In the worlds of the zenith there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha “Pure Voice”, and the Buddha “Sojourner King”, and the Buddha “Incense Fragrance”, and the Buddha “Fragrant Light”, and the Buddha “Great Blazing Shoulders”, and the Buddha “Body of Multicolored Jewel Flower Garlands”, and the Buddha “Sala Tree King”, and the Buddha “Precious Flower Virtue”, and the Buddha “Sees All Truths”, and the Buddha “Like the Polar Mountain”. Each of them preaches in his own land with the eloquence of a Buddha, and covers a whole cosmos, speaking the truth. All of you sentient beings should believe this scripture extolling their inconceivable merits, which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind.http://www.buddhasutra.com/files/amidasutra.htm
This is the last of the “protection verse” in the Amitabha Sutra. Referring to my previous post relating to the invocation or recollection of these directional Buddha, you witness how I relate to “Celestial Buddha”. For example, feeling assured of protection, gaining confidence for my future, etc. In short, it is pretty much like having devotional faith in a divine being.
What are Celestial Buddhas? This is an intermediate topic and may make beginners uncomfortable, especially if you perceive Buddha as an “external” divine being who grants wishes, protections, and other divine blessings. Nonetheless, this is an important topic if we wish to practice Dharma correctly.
To understand celestial Buddha, we need to understand the meaning of historical Buddha. Historical Buddha refers to Shakyamuni Buddha and He is the original founder of Buddhism. His earthly remains are still being worshipped all over the world. This shows that Shakyamuni Buddha is not a mythical being. Shakyamuni Buddha recounted 28 Buddhas preceding Him. (Here’s a link if you are interested to know more). In a way, we can think of them as having had existed in our world system aeons ago. These Buddhas, including Shakyamuni Buddha were recorded in the Pali Buddhist Canon, which is being relied upon by the Theravada tradition.
In the Theravada tradition, Buddha’s presence in our world today is limited to His Dharma. He already exited our world after His parinirvana. Those who wish to know Buddha intimately are advised to do so by knowing the Dharma. Everyone is responsible for his own enlightenment and the method to do so can be found in the dharma. Therefore it is incorrect to relate to Buddha as if he is an eternal divine being sitting in some obscure heaven.
Naturally, not everyone can accept this message. Some people have a psychological need to believe in a divine presence, just like me. We want to believe that Buddha is somewhere out there watching over us. The idea of Him leaving us behind doesn’t sound very compassionate. Consequently, people might become disheartened and close their minds to Dharma. In a way, we are like infants crying for mothers and fathers, prone to throwing tantrums.
This is where Mahayana Buddhism comes into the picture. In Mahayana Buddhism, each Buddha has their own heaven (known as Pure Land). Just like Amitabha Buddha and the other Buddhas being mentioned in this Sutra. We call out to them, maintain devotional faith in them. We believe that they are somewhere out there, keeping a watchful eye over us, protecting us, taking care of us, both in this life and in our afterlife. If we relate to Buddha in this manner, then we are associating with celestial Buddhas. In short, we treat Buddha as another god-like being.
However, if you have the opportunities to learn from qualified masters, then it is inevitable at some point in time that you will be taught NOT TO BE ATTACHED TO FORMS. In short, that means we should not create any attachment to these celestial Buddhas. The Zen tradition goes as far as to say, “If you see Buddha during your meditation, kill it.” That means to ignore it completely. Vajrayana Buddhism is a subset of Mahayana Buddhism and if you encounter Vajrayana practices, you will be familiar with the practice of creating celestial Buddhas in our mind during visualisations, only to dissolve them into emptiness subsequently.
Personally, after years of practice, all the above point to one message. Celestial Buddha is in our mind. We created divine beings through our imaginations and needs. However, that doesn’t mean they do not exist. This is because the world that we know, is formed out of our experiences obtained through our mind anyway. By creating our own celestial Buddha(s), we skilfully fulfill our psychological needs. Our celestial Buddhas are as efficacious as any other divine beings in any religion in the world. Since celestial beings are created by one’s mind, it explained why an uneducated Chinese grandmother can pray to her kitchen stove and have her prayers answered. Or someone praying to a tree or a mountain or a lake or some other such representations of divine presence.
Therefore, a practicing Buddhist will be trained to ultimately understand that celestial beings are just creations of our minds. Our reliance and needs for a divine being arose from an unenlightened mind. Ultimately, we realized that we are the Buddha. This differentiates our celestial Buddha from other divine beings in other religions. In Buddhism, celestial Buddhas are just another tool for enlightenment. Correspondingly, if you do not understand what Buddha means, your celestial Buddha will be as bad as your mind can be. That is how some practitioners may wrongly construe their celestial Buddha to possess unenlightened qualities like craving, fear, anger, etc. One practitioner had even shared with me that “Buddha” challenged him to jump off a cliff to prove his devotion. (sounds familiar? He was from another religion formerly)
Do you find this message enlightening or fearsome?
There is no right or wrong answer. It all depends on our level of maturity. When we begin our spiritual journey, we are just like children. We need sugar-coated Dharma to help us practice. But as we mature, it may become unnecessary. What is uniquely Buddhist is that we are trained to own the Dharma. Consequently, we also understand that we own these celestial Buddhas. It is all in our minds. That is why it is very important to associate with good qualified dharma teachers.
But if this is too much to swallow, then it is fine to simply relate to Buddha as if he is another divine being.
As mentioned earlier, this is an intermediary to advance level article. Thanks for reading until here. If you are uncomfortable with the above, just leave it at the back of your mind. Focus on one-pointed mindfulness of Amitabha’s name.
Ultimately, all Buddhist practices will bring us back to the original message of nirvana and peace.
Who is chanting Namo Amitabha Buddha?
May all be well and happy.
May the pandemic end.