Namu Amida Butsu
Hi everyone. I hope you are rejoicing in the spiritual blessing of the Nembutsu through Amida’s great wisdom and compassion. This month, I would like to share with you my understanding of Nembutsu.
When we come to the temple or attend a religious gathering, we recite the Nembutsu. However, if someone asks you, "What is the Nembutsu?" How would you answer that question? I believe that many of you may not be able to answer the question and that you may find it difficult to explain something about Jodo Shinshu. It’s like someone trying to explain the difference between Amida Buddha and Shakyamuni Buddha. Some of you may know the answer while others may be reluctant to answer. "If I give the wrong answer, I may be embarrassed.”
As Jodo Shinshu followers, we should know that Amida Buddha is "Infinite Light and Life" which is our homage and Shakyamuni Buddha is the person who attained Enlightenment and explained to us about Amida’s great wisdom and compassion.
Let me share with you my interpretation of the Nembutsu. Nembutsu is written with two Chinese characters. The first letter "Nem" is originally "Sati" in Sanskrit and it is means "to learn" or "to deeply think" or "to be very careful" or "to realize" and the second letter "Butsu" which is the Buddha or Enlightened One. So, the term "Nembutsu" means, "Deeply thinking of the Buddha, to learn Buddha’s true heart which is his guidance. So for us, Nembutsu means to "recite Amida Buddha’s Holy Name with true a mind of gratitude and appreciation." This is a simple and direct translation of Nembutsu.
By the way, a temple member asked, "Sensei, which is the correct way for us to recite the Nembutsu? Do we recite "NAMO Amida Butsu" or "NAMU Amida Butsu?" Are there differences between these two ways of recitation? For me, Namo or Namu is not a big issue, but for the lady, she didn’t want to make a mistake in front of others. So, I explained to her about this issue. Originally, Nembutsu, in Chinese character, was spoken in two ways— “Namo Amida Butsu or Namu Amida Butsu." However, at our Mother temple it is "NAMO Amida Butsu." But, even if it is set at the Hongwanji temple, many of the Hongwanji ministers, still recite Nembutsu as "NAMU Amida Butsu." However, I believe both are acceptable. As long as we recite Amida Buddha’s Holy name with the mind of gratitude and joy, it is fine.
Let me explain to you about Nembutsu. Namo Amida Butsu is the Japanese way of pronouncing a Sanskrit phrase that is very difficult to pronouncing perfectly. The Chinese pronunciation is "Namo Ami tau fo," and the Sanskrit pronunciation is "Namo Ami ta bha" or "Namo Amita yus." However, the meaning of this phrase is "Infinite Light and Infinite Life." However, when Pure Land Teachings were transmitted from China to Japan, the leaders of the Tendai sect read it as "Namo Amida Butsu" instead of the Chinese way of pronunciation. Since then, people started to use the Japanese way of pronunciation which is "Namo Amida Butsu."
However, because it was written in the Chinese characters and can be read as "NAMU Amida Butsu" many followers, including some ministers, were reading and reciting it as "NAMO Amida Butsu or NAMU Amida Butsu." Today, even in Japan and many foreign countries, Hongwanji members are reciting in both ways.
"Namo or Namu" means, "to rely upon" or "entrust oneself to." "Amida" is a word taken from the first part of "Amitabha" and "Amitayus," which means "Infinite Light and Infinite Life." Thus "Amida" has a meaning of "Infinite." "Butsu" is the Japanese way of pronouncing Buddha, which means, "the Enlightened One" or "Awakened One." So putting it all together, "Namo Amida Butsu or Namu Amida Butsu" refers to the fact that eternal truth in the forms of "Infinite Light" which is Wisdom of Amida and "Infinite Life" which is the Compassion of Amida penetrates and continually works toward our highest goal which is enlightenment.
When we say "Aloha," are we thinking of its meaning or are we expressing our gratitude or appreciation? I think this word comes naturally from our mouth. When Hawaiians say "Aloha” they are expressing gratitude and appreciation, so it’s not necessary to think about what they are saying. I think "Nembutsu" is the same, when we recite Nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu, we don’t need to have any reason or purpose. Amida Buddha is always working with us. As long as we recite the Nembutsu, we are one with Amida. Why? Whenever we recite this Holy Name, Amida Buddha is reciting together with us; we are one with Amida.
So, when you come to the temple, offer incense and recite the Nembutsu. I believe you will feel comfortable and tranquil. Why? Because you are one with Amida and receiving his great wisdom and compassionate heart.
On March 8, we will be observing our Spring Ohigan Service with the Shaku Arthur Kaufmann of Lihue Hongwanji Mission, who will be our guest speaker. Ohigan is time for all of us to reflect upon our lives. May this be an opportunity for all of us to reevaluate ourselves and if we are able to be aware of Namo Amida Butsu is a similar understanding of the Aloha spirit, I think we are living with joy and happiness with Amida Buddha’s infinite wisdom and compassion.
So, with these great minds of appreciation and great feeling of tranquility, naturally Nembutsu flows out from our mouth as "Nan man da-bu, Nan man da-bu." I believed that Nembutsu is a precious gift from Amida Buddha.