I met people who were somehow afraid of reciting nembutsu for many times, or using a nenju of 108 beads as a help in their recitation, thinking that this might become a jiriki (1) effort. So, I thought of presenting to you a short and relaxed questions and answers dialogue in order to express my opinion about this, and to disperse their tensions and worries.
Question: It is said that in Jodo Shinshu the number of recitation is not important. So we do not need to say nembutsu many times in order to be born in the Pure Land.
Answer: Yes, it is true.
Question: Then why do you recite nembutsu for many times?
Answer: Because I like it. Nembutsu is so delicious that I wish to enjoy it as many times as possible. It is exactly because the number is not important, that one may recite nembutsu as many times he likes. Don't count, juts recite and enjoy. Nembutsu has a good taste. Once you eat a little, you may become addicted :). If you like cakes, you would like to eat a lot of them, and if others ask you why, you will say they taste so good that it is hard for you to abstain. In the same way, I blame nembutsu and Amida for my many times recitation.
Question: You said not to count, but you use a large nenju when you recite. Why do you do this?
Answer: I don't use a large nenju in order to keep a record of how many times I said nembutsu today, but because it helps me to better concentrate on the nembutsu. It is nothing wrong in trying to be concentrated. If I am concentrated, I can better enjoy the recitation. When you are with someone you feel very comfortable, don't you like to enjoy his or her presence as much as you can? Also, if you are in the dojo and listen to the teaching with firm devotion, you will not talk with your neighbor in the middle of a Dharma sermon. These means you are concentrated.
Another reason I like to use a nenju, is to know when I should stop :). I must also do something else in a day time, because I don't live in a monastery. Let's say that I have a date with a girl in two hours, and the need of saying the nembutsu arises in my mind, so I sit and recite one nenju and when this is over I raise, take my shoes and leave home, rather than reciting and keeping one eye on the clock to see how much time I have until I need to go. If I recite without a nenju and I lose the notion of time, the girl might not wait for me anymore and if she is a Christian and knows nothing about Buddhism she might even ask me who is the other girl I call Amida and if she is more important than her :))).
Question: So, you do not fix yourself a goal to recite for such and such number every day, like one nenju, two nenju or more.
Answer: No. I am flexible and relaxed, because Amida does not count my nembutsu. At the beginning of my recitation I may say: "ok, lets enjoy one nenju", but if something happens, I may stop in the middle of it and its ok. Also there are days when I recite nembutsu less than one nenju a day, because of who knows what problems and difficulties. Or I may do some recitations in my mind while walking or going to my job. All its ok.
The most important thing in nembutsu recitation is to be relaxed and enjoy it. You are the child of Amida and every mother likes to give beautiful presents to her child. Nembutsu of faith is indeed the gift of Amida to you. So, enjoy it. Play with it. Don't become a serious guy who thinks too much: " this is not good, today I recited nembutsu too many times, now I have to reduce the number because it is said that nembutsu is tariki(2), not jiriki". To a guy like this, I would say: "Hey, give up to this mature and serious thinking! You are ruin all the fun of nembutsu! :)"
We also abandon any idea of merit in our recitation, because what personal merit can we have from enjoying a free gift given by our mother? It is clear that the merit belongs to her, while we are just tasting and enjoying it.
In fact, not allowing yourself to enjoy the nembutsu as much as you like is itself jiriki, because you are opposing the irresistible taste of the Primal Vow expressed through it. You are tensioned and immobilized by your own personal calculations and not allowing yourself to be grasp by Amida and enjoy his gift to you.
- Nembutsu of faith and gratitude
1 Jiriki – self power.
2 Tariki – Other Power, that is the Power of the Compassion of Amida Buddha.