Amitabha is dressed as a monk, with his hands in the mudra (hand gesture) of dhyana (meditation). The dhyana mudra is how one traditionally arranges one’s hands during Buddhist meditation, all those pictures of yoga practitioners with their hands on their knees notwithstanding. This hand position is very balanced and subtle; the thumbs lightly touch, neither pushing together nor falling apart.
Amitabha is of great important in far-eastern Buddhism, where he is known as Amida. He also has a Bodhisattva form called Amitayus, which means “Infinite Life.” The Bodhisattva form is, unlike the monastic Buddha-form, arrayed as a young prince with long hair and adorned with jewelry and fine silks. In some traditions Amitabha and Amitayus are seen as being essentially the same being, while in other traditions they are distinct.
Amitabha is the head of the Lotus (padma) family. This family includes some of the most famous Buddhas and bodhisattvas, including Avalokiteshvara, Padmasambhava, White Tara, and the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni.
He sits on a lotus throne decorated with his sacred animal, the peacock. In Indian folklore it is said that the peacock’s brilliant colors come from the poison of the snakes they eat. These poisons are transmuted into beauty, and likewise Amitabha’s practice turns the poison of greed into love. The connection between greed and love may not be immediately obvious, but one only has to think of the contrast between lust (desiring another person in order to gratify our appetites) and true love (valuing the uniqueness and the potential of another as a person in their own right) to appreciate the symbolism.
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