HOME WRITE TO ME... REFERENCES

Neil's Website | Ajit's Website

 

XI

Christian Influence on Buddhism

Buddhism was started by Siddhārtha Gautama a prince of Nepal.   The earliest full biography, is an epic poem written by the poet Aśvaghoa, dating around the beginning of the 2nd century AD.    (Next biography Lalitavistara Sūtra, a Mahāyāna/ Sarvāstivāda date 3rd century AD.  And Mahāvastu from the Mahāsāghika Lokottaravāda sect date 4th century AD.) The character of the Buddha in these traditional  biographies is often remniscent of the birth and life of Jesus.  This is not the picture painted by the earliest canonical sources. These were obviously written after 2nd C AD and therefore shows the influence of the presence of Christianity in India.  This influence is seen not only in the stories but also in the doctrines as the history of buddhism show.  Buddhism changed over from Atheistic to Theistic under the influence of Christianity.

Buddhism did not start as a religion, but as a reaction to the rise of Brahminic dominance and superstition in Vedism. Buddhi actually means “Rational Thinking”. It started as  part of scientific approach to realities known as  nastika darsanas; or atheistic view point.  This then was one of the earliest Rationalistic Movements based on the then known science. Rationalist movement is a philosophical doctrine that asserts that the truth can best be discovered by reason and factual analysis, rather than faith, dogma or religious teaching. Seeing that Buddah lived 200 years before Aristotle, Buddhism was the beginning of modern Rationalism.  Buddha was an atheist and lived in the fifth century BC.  (Most early 20th-century historians dated his lifetime as 563 BCE to 483 BCE,  but more recent opinion dates his death to between to between 486 and 483 BCE.  He lived 80 years)  He was just trying to explain the universe in scientific terms. In Buddhist thought, there is no supreme being, no Creator, no omnipotent omnipresent God, no loving Lord.

Buddhi

Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 171

Buddhi (Sanskrit, "intellect") in Sanskrit (Hindu) literature is the higher mental faculty, the instrument of knowledge, discerment, and decision. Buddhi is comprehended slightly different in different philosophical systems. On the whole, it contrasts with manas, mind, whose province is ordinary consciousness and the connection of atman with the senses. Buddhi, however, is a higher faculty that acts in sense percepts organized by manas and furnishes intellectual discrimination, determination, reason, and will. As such buddhi is at the very core of one's being, as sentient creatures, and the closest mental faculty to the atman, real Self or spirit.

In Samkhya-yoga philosophy, buddhi (or mahat, "the great one") plays a key role. Buddhi is the first principle derived from unmanifest, prakrti (and predominant in sattva guna, ("intellectual stuff"), virtually transparent reflector for pure consciousness (purusa), with which buddhi mistakenly identifies. With this mistaken identification with the conscious principle, a fall into ignorance, buddhi produces the next principle, ahamkara, which in turn produces manas. The three together make up the "internal instrument," or antahkarana. For salvation, buddhi must attain the discriminative discernment between itself as unconscious matter, prahrti, and the independent and transcendent principle of pure consciousness, purusa.

 

 

Based on the Buddhist principles, the assumption of existence of God is equivalent to saying that the void (nothingness) exists.  Saying that God is loving and desires relationship causing attachment implying God has desire which comes from ignorance. Saying that God created us and has a purpose for our lives is saying that God is karma, the cause and effect of our existence. Thus, in Buddhist thought, the concept of God is most closely equated to the void, ignorance, and karma.

Of course Buddha acknowledged other spheres of existence.                                   

