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A Piece of My Mind
March 26, 2008

A Practical Pact for the Pure Land

JAMA. 2008;299(12):1405-1406. doi:10.1001/jama.299.12.1405

I was perched on the armrest of our family room couch, watching in both awe and bewilderment as my Aunt Janice carefully knelt to the ground, bowed her head three times, paused with her eyes closed, and repeated the head bowing. She did not arise from her position until she had uttered to herself multiple times in a quiet methodical chant, “Nan wu a mi tuo fo,” which I would come to understand as meaning “I entrust in the Amitabha Buddha.” In front of her stood a modest shrine. On a simple white shelf, a framed picture depicted a male figure flanked on each side by a female figure. All three were sheathed in ornate dress and jewels. Also on this shelf were an offering plate with a piece of fruit and a small pot with sand to hold an incense stick upright. Its white wisp of smoke rose in the air, thin and crisp. Once she completed her ritual prayer, I asked, “Aunt Jan, can you help me with a project for medical school? I need to ask you some questions.” “For school? No problem . . . but we eat breakfast first.”