Support for the Dying: conducting supportive buddha-name chanting
CONDUCTING SUPPORTIVE: BUDDHA-NAME CHANTING
Supportive chanting by family members and Dharma friends is crucial when a patient is on the verge of death because, at that time, he or she is weak both mentally and physically. In such trying circumstances, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on chanting “Amituofo.” This is why Supportive Buddha-name Chanting is so important.
GUIDELINES FOR CONDUCTING SUPPORTIVE BUDDHA NAME CHANTING
To help focus the patient’s thoughts, respectfully place a statue or picture of the standing Amitabha Buddha in front of the patient where it can be easily seen. Place a container of clean water in front of this image and some fresh flowers in a vase near it. Lightly scented incense, or even a smokeless variety, may be burned. (A strong fragrance or excessive smoke might cause the patient to have difficulty in breathing.)
Those who come to practice supportive chanting should remember that the patient, who is in a weakened state, requires adequate fresh air. If too many people are in the room at one time, the patient may have difficulty breathing and become agitated, resulting in more harm than good. Also, people should pre-arrange their chanting time and silently take turns, so that the chanting can continue uninterrupted. Each session can last about an hour.
According to Great Master Yinguang, the thirteenth patriarch of the Pure Land school, the short chanting form of “Amituofo” should be used, so that the patient can easily register this name in the most subtle consciousness, at a time when both mind and body are very weak.
It would be wise to ask the patient which is preferred—“Amituofo” or “Namo Amituofo”. In this way, the patient can comfortably and silently chant along with the group. To go counter to the patient’s likes and habits may destroy his or her concentration. People should not chant too loudly so as not to expend too much energy and shorten the time they can chant. On the other hand, they should not chant in too low a voice or the sound might not register in the patient’s mind. Also, they should not speak to one another while in the room. Chanting should neither be overly loud or soft, slow or fast. Each utterance should be clear and distinct, so that it can be heard clearly and penetrate deep into the patient’s consciousness. One caveat: if the patient is too weak or is in coma, he may have difficulty hearing the chanting. In such a case, someone should chant close to the patient’s ear to help the patient to maintain a clear, steady mind.
With regard to instruments, it is generally better to use the small hand bell with its clear, limpid sound, as it can help the patient develop a pure and calm mind. However, this may not apply in all cases. If possible, it is best to ask the patient in advance what is preferred. If some details do not suit the patient, we should adapt to the circumstances and be flexible.