The Theravada school, which claims to have guarded the unaltered message of its founder, teaches that there is neither a personal god, nor a spiritual or material substance that exists by itself as Ultimate Reality. The world as we know it does not have its origin in a Primordial Being. It exists only as a mental construction within the mind of sentients shaped by the senses. What we see is only a product of transitory factors of existence, which depend functionally upon each other. The Buddha said:

“The world exists because of causal actions, all things are produced by causal actions and all beings are governed and bound by causal actions. They are fixed like the rolling wheel of a cart, fixed by the pin of its axle shaft.” (Sutta-Nipata 654)

There are many realms of existance.  Gods exist, but they are only temporal beings in other dimensions of existence just like beings here on earth and as such are subject to cause and effect of the realms in which they live in themselves.  Gods are not exempt from the law of decay and death.  In some dimensions their lives may last for eons depending on the worldm but they eventually die. But the materials that built the body and mind survive and form part of new birth. It does not reborn in the same personality. Gods are not to be worshipped, and they do not represent the basis for morality. Thus there are no moral absoutes except that are developed by the cosmic sentients by mutual consents for the survival..

No God, no Brahma can be found. No matter of this wheel of life, Just bare  phenomena roll Dependent on conditions all. (Visuddhimagga)

According to Buddhism, ultimate reality is samsara, endless existence, but it is also impermanent, ever in flux, ever changing.It is empty, yet full.That is, form is always a temporary state of being.Some forms last long, others are brief.  Elements come together to create a particular form, but eventually those elements will break apart again and the object will cease to exist. Even the reincarnation is not re-entering of the personal soul in another form.  It is a new form and combination from the junkyard of cosmos recycled from cosmic parts in all the worlds.

In bhavacakra, the Wheel of Life and Death,   the universe is depicted as a series of concentric circles all within the grasp of Mara, the lord of death.Several realms for gods of different types and several different hells, as well as an animal realm and a realm for humans are contained within the wheel.

 

 

What started as a rationalistic scientific movement soon gave way to instutionalization and canons and legalities.

Soon after the death of Buddha schism began to appear.

"1st Buddhist council (5th c. BCE)
The first Buddhist council was held soon after the death of the Buddha(within three months)  under the patronage of king Ajatasatru of the Magadha empire, and presided by a monk named Mahakasyapa, at Rajagriha (today's Rajgir). The objective of the council was to record the Buddha's sayings (sutra) and codify monastic rules (vinaya): Ananda, one of the Buddha's main disciples and his cousin, was called upon to recite the discourses of the Buddha, and Upali, another disciple, recited the rules of the vinaya. These became the basis of the Pali Canon, which has been the orthodox text of reference throughout the history of Buddhism.


   [The initial cause for this council, according to one source, was the overhearing of a conversation by Mahakassapa, chief disciple of the Buddha, in which an aged monk Subhadda openly said to other monks:

   "Do not grieve, do not lament. We are happily rid of the Great Sramana (Buddha). We used to be annoyed by being told: 'This beseems you, this beseems you not.' But now we shall be able to do whatever we like, and what we do not like, we shall not have to do."

   (H. Kern, Manual of Indian Buddhism (Delhi, 1970), quoted in: Kanai Lal Hazra, History of Theravada Buddhism in South-East Asia (New Delhi: Munshiran Manoharlal Publishers Pvt Ltd, 1982), p. 25)
These became the two Pitakas or "baskets" (so named because manuscripts were later carried around in baskets), the Suttanta-Pitaka, consisting of the sermons of the Buddha, and the Vinaya-Pitaka, or the rules of discipline. However
the accounts of the council in the scriptures of the schools differ as to what was actually recited there.  Since it was transmitted only orally.

The logic of science was lost and gave way to institutionalized religion. Soon institutionalization took over and arhants began to fight over minor things reminiscent of the jewish legalism and Pharisaism.  which led to the second Buddhist council.

2nd Buddhist council (383 BCE)
The second Buddhist council was convened by King Kalasoka and held at Vaisali

  1.     The  dispute  arose on “Ten Points”.   The  ten points were:

       1. Storing salt in a horn.
       2. Eating after midday
    .
       3. Eating once and then going again to a village for alms.
       4. Holding the Uposatha Ceremony with monks dwelling in the same locality.
       5. Carrying out official acts when the assembly was incomplete.
       6. Following a certain practice because it was done by one's tutor or teacher.
       7. Eating sour milk after one had his
    midday meal.
       8. Consuming strong drink before it had been fermented.
       9. Using a rug which was not the proper size.
       10. Using gold and silver.

