Amitabha and The Pureland
Amitabha is one of the most revered Buddhas in the Mahayana Buddhism, particular in the Pureland Sect. Together with Avalokitesvara (known as 'Guan Yin' in Chinese and 'Chenrezig' in Tibetan) and Mahasthamaprapta - also known as Vajrapani (The Great Strength Bodhisattva), they are known as the Three Saints of the Pureland. Unlike the founder of Buddhism, Siddharta Gautama, Amitabha is not a real life historical figure. Instead, he was introduced into this world through the sutta (sutra) or the words spoken by the Buddha.
Although Amitabha is recognized in the Mahayana Buddhism (which includes Vajrayana/Tibetan Buddhism), HE, however, is not recognized by the 'Teaching of the Elders' or better known as Theravada. The obvious reason is that Amitabha was not mentioned anywhere in the Pali Canon and thus, HE is seen as an imaginary figure that created by the Mahayana Buddhism followers. In other words, Amitabha does not exist and something must have gone wrong when Buddhism spread to Asia. It is also alleged that all other Buddhism figures such as Medicine Buddha, Vairocana Buddha, Manshujri Bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, Vajrapani Bodhisattva and Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva were molded by the Asian people throughout the existence of Buddhism there.
The only Bodhisattva that is recognized by the Theravada tradition is Maitreya, the future Buddha that will be born and achieve enlightenment in this world (*in Buddhism, the mother earth is known as the 'Saha' world). However, that would be extremely far in the future, the next Kaspa or billions of year from now. Maitreya is said to be residing in Tusita Heaven now while waiting for the time reaps.
The Pureland Sutras
The three main Sutras of the Pureland Dharma School are:
- Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra or known as Infinite Life Sutra
- Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra or known as Amitabha Sutra
- Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra or known as Contemplation Sutra
Among the three Sutras, the Amitabha Sutra can be regarded as the most special one, however, that does not mean the other two aren't, indeed all words spoken by the Buddha were equally important and precious.
But what makes it so special?
It was said that The Sutra of Amitabha was spoken by the Buddha during the later stage of HIS life, which he was near to entering Par nirvana. And it was also one of the few Sutras that spoken by the Awakened One without being requested. For your information, Sutta was normally spoken by the Buddha when there was a request arisen among HIS disciples and followers.
The Buddha,then had foreseen that it would be getting very difficult in the future for the human being to achieve progress in Dharma Cultivation, particular during the Dharma Ending age, which is none other than now.
Out of compassion, HE introduced a very simple and direct Way that can help human beings to get out of the Wheel of Samsara, avoiding being reborn in the Six Realms of Existence again and again. Finding the way out of the Wheel of Samsara is extremely hard unless the person has cultivated enough of merits to gain a human form in the next life and also encountering the Dharma again.
In this sutra, Gautama Buddha officially introduced Amitabha and his two eldest disciples, Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani. He also introduced the Pureland World of Ultimate Bliss and described how the environment there look like. Apart from that, He also spoke about the benefits of being reborn in the Pureland and the opportunity to learn Dharma directly from Amitabha.
In the Sutra, the Buddha also told about how a person can gain rebirth in the World of Ultimate Bliss. There are three simple requirements, which are: 1) Have faith in Amitabha, 2) Have Vowed to be born in the Pureland of Ultimate Bliss and 3) Chanting the name of 'Amitabha' (this reminds us of the Buddha and get us connected with him).
Self Strength Vs Other Strength
The Buddha had said that there are many ways to achieve enlightenment, however, most of the methods that He taught is based on self reliance or self strength. This means a person must cultivate Dharma deeply and has get rid of worldly attachments and ignorance in order to enter the right path of enlightenment.
Depending on the person's accumulated merits and cultivation, this might take more than one lifetime before he can achieve the ultimate freedom. And as mentioned before, this is extremely hard particular during the Dharma Ending age, which is now. Seeing this, the Buddha offered a better way to escape the wheel of samsara, which is to take up the vow to be reborn in the Pureland of Ultimate Bliss and this method leads us to the Other Strength.
The "Other Strength" refers to the strength of Amitabha, which means a person can achieve liberation through the compassion power of this ancient buddha. Like Siddhartha, Amitabha is also an awakened being which had achieved Buddhahood 10 kalpas agos. Wanting to free all sentient being from suffering, Amitabha had made 48 vows and through all his accumulated merits since eons ago, he founded the Pureland of Ultimate Bliss. And it is said that it took this great Buddha 5 eons to accomplished the task. Everyone is welcomed to Pureland and it is the ideal place for all beings to cultivate dharma without having to be reborn again and again.
For people that follow this school of teaching, Amitabha will appear before the deceased to ferry him to his Pureland thus, escaping the fate of being trapped in the Wheel of Samsara. There are already many people who have shared about their experiences/encounters with Amitabha on the internet and if you are interest, you can check it out here: Amitabha buddha - a personal experience. Some reported that they have seen the Amitabha figure appeared before them and ferried their deceased family member to the World of Ultimate Bliss.
Pureland: Is It Real?
As mentioned, there are suggestions that Amitabha is not real because it does not seem go right with the teaching of Siddhartha. It defies the law of karma, where a person who has yet to purify himself can still escape the punishment of karma.
Well, according to Master Yin Kwong (believe to be the emanation of Mahasthamaprapta), the 13th patriarch of the Pureland School, the Pureland method is a special teaching where a person or 'being' brings along his bad or unsettled karma when being reborn into the Pureland. That means he is not totally free, he still held responsibility to his own karma and once the time reaps, the same person will still have to repay it. What goes around comes around and there is no way out. However, the difference is this only happens when the person has achieved enlightenment under the direct guidance of Amitabha HIMSELF.
When the time comes/reaps, the same person will be reborn in a world chosen by himself - according to his vow, particular where a Buddha is needed. There he will repay his old debts if fate brings him to his karmic debtors. As said, when at this stage, he will not create any bad karma while repaying his old debt because he has already enlightened then. There is no more greed, hatred and delusion and thus, cutting off from creating future bad karma.
To learn more about the Amitabha, pls check out Amitabha Pureland.