Ryokyu Endo, Head Priest of Wada Ji Sangha Temple, answered
Flame of Hope chanting has its roots in the ancient Buddhist practice of Nembutsu healing chanting from Japan. It involves mindfulness of Amida Buddha, and the recitation of the sacred name, Namu Amida Butsu, which means “I follow/return back to Amida Buddha.” Through the practice of Nembutsu, people share and derive spiritual benefit for themselves and others.
1) To allow all beings and spirits to go to Pure Land, which is to live in a peaceful and happy state in this world. Enlightenment right here, right now.
2) For all to receive the merit, wisdom, compassion, majestic power and great love of Amida Buddha (the Great Spirit of the Universe or God).
In our daily lives it is easy to feel separated and cut off from the Source of What Is, from other people, and even from ourselves. We are all looking for ways to overcome the suffering in our lives, and to unify with ourselves and all other beings.
Through the practice of Flame of Hope chanting, we realize that there is no separation between our own happiness and that of others. By genuinely wishing for others to overcome and reach peace and happiness, we contribute to our own well being and inner harmony. This is the core teaching of Mahayana Pure Land Buddhism.
Pure Land Buddhism encourages us to heed the bidding of Shakyamuni in the Larger Amida Sutra, and to relinquish all of our spiritual needs to Amida Buddha. In so doing, we accept the Vow (will, mind or intention) and the Name of Amida (“Namu Amida Butsu”) and, therefore, our ultimate destiny – Buddhahood, Nirvana. When this happens, our life becomes a joyful adventure, characterised by a sense of indebtedness and gratitude.
The difficulty many of us have is in accepting that Amida’s Great Love accepts us exactly as we are, with wisdom and compassion, and no need or judgement for us to become “good or better” people. All of us have an unendurably painful dark side: deep and terrible greed, anger, sadness and a host of other feelings. Worse, we are profoundly ignorant of and constantly shocked at our own insensitivity. Within ourselves, we discover the existential pain that afflicts us all in this “Last Dharma Age.”
Yet the Flame of Hope can be with us in all situations, joyful or painful, without exception. This is why Amida has given us this Name. This is why the Primal Vow is also called “The Universal Vow”. The Primal Vow is also viewed as the “Great Ocean” because it takes in and accepts all people, no matter who they are, just as countless life-forms live in, and depend upon, the ocean.
Pure Land is, in fact, Nirvana or Buddhahood – ultimate realisation of transcendence; in Buddhist terms “extinction of birth and death”. A Buddha is free of all attachment and aversion and has realised the true nature of things: wisdom and compassion. So it is that our goal does not end in self-absorbed bliss but in reaching out to others to help them as well. In the way that Shakyamuni returned to ordinary human society after his Enlightenment, Amida Buddha initiated – in his Twenty-second Vow – our “return” to this world, so that we may become active in leading others to enlightenment “so that the boundless ocean of birth-and-death be exhausted”.
To fail in one’s efforts to live up to the high standards of the Buddhist way of life is not so much a cause for despair as it is an occasion for remorse and deep self-reflection on one’s shortcomings and limitations coupled with a profound gratitude to Amida Buddha for a) helping one to realize the distress of our human condition and b) assuring us of his salvation and enlightenment despite our imperfections which we cannot hope to eradicate of our own accord. To be deeply imbued, in this way, by Amida’s mind of compassionate wisdom is to live the life of a true person.
Since ancient times, people touched the real existence of God and Buddha through music. This has been known to have a deep healing effect. Music infuses so many world faiths, including Buddhism, that it is difficult to separate music from religion. We practice musical Flame of Hope chanting, with harmonies and instruments, so that people experience healing and feel the real existence of the Buddha. At this level, Buddhist recitation is very different from Zen practice, which is done in silence.
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We wish for all people who are experiencing or carrying any kind of pain or underlying fears to feel peace