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Q&A 122. Performing recitation for self-cultivation

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Q: Dear Master Lu, can we record the sutras and mantras that we recite for daily recitation and Little Houses on the Self-Cultivation Record Form? Could you please advise us on how we should store and use the sutras and mantras that we recite for self-cultivation purposes?


  • Your daily recitation of Buddhist sutras and mantras, and your recitation of Little Houses or self-cultivation need to be performed separately.
  • Daily recitations can be likened to your daily expenditure — you use it for the day. Performing recitation of Little Houses can be compared to repaying your debts. Performing recitation for self-cultivation purposes is similar to saving for your pension. The merits and virtues that you accumulate from performing recitation will be stored in your records of merits and virtues.
  • You can download and print the forms for self-cultivation on yellow paper. Unlike Little Houses, which has a particular size and format requirement, the paper size does not matter for the Self-Cultivation Record Form.
  • On the form, use a black pen to write your name or the names of other recipients in the “Offer To” field, and write the name of the person performing the recitation in the “Recited by devotee” field.
  • Before you start your recitation, state the following prayer to Guan Yin Bodhisattva, stating that your recitations are for self-cultivation purposes:“May the Greatly Merciful and Greatly Compassionate Guan Yin Bodhisattva protect and bless me, <your full name>, I am now reciting <title of the sutra or mantra> for self-cultivation purposes. May Guan Yin Bodhisattva be my witness.” Alternatively, you can say a general prayer, for example, “May the Greatly Merciful and Greatly Compassionate Guan Yin Bodhisattva protect and bless me, <your full name, or the name written on the “Offer To” field>, grant me safety and harmony, or good health, etc.”
  • Generally, avoid reciting the Heart Sutra, the Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra or the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance for self-cultivation purposes after midnight.
  • After you have finished reciting a particular sutra or mantra once, you can put a red dot in the corresponding circle. Once you have completed the entire form, wrap it with a red paper or red fabric and store it in a safe place. The completion date can be left blank until the day of burning the form. The more Self-Cultivation Record Forms you can accumulate and store, the better. Also, avoid dotting the circles after midnight.


  • The objective for storing Self-Cultivation Record Forms is that, when we are about to pass away, we can burn these forms to help us ascend beyond the Three Realms (namely, the Realm of Desire, the Realm of Forms and the Realm of Formlessness).During emergency situations, you can use these Self-Cultivation Record Forms for yourself or for others. For example, for major illnesses or before surgery, you can burn Self-Cultivation Record Forms of the Great Compassion Mantra. And prior to important exams, you can burn Self-Cultivation Record Forms of the Great Compassion Mantra, the Heart Sutra and the Cundi Dharani. Generally, it is best to burn them three or four days beforehand, instead of on the day of the event.
    If you are well prepared, you can start burning them a month prior to the event. You can burn one or two Self-Cultivation Record Forms each week.
  • You can also transfer the recitations that you have performed for self-cultivation purposes onto Little Houses. For example, if you have recited the Great Compassion Mantra x times on a Self-Cultivation Record Form, then you can transfer your recitation of a certain number and to be divided by 27 times onto Little Houses (each Little House contains 27 recitations of the Great Compassion Mantra). After transferring the recitations, you can fold the _Self-Cultivation Record Form_ into a small piece, wrap it with paper and discard it.


