Buddhanusmrti (Recollection of the Buddha)

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Buddhānusmṛti (recollection of the Buddha) is the first of a set of up to ten anusmṛtis (acts of recollection or calling to mind) that are used for both meditative and liturgical purposes. The full set of ten anusmṛtis comprises Buddha, dharma, saṅgha, morality, liberality, deities, respiration, death, parts of the body, and peace. Buddhist practitioners focus their minds on these subjects by reciting a set text or formula listing their salient qualities. The recollection of the Buddha was the most important anusmṛti, eventually becoming an independent practice.

Initially the relevant formula comprised the socalled ten epithets or titles of the Buddha, in that practitioners were instructed to recall that the Buddha was indeed worthy, correctly and fully awakened, perfected in knowledge and conduct, blessed, knower of the world, supreme, trainer of humans amenable to training, teacher of gods and humankind, Buddha, and lord. This credal rehearsal of the Buddha's qualities was held by authorities like Buddhaghosa (fifth century c.e.) to purify the mind of defilements and prepare it for advanced meditation. However, other benefits were also ascribed to the practice, so that Buddhānusmṛti was, for example, thought useful for apotropaic purposes, for warding off fear and danger, as well as for generating merit.

At some stage Buddhānusmṛti was augmented to include the calling to mind not only of the Buddha's virtues but also his physical appearance. Iconography probably influenced this process, which by the second century c.e. had given rise to the Mahāyānist pratyutpannasamādhi, a full-fledged visualization of the spiritual and physical qualities of any buddha of the present age, not just Gautama. This meditation incorporated the earlier form of Buddhānusmṛti, whose text remained the nucleus of the mental operations required, even though its recitation was eventually shortened to the invocation of the buddha's name. In Chinese Buddhism, consequently, Buddhānusmṛti is known as nianfo, in which the element nian refers both to thinking about the buddha (fo) and reciting him, or rather his name. Nianfo came primarily to refer to invocation of the name of AmitĀbha, on account of the importance of that buddha's cult in East Asia. The words Namu amituo fo (hail to the Buddha Amitābha) have accordingly become a prime liturgical and ritual formula for Chinese Buddhists, who have used them in communal worship, in personal devotions, even as a Buddhist greeting when answering the telephone. Similar developments have occurred in Korea and Japan. Even Buddhists who are not devotees of Amitābha have been deeply influenced by this practice, one example of this being the invocation of the daimoku, or the sacred title of the Lotus SŪtra (Sad-dharmapuṆḌarika-sŪtra), by followers of the Nichiren school.

The persistence of Buddhānusmṛti and its derivatives testifies to the central importance in Buddhism of the relationship between those who seek salvation and the awakened teacher who shows them the path, and it reflects the belief that focusing the mind on the qualities of the awakened one helps aspirants to liberation move closer toward realizing those qualities themselves. The latter notion is explicitly developed in Ma-hayana Buddhism, and even more so in VajrayĀna, where it informs the tantric practice of "deity yoga."

See also:Buddha(s); Chanting and Liturgy; Nenbutsu (Chinese, Nianfo; Korean, Yŏmbul)


Conze, Edward. Buddhist Meditation. Allen and Unwin: London, 1956.

Harrison, Paul. "Commemoration and Identification in Buddhānusmṛti." In In the Mirror of Memory: Reflections on Mindfulness and Remembrance in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, ed. Janet Gyatso. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Paul Harrison