I started practising Vajrayana Buddhism in 1982. Not long later, I received initiations and started to practise the sadhanas (prayer texts), spending four to five hours on these daily practices. Due to my obscurations, my reading was poor and I was unable to form any images in my visualisations. I also did not have guru devotion. As a result of all these problems, I struggled with my practices.
Some time later, one of my colleagues mentioned to me about Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land. I was thinking… Here I am having a hard time practising my sadhanas, and he says the Pure Land Path is very fast and easy. As such, I did not go deeper into it, and put his suggestion aside.
During this time, I managed to get five black and white outline photocopies of the five directional Buddhas – namely Vairocana Buddha (usually placed white and in the centre), Aksobhya Buddha (blue and in the East), Amitabha Buddha (red and in the West) Amoghasiddhi Buddha (green and in the North) and Ratna Sambhava Buddha (yellow and in the South).
I coloured their bodies with their respective colours above, and their robes yellow using colour pencils, and their hair with deep blue water colour. As Vairocana Buddha’s body is supposed to be white, I did not colour it as the paper was already white. I framed up the pictures and placed them on top of my glass shrine facing me from left to right – Amoghasiddhi Buddha, Vairocana Buddha, Amitabha Buddha (in centre instead, as in picture below), Aksobhya Buddha and Ratna Sambhava Buddha.
In the 1990’s, I saw a video about an old lady living at Bendeemeer Road. She was very sick and just had returned from a hospital. Her daughter’s friend invited a monk with a few disciples home. With their family members, they all chanted ‘Namo Amituofo’ (Homage to Amitabha Buddha). Shortly, the chief monk told the old lady to follow them in chanting ‘Namo Amituofo’. Not long after, they could smell fragrance in the air.
Some present even saw Amitabha Buddha. The old lady definitely saw him. A while later, she suddenly laughed. This shocked the family members as they had never heard her laughing in such a wholeheartedly manner in her life. At 8.30pm, they stopped chanting. The chief monk asked her when she would go with Amitabha Buddha to his Pure Land. She said she would do so within 6 days. The chief monk said that he will come and chant with her on the last night – much earlier, before 8.30pm.
The next day, the old lady’s daughter wanted to clean her bed sores. To her surprise, when she turned her over, her skin was perfectly well and beautiful. On the 6th night, the monks came to chant for her. While chanting at 8.23pm, the old lady waved goodbye to everyone, before passing away. All who were present clapped their hands. When her body was cremated, relics appeared. The next story in the video featured another old lady living in Johor. Likewise, she was very sick, and the monks came to do the same chanting. After chanting for a while, the chief monk asked her to follow their chanting.
At 8.30pm, the chanting stopped and the chief monk asked when she would leave with Amitabha Buddha to his Pure Land. She said she would do so within 4 days. Likewise, he said that he will come and chant with her on the last night before 8.30pm. On the 4th night, while all were chanting, she waved goodbye to everyone at 8.23pm – but she did not pass away. At 8.30pm, the chief monk asked her why she did not follow Amitabha Buddha. She said that she could not catch up with him because she thought of her grandson.
This reminds us that we should not be attached to anything in worldly existence, or cling on to the mistaken notion of ‘self’. If we do, we cannot be free ourselves from Samsara. After seeing the video, I thought the Pure Land method was very efficient, though I still did not join the Pure Land path.
Then, about two years ago, I noticed a change in the five Buddha images. Buddha Amitabha’s face had became brightly white in colour, his body became only tinted in red, and his robe’s yellow and his hair’s dark blue became very clear and distinct, with an aura appearing behind his head. Whereas, all the other 4 Buddhas’ hair had become dull black in colour, while their robes’ yellow faded just as white paper fades into slight brown. Their bodies’ colours were not radiant too. Even Vairocana Buddha’s white body followed the faded colour of the paper. (See picture above for comparison to picture of Amitabha Buddha below.)
I took this to be a sign given to me by Amitabha Buddha to practise the Pure Land path. For the last 2 or so years, I would look out of my window facing the Western sky before bed every night. I would recite the refuge prayer (thrice) –’In Buddha, Dharma and the Most Excellent Community (Sangha), I take refuge until Enlightenment is reached. Through deeds of giving and the like, may I attain Buddhahood for the sake of all living beings.’
‘May I and all sentient beings sleep now and wake up to find ourselves reborn with a fully developed body in a lotus in the excellent good realm of Sukhavati and there obtain the precious teaching of the excellent vehicle from the conqueror Buddha Amitabha. By these merits, may all sentient beings quickly be reborn in the Pure Land of Sukhavati. May Lord Buddha Amitabha please lead all sentient beings and myself to the Pure Land of Sukhavati.’ I think it is due to these prayers, that Buddha Amitabha give me this indication.
Bro. Y.H. Tan (Age 61, 2008)
- Fragrance is seen as a sign of the presence of great virtue and/or of the virtuous, including that of protective devas and/or the enlightened.
- One of the great achievements of Pure Land practitioners is to be able to predict their time of passing, and pass away graciously. This is probably the last great gift of assurance that can be given to family members – to inspire their confidence in the Dharma.
- When we practise the Pure Land path sincerely, we can all experience auspicious signs that we are on the right path. This is when our efforts are resonant with the Amitabha Buddha’s vows. However, we should not be attached to these signs. In fact, these signs usually occur when we are not attached to wanting them.
- Amitabha Buddha’s body is depicted with a deep red colour in the Tibetan tradition as it represents the colour of the setting sun in the West, which is where his Pure Land is. The colour of the setting sun also reminds us to go ‘home’ to the Western Paradise – at the end of the day, of this life. White is the universal colour of purity, which is associated with Pure Land – as beings can easier purify themselves there.
- The radiance of Amitabha Buddha image reminds us of his 12th and 17th vows –
- (12) If I attain Buddhahood, should my bright light should be limited, not at least illuminating all of a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha-lands, I shall not attain right awakening.
- (17) If I attain Buddhahood, should all immeasurable Buddhas in the worlds of the ten directions, not all greatly praise and proclaim my name [Amituofo], I shall not attain right awakening.
It is probably in accordance to these vows that all the other Buddhas (of the ten directions, also represented by the five directional Buddhas) compassionately praise and glorify Amitabha Buddha, by not outshining him – so as to collectively point out the excellence of his Pure Land.