This morning, leading the service at Oasis, I explained our practice of chanting 41 nembutsu, which we sometimes call “Four Tone Nembutsu” though it is rather different from the original Chinese Four Tone Nembutsu, due to our difference of language and culture.

The core of our practice is the invocation of Amitabha Buddha. There is nothing exclusive about this - to invoke one is to invoke all, since there is no quarrel between Buddhas. We do it in many ways, but one is the chanting of the nembutsu - Namo Amida Bu. Amida is Amitabha. “Bu” here is short for Buddha.

Ten nembutsu is called JU-NEN. The way to do Ju-nen is as follows:

Na-mo-a mi-da-bu
Na-mo-a mi-da-bu
Na-mo-a mi-da-bu
Na-mo-a mi-da
Na-mo-a mi-da-bu
Na-mo-a mi-da-bu
Na-mo-a mi-da-bu
Na-mo-a mi-da
Na-mo-a mi-da-buddha
Na-mo-a mi-da-bu

These can be recited slowly or fast, as plain speech or with a tune or intonation. When I was in Japan I heard people interrupt their work every so often, do Ju-nen rapidly all together, then carry on with whatever they had been doing.

Often, here, we do four lots of Ju-nen at the beginning of a period of contemplation, in which case we may use a particular intonation and accompanying visualisation. The intonation is a rising and falling note with “Na-mo-a” rising and “mi-da-bu” falling. Usually there is a single nembutsu at the end, making 41 altogether.

In the visualisation, with the first Ju-nen one imagines anticipating Amitabha coming as a vast cloud of power in the sky before you. In the second Ju-nen, the initial “Namo” is omitted from each line, which gives the sound of the chant a greater power. With this second Ju-nen one imagines Amitabha fully arrived, vast, towering above, regarding the world with compassion.

The third Ju-nen follows on. This time the full line is said, including “Namo” but the whole is done faster, maintaining the urgency and power of the second Ju-nen. Now one imagines myriads of rays of light from Amitabha cascading down upon the world, reaching into every place and home.

Then, in the last Ju-nen, the “Namo” is again dropped, but the recitation remains rapid. One imagines Amitabha’s blessing has fallen into every place and one feels gratitude.

Finally, there is one single slow soft “Na-mo-a mi-da-bu” as peace settles upon the world. In this great peace one settles into one’s period of contemplation, all the while feeling oneself to be in receipt of the grace, merit and saving-power of Amitabha.

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