: the merit we and others created in the past, what we’re creating now, what we will create in the future, all of these things are existent phenomena. They don’t necessarily exist now in this present, but the past merit, the future merit are existent things. So we rejoice. And especially when we think like this then it helps us think beyond just rejoicing at our own merit and the merit of human beings, but we start thinking of the merit of the arhats, of the bodhisattvas through the ten grounds of the buddhas. Because we one day, future merit will be our merit created when we become these high level bodhisattvas. So it kind of broadens our scope of what we’re rejoicing at. And it really helps us to see that there is a lot of goodness in this world. Because sometimes our minds just get very [narrow], and we forget the big perspective.

Audience: A thought that arose in my mind when I thought about that is, oh, nothing can stop me from going to Sukhavati.

VTC: Nothing external can stop you from going to Sukhavati. It’s your own mind. Nothing else.

Audience: Thinking that everything is there, it’s like, huh, nothing can stop me.

VTC: Yes. Sukhavati is there. Amitabha’s teaching all the bodhisattvas right now. Teaching all the sentient beings. We aren’t there. We haven’t created the causes. But like you said, there’s nothing stopping us. We don’t need to purchase tickets to go Sukhavati. None of this kind of stuff.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.