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by Saddhaloka

by Saddhaloka

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/audio/details?num=OM366
Talk given at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, winter retreat, 1997

Stepping off the Wheel of Life and travelling through the five-Buddha mandala to
meet Amitabha in the west

We started off last week with an introduction from Manjuvajra, where we began by
looking at the Wheel of Life. We saw ourselves spinning around the Wheel of Life,
carried round and round by our inveterate propensities, by all those deeply ingrained
habits that we hardly notice, but which make up the bundle that we call “ourselves.” We
saw how, through awareness, we can begin to open up a gap, open up a doorway that
enables us to begin to see the workings of those habits, begin to see the possibility of
actually having a choice. We don’t have to be just swept on and on and round and round,
we have a choice. We can actually begin to recreate ourselves anew and can open up this
doorway of awareness. Mindfulness is important in opening up this doorway. As we open
up this doorway we can begin to step off this wheel that goes round and round and step
onto a spiral path. A spiral path of creative and open-ended possibilities that find their
realization in the Mandala of the Five Jinas, the Five Conquerors, the Five Buddhas.
We saw how this mandala, that represents the highest and most beautiful possibilities that
are there in us as human beings, can be entered and explored through this same doorway
that is there all the time, ever present in each moment in our lives. How we can enter this
magic circle of the Mandala of the Five Buddhas, this temple of the Five Jinas. As we
enter this world, we enter a world of the imagination. A world of “once upon a time” and
a world “out of time” – a whole new dimension of possibility, of beauty, of magic, of
mystery that is there in life and which can begin to unfold for us.

And as we entered into this mysterious mandala, this magical circle, we first of all came
across a wrathful figure - a terrifying figure that seemed incredibly threatening,
overwhelming and awful. We saw how this figure seems terrifying because our sense of
“self,” our sense of a “me” that doesn’t want to change is threatened. How will we begin
to let go of that? We begin to let go when we stop holding on so tightly to this sense of
“me.” When we begin to open our hearts to all that is there as possible in us, in the
world, then that terrifying figure becomes immediately a figure that is radiant, beautiful
and invited. So this terrifying figure that we met as we entered through the east of the
mandala is transformed into the beautiful, radiant, dark blue figure of Akshobya.
Akshobya, with his hand reaching down to touch the earth, in this mudra - a gesture of
“touching the earth.” This dark blue Buddha with his mirror-like wisdom and
unshakeability. This dark blue Buddha, whose emblem is the vajra, the diamond
thunderbolt that breaks through all obstacles.

And then we travelled on round towards the south. There we met the golden Buddha of
the south, Ratnasambhava. His right hand stretched out in the gesture of giving, that
beautiful gesture of openhanded and openhearted generosity. Ratnasambhava’s animal -
the animal of his throne - is the white horse streaming with bright free energy.
Ratnasambhava, golden, the jewel born, full of riches and full of beauty.

And tonight we travel on. We travel on round to the west and we meet Amitabha, the
ruby red Buddha of the west. In these talks, we do not just want to impart information to
you about Buddhism and about the Buddhas. What we want to do, as we explore this
Mandala of the Five Jinas, is to dwell on the qualities of the Buddha and dwell on the
qualities of the enlightened mind. It’s been said, “What we dwell on, that we become.”
And it’s well worth asking ourselves, “What do we habitually dwell on? What sort of
images do we dwell on?”

How many of you here, for example, have been to see Alien Resurrection recently? How
many of you have had the images of a film like that embedded in your consciousness and
found it very difficult to get them out for one, two or three weeks? How many of us have
actually dwelt regularly on a figure like that of the Buddha, a figure like that of
Amitabha? Figures that actually represent what is highest and most beautiful within us as
human beings. I think its well worth asking ourselves, “What we dwell on? Where are
our minds resting - hour by hour, minute by minute through the day? What are we
actually making ourselves and of ourselves through what we dwell on?”

So, tonight we are going to dwell on Amitabha Buddha, and hopefully become a little
more like Amitabha.

Reminders of the Buddha: The stupa and living presence

To begin with there was the Buddha, there was Shakyamuni. Gautama, the Enlightened
Teacher, wandering the byways, roads and villages of ancient India, meeting whoever
came his way, speaking to them, responding to them, teaching. Just one man - sometimes
alone, sometimes with one or two companions, sometimes with quite a band of disciples -
but just one man, and he could only be in one place at a time. As the years went by, and
he taught for over forty years, he had more and more disciples. But some of those
disciples had never even seen him and others only saw him very rarely. Yet for all of
them he was a real living presence. He was alive amongst them even though he might
have been hundreds of miles away in a distant city or in a distant jungle. There was a
custom amongst his disciples, even whilst he was still alive, to keep a seat whenever they
gathered. There was a seat made ready for the Buddha, just in case he appeared. So they
always had that sense of the Buddha being there amongst them.

After his death they would remind themselves of his presence by building stupas. Stupas
were originally funerary monuments in which some of the ashes or remains of the
Buddha or other Teachers would be placed. At other times a wheel was depicted,
particularly when they wished to remember the Buddha as teacher, as communicating the
Dharma. At other times, they were reminded of the Buddha by a tree, there would be the
tree under which he gained Enlightenment as a reminder of his Enlightenment. At other
times a footprint represented his presence as he wandered among them in ancient India.

But, amongst all of these, the stupa was probably the earliest and most pervasive of these
reminders of the Buddha in the Buddhist tradition. For Buddhists - not just early
Buddhists, but Buddhists right down through the centuries - the stupa isn’t just a
monument. It actually is the Buddha. It’s a living presence, it’s a living presence of
Enlightenment amongst them. The stupa was actually seen not just as stone or as an
object of devotion, but mysteriously, even magically acting as a sort of doorway to this
meeting of, and with, the Buddha - meeting with his wisdom and compassion. The stupa
stood there as an imaginative doorway through which his disciples could actually contact
that living presence of his wisdom, of his Enlightenment that had come into being in the
world when he gained Enlightenment. In time statues were carved, particularly after the
meeting with the ancient Greeks who had moved across into Asia with Alexander. The
familiar figure of the meditating Buddha or the earth-touching Buddha began to appear.
These weren’t just seen as statues, they were seen as doorways through which one could
imaginatively contact the Buddha.

But again, it wasn’t just through the physical presences of a stupa or statue that Buddhists
over the centuries have made that imaginative connection with the Buddha as a living
presence. Many had visions, visions in which that inner faculty of the imagination was
awoken, where the Buddha appeared to them as a figure. Some of these figures assumed
different aspects, different colors, and different gestures. All these act as symbols,
pointing towards particular aspects of the Enlightened mind, towards wisdom, towards
compassion, towards energy and so on. The Five Jinas, the Five Buddhas, they all
represent different aspects of this wonderful, mysterious figure of the Buddha, of
Buddhahood and of the Enlightened heart and mind.

In describing Amitabha tonight, I’m going to be evoking, and maybe even invoking,
something of the Buddha – trying to, as it were, conjure up through dwelling on this
figure that was envisioned in the ancient Buddhist tradition. Through evoking that image
we can get some glimpse of the Buddha himself and of his presence.

The Jewel of the Mandala: Amitabha the red Buddha of the West

We can say that the figures of the Mandala of the Five Jinas are like facets of a jewel. As
you look at that jewel it flashes with different colors. Sometimes it flashes blue, yellow,
red, green or white. It’s the same jewel, but one looks at it from different aspects.
Tonight the jewel is reflecting back this beautiful ruby red light and as we gaze ...

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