The Third Council was called by the Emperor Ashoka and held at Pataliputra. The content of the Pâli Tripit.aka, "Three Baskets," is supposed to have been settled at this Council.

                              

The Fourth Council was called under the Emperor Kanishka I and held at Jalandhara (or Purushpura, Peshawar, Kanishka's capital). The Council supervised the translation of the Tripit.aka into Sanskrit. The Canon apparently had not only existed in Pâli, but in other Prakrits, which were all consulted for a standard Sanskrit version. It appears to be the Sanskrit texts that were subsequently spread to China. The sutras of the Mahâyâna may have existed only in Sanskrit from the beginning.

 

Theravâda ("Teaching of the Elders") Buddhism (called "Hînayâna," the "Lesser Vehicle," by the Mahâyâna): In India, 5th century BC to 1st century AD.

They believed that Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama, Shakyamuni) is gone, and individual practitioners must work out their salvation on their own. Individual practitioners cannot become Buddhas, only arhats ("saints") can. There will be a future Buddha, Maitreya, but not for thousands of years.  Samsâra is suffering and Nirvân.a is  liberation from death and rebirth but is rational understanding.

The Theravadins eventually split into sixteen sects, by the end of the second century B.C. (The term “Hinayana”, or the “lesser vehicle”, was coined by the Mahayanists later as a derogatory term.)

 

The conversion of Ashoka the Great, in the 3rd BC was the most important turning point in the history of Buddhism  Ashoka convened the third Buddhist council at Pataliputra (modern Patna) and he launched a vigorous campaign to preach and propagate the message of the Buddha.  He took Buddhism from caves and monasteries and made it a national religion. He send his own son and daughters to Sri Lanka, on a Buddhist Mission.  It became a powerful common religon of India during the period 200 BC to 700 AD. 

 

So far Buddhism remained essentially atheistic.  However by the second half of the first century it came across the new way – The Thomas Way - brought in by the foreigners.  Within a century it became the dominant religion of the Southern India. He brought in the concept of a Supreme Person of God who is Love and who created the universe which was alien to all Indian religious thought of the period.  The new doctrine of a compassionate and loving God transformed the atheistic Buddhism giving the moral values a more rigid foundation.

 

Sanskrit word “Buddha”  is usually translated as "awakened one."  (In the Buddhist doctrine there is no such thing as a Soul.  Thus as as Sidharta arose from the slumbers of ignorance he is called a Buddha.  It could as well be translated as the “Annointed one”, the Christ,  if there is an Awakener and an Annointer.  Jesus became Christ, as Goutama became Buddha. 

 

Early 3rd-4th century Christian writers such as Hippolytus of Rome and Epiphanius write about a Scythianus, who visited India around 50 AD from where he brought "the doctrine of the Two Principles". According to these writers, Scythianus' pupil Terebinthus presented himself as a "Buddha" ("he called himself Buddas" Cyril of Jerusalem). Terebinthus went to Palestine and Judaea where he met the Apostles ("becoming known and condemned" Isaia), and ultimately settled in Babylon, where he transmitted his teachings to Mani, thereby creating the foundation of what could be called Persian syncretic Buddhism, Manicheism. Mani is many times referred to as Buddha Mani. Mani came to India and evangelized even down to Kerala.  Later Hinduism deified him as Subhra Manium.

 

The coming of the Gnostics gave impetus to the thought pattern of comparing Christ and Buddha. Gnostics believe that Jesus got his annointing and election as Christ during his 40 days of meditation in the desert, which parallels Buddhas mediation under the Pepul Tree.  By 2nd Century A.D.the Christian influence was so great that Nagarjuna developed the Mahayana philosophy of Sunyata.    Under the influence of Christianity Mahayana Buddhism introduced a God who created the world and Buddha himself became the first "god" of Buddhism.

 

Mahâyâna ("Great Vehicle") Buddhism:

In India, this new way began to blossom from 1st century AD to 6th century AD.

