Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

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Monlam Tharchin
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Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Monlam Tharchin » Fri Sep 23, 2016 4:36 pm

At the end of the chanting practice given in Bokar Tulku Rinpoche's "Chenrezig, Lord of Love", one takes a vow for birth in the Pure Land.
I've also read that in many sutras, we see famous bodhisattvas making a vow to be born in the Pure Land, such as Manjushri, Samantabhadra, Ashvaghosha, and Nagarjuna.
It seems that in many forms of Buddhism outside the US, especially in East Asia, one includes such a vow as a matter of course.
Yet by now, I've attended many different temples here in Portland, Oregon, practicing the most with two, a Karma Kagyu and Soto Zen temple, and Amitabha's name has not come up once, either in discussion or in chants or vows.
In private interviews, teachers were familiar with buddha-remembrance and gave me instruction in the matter.

Outside the five or so Tendai temples in the whole United States and the Shin temples here and there (which are kind of an outlier in Pure Land thought, in my opinion), Amitabha has seemed left out of American Buddhist services and dharma talks.
Given the kinds of patriarchs who recommended buddha-remembrance and Amitabha's ubiquity outside the US, I find this surprising.

Could someone clarify why this seems to be the case, maybe there are historical reasons?

Please correct any wrongful assumptions here. :cheers:
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Everything is in their presence; and I stand in front of them. -- Shantideva

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by dzogchungpa » Fri Sep 23, 2016 4:52 pm

Well, e.g., many American Tibetan Buddhists are practicing the concise Dudjom Tersar ngondro, which includes a section on transference to Amitabha's pure land, see section 2.6 of http://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-mas ... ar-ngondro.
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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Sentient Light » Fri Sep 23, 2016 5:31 pm

In my experience, it's because the general population of Americans who turn to Zen cannot understand how Pure Land is distinct from Christianity, and because of that, there is an automatic and reflexive "nope" whenever it comes up. It seems that, as skillful means, Zen transmissions into the US must as a matter of course be pared down to the bare essentials in order to reach the audience. And while outside of the US, the "bare essentials" is typically Buddha-recitation, it takes a long time to unravel the biases that many Americans have in order for them to understand how Amitabha practice works within the context of Buddhism and how it is not like salvation through an intercessory deity.
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:bow: Nam mô Quan Thế Âm Bồ tát :bow:
:bow: Nam mô Đại Thế Chi Bồ Tát :bow:

:buddha1: Nam mô Bổn sư Thích ca mâu ni Phật :buddha1:
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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Malcolm » Fri Sep 23, 2016 5:52 pm

Monlam Tharchin wrote:Amitabha...
Is a huge practice among Kagyus and Nyingmapas.

Oṃ Amidevi hriḥ is a very common mantra.
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Monlam Tharchin » Fri Sep 23, 2016 5:59 pm

Malcolm wrote:
Monlam Tharchin wrote:Amitabha...
Is a huge practice among Kagyus and Nyingmapas.

Oṃ Amidevi hriḥ is a very common mantra.
Why do you suppose then that in the months I attended at the local Kagyu center, Amitabha was not mentioned once in dharma talks, questions, chants, or in the day-long retreats?
Is it not considered suitable for a general audience?
namuamidabunamuamidabunamuamidabunamuamidabunamuamidabu

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Everything is in their presence; and I stand in front of them. -- Shantideva

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Malcolm » Fri Sep 23, 2016 6:08 pm

Monlam Tharchin wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
Monlam Tharchin wrote:Amitabha...
Is a huge practice among Kagyus and Nyingmapas.

Oṃ Amidevi hriḥ is a very common mantra.
Why do you suppose then that in the months I attended at the local Kagyu center, Amitabha was not mentioned once in dharma talks, questions, chants, or in the day-long retreats?
Is it not considered suitable for a general audience?
Probably because Amitabha practice is a separate cycle, and not every center will focus on it. But for example, it is a very popular practice at KTD. And also, the longevity form of Amitabha, Amitayus, is also extremely popular, and many Tibetan Buddhists recite either one or both of these mantras daily.

There is also the practice of the transference of consciousness, and in 90 percent of such practices, the goal of transference is Sukhavati, and Amitabha is the main object of visualization.

So in fact, Amitabha is extremely important in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, in one way or another.
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by conebeckham » Fri Sep 23, 2016 6:19 pm

I'm not sure which Kagyu center you attended, but I've been to......I dunno....10 or 11 Kagyu centers in North America, and without fail, the Dewachen prayer from Karma Chagme is a daily/nightly recitation, during the dedication prayers. Some centers do a short Amitabha sadhana after Chenrezig practice, as well.

