Amida Buddha is the primary object of reverence for the Pure Land Buddhist traditions. Amida is a "Body of Enjoyment" Buddha because it is a Buddha that, while not necessarily having a physical form, fulfilled vows to bring us to Enlightenment.
The name Amida is taken from the names amitayus, or immeasurable life,and amitabha, or immeasurable light. The two attributes of life and light describe the Buddha’s perfection of compassion and wisdom respectively. They are described as immeasurable because Amida Buddha vowed to save everyone, even those who are farthest from achieving Enlightenment. This universal vow is the reason why Amida Buddha is one of most frequently mentioned Buddhas in the sacred Buddhist literature.
Ananda: representative of who we are
In the story of Amida Buddha, it is said that Ananda recognized that Sakyamuni Buddha was in a particularly serene state. This episode is recorded in the Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra (Larger Sutra), and is quoted by Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, in his work titled the Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyo Gyo Sho Monrui. The episode is shared as proof that the explication of the Larger Sutra is the reason for Sakyamuni Buddha to appear in this world. The story is related as follows:
[Ananda asked,] "Today World-honored one, your sense organs are filled with gladness and serenity. Your complexion is pure. Your radiant countenance is majestic, like a luminous mirror in which clear reflections pass unobstructed. Your lofty features are resplendent, surpassing all words or measure. Never before have I beheld your lineaments as sublime as they are now. Indeed, Great Sage, I have thought to myself: Today, the World-honored one abides in the dharma most rare and wondrous. Today, the Great Hero abides where all Buddhas abide. Today, the World’s Eye abides in the activity of guide and teacher. Today, the Preeminent one of the world abides in the supreme enlightenment. Today the Heaven-honored one puts into practice the virtue of all Tathagatas. The Buddhas of the past, future, and present all think on one another. Do not you, the present Buddha, also think on all the other Buddhas now? Why does your commanding radiance shine forth with such brilliance?"
It has been noted by Jodo Shinshu scholars that, in asking this question, Ananda is representative of who we are: "foolish beings" hearing the Dharma. Like Ananda, despite perhaps having heard the Buddha-Dharma for years, despite even having an appreciation of it, we still somehow fail to actualize the teachings. During the death of Sakyamuni Buddha, despite being told not to grieve because death is part of what the fundamental teaching of impermanence is, Ananda was still one who could not restrain his tears. He wanted the Buddha to live longer because he had yet to achieve the great awakening. Ananda is said to have composed the following verse at the death of the historical Buddha:
"Fortunate was I to be born
in the same Sakya clan as the World-Honored One;
Now the World-Honored One has gone to the great nirvana,
leaving us behind.
Prior to this, however, Sakyamuni Buddha noticed the obvious distress that Ananda was feeling at the Buddha’s impending death and because of this gave to Ananda the following words of comfort:
O Ananda, you must not trouble your mind to no purpose, for you are destined to realize emancipation, and my true Dharma will spread in all directions and benefit the world.
Despite having received these words and the many messages that followed in which Sakyamuni Buddha tried to prepare his disciples for his death, Ananda still could not maintain his composure. This reaction is in marked contrast to Anuruddha who, at the time of the Buddha’s death, yelled out: "Enough, my brethren, be not grieved nor lament. Has not the World-Honored One, moments ago, taught us that all things are equally impermanent in both their nature and their form?"
This is a captivating story because, of all people, Ananda—who had listened to the Buddha’s teaching for more than 20 years—should have been able to see the truth behind the Buddha’s death. Instead, he felt a great longing. This story is educational because we, too, often react in a contrary way, despite knowing better. When we repeat this error over and over we sometimes ask, "Is there no hope?" The story of Ananda is inspirational because we can identify with his plight. Although Ananda did not see himself as having realized the Dharma before the calling of the first Buddhist Council, he was nonetheless instrumental in helping to compile the Sutra section of the tripitaka that was formalized at the conclusion of the Council. In other words, Ananda helped to spread the true Dharma in all directions and benefited the world just as the Buddha prophesied that he would. It was also Ananda’s perception of the Buddha and his appreciation of the Buddha’s appearance as the World-Honored One, the Great Sage, the Great Hero, the World’s Eye, the Preeminent One of the World, and the Heaven-Honored One, that has allowed us to hear of Amida Buddha and his Vow to save foolish beings who may know better, but still can’t help themselves. We can still be inspired by the example of Ananda because, even as an exemplar of a foolish being or bonbu, we discover that he was still capable of extraordinary things. Ananda helped to spread the Dharma throughout the world. He helped us to see how even a foolish being is still embraced in the Dharma—the gift of truth that a Buddha vows to share with us—and how through this Dharma, the dark veil of ignorance can be shattered. For example, in the opening line of the Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyo Gyo Sho Monrui, Shinran Shonin writes:
The universal Vow difficult to fathom is indeed a great vessel bearing us across the ocean difficult to cross. The unhindered light is the sun of wisdom dispersing the darkness of our ignorance.
Even today as we are embraced in the compassionate activity of the Buddha, we share in the Buddha’s light of wisdom and in the life of compassion that captivates, educates, inspires and motivates us to discover our shared humanity.