The Origins of Amitabha Buddha Statues
The appearance of Amitabha Buddha in the Mahayana Buddhist scriptures initially occurred in the 1st century A.C.E. Specifically, the “Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life” describes Amitabha and the Amitabha pure land. However, evidence of the first Amitabha Buddha statues did not emerge until the 2nd century A.C.E.
The belated appearance of the first Amitabha Buddha statues is not so surprising. This is because Buddhist sculpture initially did not include depictions of the physical body. Indeed, evidence of the first Buddha statues did not appear until over 500 years after Buddhism was founded.
Nonetheless, Buddhist sculpture has been remarkably improved since it first originated in the 1st century. The the best handmade Amitabha statues were created in Nepal beginning in the 10th century A.C.E..
Brief History of Amitabha Buddha
Mahayana Buddhism is known as the “great vehicle”. It was believed by the Mahayana advocates that the introduction of Amitabha would be necessary to make Mahayana Buddhism a success.
Indeed, the Amitabha meaning is very warm and the Amitabha pure land is very inclusive. As a result of this great vehicle, devotees can obtain the assistance of Amitabha Buddha and other Bodhisattvas to relieve their suffering.
In the Amitabha pure land devotees receive direct teaching and protection from Amitabha in the hopes that they can eventually become enlightened beings. All they need to do is recite his name or the Amitabha Buddha mantra.
The Mahayana texts say that Amitabha was previously a Bodhisattva named Dharmakara which means “Treasury of Dharma” in Sanskrit. Dharmakara had many, many lives as a Bodhisattva that crossed over many eons and worlds.
Indeed the origins of Amitabha Buddha is in fact quite similar to the original Buddha. This is because Dharmakara was once a prince who renounced his kingdom and rejected the material world for a life of virtue and austerity. As a result, Dharmakara accumulated infinite amounts of merit.
What is the Meaning of Amitabha Buddha Statues
Due to the infinite amounts of merit accumulated by Dharmakara, the Amitabha meaning has become known as “Immeasurable Light and Life”. It should be noted that Amitabha is also known as Amitayus and he highly venerated for his longevity attribute. Indeed, his name, Amitabha is a Sanskrit word that means “infinite light” and Amitayus means “infinite life”.
Additionally, the Amitabha meaning in the Chinese language is very similar to Sanskrit Amitabha meaning. In Chinese, Amitabha is known as “Amituofo“. Also pronounced as “Emituofo“. “Amituo” is the transliteration of the Sanskrit word Amida which means “boundless” and “fo” means Buddha in Chinese. When combined the meaning would be “boundless Buddha” which is quite similar to “Buddha of infinite light and life”.
However, in Tibetan Buddhism the Amitabha meaning is associated with his longevity attribute. As such, he appears as Amitayus (also known as Aparmita) which is the sambhogakaya embodiment of longevity. In Tibet, he is also one of the three deities of long life along with White Tara and Namgyalma.
Longevity Attribute of Amitabha Buddha
In Tibet, Amitabha Buddha statues are crafted with the attributes of Amitayus. Therefore, in Tibet Amitabha is also known as Amitayus and he is depicted sitting in full lotus holding a “immortality vessel”. The vessel is filled with immortality nectar also known as “amrita”. In contrast, Amitabha is normally depicted by an Amitabha Buddha statue with alms bowl.
Devotees take part in Amitayus practice that is believed to prolong life. A replica of his “immortality vase” is filled with consecrated wine. During the ritual, each of the devotees consume a small amount of wine and also small pills made of dough.
In order for the Amitayus ritual to be effective, devotees insist that all of the ritual participants have unfaltering belief in the Amitabha meaning and his longevity attribute.
Amitabha’s Pure Land of “Sukhavati”
As the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, Amitabha was very compassionate about assisting sentient life. As a result, he spent 5 eons studying the pure lands. Therefore, he was able to intricately design his own pure land.
Next, he made 48 vows and upon their fulfillment his Amitabha pure land called “Sukhavati” would be completed. However, the eighteenth vow was most important and it set basis for the Amitabha pure land. It required Amitabha to forgo becoming a Buddha unless every devotee who recites his name or mantra 10 times can gain entrance to Sukhavati.
The Amitabha pure land “Sukhavati” now exists as a Western Pure Land. Therefore, devotees are able to obtain his assistance to progress on the Buddhist path. Additionally, once admitted to his pure land devotees will never fall back into samsara under his protection and guidance.
Sukhavati is a land of sonorous and visual bliss and all are welcome there who say his name or recite the Amitabha Buddha mantra 10 times. Indeed, Amitabha has made entrance into the Amitabha pure land very accessible to all devotees. Also, upon fulfillment of his 48 vows Amitabha became a Buddha and he now resides in Sukhavati.
The Amitabha Buddha Mantra
There are several acceptable versions of the Amitabha Buddha mantra. In Sanskrit there are two variations “om amitabha hrih” and also “namo amitabha buddha”. The Amitabha mantra meaning is “Homage to the Amitabha Buddha”.
However, in Vajrayana Buddhism they use the Tibetan pronunciation which is “om ami dewa hri”. Furthermore, in China, their version of the Amitabha Buddha mantra is simply his name in Chinese – “Amituofo”.
“Om Amitabha Hrih”
The objective of using the Amitabha Buddha mantra is to induce sufficient concentration in order for devotees to gain access to Sukhavati. Amitabha inspires devotees by teaching them that anyone who “recites his name or his mantra” will be admitted to the Amitabha pure land of Sukhavati.
Therefore, it is not important which version of the Amitabha Buddha mantra they choose to use. In fact, it does not even need to be pronounced correctly to be effective. However, devotees must have unwavering sincerity, faith and aspiration to be reborn in the Amitabha pure land. The ultimate objective of reciting the Amitabha Buddha mantra is to induce concentration in order to gain entry to Sukhavati.
Best Amitabha Buddha Statues for your Altar
Choose a quiet, discreet location in your home for your Amitabha practice. Your Buddhist altar can be a small table or a shelf if space is limited. Additionally, Mahayana Buddhist literature encourages devotees to consider Amitabha Buddha statues buy options for their altars.
However, it is not acceptable to ever place your altar or Amitabha Buddha statues directly on the floor. A carefully chosen location with your practice accessories is ideal to recite the Amitabha Buddha mantra and gain inspiration.
In One Lifetime: Pure Land Buddhism by Shi Wiling