1.      The Gautama Buddha is not gone, and individual practitioners are not on their own. Instead, the Buddha taught the dharma out of compassion, and his compassion would prevent him from being unavailable to practitioners now. Indeed, to emulate the compassion of the Buddha, practitioners become bodhisattvas, who vow to carry all beings with them into salvation. Bodhisattvas are also available, like the Buddhas, to help people work out their salvation. Maitreya is presently a bodhisattva, but the most important bodhisattva is probably Avalokiteshvara, who developed into the Chinese goddess of Mercy, Guanyin (Kwan-in in Wade-Giles, Kannon in Japan).

2.      The Buddha was not unique, and individual practitioners who have become bodhisattvas can become Buddhas. There are already multiple Buddhas besides Shakyamuni. Most important are Mahâvairocana and Amitâbha. Amitâbha is famous for his Western Paradise, or Pure Land, where he has Vowed to cause anyone who calls on him for help to be born, so they will be free of the world of suffering to work out their ultimate liberation. In Japan Amitâbha is known as Amida and Mahâvairocana as Dainichi. Most of the famous Buddha statues in Japan are not Shakyamuni: the great outdoor bronze Buddha at Kamakura is Amida, and the Buddha enshrined in the Tôdaiji ("Great Eastern") Temple in Nara (the largest wooden building in the world), is another Buddha named Locana.

3.      Nirvân.a and samsâra are no longer definitely different. The "Fourfold Negation" is applied to the relationship between the two. Samsâra and nirvân.a are thus neither the same, nor different, nor both the same and different, nor neither the same nor different. This allows some room for maneuver, which may have made Buddhism more palatable in China, where Confucianism never did approve either of the world-denying metaphysics or the monasticism of Buddhism. Distinctively Chinese schools of Buddhism developed, like T'ien-t'ai (Tendai in Japan) and Ch'an (Seon [Son] in Korea, Thien in Vietnam, Zen in Japan), for whom samsâra and nirvân.a were virtually identical, so that enlightenment and nirvân.a transformed the world rather than eliminated it. The paradoxical metaphysics of Buddhism could be assimilated to the similar paradoxical doctrines of the native Chinese philosophical school of Taoism.

There are no  representations of the Buddha in human form until around the 1st century CE

4.     

Mahâyâna Buddhism is presently practiced in China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.

Vajrayâna ("Thunderbolt Vehicle") Buddhism: In India, 6th to 11th century.

Vajrayâna Buddhism is Tantric Buddhism, which evolved as a result of syncretization of local witchcraft and magic of the local culture.  Tantric magic is performed through man.d.alas, sacred diagrams, mantras, sacred formulas for recitation (the most famous one being, "Om, mane padme hum" -- "The jewel is in the lotus"), and mudrâs, sacred gestures.  While Buddhas tend to be regarded as male in all branches of Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism supplies female figures corresponding to each Buddha, like the "savioresses" Green Târâ, White Târâ, and Mâmakî, who actually vow to always be reborn as women in the process of leading all beings to salvation.

     

Vajrayâna Buddhism most importantly spread to Tibet and then Mongolia. In Tibet it is usually called Lamaism. The present Dalai Lamas form successive incarnations of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.

The influence of Christianity is clearly found in various concepts found only in Mahayana.  Here are a few excerpts from authorities.

"Hermann says that a theory the Buddha differs radically from a theistic God, in religious practice however he admits that within the realm of sentiments on which the 'Lotus Sutra' is based, he obviously shares some features with a gracious "Father in Heaven" who is the protector of men in need".  Hermann Von Glasenapp, Buddhism-A Non Theistic Religion, P.77

"In the Saddharma Pundarika Gantama Buddha is described as the loving father of all creatures, and all pious Buddhists are exhorted to worship and adore him".

"Buddha claims a very personal relationship with his devotees in chapter III of Saddharma Pundarika............................ I the great seer, am the protector and father of all being and all the creatures who childlike are captivated by the pleasures of the triple world are my sons......... I am the Tathagata, the Lord who has no superior, who appears in this world to save".

