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Buddhas

Amida Buddha

(Skt. Amitabha/Amitayus, Ch. A-mi-t'o Fo, Jp. Amidabutsu)

Amida Buddha is the central Buddha and object of devotion of Pure Land Buddhism. This Buddha, whose name means ginfinite lighth and gimmeasurable lifeh is thought to pervade the universe with his presence and power. Sanskrit sutras contain references to both Amitabha ("infinite light") and Amitayus ("immeasurable life"), both referring to the same supernatural being. In the the Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Wu-liang-shou ching), it is said that a long time ago a bodhisattva named Dharmakara (Ch. Fa-tsang, Jp. Hozo) made forty-eight original vows in order to save all sentient beings and after eons of energetic practice, fulfilled them and so became Amida Buddha and succeeded in creating his Pure Land as a part of his vows. Amida Buddha is believed to still continue his preaching in his Pure Land in the West.

Shakyamuni Buddha (Jp. Shakamuni butsu, Shakuson)

Shakyamuni is the historical buddha who gained enlightenment and created the teachings of Buddhism in India in the 6th century B.C. Throughout the history of Pure Land Buddhism, people have become confused and sometimes angered at the apparent contradiction of Pure Land teachings in emphasizing Amida Buddha over Shakyamuni Buddha. The doctrine of the "three bodies" (sanjin), however, clarifies their relationship. The "three bodies", also called the "three properties" or the "three enlightened properties", are the three kinds of form that a buddha may manifest as: the Dharma Body (Skt. dharmakaya, Jp. hosshin) is the form in which a buddha transcends physical being and is identical with the undifferentiated unity of being or Suchness (Skt. tathata, Jp. shinnyo); the Bliss or Reward Body (Skt. sambhogakaya, Jp. hojin) is an ethereal body obtained as the "reward" for having completed the bodhisattva practice of aiding other beings to end their suffering and having penetrated the depth of wisdom; and the Manifested Body (skt. nirmanakaya, Jp. ojin) is the physical form in which the Buddha appears in this world in order to guide sentient beings. In Pure Land Buddhism, it is considered that the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, is nirmanakaya. Honen believed that Amida is sambhogakaya. Therefore, Pure Land Buddhism does not denigrate the tradition of Shakyamuni's teachings, but rather accesses those same teachings on the cosmic level. It is felt that since Shakyamuni is no longer present in the physical world, we must access this same potential for an end to suffering through the atemporal and all embracing guidance of Amida.

Bodhisattvas

Kannon bosatsu (Skt. Avalokiteshvara, Ch. Kuan-yin)

Kannon is the bodhisattva of great compassion, mercy and love who is widely revered thoughout the Buddhist world. Kannon is one of Amida Buddha's attendents who stands to the left. According to the Meditation Sutra (Kuan wu-liang-shou ching), this bodhisattva together with Mahasthamaprapta, accompanies Amida Buddha and welcomes people who recite the name of the Buddha at the time of their deaths. Popular worship of Avalokiteshvara began in India and was widespread in both China and Japan. Originally, in male form as Avalokiteshvara, Kannon is commonly portrayed as female in China, Japan and the rest of East Asia.

Daiseishi bosatsu (Skt. Mahasthamaprapta, Ch. Ta-shih-chih p'u-sa)

Seishi is the bodhisattva of wisdom. Seishi is Amida Buddha's other attendent who stands to the right. Literally, the "bodhisattva who attained great strength", Seishi is thought to have attained powers of wisdom and compassion in order to save people. Besides appearing in the Sutra of Immeasurable Life and the Meditation Sutra, the bodhisattva is also mentioned in the Lotus Sutra, as one of those who assembled on Eagle Peak to listen to Shakyamuni's preaching.


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