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Amitābha statue, Tokyo, Japan

Amitābha (T. 'od dpag med འོད་དཔག་མེད་ / snang ba mtha' yas སྣང་བ་མཐའ་ཡས་; C. Amituo fo; J. Amida butsu; K. Amit'a pul 阿彌陀佛) is a buddha recognized in the Sanskrit Mahayana tradition who is widely worshiped in East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism.[1] His name means "Limitless Light." According to tradition, Amitābha manifested and presides over the buddha field of Sukhavati.

According to the Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra, many eons ago, a monk named Dharmakara vowed before Avalokiteshvara to follow the bodhisattva path to buddhahood.[1] As part of his vows, Dharmakara resolved to establish the pure buddha field (buddhakṣetra) of Sukhavati, and further vowed that anyone who recited his mantra as least ten times would be reborn in his buddha field.

Amitābha is also known as Amitāyus, the Buddha of "Limitless Life."[2] In the Longer Sukhavati Sutra, for example, Amitābha and Amitāyus are both used as epithets for the same buddha.[1] However, in some instances within Tibetan Buddhism, the name Amitāyus is used to refer to a distinct form of Amitābha.[1]

In the Vajrayana, Buddha Amitābha is identified as one of the five tathagatas.

Texts on Amitābha

The following Mahayana sutras describe Amitabha and his buddha field of Sukhāvatī:

The later three texts (in the above list) are the main texts of the Pure Land school.

Jan Nattier states:

References to Amitābha occur in a wide range of Buddhist scriptures composed in India, some devoted primarily to this figure and others in which he makes only a cameo appearance...
Whether devotees of Amitābha in India ever grouped a set of scriptures together as an “Amitābha canon” we do not know. For Buddhists in East Asia, however, three scriptures concerning this figure have long held pride of place: two sutras entitled (in Sanskrit) the Sukhāvatīvyūha, popularly known as the “larger” and “smaller” versions, respectively, and a third scripture known in the West by the reconstructed Sanskrit title of *Amitāyurdhyānasūtra. Of these the third—the Guan wuliangshou fo jing (Jpn. Kan Muryōjubutsu kyō; Taishō, vol. 12, no. 365)—is now widely considered to be an apocryphon composed in China (or even in Central Asia, though the evidence for this is extremely weak).
The two Sukhāvatī sutras, by contrast, are considered genuine Indian compositions...[3]

The five tathagatas

In the Vajrayana, Buddha Amitābha is identified as one of the five tathagatas. In this context, he is the Buddha of the lotus family, associated with the west, and is usually depicted as red in color.[4][5] He represents the purification of attachment and the arising of the wisdom of discrimination.

Thrangu Rinpoche states:

Amitabha represents the purification of desire also called attachment. When we are under the influence of attachment, we discriminate between good and bad, beautiful and ugly, and then we cling to what seems to be attractive and shun those things which seem bad or ugly. Attachment and aversion are disturbing emotions that arise from not understanding the nature of things as they are and as they appear. It is due to ignorance that mind accepts and rejects objects of attachment and aversion.
With the wisdom of discrimination, one knows things as they appear just as they are without any confused and prejudiced opinions. This comes about by purifying attachment and realizing Buddha Amitabha. Buddha Amitabha is the Sanskrit name and the Tibetan name is sangay odpamed, which means “boundless light.” When one has developed the awareness of knowing everything as it manifests, one has developed the clarity of boundless light, which is completely free from confusion. This realization is described as odpamed or “boundless light.” We can compare this state with an example of a lamp. A faulty lamp cannot illuminate a room clearly, whereas a perfect lamp can allow us to see things distinctly and clearly. The light of Buddha Amitabha is therefore boundless and is realized through the purification of attachment and desire.
Buddha Amitabha is of the lotus family because a lotus grows in muddy water while its blossoms remain stainless. Likewise, Amitabha represents freedom from attachment, and it is attachment which causes us to experience pain, loss, and dissatisfaction that never finds fulfillment. Purification of the negative emotion of attachment is a state of immaculate, pure peace. Therefore, the Buddha Amitabha is seated in the full vajra posture and both hands resting in the meditative posture of mental clarity. He fully understands things as they are and as they appear without subjective notions. This state is one of peace and ease. He resides in the buddha realm of Dewachen (Sukhavati).[6]

And also:

Amitabha Buddha represents the purification and elimination of the disturbing emotion of attachment or desire. Desire causes much suffering by being quite distracting and keeping the mind restless and busy. Why? When one is attached to things, one is never satisfied and always craves for more and better things. One is continuously engaged in achieving and acquiring the mind’s desires and only experiences loss and dissatisfaction in one’s life. By understanding this negative emotion and by eliminating it, the third discerning wisdom shines forth. By realizing discerning wisdom, the enlightened mind is experienced and one becomes one with the Buddha Amitabha. It is with this wisdom that one understands and has empathy with each and every living being and appreciates others’ qualities. The Buddha Amitabha’s nature is the absence of attachment and desire and his activity is magnetizing. As already said, attachment and desire lead to the suffering of dissatisfaction, a state in which one always wants and strives for more and better things. Desire determines one’s behavior and not attaining what one desires leads to frustration and dissatisfaction. With the discerning wisdom and the realization of Buddha Amitabha, there is no attachment and desire and thus no dissatisfaction, or craving for more and better things. This realization is so powerful that all things are naturally magnetized as one’s own. There is no energy and force involved as in a state of desire.[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Amitābha.
  2. Internet-icon.svg 'od dpag med, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  3. Nattier 2003, pp. 188-189.
  4. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Akṣobhya.
  5. Thrangu Rinpoche 1998, p. 2.
  6. Thrangu Rinpoche 1998, pp. 5-6.
  7. Thrangu Rinpoche 1998, pp. 2-3.


Further reading

  • Book icoline.svg Harvey, Peter (2013), An Introduction to Buddhism (Second ed.), Cambridge University Press , Chapter 6, section "The Mahayana pantheon"