Article

Amitābha

Galen Amstutz

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online September 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0004
Amitābha

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The three topics of Amitābha (in Japanese, Amida; in Chinese, Amituo), Pure Land Buddhism, and nembutsu are always linked together. The Buddha Amitābha was the Mahayana deity at the center of the mythos, was the icon of nembutsu practice, and was the occupier of the relevant Pure Land. Linguistically, the name means “infinite light” and an associated name Amitāyus meant “infinite life.” Amitābha traditions are thought to have grown out of an understanding that the actual presence of the founding teacher Śākyamuni was an essential element of Buddhism in its origins, and consequently there was a continuing desire among followers to somehow reexperience such a presence. The Sanskrit term for this orientation was buddhānusmṛti (literally, “recollection of the Buddha, thinking on the Buddha, keeping the Buddha in mind”; later pronounced nembutsu in Japanese), and the concept became particularly associated with Pure Land teachings since it was by means of “recollection of the Buddha” that karmic birth in the Pure Land realm—however interpreted—could be achieved. However, despite its common core body of mythic materials, Amitābha Buddhism has been a flexible, polysemic network of texts, terms, ideas, and images, in which nembutsu practice meant a variety of engagements—contemplation, visualization or recitation—involving symbolic information (especially visual or auditory) that came from the Pure Land sutras. A broad historical shift took place in East Asia toward popularization and especially the simplification of practice into a vocal recitation of the Buddha Amitābha’s name. Amitābha traditions eventually formed one of the most important parts of Mahayana Buddhism, especially in East Asia.

Article.  16305 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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