Monthly Archives: February 2015

Again: Amida is a Real Buddha

Amida Buddha stands for many things: redemption, salvation, infinite compassion-and-wisdom, unimpeded Light, eternal Life; Amida Buddha is described as teacher, friend, guide, savior, primordial Buddha, source of our enlightenment and guarantor of our eventual Buddhahood in the Pure Land. These attributes are a mix of function, form, metaphor, analogy and religious fact. That is, they are human terms expressing a transhuman, transcendent Reality. As such they are symbols and they are, obviously, symbolic. This, however, does not mean that Amida Buddha “Himself” is a symbol and nothing else.

As an example, imagine the predictable reaction of a Christian if you told him or her that Jesus Christ is “only a symbol”. Like Amida Buddha, Jesus Christ in his role, function, and purpose is highly symbolic – he is the Son of Man, the Good Shepherd, the Sheepgate, the Way, the Bread from Heaven, the Truth, the Light, the Vine, the son of David, etc. And these terms – as with the special terms applied to Amida Buddha – are a mix of allegory, analogy, metaphor. They represent, but are not, Jesus – that is, they are human descriptions of a figure whom Christians consider to be greater than human. The mystical, spiritual, transcendent, risen-living-Christ who dwells in the believer’s heart is the real Christ from whom all blessings – and christological symbolism – flow.

Just as one can view Jesus Christ from a symbolic level and a “realistic” level, so too can one view Amida from two levels.

The Christian assertion that Jesus Christ is more than a symbol, but a real transcendent reality, has its counterpart in Jodo Shinshu’s assertion that Amida Buddha is more than a symbol, but is a real transcendent reality.

One could, of course, iconoclastically strip away all the rich symbolism generated by the Christian experience of Christ, but what would remain would be a truncated though sacred and transcendental core. Similarly, one could strip Amida Buddha of all the treasures of the vivid, sumptuous and profoundly human symbology that accrues to his core reality … but as with the case of a symbol-less Christ, what would remain would be a very sacred, transcendent-and-transforming celestial Buddha, with very little humanly-graspable content and attributes. What would Christians do with only the exalted, glorified Christ, if  stripped of the Galilean artisan and parable-creator? What would Jodo Shinshu adherents do with only the Inconceivable Amida, if stripped of his humble origins as abdicated king and wandering, truth-hungry Monk Dharmakara …?

It would appear that for both Amida and Christ, symbolism is utterly necessary and pragmatic – and perfectly fitting … as long as we adherents realize that the symbolism is a beautiful veil which both conveys and protectively obscures from our view the radiant Transcendent.

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Blessed Assurance, Amida is Mine

It is a primordial tenet of Jodo Shinshu/Shin Buddhism that Amida Buddha grasps us once, never to let go.. This loving embrace permits we ourselves to let go, in the sense of “Let go, and let Amida”. This is the essence of Tariki or Other Power-reliance. In this age of Dharma decline, most of us are simply not fit to walk the Holy Way, the Path of the Sages, with all of its methods, meditations and exercises – although of course, some of us do still attempt to assay the Difficult Way.

But Master Shinran Shonin, through his experience of Shinjin mediated by Amida Buddha, realized the general folly of reliance on self power in spiritual matters. That is, self power methods and ideas, although laudatory in non-spiritual endeavors (if we want to graduate or get a job, self effort is an absolute essential), is useless and even dangerous and delusional in the spiritual quest for enlightenment and Buddhahood. This is so because for most of us, self power practices can at best only provide brief glimpses into our Buddha Nature and temporary states of Bodhi. Full enlightenment in one lifetime is not usually attainable by we bombus, we selfish beings led by blind passions and wrong ideas.

Instead, Amida Buddha provides everything we require to fulfill our twofold spiritual need for redemption and Buddhahood. There is nothing we need to do. Indeed, there is nothing (as bombus) that we can do. Amida does it all, spiritually speaking. Buddha is not an intervening creator-deity and does not manipulate the material universe on our behalf: does not tamper with our karma or our circumstances so that we may graduate or get a targeted job; does not answer our grasping petitionary prayers. No, Buddha’s work and activity are solely directed toward evolving us to Buddhahood in the Pure Land.

Amida Buddha’s assurance is, that through the grace of Shinjin granted by Amida alone and not by our own efforts, at the moment of physical death, we pass into the Pure Land where an unearned crown of Buddhahood awaits us, delivered by Buddha’s infinite merits, wisdom, compassion, unimpeded Light and eternal Being.

This post’s title is, “Blessed Assurance, Amida is Mine”. But it would perhaps be better phrased, “Blessed Assurance, I am Amida’s”, for it is Amida Buddha alone who offers and guarantees the neverending Embrace in which we pass into Buddhahood