If the key repeated mantra of one’s life
is not based on goodness and truth,
how can one attain greater compassion and wisdom through it?
In an interview with Lee Kuan Yew by ‘The New York Times’, he spoke of being impressed by a friend’s serenity despite the illness and death of his wife, which led him to learn to meditate from his Catholic teacher. In Lee’s words, ‘The discipline is to have a mantra which you keep repeating in your innermost heart; no need to voice it over and over again [verbally] throughout the whole period of meditation. The mantra they recommended was a religious one. Ma Ra Na Ta, four syllables. Come To Me Oh Lord Jesus [which should be ‘Come, O Lord’]. So I said okay, I am not a Catholic but I will try. He said you can take any other mantra, Buddhist “Om Mi Tuo Fo” [which should be ‘Amituofo: Ah Mi Tuo Fo’], and keep repeating it… You must be disciplined. I find it helps me go to sleep after that. A certain tranquillity settles over you. The day’s pressures and worries are pushed out.’ [Note: Original biblical teachings do not contain mantra or meditation practices, which some believe were created to mimic Buddhist mindfulness practices.]
In Buddhism, mindful chanting, be it verbal or silent, is indeed a form of meditation, that helps to cultivate calmness (concentration) and clarity (insight). But is spiritual faith in the meaning of the words chanted arbitrary or optional? Yes… but that chanted should be soothing to one, or it is not going to work – if the goal is only to create some peace of mind. (Even chanting ‘Namo Coca Cola’ is alright for this goal if it sounds pleasing!) No… as that chanted should be understood and believed in, or it is not going to work – if the goal is to nurture right faith that leads to liberation or a better rebirth.
This is not to say all ‘mantras’ based on faith are also rooted in reality. (‘Namo Coca Cola’ promises no liberation!) Although used as if it is one, ‘Amituofo’ is not only a supreme mantra in Buddhism (like many other Buddhist mantras), but also the name of Amita[bha/ayus] Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life, the faithful wholehearted (single-minded) mindfulness of whom, coupled with the right aspiration, leads to rebirth in his Pure Land, a blissful school (without worldly pressures, worries and other obstacles), where one can definitely ‘graduate’ enlightened, to better help all others still in suffering.
Lee also said the following, which is not entirely true – ‘I am an agnostic… Well, what is next, I do not know. Nobody has ever come back… The Buddhists believe in transmigration of the soul. If you live a good life, the reward is in your next migration, you will be a good being, not an ugly animal… but… I do not believe in it… You can’t choose how you go unless you are going to take an overdose of sleeping pills…’
However, many great Buddhist masters have the practice of returning with proof of intact memories, also recognised by other masters. They return out of compassion to resume their good works to guide other beings to liberation. Buddhists do not teach ‘transmigration of the soul’ as everyone’s consciousness continues to change within this life, and from life to life, which is how we can /devolve spiritually, also karmically taking forms of hell-beings, hungry ghosts, asuras and devas. Some positive results of doing good can be experienced in this life too. We can choose to depart peacefully when we practise the Dharma well, and it is a misconception that dying in one’s sleep will surely be ‘peaceful’ unconsciously, as death is when one’s consciousness consciously leaves the body. Suicide often leads to unfortunate rebirths too, as it is killing done with strong aversion.
Assumption with worldly intelligence
is often far apart from
realisation with spiritual wisdom.
Desination Pureland: How To Have The Best Rebirth
The Faith Factor: Strengthening Faith Through The Treatise On Ten Doubts About Pure Land
Meditation by Catholic & Buddhist Chanting
Differences Between Buddhas & ‘God’ (Are Buddhas Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent & Omniscient?)
The Middle Path Between Nihilism & Eternalism
How to Easier Accept a Loved One’s Suffering
What the Buddha Really Taught
The Four Assurances