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The Cosmic Buddha That Embodies Infinite Light, Life

I would like to begin by reading a passage from the “Contemplation Sutra” quoted by Shinran Shonin in the chapter on practice from the “Kyogyoshinsho”:


The light emanating from Amida Buddha's features and marks shines everywhere throughout the worlds of the ten quarters, grasping and never abandoning sentient beings of the Nembutsu. 

— “Collected Works of Shinran,” Page 47


When you walk into the Hondo of the Midwest Buddhist Temple, one of the first things you see is the Amida Buddha statue. The large size of the statue is somewhat unusual for a Jodo Shinshu temple, but our founding minister, Rev. Gyodo Kono, wanted people to see this first when they walked in. I think you would agree it has an amazing presence.


Amida Buddha is a cosmic Buddha and not a historical figure, but is the personification or embodiment of infinite light and life or universal wisdom and boundless compassion. The image symbolically represents ultimate reality and helps us ordinary people grasp the vast complexity of our existence.


Amida Buddha is not a deity to be worshipped, is not a divine savior, does not have supernatural power and is not omnipotent. Amida Buddha is not considered a supreme being who created the universe and now resides somewhere to watch over me, judging my thoughts and actions according to some divine standard. Amida does not live in temporal time, and is neither male nor female. 

What Amida Buddha does represent is the working of wisdom and compassion we experience in our lives. It is the ultimate reality that the historical Buddha awakened to in his enlightenment. It is represented anthropomorphically to help us understand what is difficult to understand.


The sacred story of Bodhisattva Dharmakara to make vows to become Amida Buddha and to establish the Pure Land to liberate all beings is difficult to believe, but what matters is what the story means. It expresses the deeper truth about the existence of the working of Amida. Another way to think about Amida Buddha is the content of Shakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment. 


Think of Amida as the dynamic spiritual power manifesting as wisdom and compassion that I am made aware of in the ordinary experience of my daily life. Wisdom helps me to see myself and life as they really are, not just as I wish them to be. Compassion enhances my appreciation for things and assures me that I am embraced by a wider community and not forsaken as an isolated individual. If you look from the side, the statue leans slightly forward reminding us that Amida’s compassion is dynamic and is always coming toward us.


The Amida statue has a great deal of symbolism. It can evoke a deeply spiritual feeling. It stands on a lotus, which is a widely used symbol of Buddhism. Lotus flowers grow in the murkiest mud, not in spite of that, but because of it. It symbolizes the purity and perfection unaffected by the seeming impurity that surrounds it. It is symbolic of us who have imperfections and limitations but can still grow from this foundation. It is a reminder of our potential. Amida Buddha is a symbol of that which we should become.

The hand gestures are called mudras. The thumb and index fingers join to form a circle or wheel of perfection, indicating no beginning and no end. 

The right hand is raised to shoulder level with the palm facing outward symbolizing light or Wisdom. The left hand hangs down with the palm facing outward, symbolizing life or Compassion.

There is much gold in the Onaijin. Gold is considered high value and never tarnishes. Gold expresses how the Buddha sees the world. From the Buddha’s view everything is as shiny and as brilliant as gold.  On the other hand, our view is very dualistic — good and bad, like and dislike, self and other. Amida Buddha’s light of wisdom helps us recognize our nature of seeing everything through our discriminating eyes and teaches us to rely on the wisdom of the Buddha rather than relying on our self-centered viewpoints.

The bump on the head is one of the 32 marks of a Buddha indicating vast wisdom. The eyes are half-open and half-closed, showing the Buddha looking outward yet also looking inward in introspection. The spot on the forehead is also one of the 32 marks of a Buddha and in this form is thought to be the third eye or spiritual eye. This third eye to see beyond this world into the realm of enlightenment.

The prongs surrounding the head of the Buddha are 48 in number. They are 48 rays of light that represent the 48 Vows made by the Bodhisattva Dharmakara who fulfilled them and becomes Amida Buddha. 

These symbolic rays of light shine unhindered and can penetrate the ego-shell of karmic beings like us. It is the light of wisdom to show us the truth. The rounded shaped shield behind the Buddha is like a boat, which carries one across to the other shore. This metaphor is that one does not have to strive through treacherous terrain on one’s own but can be carried across the ocean through boundless wisdom and compassion.


The facial expression conveys warmth and reassurance. Amida’s compassion means the Buddha shares in your emotions. The Buddha’s compassion is different from our human compassion. We are limited in how we express compassion but the Buddha truly is one with everyone. We can see our emotions in the face of the Buddha and that can give us comfort knowing we are accepted as we are. Even the Buddha’s facial features are descriptive of people from many races, serving as a reminder that the possibility of becoming a Buddha is not limited to one people, but is possible for all people. 

So remember the feelings we can have when we see the Buddha. It is the compassion we feel from Amida Buddha that we are not alone. 


We can see Amida in our daily life through the awe and appreciation for the life-giving realities that produce, nurture and sustain life. I also find Amida in the negatives of life like the funeral of someone who died at a young age. 

In my sorrow, I am led to see life as it really is and not as I would like it to be. The tears I shed help me to see more clearly. This experience is a reminder for me to cherish the present moment.

These ideas are difficult to fully actualize, but they serve to point the way. In the experience of trying to live up to these ideals, we are humbled in the realization that my very existence is indebted to the myriad causes and conditions that pervade the universe.


The boundless and ever-expanding everyday compassion reflects what Amida means to me. Amida is the immanent fundamental reality that was there all along, of which I am a part, like a wave is to the waters of Lake Michigan. 

What that means is if we think of our life like a wave in Lake Michigan located near our temple. For a certain period of time, the wave has a certain shape and form. That is like our life. When our life ends, it is like the wave that breaks on the shore and goes back into Lake Michigan, but it was never really separated from the lake. 

We each have a form, as each wave has a particular distinct shape due to causes and conditions, yet its form is temporary as soon as the wave breaks on the shore. As the wave goes away, the water returns to the lake as the wave was always part of Lake Michigan and will continue to be part of Lake Michigan. We go back to the universe that we were always a part of.


We recite Namo Amida Butsu as a spontaneous expression of my appreciation and amazement for all that is. Namo Amida Butsu is what we can say when there are no words to express how profound our gratitude is.


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