Saturday, November 17, 2012

Amitabha: the lovable "Buddha"

Nitin Kumar,; edited and expanded by Wisdom Quarterly
Amitabha (Tibetan, Opame), the gentle, lovable "Buddha"
AMITABHA is undoubtedly the most well known and popular of the Five Meditating "Buddhas." He is red in color, which in Tibetan Buddhism is the color of love, compassion, and emotional energy.
His direction is the west, where the sun sets. Indeed, he is envisioned as the red setting sun. Sunset is when the sun is gentle; we can look directly into its awesome power without being harmed. As it disappears into the west, the sun is like a proud and fierce king, who at the end of a hard day of rigid protocol turns gentle and jovial and allows anyone to approach him. 
Amitabha is thus the supreme power and energy of nature on this earthly plain, accessible to all. It is no wonder this aspect of the Buddha is the most popular of the Five Meditating Buddhas.

His unique emblem is the lotus, the attributes of which he is associated: gentleness, openness, and purity.

Amitabha’s mount (vimana, platform, spaceship) is the peacock, which is capable of swallowing poisonous snakes (nagas) without coming to any harm.
  • [This ability is reminiscent of a shaman healing technique practiced by the Jivaro Indians of the Amazon, as mentioned by The Sound of Rushing Water.]
Amitabha (
In fact, the peacock is believed to derive its rich plumage from the poison of the serpents on which it feeds. The symbolism of being open even to poison -- transmuting it into beauty -- gives a sense of the purifying and transforming power of Amitabha. For ordinary uninstructed worldlings, it signifies that even our darkest and most venomous aspects can be transformed by meditating on his image

Amitabha’s image has both a simplicity and archetypal quality to it. His demeanor is totally relaxed and his hands are in the dhyana mudra, the gesture of absorption (jhana, dhyana, zen) meditation.

According to tradition, this mudra derives from the one assumed by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni when he was meditating under the Bodhi tree in pursuit of enlightenment.
In conformity with his hand pose, the essential message of Amitabha is that of meditation. His association with the setting sun suggests withdrawal of external sense perceptions inwards, into higher states of meditative absorption. Elevating ourselves to such a spiritual level has the ultimate objective of uniting us with that ineffable transcendental universal consciousness, which although intangible pervades all tangible reality.
Amitabha provides the archetype of infinite wisdom that helps us transmute the negative trait of obsessive attachment into a discerning awareness that we are all made up of the same primitive substratum.

By contemplating in this way, one is able to realize that the objective we crave is not separate from us but already as much a part of "self" as one is of it.
Many of these ideas display very Hindu ideas about reality -- mounts, mudras, meditations, devotion (bhakti), transcendental consciousness, and so on. They reveal the inordinate influence Brahmin priests and Brahmanism had on the development of the later Mahayana Buddhist school, which became established in the north (Ladakh, Tibet, Bhutan) and the Far East (Korea, China, Japan).

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