Monday, November 17, 2008

Buddhist Chant - Namu Amida Butsu

Namu Amida Butsu means "total reliance upon the compassion of Amida Buddha.
Nembutsu literally means "to think of Buddha." Nen (nien in Chinese and smṛiti in Sanskrit) is "to keep in memory." According to Shinran Shonin however it is more than a mere remembering of Buddha, it is thinking his Name,
holding it in mind. The Name consists of six characters or syllables: na-mu-a-mi-da-buts(u) in Japanese pronunciation and nan-wu-o-mi-to-fo in Chinese. In actuality, the Name contains more than Buddha's name, for Namu is added to it. Namu is namas (or namo) in Sanskrit and means "adoration" or "salutation." The Name therefore is "Adoration for Amida Buddha," and this is made to stand for Amida's "Name."
According to belief those who in sincerity recite the nembutsu will be reborn in pure land. Pure land signifies a place where there is no differentiation. Where all existence is in pure undifferentiated energy.

This philosophy has a familiar ring in the Vedic chant in veneration of Shiva or Narayana; “Om namo nama shivaya” or "Om namo Narayana"
The adoration comes from the profound meaning these simple words carry. If we take into consideration the emanations of sound ‘Om’ and ‘na-mo’ (the two syllables separated), Om and Mo are polar opposites and signify matter and antimatter. When these two are brought together, through a negating act ('na') , there is total annihilation and immense pure energy is released for new creation. This energy, which is the embodiment of destruction and new creation, is the symbolism of Shiva.

The name Narayana is a Sanskrit tatpurusha compound of nara ("human, man") and ayana ("eternal, without ending").Tradition associates the nara element with another meaning of "water", explaining the name as indicating the all-pervasive nature of Narayana as that of an infinite ocean of energy in which the never-ending movement of birth, life and death of the cosmos occurs. Narayana, according to this etymology, is the one who moves in the infinite waters and is also the water itself. This close association of Narayana with water explains the frequent depiction of Narayana in Hindu art as standing or sitting on an ocean. Another important translation of Narayana is "The supreme Man who is the foundation of all men".

Hence the poem of Dr. Kenryu T. Tsuji, the abbot of Ekoji Temple starts with Nembutsu being the sound of the universe.

The Nembutsu is the sound of the universe.
It is the sound of the wind
as it rustles the leaves;
It is the roar of the waves
as they rush toward the shore;
It is the song of the robin, the whippoorwill
and the chorus of cicadas on a summer evening.

The Nembutsu is naturalness...
The first cry of the baby
as it emerges into the world
from the darkness of the mother's womb;
It is the powerful cry of independence
of individuality, of selfhood;
But it is also the great cry of awakening
to its dependence on something greater than self...
for its sustenance.

The Nembutsu is the proclamation of the Buddha...
"Above heaven and below heaven,
I alone am the World Honored One."
It is the ultimate declaration of life;
I alone hold my destiny in my hand
leading to perfect Buddhahood.

When I touch the heart of reality,
It is Namu Amida Butsu...
What else can I say?
When I truly share someone's happiness,
it is Namu Amida Butsu;
And in that moment of deep grief
over a loved one's death,
it is just Namu Amida Butsu.

Namu Amida Butsu...
it is the song of gratitude
not of my finding the Buddha,
but Buddha finding me.

Love to you all


  1. In happiness or sadness it is the name of Buddha that stands with us.
    The Thiruvasagam words " sodhiyane thunnirule"(You are the light and you are also the darkness) very rightly coincides with this beautiful verse!

  2. Great Blog.

    (Somewhere I read or heard the following). OM (ஓம்)is pranau mantra. When we say O (ஓ) we take Prana (oxygen) in and M(ம்) we expel carbon dioxide out. Chanting “OoooooMmmmmm” (ஓஓஓஓஓஓம்ம்ம்ம்ம்ம்) is actually a breathing exercise, creating energy. “OM” means take pure in and impure out.

  3. Thanks for your insight.
    If you want to read more about 'OM' then see my article 'Mandukya Upanishad and Big Bang Cosmology' at