Amida, the Dharma-body
by Zuio H. Inagaki
Since Amida attained Buddhahood
Ten kalpas have passed;
The Light of his Dharma-Body
Illumines the darkness of the world. (Jodo Wasan 1)
When Gautama became a Buddha known as Shakyamuni, it was the power of the Dharma - not his human power - that brought him Enlightenment. At the moment of awakening to the Dharma, he became one with it and, thereby, acquired a Dharma-Body without losing his human body. He then dedicated the remaining years of his life to explaining to his fellow-countrymen what the Dharma was and how they could realise it. In so doing, he had recourse to spoken words in the conventional way but, more often and more importantly, he used a direct method of spiritual communication - samadhi. We Mahayanists believe in the transmission of the Dharma through samadhi and seek to attain emancipation through practices based on samadhi.
According to the Larger Sutra, which Shakyamuni revealed through the Amida-Samadhi, Amida was formerly a Bodhisattva named Dharmakara, 'the Dharma-Treasury'; he made forty-eight Vows, performed acts of virtue and attained Buddhahood ten kalpas ago. 'Kalpa', an incredibly long period of time, is the word used to describe events in the transcendent realm. Upon attaining Buddhahood, Amida acquired the Dharma-Body in the same way as Shakyamuni. What distinguished him from Shakyamuni was that Amida chose to stay in the transcendent realm, while Shakyamuni chose to become a Buddha in the world of experience where we live.
The sphere over which Amida presides is called the 'Land of Utmost Bliss' - Sukhavati in Sanskrit. It is, however, not separate from his Dharma-Body. The Pure Land is itself Amida's Body, for in the transcendent realm there is no distinction between one's existence and one's environment. What actually exists in the Pure Land is boundless Light - the Light of Wisdom and Compassion. It is significant that in Shin terminology both Amida's Name and the name of the Pure Land have 'Light' as the essential part. Shinran declares: 'The Buddha (in Jodoshinshu) is the Buddha of Inconceivable Light, and the Land is the Land of Infinite Light.' (Kyogyoshinsho, 'Chapter on True Buddha and Land') The same transcendent Light manifests itself as Amida's majestic, illuminating body and also as the glorious splendours of the Pure Land fully described in the Three Pure Land Sutras.
Let us reflect on the nature of this world of experience. We are taught that this is the realm of Samsara where sentient beings are driven by blind passions to grasp at objects and commit various karmic transgressions and, consequently, to repeat cycles of birth and death without end. While repeating passion-ridden acts, we accumulate evil karma, which supplies energy to perpetuate the condition of birth-and-death. Reflecting on himself and his fellow-beings, Shinran deplores: 'From the beginingless past until now, all the multitude of beings have been transmigrating in the sea of ignorance, drowning in the rounds of existence, bound to the cycle of suffering, and lacking in pure faith.' (Kyogyoshinsho, 'Chapter on True Faith')
For us who cannot escape from this realm of Samsara, the Pure Land offers a haven, for that transcendent realm is filled with the Light of Truth and there is no illusion and ignorance to drive us to evil karma.
The Light of the Dharma-Body which fills the Pure Land pervades everywhere in the realm of Samsara. Vasubandhu, the Second of the Seven Masters, succinctly calls Amida 'the Buddha of Unhindered Light Shining Throughout the Ten Quarters.' Although we look up to Amida and worship him as if he were residing somewhere beyond our knowledge and perception, from Amida's side there is no boundary that separates us from him. His Light always shines upon us wherever we are. Even though we are not able to see it, we can feel it and rejoice at being embraced by it at all times.