On Saturday the question came up about the use of a mala (or nenju or rosary), so we worked on "recitation" practice. This is what we call the traditional practice of nembutsu. In this we select a specific phrase, om namo amida butsu, in this case, as the focus phrase for reciting. We used our mala to count the recitations and worked through the recitation at different cadences.
In some respects it does not matter what the phrase may be, what matters is that you practice sustaining the phrase, excluding all other extraneous thoughts or mental activity. This allows us to keep a stable mental space, undisturbed by intruding thoughts or other content. When we do this we sustain our practice free of distractions. The result is a more stable and continuous experience.
In a more traditional vipassana style, this would probably seem both unnecessary and distracting. In that more restrictive style of meditation the goal is open awareness, developing the capacity to observe whatever arises and maintain a continuous attentive state to whatever arises. It tends to be more like a large open space, where activity shows up in contrast to the emptiness of the perspective. That style is quite demanding because it leaves us very open to distractions and intrusive thoughts.
Recitation, in a sense fills our mental space with the phrase of recitation thereby excluding most of the distractions we experience. This leaves us greater capacity to sustain a continuous awareness, even if it does reduce the scope of our attention. It is a valuable introductory practice that cultivates strength when we need it, preparing us to grow and deepen our practice.
in the Dharma,
Innen , doshu,
om namu amida butsu