 Different virtues of Buddha were personified as Bodhisattvas.

This is a Garbhadhatu mandala, representing Vairocana Buddha surrounded by eight Buddhas and bodhisattvas
(clockwise from top: Ratnaketu, Samantabhadra, Samkusumitaraja, Manjusri, Amitabha, Avalokitesvara, Dundubhinirghosa, Maitreya).

"The two chief bodhisattvas, Manjusri and Aralokitesvara, are personifications of wisdom (prajna) and Mercy (Karuna) respectively".

"The Karanda-Vyuha explains that Avalokiteswara is so called, because he regards with compassion all beings suffering from the evils of existence". He is also regarded as an emanation of that Buddha. As a bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara is the personification of Mercy".

Vajradhraja Sutra Quoted in Santideva's Siksasamuccaya, (tr. Bendall and Rouse) goes even further to identify Buddha to the status of Christ

`I take upon myself... the deeds of all beings, I take their suffering upon me .................... I must bear the burden of all beings, for I have vowed to save all things living..... I think not of my own salvation, but strive to bestow on all beings the royalty of supreme wisdom. So I take upon myself all the sorrows of all beings. I resolve to bear every torment in every purgatory of the universe. For it is better that I alone suffer than the multitude of living beings. I give myself in exchange........ I agree to suffer as a ransom for all beings, for the sake of all beings......."

In Jataka mala, nature of bodhisattva is described as follows.

"By the merit of my charitable deed, May I become the guide and saviour of the world, which is lost in the wilderness of mundane existence. I wish to accomplish the good of other".  Jataka Mala 4.24; 11.2; 204.3 Nagananda iv, 26(p.77), Quoted ny Har Dayal, Op.Cit., P.180.

"Monks, there is one person  whose birth into this world is for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the gain and welfare and happiness of gods and humanity. Who is this one person? It is the Tathâgata, who is a Worthy One, a Fully Enlightened One  ~ Anguttara Nikaya

A.L. Basham in his book 'The Wonder That Was India' writes,

The Bodhisattva was thought of as a spirit not only of compassion but also of suffering. In more than one source we read the vow or resolve of the Bodhisattva, which is sometimes expressed in almost Christian terms:

"I take upon myself... the deeds of all beings, even of those in the hells, in other worlds, in the realms of punishment... I take their suffering upon me,... I bear it, I do not draw back from it, I do not tremble at it ... I have no fear of it,... I do not lose heart... I must bear the burden of all beings, for I have vowed to save all things living, to bring them safe through the forest of birth, age, disease, death and rebirth. I think not of my own salvation, but strive to bestow on all beings the royalty of supreme wisdom. So I take upon myself all the sorrows of all beings. I resolve to bear every torment in every purgatory of the universe. For it is better that I alone suffer than the multitude of living beings. I give myself in exchange. I redeem the universe from the forest of purgatory, from the womb of flesh, from the realm of death. I agree to suffer as a ransom for all beings, for the sake of all beings. Truly I will not abandon them. For I have resolved to gain supreme wisdom for the sake of all that lives, to save the world."

Romila Thapar in her book "A History of India," (Volume 1, pages 131-134) writes,

There were other aspects of Mahayana Buddhism, which appear to have had their origin outside India. Among these is the idea of the coming of the Maitreya Buddha to save the world, with which was connected the concept of ‘the suffering savior’ - the bodhisattva who redeems humanity through his own suffering: evidently the new beliefs current in Palestine were known to the Buddhists by this time.

"Vishnu assumes various forms or incarnations and enters the world of men in order to save them from evil. The tenth and final incarnation has yet to come, and on this occasion he will come in the form of Kalkin riding a white horse, which suggests a connection with the idea of the Messiah and the coming of the Maitreya Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism."

Nagarujana, (150 – 250 CE) who was a friend and contemporary of the Satavahana king-propounded the Madhyamika school of Buddhist philosophy, popularly known as Sunyavada.

