Posted by: samandal | April 9, 2010

Amitábha: Buddhá of Infinite Light

Díyáfat-i-Jalál, the Feast of Glory

God periodically sends forth chosen messengers or manifestations of himself to whom he reveals his names and attributes, who in turn reveal the names and attributes of God to humankind. A Manifestation of God (mazhar-i-iláhí) is like a mirror who reflects the Sun but is not himself the Sun; he is united to a physical body endowed with a rational soul, but his divine nature renders him distinct.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá recognized Buddhism as a revealed religion, its scriptures predictive of Bhagaván Bahá (Bahá’u’lláh), identified as the messianic Maitréya Tathágata or Kalkí Avatár. The Sanskrit word avatár means “one who descends,” and the traditions that recognize avatárs consider them to be “perfect,” but not “perfected.” Avatárs are qualitatively different from all other creatures in that they descend from the eternal, unconditional and infinite to the temporal, conditioned and finite, and are conscious of their mission throughout their lives. Avatárs are aspects of the Divine who appear repeatedly throughout the ages, but their historic existence is not as significant as their spiritual efficacy.

Bahá’u’lláh is the avatár of the Fifth Buddhá Maitréya, the Merciful, who is himself invariably conflated with Amitábha, the Buddhá of Infinite Light. Bhagaván Bahá is the fifth Manifestation of God after Siddhártha, if one counts inclusively. In Buddhism, God is the Absolute—impersonal, unknowable and impassible. Morality takes the place of God, who is subordinated to morality; not in a narrow, legalistic sense, but in a broad, ethical sense that encompasses the entire dimension of human existence. Amitábha represents the principles of active compassion and incisive perception, the light of wisdom that shines in the darkness of delusion; Bahá’u’lláh acknowledged the avatárs of India as Manifestations of God that intervene directly in human affairs and human lives. The merits accumulated by the recitation of mantra are transferable to all who practice it; Amitábha will save all those who foster trust in him, perform meritorious deeds, and constantly repeat his name (Ábhá).

Amitábha is a counterpart to Zurván Akáranak, the Infinite, an Iranian god exempt from old age and death (azarmán, amarg). The worship of Amitábha owes much to Indo-Iranian Sun-worship and originated in the Kushána empire in the borderland between India and Iran. The theistic adoration of Amitábha as the embodiment of active compassion is a legitimate expression of devotion to the Buddhá; it does not fundamentally contradict the Buddhist emphasis on impermanence and emptiness.