  • Below are the sutras and mantras for which Self-Cultivation Record Forms are available: The Great Compassion Mantra, the Heart Sutra, the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance, the Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra, the Cundi Dharani, the Gong De Bao Shan Shen Zhou, the Amitabha Sutra and the Xiao Zai Ji Xiang Shen Zhou.
  • The recitation of the Great Compassion Mantra and the Heart Sutra enhances your fundamental spiritual power and allows you to open up your spiritual path forward.
  • The recitation of Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance can be used to eliminate major karmic obstacles and prevent them from obstructing you.
  • Based on Master Lu’s latest guidance, in this Age of Dharma Decline, everyone should recite at least 7 times of Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance as part of his daily homework. Beginners may start off with a smaller number. Children and pregnant ladies can refer to Q&A 161 – Reciting the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance on special days and Buddhist commemorative days – in Buddhism Your Questions Answered.
  • Daily recitation of Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance should not exceed 21 times, including those performed for self-cultivation purposes. That said, one should act in accordance with one’s capabilities especially for beginners, or under unique circumstances. It is important to supplement the additional recitations with more Little Houses
  • Before performing the Self-Cultivation Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance, state the following prayer: “May the Greatly Merciful and Greatly Compassionate Guan Yin Bodhisattva protect and bless me, <your full name>. I am now reciting the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance for self-cultivation purposes.”
  • As an analogy, the _Great Compassion Mantra_ and the _Heart Sutra_ can be likened to helium in a balloon, and karmic obstacles are metal bricks weighing down the balloon. If a helium balloon has many metal bricks weighing it down, even if you continuously pump helium into it, the balloon will not be able to move upwards. It can only move upwards after the heavy metal bricks are removed.
  • The recitation of the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance is therefore very important. For a person with severe karmic obstacles at the time of his passing, burning many Self-Cultivation Record Forms of the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance in one sitting will help him repent and reduce a significant amount of his karmic obstacles. This will make  it easier for him to ascend to a higher spiritual realm.
  • Note that the Self-Cultivation Record Form of the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance is usually burnt when you are about to pass away. Avoid burning a large number of them on normal days, otherwise your karmic obstacles might be activated and transformed into a spirit, causing big trouble. In addition, on special days such as the 1st and 15th day of the lunar month, Buddhas’ birthdays, etc., you may recite more of the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance. If you are unable to complete the intended number, you may offer the Self-Cultivation Record Form of the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance to make up for the shortfall.
  • The recitation of the Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra is mainly for the small animals that you have eaten or killed during your lifetime. These minor karmic obstacles can be eliminated through the recitation of this mantra.
  • The recitation of the Cundi Dharani helps speed up the progress in your Buddhist practice and elevate your spiritual state.
  • The recitation of Gong De Bao Shan Shen Zhou helps consolidate the merits and virtues accumulated in your lifetime. Only when you have enough merits and virtues can you ascend to heaven.
  • If you aspire to be reborn into the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, the recitation of the Amitabha Sutra is akin to inviting Amitabha Buddha to come and lead you to the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, paving the way for your attainment of  unsurpassed and supreme perfection of merits.
  • The recitation of Xiao Zai Ji Xiang Shen Zhou helps eliminate disasters or misfortune before they occur. For example, when you dream about snakes or serpents, or possible disasters or calamities ahead, you can burn a Self-Cultivation Record Form of Xiao Zai Ji Xiang Shen Zhou to help eliminate these calamities.
  • If you burn the Self-Cultivation Record Form in the midst of such calamities, it will be less effective. The logic being: Instead of putting out a fire when it has already started, you should have taken preventive measures such as regularly keeping your house moist to prevent it from catching fire. This goes to show that we should resolve imminent problems before they arise.
  • Note that it is not suitable to recite the Mantra to Untie Karmic Knots for self-cultivation purposes, as this mantra should be recited with a specific target in mind. Burning a large quantity all at once may invite trouble.
  • The Self-Cultivation Record Forms of the Heart Sutra, the Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra, and the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance can only be burnt when you have a Buddhist altar. 
  • You must offer incense and pay respect to Bodhisattvas at the Buddhist altar before burning these Self-Cultivation Record Forms. If you do not have a Buddhist altar, you can go to a temple, make incense offerings and pray to Guan Yin Bodhisattva before burning the Self-Cultivation Record Forms.
  • As for the other types of Self-Cultivation Record Forms, even if you do not have a Buddhist altar, you can still burn them after offering “Heart Incense”.
  • The process of burning Self-Cultivation Record Forms is the same as that of Little Houses. It is best to burn them during the daytime. If you must burn them in the evening, avoid doing so after midnight. However, the Self-Cultivation Record Forms of the Heart Sutra and the Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra must not be offered at night.
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