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Searching for Amida

As someone who was not raised Buddhist, I’ve been on a journey to reconcile my preconceived ideas and past experiences with new ways of seeing and interpreting life.

Sometimes this results in a collision inside of my head, and in the worst case scenario, there might be existential gridlock that makes me question whether I am on the right path. Then I have to discern whether or not the collision is a dealbreaker.

Recently, I found myself hung up on Amida Buddha. Again.

Rev. Gyomay Kubose’s book, “The Center Within,” encapsulates the appeal of Buddhism for me. Rev. Kubose wrote that the main purpose of Buddhism is to “find oneself.” He elaborated, “Being human you have negative emotions; but if you are aware, you can always return to basic consciousness.” Your center within.

This idea of finding inner peace is exactly what finally drew me into a more serious practice. I’d been trying to find my center throughout my entire life. It appealed to me that Buddhism could be a tool for my own personal journey, through the good and the bad, teaching me how to make the most out of this one life.

But sometimes we come across triggers from our past religious lives, little mental snags that make us wonder if we inadvertently returned to what we tried to escape. This is what happened to me recently when I heard an “Amida Buddha” reference. I don’t know why. I’ve heard Amida Buddha a zillion times. There are statues. There are chants and songs. I’ve learned many explanations of the concept both in dharma talks and through reading books.

It's often a subtle reference when my ear catches it — Amida spoken of as a who. A person. This causes me to pause. Can I embrace Amida Buddha in my spiritual journey when it is sometimes referenced as a person? Didn’t I run away from the concept of a god?

I observed that different Buddhist practitioners have varying ways of interpreting and applying the concept of Amida Buddha. I never quite know if it is a translation issue, or if I actually heard what I thought I heard.

This led me on a deep dive to find answers.

In the middle of researching and underlining everything I could find about Amida Buddha in my expanding library of Buddhist texts, I happened to coincidentally start class 13-A in the EVERYDAY BUDDHIST Course Pathway with Rev. Jon Turner, entitled “Amida Buddha.” Perfect timing.

In this class, Rev. Turner clarified that Amida is “a what, not a who.” It is the representation of an ideal. The course included an essay by Luis Gomez, which explained that Amida Buddha is “a model for human ethical behavior.”

This made sense to me. I could accept this Amida Buddha. But I still felt like I needed more information. In my next column, I will share the insights I gained from my search for Amida Buddha.

Next: Finding Amida


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