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Amitabha

by Saddhaloka

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... into which beings can be born and where the ideal conditions are set up for
them to move towards enlightenment, move towards the realization of wisdom and
compassion. So Bodhisattvas, out of their efforts, create these Pure Lands, create these
conditions which really support others in their efforts to Go for Refuge to the Three
Jewels - to actually transform themselves in the light of wisdom and compassion. You
could say that part of the myth of our Movement, of the Western Buddhist Order and of
the FWBO, is to create a Pure Land, to create a world within the world where there are
these supportive conditions, where it does become possible for more and more men and
women to actually lead an effective spiritual life. We are actually trying to create
something of a Pure Land within the very impure land of our modern world. So, the Pure
Land of Sukhavati - Amitabha’s Pure Land of Sukhavati - was established by a
Bodhisattva called Dharmakara, who many aeons before had taken this vow that he
would create a Pure Land in which beings could be reborn if only they recited the name
of Amitabha. So this Pure Land was created, and the myth goes that one had to simply
recite Amitabha to be reborn in Sukhavati, and Dharmakara became Amitabha. To be
reborn in Sukhavati meant that one was reborn within a flower, from within which one
would just hear in the sounds of the trees, the wind and the streams, that everything
would be teaching the Dharma. As the petals of the flower opened one would be able to
step out into this world where everything spoke of the Dharma. This whole myth of
Amitabha and his Pure Land of Sukhavati came to be the foundation of a very important
stream in Buddhism of what became known as Pure Land Buddhism. Here the main
practice was just reciting the name of Amitabha and where the great emphasis was on
faith, on cultivating a faith in Amitabha, a faith in reciting his name, which would allow
one to be reborn into a Pure Land and thence to gain enlightenment.


Faith as Metta

I want to say a bit at this point about faith, and the Buddhism of faith, and faith in the
spiritual life. It’s sometimes been said that if we think in terms of metta, then when metta
is directed towards those who suffer it becomes compassion. When it is directed towards
those who are happy, who are well, it becomes rejoicing in merit. When it’s directed
towards the ideal, it becomes faith. So where this strong emotional response is directed
towards our ideals, the highest potential within us, we have faith. I think faith is a
spiritual faculty that we often underestimate, that we just don’t take very seriously in
ourselves and we don’t really recognize in ourselves. We just don’t think of ourselves as
belonging to a culture where faith is really that appropriate. We feel the need to be
questioning and skeptical and we often experience ourselves as being more intellectual
and so on. I think we don’t often recognize the faith that is there and this brings me to a
point that I often find myself talking about in discussion and study groups these days on
Going For Refuge retreats. This is the distinction between depth and intensity, and I
think we often confuse the two.

We often overlook depth and look for intensity. With faith we often overlook a quiet
depth that can be there in us that is actually directing our lives, motivating our lives. We
just don’t actually take it seriously because we are looking for an intensity, we are
looking for strongly felt immediate experiences, like really strong devotional feelings –
an immediately felt warm glow that we can actually get hold of as it were. We don’t take
seriously a lot that’s often going on in our lives.

Just as an analogy, I remember once standing in Holland on top of a hill (they actually do
have a few hills in Holland) and looking out across this huge river flowing down to the
sea. It must have been half a mile across – this great silver-grey stream of water, with
lots of boats and ships on it. This huge expanse of water, much, much bigger than one
would ever see in this country and yet it was so still that it hardly seemed to be moving. It
was only when I really thought about it that I realized there was this tremendous weight,
probably millions of tons of water, steadily and relentlessly moving towards the sea. If
you compare that to a little bubbling stream that you might meet out in the hills
somewhere which can seem very energetic and alive and there’s a lot happening, then I
think it can be like that with us. We look for intensity, we look for something bubbly and
interesting, and if that is not there we think that faith isn’t happening. When actually
sometimes, when you look at people and you talk with people they say, “Oh I’m not
really a faith type, I don’t have much faith.” But then that person may have given up a
job, moved into a community, is working for very little in a business, and helping to run a
Buddhist centre. Their whole life is actually moving towards an ever-deeper involvement
with the Three Jewels. There is something within them responding to the beauty of the
ideal. Their whole life is actually being shaped more and more by it, but they don’t
recognize it and don’t take it seriously. And because they don’t take it seriously then they
are not allowing that faith which is actually there to be the force, the directing and
shaping force that it could be in our lives. So I think that faith is a faculty that we could
all take a lot more seriously and look for in ourselves, recognize a lot more within
ourselves, value a lot more in ourselves, and look to build on, value and cherish within
ourselves and in others so that this faculty of faith can really be an ever stronger force
carrying us towards enlightenment.


The Way of the White Clouds – Lama Govinda

So we have looked at a number of different aspects of Amitabha. I hope through
dwelling on them, just giving ourselves time to take them in, dwell on them, mull them
over and reflect on them that we begin to get a sense of some of those qualities of the
Enlightened mind that this figure of Amitabha offers us a doorway and entrance to.
One of the first books on Buddhism that I read was a book by Lama Govinda called The
Way of the White Clouds. It’s a lovely book. It has Dharma - there are other teachings of
Buddhism in there - there’s adventure, and there are all sorts of strange and wonderful
people. There are these long-gone runners, these Tibetan monks who develop a trance
and then run in great leaps over huge boulders and great distances. There are great
Tibetan masters, one of whom performs miracles lasting several hours, which involves
great hosts of Bodhisattvas appearing in the sky. And these great mandaravas, flowers,
falling out of the sky and landing on the ground and dissolving a few hours later. There
is a great cosmic vision conjured up by this master and seen by many, many people at this
particular time in Tibet. It involves discussion of rebirth, it includes speculation about
Lama Govinda’s own rebirth. It involves getting lost in snowstorms. It involves
discovering secret entrances to ruined temples, with their walls covered in beautiful
paintings. So it’s quite a book and one of my very first introductions to Buddhism, to
which I've gone back and probably enjoyed as much, if not more, in rereading in later
years.

A little later in the early seventies, I was in India and visited the house where Lama
Govinda had been living in Almora in the foothills of the Kumaon, and I saw a stupa that
he had built there. It was a very beautiful stupa, in the style of someone standing on the
top of a hill looking out over the countryside. He himself was away in America at the
time. Later still I discovered that Lama Govinda was a close friend of Sangharakshita
and they had a real sense of spiritual brotherhood and a real affinity.

So in this book, The Way of the White Clouds, at the very end, there is a verse that rounds
up the book which is an invocation to the Buddha of Infinite Light, which Lama Govinda
wrote in the early sixties while he was staying at this home in the foothills of the
Himalayas that I visited. So I'm going to finish now by reading this verse:

To the Buddha of Infinite Light
Who is meditated upon while facing the setting sun,
when the days work is accomplished and the mind is at peace.
Amitabha!
Thou who liveth within my heart,
Awaken me to the immensity of thy spirit,
To the experience of thy living presence!
Deliver me from the bonds of desire,
From the slavery of small aims,
From the delusion of narrow egohood!
Enlighten me with the light of thy wisdom,
Suffuse me with the incandescence of thy lov,e
Which includes and embraces the darkness,
Like the light that surrounds the dark coil of the flame,
Like the love of a mother that surrounds
The growing life in the darkness of her womb,
Like the earth protecting the tender germ of a seed.
Let me be the seed of thy living light! ...

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