He is credited with developing the philosophy of the Prajnaparamita sutras, and was closely associated with the Buddhist university of Nalanda. In the Jodo Shinshu branch of Buddhism, he is considered the First Patriarch.

 

     

The first Buddhist monastic university, Nalanda, was built near Rajagrha at the beginning of the second century C.E. [some say 450 CE]. Nagarjuna, was one of the major  teachers of Nalanda School.  He lived most of his life in southern India when South India was Christian. Much of the Tibetan Mahayanist influence came from Nalanda.

Reality, according to Mahayana Buddhism, has three levels of perception, known also as the three bodies (trikaya) of Buddha: nirmanakaya, the physical body of the founder, that is subject to change; sambhogakaya, the body of the boddhisattvas; and dharmakaya, the ultimate nature of all things. The dharmakaya state is also called suchness or emptiness (devoid of attributes).

"The Great Vehicle was not content with creating the pantheon of noble and beneficient Bodhisattvas. Probably developing from the old heresy of the Mahasanghika school (P.263) the idea arose that Gautama Buddha had not been a mere man, but the earthly expression of a mighty spiritual being. This being has three bodies; a body of essence (Dharmakaya), a Body of bliss (Sambhogakaya), and a created Body (Nirmanakaya) and of these only the last was seen on earth. The Body of essence eternally penetrates and permeates the universe; it is the ultimate Buddha, of which the other two bodies are emanations.................................................... The created Body was a mere emanation of he Body of Bliss. This reminds us of the docetic heresy in Chrisitanity, and it is possible that docetism and the doctrine of the Three Bodies owe much to a common gnostic source in the middle east".17

"The Buddha's Body of Bliss is the presiding deity of the most important Mahayana heaven, Sukhavati, the "Happy Land !................. this divine Buddha is usually called Amitabha (immeasurable Glory) or Amitayas (Immeasurable Age)....... All are emanations of the primal Body of essence, which is no other than the Brahman, the world soul or absolute of the Upanishads, in different guise.18

"B.L. Suzuki compares the idea of trikaya to the philosophy of trinity in Chrisitianity. The dharmakaya thus corresponds to Godhead in Chrisitiantiy the source of all, realized only through mystical experiences. This being becomes God as usually know to all as Sambhogakaya. But ordinary people need something more tangible and require a living personality-hence nirmanakaya. In other words, the three Kayas stand for Godhead, God and Christ or she says, we might compare the dharmakaya to parabrahma, Sambhogakaya to Isvara and nirmanakaya to the avataras".

The Mahayana Buddhist literature are in Sanskrit and the period of Sanskrit is post-Christian era. Eventhough Ashoka's inscriptions are in Pali, Greek, Aramaic etc., none of them are in Sanskrit and the occurrence of Sanskrit inscription is from 2nd c.A.D. alone. Hence, the period of Sanskrit literature are after 2nd c.A.D.

Trinity

Christianity

Father

Holy Spirit

Son

Mahayana Buddhism

Dharmakaya

Sambhoga Kaya

Nirmana Kaya 

 Evidently something happenned to Buddhism during the second century AD as it came into confrontation with Thomas Christianity in India.  

The French artist Paul Ranson's Christ et Buddha (1880) juxtaposes the Christ and Buddha

Returning of Maitreya

In the 3rd century AD  the concept of Maitreya Buddha, a future Buddha was developed who  presently a bodhisattva residing in the Tusita heaven,  will descend to earth to preach anew dharma. – an obvious reflection of the second coming of Jesus.

The name Maitreya is derived from the Sanskrit maitri ("friendliness"); in Pali , Metteyya; in Chinese Mi-lo-fo, in Japanese Miroku, and in Mongolian Maidari; and in Tibetan the bodhisattva is known as Byams-pa ("kind," or "loving"). His worship was popular during the 4th to 7th century   

Romila Thapar in her book "A History of India," (Volume 1, pages 131-134) writes,

There were other aspects of Mahayana Buddhism, which appear to have had their origin outside India. Among these is the idea of the coming of the Maitreya Buddha to save the world, with which was connected the concept of ‘the suffering savior’ - the bodhisattva who redeems humanity through his own suffering: evidently the new beliefs current in Palestine were known to the Buddhists by this time.