You may have done the Dewachen prayer, and not known that it focused specifically on Amitabha, I think. I suppose it's possible that some Kagyu center does not recite this...but it's outside my experience.
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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Fri Sep 23, 2016 8:22 pm

You just went to the wrong teachings lol...Amitabha is all over in Vajrayana.

The Chenrezig sadhana I'm most familiar with has a prayer to him as Guru, and features him heavily, including in the visualizations.
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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by BuddhaFollower » Fri Sep 23, 2016 8:37 pm

Have you not heard of Amitabha phowa?
Just recognize the conceptualizing mind.

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Monlam Tharchin » Fri Sep 23, 2016 9:54 pm

So since Amitabha does indeed have a big presence in TB, I'm still curious why in dharma talks given after meditation, there was no mention of him any of the times I went.
Being an average Joe showing up for meditation service, I imagine this is a similar experience to a majority of other people passing through the doors.
Given the enormity of Amitabha's importance in saving beings who do not realize emptiness before death, it really worries me what will happen to the average person in a dharma center who very much needs this assistance of Amitabha yet may never hear about him.
I think Malcolm touched on it from the TB perspective a bit.

I do remain curious about the absence of Amitabha in US Buddhism generally.
Is it maybe a function of the specific flavors of dharma transmitted to the US? E.g. in the Soto Zen temples I've been to, emphasis is on Avalokiteshvara instead.
namuamidabunamuamidabunamuamidabunamuamidabunamuamidabu

The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have unobstructed vision in all directions.
Everything is in their presence; and I stand in front of them. -- Shantideva

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Boomerang » Fri Sep 23, 2016 10:06 pm

Monlam Tharchin wrote:So since Amitabha does indeed have a big presence in TB, I'm still curious why in dharma talks given after meditation, there was no mention of him any of the times I went.
Being an average Joe showing up for meditation service, I imagine this is a similar experience to a majority of other people passing through the doors.
Given the enormity of Amitabha's importance in saving beings who do not realize emptiness before death, it really worries me what will happen to the average person in a dharma center who very much needs this assistance of Amitabha yet may never hear about him.
I think Malcolm touched on it from the TB perspective a bit.

I do remain curious about the absence of Amitabha in US Buddhism generally.
Is it maybe a function of the specific flavors of dharma transmitted to the US? E.g. in the Soto Zen temples I've been to, emphasis is on Avalokiteshvara instead.
As an Average Joe Tibetan Buddhist, the impression I get from my studies is that everything we do is to prepare us for our next life. So, it's not necessary to single out Pure Land practice as the single, paramount, most important insurance policy. When your lifestyle is rooted in bodhicitta, everything you do opens the door to Sukhavati and places like it.
"All the suffering of the lower realms, whatever difficulty and unhappiness we may experience as human beings, as well as every other possible suffering of the three realms of existence, have their origin in cherishing ourselves more than others."

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Fri Sep 23, 2016 10:14 pm

Monlam Tharchin wrote:So since Amitabha does indeed have a big presence in TB, I'm still curious why in dharma talks given after meditation, there was no mention of him any of the times I went.
Being an average Joe showing up for meditation service, I imagine this is a similar experience to a majority of other people passing through the doors.
Given the enormity of Amitabha's importance in saving beings who do not realize emptiness before death, it really worries me what will happen to the average person in a dharma center who very much needs this assistance of Amitabha yet may never hear about him.
I think Malcolm touched on it from the TB perspective a bit.

I do remain curious about the absence of Amitabha in US Buddhism generally.
Is it maybe a function of the specific flavors of dharma transmitted to the US? E.g. in the Soto Zen temples I've been to, emphasis is on Avalokiteshvara instead.
IDK, I've been to lots of talks where he's mentioned or is central, he's part of the basic Chenrezig visualizations most will be familiar with, features prominently in many practices, and can be found in thangkas all over most Vajrayana centers I've been to. Technically, any Chenrezig practice is intimately linked to him by my understanding. He's also found in Phowa and dream/sleep practices.

Vajrayana is not Pureland though, many of the Amitabha practices I've seen might be similar in that they involve devotion, but the ideas about soteriology in Vajrayana are very different, and much more varied than PL, where it's pretty cut and dried. Of course in Vajrayana while Amitabha is huge, he does not have the kind of exclusivity as he does in something like Pureland traditions.

You can't have Pureland practice without Amitabha, in Vajrayana there are a ton of deities to relate to, and nearly as many wildly different ways of doing so. So while he's big, he can't be central in the same way..but you could argue that that is the case for most traditions that do not involve "other power" in the way that Pureland does.

