Early in the morning on December 23, 2007, while most people were still rushing around in the department stores attempting to finish some last minute Christmas shopping, or hopping from one Christmas party to the next, the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) began its annual Amitabha Buddha Recitation.
While my husband and I have lived in CTTB for several years now, this was the first time we had a chance to participate in this recitation together. Because in the past, both of us had mothers in their 90's and we always went tovisit them during the school vacations. The 7-day Amitabha Buddha Recitation has always been held during the second part of December which coincides with the school's winter break, and hence we were not around to take part in it. Now both of our mothers have passed away, and we made the decision six months ago to fully participate in this Amitabha Buddha Recitation.
However, we worried about whether we could participate for the full seven days. First of all, we would need to get up at 5:00 am, and we not be back home until almost 10:00 pm with barely a 30 minute break at noon during the sevendays. Would senior citizens like us have the stamina to do it? Secondly, would our legs survive the six hour long sits per day for seven days? Thirdly, could lifelong busy bees like us really just sit and do nothing other than reciting Buddha’s name for seven days? Would we be able to concentrate? We were fully aware of all these challenges, but we would not know the answer until we tried it. So we decided not to think further, and just resolved to do our best. We really looked forward to getting a firsth and experience of reciting Buddha's name.
When we walked into the Buddha Hall on the first morning, we were amazed that the Buddha Hall was pretty full witheven the last rows taken. We thought maybe just like most of our recitations, there usually were a lot more people on the weekends then on weekdays. But later we realized that because of the Christmas holiday, most people actually stayed for at least three days; some of them went back to work for a couple days and came back to finish the session; and some people came for the last three days. Therefore, the Buddha Hall was full the whole seven days. Many people were commenting that there were a lot more people this year than before. In addition, quite a few westerners of all ages came and participated. Some of them just sat quietly in the chairs at the back and listened to the recitation; some of them joined us for walking recitation; some of them participated in sitting recitation and the transference of merit.
The ages of the participants ranged from 4 years old to 90 years old. There were a few Instilling Goodness Elementary School students participated the full 7 days. It is really admirable, and these kids' future will undoubtedly be limitless. The 4 year old little boy kept himself quiet without a sound while everyone else was meditating. That was also very amazing.
Here are our experiences on our first Amitabha Buddha Recitation Session. Following the singing of Incense Praise and reciting The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra, we started the walking recitation similar to what we normally do in the evening recitations, and then we sat down for the sitting recitation. Toward the last ten minutes of every sit, the legs got unbearably sore, and I could not help but massage them in an attempt to ease the soreness while trying hard to focus on recitation. This was pretty much how we got through our first day of Amitabha Buddha Recitation. How well did we do? All we can say was that we persevered and did not quit even though it was quite difficult. There was a side benefit though. After sitting in half lotus for most of the day, we could feel how our physical condition had deteriorated during the years as a result of slacking off on our health routine. The blockage of the energy flow in several places in the legs made sitting much more challenging. Given this timely warning, we started a routine of doing some yoga and warm up exercises as well as some pressure point massage to open up these blockages. By the fourth day, we could sit with our back straight and concentrate on the recitation.
Almost every day during the session we received some pointers on recitation from the compassionate Dharma Masters. For example, on the first day, we thought the schedule for the day ended after the Transference of Merit in the Rebirth Hall without knowing there was a Great Transference of Merit at around 9:00 pm, the so called ‘Running to the West’. Luckily a Dharma Master kindly explained to us the meaning of the Great Transference of Merit, and the reason why it’s very important that we participate in it. The compassionate Dharma Master added, “You may want to get some rest after a long day, but make sure that you come to the Great Transference of Merit.” We participated in the Great Transference of Merit at the end of the second day, and really experienced what the Dharma Master told us. We were amazed that after such a long day, everyone were still so energetic and in such good spirits ‘running to the West’; all were singing loud and clear with a very quick tempo matching the running speed. It really felt like the vibrations of the three strikes of the large bell were going to the center of the earth and the edge of the universe, and they removed all the separations of time and space.
The biggest enemy of reciting the Buddha's name with concentration is our false thoughts. We lose our concentration the minute a thought enters our mind. In other words, we might still be reciting the Buddha's name while there is a stream of endless thoughts going through our minds continuously. The Dharma Master explained to us that there were several Dharma doors to help us increase our concentration. They are 1) Mindfulness of the Buddha's real appearance; 2) Mindfulness of the Buddha through contemplating his image; 3) Mindfulness of the Buddha through contemplation; and 4) Mindfulness of the Buddha through reciting his name. The Dharma Master told us that she knew of many people, including herself, who found the dharma door of ‘mindfulness of the Buddha through reciting his name’ to be particularly helpful. Here is how to do it: When we are reciting ‘Namo Amita Buddha,’ we attentively pronounce every word clearly; our ears hear every sound clearly, and our mind sees every Chinese character we are reciting very clearly. She encouraged us to try this method. To our surprise, although this method sounded pretty straightforward, it's not as easy as it seemed. But once we got the hang of it, it really was a lot easier to focus while reciting.
Another Dharma Master taught us how to do silent recitation. He said that we could focus on hearing our own voice reciting the Buddha’s name in silence; or we could try to hear/recall the voice of recitation of the group while we were doing the walking recitation. After we have mastered this second way, gradually we will be able to hear that voice any time and any place. These two excellent dharma doors sure will help us reach the state where our mind is concentrated and disciplined.
Reciting the Buddha's name with the utmost sincerity and concentration together with several hundred people for seven days in a row sure was a rare and awesome experience. The energy was divine and the sound was so harmonious. After having recited for just a few days, it sure feels like we can hear that pure and serene sound anytime and any place. We got the answer to the question: what would it be like if we did absolutely nothing except reciting the Buddha’s name for seven days? It really makes us become a lot more serene and calm; our clarity is enhanced; our priorities become much clearer; and our productivity seems increased as well. We look forward to the two-week Amitabha Buddha Recitation at the end of 2008. We also hope that, like the several three-day Chan sessions held every year, there will be a couple of three-day Amitabha Buddha Recitation sessions during the year. Amitabha!