How did Amitabha's body differ from Shakyamuni's when they became Buddhas?

- through Francois Leclercq

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Everything we know about a Buddha was said by Shakyamuni

If we are honest with ourselves, we understand very little about the true nature of a Buddha. All of our knowledge of Buddhism comes from the sutras spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha, who was born in ancient India about 2 years ago. Through the tools of human language and concepts, he taught us the category of the Buddha in a way that sometimes pushes human imagination and intellect to their limits.

However, we must note that what Shakyamuni Buddha taught us about the world is true. For example, he said: “In our world, all phenomena are ephemeral. " Is it true? Can we find a single example of physical matter, including our body, or even a single thought in our mind, that persists in a permanent state or never changes over time?

Shakyamuni Buddha also tells us: “One thing changes because other things change; all phenomena are interrelated and interdependent and none of them has its own existence without being affected by other factors. Is it true? If we think deeply and perceive carefully, we will see that all phenomena arise together as part of a complex web of interconnections.

Shakyamuni Buddha said in the Diamond Sutra: “The words of the Tathagatas are true and correspond to reality. These are ultimate words, neither misleading nor heterodox. This is an important statement for all Buddhists. We must remember that all sutras begin with “Thus have I heard,” which means that we must believe what we hear and read in the sutras.

Here is another truth that Shakyamuni Buddha taught us: nirvana. This concept indicates complete, existential and permanent liberation in Buddhism. Nirvana is a Sanskrit word meaning neither birth nor death. This corresponds to a state of tranquility in which the notions of space (movement) and time (change) are fully transcended. But in reality, understanding nirvana is beyond the capabilities of ordinary beings. Only Buddhas can understand.

When Shakyamuni Buddha died at the age of 80, he said in the Nirvana Sutra that he would “return” to the state of Nirvana, where he would enjoy eternal joy and total emancipation in his Land of Reward called “Invincible”. In Buddhism, eternal joy and emancipation in life consists of becoming a Buddha.

Each Buddha has his own land of reward, which is formed and adorned by the merits and virtues obtained by fulfilling his individual vows and bodhisattva practices. Of course, these vows and practices aim to deliver beings in the ten directions. A Buddha's land of reward is the Land of the Buddha, also known as the Pure Land.

Shakyamuni Buddha also declared that Amitabha Buddha exists.

Shakyamuni Buddha said in the Amitabha Sutra: "If you travel westward from here, passing a hundred thousand kotis from the lands of Buddha you come to the land called Bliss, where there is a Buddha named Amitabha. He lives there and now teaches Dharma. Thus, the Land of Happiness is Amitabha's Land of Rewards.

Le Mahayana Common Nature Sutra says that those who become Buddhas in a reward land such as the Land of Bliss are called Reward Buddhas. They are like Amitabha, while those who become Buddhas in the manifested land, such as the Land of Saha, are called manifested Buddhas. They are like Shakyamuni.

All Buddhas attain perfect enlightenment and have realized the threefold body, namely the Dharma body, the reward body and the manifested body. In the Dharma body, all Buddhas achieve unity, equality and identity. The Dharma Body permeates the trichiliocosm, or the entire Dharma Realm, in all boundless and immeasurable planes of existence.

However, since all Buddhas have their own individual vows and bodhisattva practices to deliver sentient beings in the ten directions of the causal terrain, their lands of reward resulting from the fulfillment of vows and practices are to the same. Thus, the benefits granted to all sentient beings in the ten directions are different.

For example, Amitabha Buddha stated the great vow of “rebirth through recitation of the name” in its causal basis when he was the Dharmakara Bodhisattva: “Even ten times; if they are not reborn, I will not achieve perfect enlightenment. This means that, to become a Buddha, he must have fulfilled his great vow.

By attaining Buddhahood, Amitabha must have achieved the Buddhaland to which all sentient beings can aspire to be reborn. He must also have fulfilled the name that sentient beings recite and thus be reborn in his land of Buddha. These things must happen at the same time, otherwise he cannot become Amitabha Buddha.

Shakyamuni's body is different from Amitabha's in ways we cannot see

Shakyamuni Buddha attained Buddhahood at the age of 35. His body appeared in human form, known as the manifested body. However, what did Amitabha's body look like when he became a Buddha 10 eons ago, dwelling in his Land of Reward, the Land of Bliss? Let us see how Shakyamuni Buddha described Amitabha Buddha's true reward body in the Ninth Contemplation of sutra of contemplationas following:

“Amitayus Buddha (the other name for Amitabha Buddha) has eighty-four thousand physical characteristics, each having eighty-four thousand secondary marks of excellence. Each secondary mark emits eighty-four thousand rays of light; every light shines universally on the lands of the ten quarters, embracing and not abandoning those who remember the Buddha.

In other words, Amitabha Buddha's body comes in the form of a light that permeates the entire Dharma Realm, including all sentient beings in the ten directions. The “light body” of Amitabha that we cannot see is different from the human body of Shakyamuni Buddha that we can see.

The one who is aware or recite the Name of Amitabha, will be embraced and protected, without being abandoned by his light. This means that Amitabha Buddha's "mental light" can penetrate the minds of those sentient beings who are aware of him or recite his name. As a result, Amitabha Buddha can benefit them, protect them and deliver them.

Unlike Shakyamuni Buddha, Amitabha Buddha takes the form of a light that shines universally on the lands of the directions without obstruction. Furthermore, their ways of delivering sentient beings are different. Let’s discuss it in more detail in the next article.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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