He's also arguably a deeply integral part of Vajrayana by virtue of being one of the five Dhyani Buddhas...but this seems like a totally different idea to me that how he is pictured in Pureland.
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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by pemachophel » Fri Sep 23, 2016 10:57 pm

IME, different TB practitioners relate to different Deities. When those practitioners become Teachers, they tend to emphasize their personal favorites. Some TBs emphasize Chenrezig, some Padmasambhava, some Tara (White or Green, take your pick), and others Amitabha. Then there's Medicine Buddha, Kurukulle, Manuushri, Vajrasattva, Vajrakilaya, Troma, etc., etc., etc. I've had Teachers Who hardly ever mentioned Amitabha, while, for others, He was extremely important. Last weekend here at Boulder Valley Ngakpa House, Tulku Yeshi Gyamthso gave Jamyang Khyentse's Amitabha empowerment from the Drub-thab Kun-du. He said that He had personally recited 60 million Amitabha mantra and that He was aiming for 100 million. He also urged people at the empowerment to make the promise to say at least 1 million. Ten out of 20-something raised their hands, thus making that commitment. So I think your experience is just the idiosyncracies of the particular center you attended and perhaps even the particular events.

Good luck & best wishes.

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by BuddhaFollower » Sat Sep 24, 2016 1:10 am

Malcolm wrote:Oṃ Amidevi hriḥ is a very common mantra.
Do you know what text this mantra is from?

Noone knows.

I'm guessing one of the lower tantras.
Just recognize the conceptualizing mind.

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by jmlee369 » Sat Sep 24, 2016 3:09 am

Does the Kagyu centre not include this prayer at the end of Chenrezig practice?
https://youtu.be/HSQqWWtBtiY

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Malcolm » Sat Sep 24, 2016 3:35 am

BuddhaFollower wrote:
Malcolm wrote:Oṃ Amidevi hriḥ is a very common mantra.
Do you know what text this mantra is from?

Noone knows.

I'm guessing one of the lower tantras.
It is a Tibetan corruption of Om Amithbha hrih, according to the famed Sakya Kilaya master and polymath, Amyezhab.
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by BuddhaFollower » Sat Sep 24, 2016 6:16 am

Malcolm wrote:
BuddhaFollower wrote:
Malcolm wrote:Oṃ Amidevi hriḥ is a very common mantra.
Do you know what text this mantra is from?

Noone knows.

I'm guessing one of the lower tantras.
It is a Tibetan corruption of Om Amithbha hrih, according to the famed Sakya Kilaya master and polymath, Amyezhab.

And where did Om Amithbha hrih come from?
Just recognize the conceptualizing mind.

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by K Tsomo » Sat Sep 24, 2016 6:51 am

Answering the question
Because he's so ingrained in practice, he might go unnoticed unless a teacher points attention to him, Amitabha, by giving empowerments. I would ask myself "What does this have to do with that?" and then see many connections or new perspectives. It takes practice and meditation to . become a lama. (I forgot what I was writing so I winged it. :toilet: )

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Astus » Sat Sep 24, 2016 9:14 am

Why should Amitabha appear in Soto Zen at all? He is nowhere included in the Scriptures for Daily Services And Practice. Officially Shakyamuni is the "main image of worship" (honzon 本尊) of the school. Kannon has a special place, as the example of the perfect bodhisattva. As for aiming for birth in Sukhavati, that is meaningless for one who understands that zazen is practice-enlightenment.

"Even if up to now, you have thought that a buddha has excellent characteristics like Shakyamuni or Amitabha, radiates a halo, has the virtue of preaching the dharma and benefiting living beings, you should believe your teacher if he says that buddha is nothing but a toad or an earthworm, and throw your former ideas away. However, if you look for some excellent characteristics, a halo, or other virtues of a buddha on the toad or the earthworm, you still have not reformed your discriminating mind. Just understand what you see right now is buddha. If you continually reform your discriminating mind and fundamental attachment in this way according to your teacher’s instruction, you will naturally become one with the Way.
Students today, however, cling to their own discriminating minds. Their thinking is based on their own personal views that buddha must be such and such; if it goes against their ideas, they say that buddha cannot be that way.
Having such an attitude and wandering here and there in delusion, searching after what conforms to their preconceptions, few of them ever make any progress in the Buddha-Way."

(Dogen: Zuimonki 1.13)

If you are looking for PL related elements, Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhist communities usually have them.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Malcolm » Sat Sep 24, 2016 3:21 pm

BuddhaFollower wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
BuddhaFollower wrote:
Do you know what text this mantra is from?

Noone knows.

I'm guessing one of the lower tantras.
It is a Tibetan corruption of Om Amithbha hrih, according to the famed Sakya Kilaya master and polymath, Amyezhab.

And where did Om Amithbha hrih come from?
It is a name mantra. It does not come from any tantra.
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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