Amitabha and the Lotus

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on January 4, 2016.)

Amitabha Buddha at Longhua Temple, Shanghai

In many temples, you'll find three Buddhas on the main altar: the historical Buddha Shakyamuni at the center; on our right the Medicine Buddha; and on our left the most popular Buddha in China, the Amitabha Buddha, called in Chinese Amitofo.

Pure Land Buddhism made enlightenment more accessible to the average person by introducing a simple practice. Instead of long hours of sitting in Chan (Zen) meditation, one need only say the name Amitofo once--albeit with complete sincerity and devotion--to gain entrance to the Western Pure Land, over which Amitabha presides. There, one can continue to practice without distractions until enlightenment is attained. For this reason, it is the most common utterance around many temples, used instead of hello, goodbye, and thank you.

The Amitabha Buddha can also often be found in a separate hall, sometimes as one of the "Three Sages of the West" (meaning, the Western Pure Land). In that case, Amitabha is at the center of the three, with two Bodhisattvas--Guanyin and Dashizi--on either side.

How can we surely identify images of Amitabha? In almost every case, he extends one open palm toward the viewer indicating the giving of a boon. In the other hand is a lotus.

Now, the lotus is a common Buddhist symbol. But here it has a specific meaning. The lotus grows with its roots in the mud; its stalk rises up through the water; and the gorgeous flower emerges into the air. This is a sign of our potential: starting earth-bound, growing through practice, until we blossom forth in full enlightenment.

No comments:

Post a Comment