"Vishnu assumes various forms or incarnations and enters the world of men in order to save them from evil. The tenth and final incarnation has yet to come, and on this occasion he will come in the form of Kalkin riding a white horse, which suggests a connection with the idea of the Messiah and the coming of the Maitreya Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism."

                                    

Gandhara Buddha                                      Lord Maitreya

Our conclusions regarding the intense influence of Christianity on Buddhism is again supported by the linguistic evidence.  While Hinayana scriptures are in Pali, the early Mahayana writings are in Sanskrit. Since Sanskrit existed only from 2nd c. A.D., the concept of a divine savior is seen in Mahayana Buddhism it came clearly from Christianity.

  By the seventh century AD Buddhism entered China and was confronted with the ancient Nestorian Churches there.  This produced the Pure Land Buddism.  Pure Land Buddhism entered Japan and became a powerful presence there by the 13th century AD  Pure Land Buddhism eventually became an independent school in its own right as can be seen in the Japanese Jōdo Shū and Jōdo Shinshū schools. In Japan

Pure Land Buddhism

Amida is one of the loftiest savior figures in Japanese Buddhism, and Amida faith is concerned primarily with the life to come, the life in the beyond. Amida is described in the Amitābha Sūtra, the Sutra of Infinite Life , and many other Mahayana texts. Amida is the central deity of Japan’s popular Pure Land (Jōdo) sects and the ruler of the Western Paradise of Ultimate Bliss (Gokuraku;  Sukhāvatī). To followers of Japan’s Pure Land sects, Amida has eclipsed the Historical Buddha as the most popular divinity in Japan's Mahayana traditions. Even today, the Pure Land sects of Japan are among the nation’s largest and most popular.

Amida appears with great frequency in Japanese religious painting and statuary, and is often accompanied by two main attendants in artwork called the Amida Sanzon ( Amida Triad), which depicts the three descending from above to welcome the souls of the dying into Amida’s pure land.

    

Pure Land goal is eternal after death paradise, called the "Pure Land of the West"

The central teaching of Pure Land Buddhism is that nirvana is no longer practical nor possible to attain in this age. Instead, one should focus on devotion to Amida, which will gain one enough karmic merit to go to the Pure Land (a Heaven or Paradise). This is essentially the Christian teaching of salvation through faith in Christ. The Pure Land (Paradise) is not an eternal destination, but a pleasant place in which all karma disappears (a place of rest) and nirvana is simple to attain. Most Pure Land Buddhists focus on chanting or repeating a mantra of devotion to Amida, "Namu Amida Butsu," as often as possible to reinforce a proper and sincere state of mind and gain admission to the Pure Land at death.

The dwellers of this heaven include many Buddhas and other divine beings, some called Bodhisattvas, some called Dhyani Buddhas who were never human but dwelt in heaven and help humans in their journey to this land. Amitabha is most famous Dhyani Buddha and presides over the western paradise called the Pure Land  and by meditating and  uttering his name sufficient to carry one to the end. In this organized church,   priests can marry, have children, eat meat, live in the world.  They also have  Sunday schools and regular sermons and prayers in their church.

Buddhism Timeline

200 BCE - 200 AD
Development of Hinayana Buddhism
1-2nd century AD
Arrival of Thomas Christianity

Development of Mahayana Buddhism
320 CE to 600 CE
Development of Vajrayana Buddhism
5th to 7th century CE
Rise of Pure Land sects in China
7th to 9th century CE
Buddhism goes to Tibet and syncretized with local cults.
10th to 14th centuries CE
Buddhism's second revival in Tibet; 11th century reform of sexual tantric tradition
11-13th centuries CE
Islam, iconoclasm
13th century CE     
Founding of Pure Land, Nichiren, and Zen sects in Japan

 

Standing Buddha with a halo,   Gandhāra 1st-2nd century AD