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Amitabha Sadhana - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita

The Venerable Sangharakshita

Question and Answer Session
held on the Amitabha Sadhana Retreat at Water Hall
in December 1991
1Amitabha and Amitayus
2Light and infinite light
3The mudra(s) of Amitabha - holding up the lotus and the dhyana mudra
6Roses and lotuses
5The median nerve
Seeing and hearing mantras
6The Abhadhuti and Abhadhuta - median nerve and the sanyassin
Bhante's seeking ordination after his vision of Amitabha
7The cave where Bhante had his vision of Amitabha
8The place of visualisation in the FWBO/WBO's system of practice?
9Bhante encouraging people to send him Dharma questions
The colour of Amitabha's eyes
Improvising or keeping closely to Buddhist tradition in visualisation
Transcriber's note: No voice print was taken at the beginning of the session, therefore I have not been able to identify many
of the speakers.
Sangharakshita: .... quite simple and straightforward. Others are rather lengthy and complex and I don't think I can sort all
of them out in this particular kind of format. They need really to be dealt with in the course of some future event. [Laughter]
That's not a bad thing. The questions are all quite serious and deal with quite important topics, so sooner or later I shall be
glad to incorporate in some paper written for the Order's benefit, glad to incorporate points arising out some of the questions
that have been asked. I'll touch on some of those questions nonetheless briefly, at least in part, but I think I'm going to start
off with a few nice easy questions, or at least clear and simple questions centring mainly on the sadhana that we've been doing.
First of all there's something of a quite general nature relating to Amitabha and Amitayus.
The questions says,
Can you say something about the differences between Amitabha and Amitayus, and also
about the relationship between them?
I think this is touched upon in another of the questions. Yes there's another question here which says,
I understand that an effective distinction between Amitabha and Amitayus as separate
Buddha forms is only made in Tibetan Buddhism. How do you see the difference in
quality and essence between the two forms?
I think the first thing to be said here is that we have to be careful of literalism, because in a sense there's only one Buddha,
or in a sense again even not one because number is only a mental construct one could say, so that there's neither one Buddha
nor many Buddhas, but for practical purposes, as it were we postulate, we visualise, we experience, many Buddhas. Or one
might even say for practical purposes there are many Buddhas.
But I think one has to be quite careful not to take that too literally, in the sense that one has to try to feel one's way or find
one's way behind the names to what the names represent, whatever the names happen to be. Do you see what I mean? I did
speak about this some time ago, maybe a few years ago, in connection with the Greek divinities, just to make it, as it were,
easier and more familiar. For instance we have the Greek god Apollo, so it's not so much a question of asking ourselves well
what does Apollo mean or what does Apollo represent or what does Zeus represent. This point I think incidentally is made
by (cough obscures name!) somewhere, but we have to try to think independently of any names of a particular kind of reality

or a particular aspect of reality and then consider what name is appropriate for that. Not try to go so much from the name to
the reality but try to get the reality in view and then see what the name is, then see what it is called. So I think it's not primarily
a matter of saying well what's the difference between Amitabha and Amitayus, but trying to get into view what those names
represents. Leaving aside even the names, and considering certain basics of human experience.
Maybe that isn't very clear so perhaps I'll illustrate a little bit. It's well known in philosophy that we experience things through
two great media. Let's say experience material things, experience mundane things through two great media. So what are those?
Can anybody think?
__________: Space.
S: Space.
__________: Time
S: And time, yes. So we cannot but conceive of ultimate reality except in terms of categories with which we are familiar from
our own experience. So when we think of ultimate reality let's say in terms of space - some Buddhist traditions actually do
think of reality in terms of space - space is an Asamskrtadhatu, it's an incomposite. But, leaving this aside, if we think in terms
of space, what is it that fills space, what occupies space?
__________: Form.
S: Yes.
__________: Light.
S: Light, yes, because light illumines form. If light isn't there you don't perceive a form. So it's as though light is an absolutely
primary category of thought. And in fact we find such expressions as enlightenment, to see things, to throw light on a subject.
We use that expression metaphorically. So therefore we may say that to think in terms of light, to think of reality, ultimate
reality, in terms of infinite light, is a natural human way of thinking. So in a sense there has to be a Buddha of infinite light,
inasmuch as we cannot but perceive ultimate reality in the form of that particular category. Similarly with life. What is it, as
it were, that fills time? What is it that it prolonged in time? It's life. The Sanskrit word here - Ayur - doesn't just mean life in
the English sense, it's more like length of life. So you have a Buddhahood conceived of under the form of time, as consisting
in infinite life. So therefore, inasmuch as space and time are interconnected. In fact you've been told in this century that time
is a dimension of space itself, haven't we? Since these two are inseparable, light and life are inseparable, Amitabha and
Amitayus are inseparable.
So you see how one arrives at this particular way of looking at Buddhahood. Form was mentioned just now. Yes there is
analogy with form. You could say that Amitabha represents the archetype of Sunyata and Amitayus represents the archetype
of Rupa. Or you could also say Amitabha represents wisdom and Amitayus represents compassion. These two of course being
inseparable. So you can see that even though you can have, as it were, separate Buddha forms, iconagraphically and as it were
mythologically, for Amitabha and Amitayus, you mustn't think of them really, in the ultimate sense, as separate, as it were,
personalities. In the sutra we saw that Amitabha and Amitayus are just alternative names for the same Buddha. Very true. But
you can also think of two Buddhas provided you understand the situation correctly you can split those two Buddhas up into
any number of Buddhas representing particular individual aspects if you so wish. But I think it is helpful if we think out, as
it were, the philosophical basis of the whole thing, philosophical basis of this way of looking at Buddhas, these two Buddhas
in particular, before we start asking ourselves, well what those Buddhas mean and what those Buddhas represent. Do you see
what I mean? As I said at the beginning, go from the reality to the name, rather than trying to get at the reality from the name.
I have read somewhere - I'm sure Suvajra's read it too - that in the Tibetan tradition one represents the Dharmakaya and one
represents the Sambhogakaya. I'm afraid I can never remember which is which.
Suvajra: Amitabha represents the Dharmakaya.
S: Yes, that's what one would have expected in the light of this explanation.
Suvajra: Amitayus with his princely robes represents the Sambhogakaya.
S: Because he represents the principle of life, the principle of compassion, therefore it is more natural, so to speak, that he
should be expansive, that he should manifest in the world.
Any supplementary on all that. I've expressed it quite generally and crudely. Perhaps sometime I shall incorporate these sort

of reflections in a paper.
Suvajra: One other place I read in the Tibetan tradition that regard Amitabha as the essence and Amitayus as the action. Both
the same Buddha but one in the essence form and the other in the action form. I don't know what the Tibetan...
S: In the sense of guna? Which is usually translated as 'quality'. Of course in the Nyingmapa tradition, Amitabha is the
Dharmakaya and the thousand armed Avalokitesvara is the Sambhogakaya, and Padmasambhava, of course is the
Nirmanakaya. Again it's a different approach, a different system. I'm afraid one has to get used to these shifting permutations.
You can't tie anything down, not as regards nomenclature. That's why it's very important to try to get some glimpse of the
underlying realities. Then you're not bothered or confused so much by these differences of language.
And of course in the Saddharmapundarika Sutra there is a chapter called 'The Revelation of the ...

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