The Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life
Amitabha Sutra says:
“Far far away in the west, there is a place called ‘Pure Land of Utmost Bliss.’ In that Pure Land, there is a Buddha called ‘Amitabha‘ who has now manifested there to teach the Dharma. The Pure Land is a place of eternal peace and purity, and the sentient beings in that Pure Land are free of suffering. Therefore, it is called the ‘Pure Land of Utmost Bliss.'”
“If good men and good women have heard of Amitabha Buddha and hold his Name firmly for one day, two days, three, four, five, six, or seven days, whole-heartedly without distraction; then when these good people are near the end of their life, Amitabha Buddha holding lotus will appear in front of them and lead them to his Pure Land. In the final moments of these good people, they are free from illusion, fear and pain, and they will be reborn in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land.”
The Amitabha Sutra describes the magnificence of Amitabha Buddha and his Pure Land, which is followed by praise offtered by other countless buddhas. The Sutra says clearly that through the mindfully repeatedly recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s name, devotees could be led to the Pure Land by the Buddha upon the arrival of their final moments. People who are sincerely and devotedly believe in Amitabha Buddha will be reborn in his Pure land, which is created for true and real followers. Because of the exalted status of this Pure Land, sentient beings are encouraged by Shakyamuni Buddha to put forth the vows to be reborn there. In that Pure Land, sentient beings will continue to receive the teachings of Amitabha Buddha until their attainment of Buddhahood.
The Chinese version of Amitabha Sutra that I mentioned here was accomplished by the renowned translator Kumarajiva who entered the Chinese capital of Chang-An Cheng about 400 A.D. from Kucha which was an ancient state in Turkestan. Through the Master’s translation of Amitabha Sutra from Sanskrit into Chinese, countless practitioners of Buddhism, both lay and monastic, have come into contact with Amitabha Buddha and his Pure Land, and subsequently vowed to be reborn there.
In Sanskrit the full title of Amitabha Sutra reads “Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra,” literally meaning the “Sutra Which Magnificently Displays the Land of Utmost Bliss.” Amitabha is a Sanskrit word literally meaning “infinite light and eternal life.” Amitabha is the Buddha who resides in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss. In Japan, he is called Amida Buddha. Amitabha Buddha at the highest level represents the Pure Mind, the True Nature, without ego, attachment, or illusions. Meditation is an excellent practice of purification of the mind. It helps us maintain a peaceful and clear mind state.
A long, long time ago, Amitabha was one of the sons of a great king in India. He was so compassionate that he felt all the sufferings of other people as if they were his own. He trained himself morally by practicing the six perfections: generosity, discipline, effort, meditation and wisdom. After undertaking that practice for a long time, he finally attained full Enlightenment. Upon attaining Enlightenment, Amitabha wanted to create an ideal land to save others. Shakyamuni Buddha made Amitabha see all the lands from which he could choose, and Amitabha chose the Pure Land where there was no stain of impurities.
Before Amitabha attained Enlightenment, he made forty-eight vows which go beyond our normal powers of comprehension. But his forty-eight vows may all be summarized into one great vow, which is simply this: Amitabha wants to save all beings without exception. His vows are the spontaneous expression of his infinite love and compassion. He sees our suffering and seeks to end them.
It is important that one has the desire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land, in sincerity and earnestness, and fully trusting in Amitabha‘s power to make one be reborn there. To be reborn in his Pure Land means to obtain enlightenment as Amitabha himself did.
The most popular practice of worshipping Amitabha Buddha is repeatedly reciting his Name in a simple formula of “Na-Mo-O-Mi-To-Fo” in Chinese (or Namu-Amida-Butsu in Japanese). “Na-Mo” expresses the taking of refuge. “O-Mi-To-Fo” is Amitabha Buddha. Thus, “Na-Mo-O-Mi-To-Fo” means “I take refuge in Amitabha Buddha,” or “Homage to Amitabha Buddha.”
A name is highly significant in religious life and it has certain magical powers. When a name is uttered sincerely and mindfully, the object bearing the name appears before one, and love and compassion are experienced.
Practitioners would either chant “Na-Mo-O-Mi-To-Fo” or mentally recite it to themselves to invoke a purity and concentration of mind or to attain rebirth in the Pure Land. This practice allows a practitioner to have vision of Amitabha Buddha. They sincerely and mindfully recite “Na-Mo-O-Mi-To-Fo“, fully trusting that Amitabha Buddha’s vows will enlighten them.
The Chinese Buddhist Master, Hui-Yuan (C.E. 334 – 417)founded the Pure Land School of Buddhism. PureLand Buddhists revere the Amitabha Buddha, and hope to be reborn in his Pure Land. During the ninth century, Pure Land Buddhism spread to Japan, where Amitabha is known as Amida. His devotees repeat the phrase, “I put my faith in Amida Buddha.”
Amitabha Buddha is the focus of the Pure Land teaching. The modern way of interpreting the Pure Land is that the Pure Land is right here and now. Birth in the Pure Land is an event that takes place while we are still in this life. We don’t go out of this world in order to be born in the Pure Land, but we carry the Pure Land with us all the time. Birth in the Pure land is not an event that occurs after death. The Pure Land is experienced here and now, and we are carrying it with us all the time. In fact, the Pure Land is within our mind.
The devotional practices to Amitabha Budha and worshipping of his Pure Land are mainstays in many Buddhist temples around the world today. His promise of hope and salvation has certainly become an integral part in the lives of countless devoted Buddhists, making him one of the most popular and revered Buddhas of all time.
Chinese Buddhists commonly greet each other with joining palms saying “O-Mi-To-Fo” which means “bless you with infinite light and life .” Joining palms is a graceful gesture that originated in ancient India. By joining palms, we express respect, kindness and compassion that the Buddha has shown us in order to benefit all beings.
When joyous over Amitabha Buddha’s compassion, “Na-Mo-O-Mi-To-Fo.”
When feeling sadness, “Na-Mo-O-Mi-To-Fo.”
When happy, “Na-Mo-O-Mi-To-Fo.”
Being born in the Pure Land means discovering the Pure Land in ourselves. We find our inner self when reciting “Na-Mo-O-Mi-To-Fo.” Amitabha Buddha is our inmost self, and when that inmost self is found, we are born in the Pure Land.
(Spring Liao, 1/8/09)
(Spring Liao, 6/4/2010)