by Zuio H. Inagaki
The Buddha's Light shines most brilliantly;
He is called the 'King of Flaming Light Buddha'.
He rends the darkness of the three Evil realms.
Take Refuge in the Great Arhat. (Jodo Wasan 6)
We speak as if Amida were really existent and his Light is actually shining on us, but who is Amida?
This is the perennial question for everybody. It is asked by all who come to Shin Buddhism for the first time; by scholars of religious studies, those who practice other Buddhist paths and even by devout followers of the Pure land path.
The simplest questions are always the most difficult to answer. Although we have ready-made answers to this question within the framework of traditional Doctrine, we never cease asking ourselves this question. Even after we have found what appears to be the correct answer which explains all about Amida in theoretical and philosophical terms, we still ask this question, until we are convinced that it is Amida who is putting this question to us so as to awaken us to his everlasting existence and universal activity. The fact is that this question further leads to another, which is vitally concerned with our own existence, namely 'Who am I?'
The question 'Who is Amida?' was put to Shakyamuni Buddha more than two thousand years ago, and the answer he gave formed the foundation of the Larger Sutra. This Sutra tells us, in terms of cause and effect, how Amida as a Bodhisattva made Vows and became a Buddha.
A greater emphasis is placed upon the description of Amida as The Buddha of Infinite Light, Amitabha, than upon Amida as The Buddha of Infinite Life, Amitayus. He is given twelve epithets relating to his Light (nineteen in the extant Sanskrit text), and the glory of his Light is praised in detail. The Larger Sutra states:
'If Sentient beings encounter his Light, their three Defilements are removed; they feel tenderness, Joy and pleasure, and good thoughts arise. If Sentient beings in the three realms of Suffering see his Light, they will all be relieved and freed from Affliction. At the end of their lives, they all reach emancipation.'
The three Evil realms are Hell, the realm of hungry spirits and that of Animals. They represent the lowest karmic tendencies latent in our minds, which it is all but impossible to cancel out with our limited meritorious acts. Amida's Light shines through them and changes the course of our Karma in the direction of Enlightenment.
Amida as such is the Great Arhat, the Holy One who deserves our sincere devotion and offerings.