Why Is Āmítuófó’s Sacred Name The Most Auspicious Buddhist Greeting? 为何阿弥陀佛的圣号是最吉祥的佛教问候语?

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Question: Why is Āmítuófó’s name (阿弥陀佛: Amitā[bha] Buddha) such a common greeting, especially in Chinese Buddhist culture, as uttered with joined palms (合掌)?

Answer: The answer in terms of the origin of this practice is complex yet interesting, as can be seen in the first [1] Related Teaching below.

Question: (After reading the teaching…) How fascinating and inspiring! Since there are such excellent reasons, and since there is such rich Dharma heritage behind this practice, why do some ‘refuse’ to use Āmítuófó’s name as a greeting, instead choosing to use, for example, ’Homage to the Buddha(s)’ (南无佛: Námó Fó)?

Answer: (These Q&As do not represent any particular Buddhist or group.) This is usually done due to lack of undertanding about the Dharma shared here. What mentioned is usually done with Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) in mind, not all Buddhas or any other particular Buddha. When enquired for the reason, there might be the answer that homage to him is chosen since he is our Fundamental Teacher (本师), the founder of Buddhism in our world.

Question: Is such thinking alright?

Answer: It is generally alright if there is no ‘animosity’ towards any other Buddha(s). It should be remembered however, that according to Āmítuófó’s Seventeenth Vow Of All Buddhas Proclaiming Name With High Praises (第十七:诸佛称名赞叹愿) in the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》,


‘If I [Dharma Treasury Bodhisattva: 法藏菩萨] attain Buddhahood [as Āmítuófó], should those ten directions’ worlds’ immeasurable all Buddhas, not all highly praise and proclaim my name, I shall not obtain Right Awakening [of Buddhahood].’

Since Dharma Treasury Bodhisattva has long attained Buddhahood as Āmítuófó, all Buddhas, including Śākyamuni Buddha, did and do indeed highly praise and proclaim his name. This explains why Āmítuófó’s name is so popular, that it dominates Buddhist culture, at times and places even exceeding Śākyamuni Buddha’s name, especially in Chinese culture.

It is with this vow and all Buddhas’ agreement to live up to it, that we can attain knowledge, recommendation and confidence of Āmítuófó’s most excellent 48 vows, (including the one above), and his Pure Land (净土). Such praises by all the six directions’ Buddhas (六方诸佛) are also exemplified in the Amitā(bha) Sūtra《阿弥陀经》.

Since even all Buddhas keep praising and proclaiming Āmítuófó’s name, so as to connect sentient beings to him, so should we follow their perfect examples, instead of possibly ignoring, or even ‘disparaging’ Āmítuófó’s name.

It is also with sincere mindfulness of his name, with profound Faith (信) and Aspiration (愿), that we can reach his Pure Land, which offers the swiftest path to Buddhahood, as explained in the second [2] Related Teaching below. This is why we focus on using his name, to create this pure affinity, and to remind one another to practise mindfulness accordingly.

Question: What about using auspicious words as a greeting, such as ‘auspicious’ (吉祥) itself? Is this advisable?

Answer: This is not very different from simply saying ‘good day’. It does not clearly wish so though, as it is just an adjective, a descriptive word. Even if uttered with good will, there are no actual blessings shared, as it is just a limited self-powered (自力) wish.

In comparison, Āmítuófó’s name is the Great Name Of Ten Thousand Virtues (万德洪名). Reciting it sincerely creates meritorious virtues (功德) and hearing it creates pure and indestructible connections with him, that will eventually bear fruit in terms of Buddhahood, sooner or later. In this sense, Āmítuófó’s name is more auspicious by way more than ten thousand times. Although there might be common association of Āmítuófó with death and rebirth, beyond these, his name also carries abundant blessings for everyday life.

Āmítuófó’s name also includes the essence of the Triple Gem (三宝), that all Buddhists take the Threefold Refuge (三皈依) in. According to Śākyamuni Buddha’s teachings in The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Amitā(bha) Buddha’s Fundamental Esoteric Spiritual Mantra《佛说阿弥陀佛根本秘密神咒经》,


‘As in the word “Ā” are the ten directions’ and three periods’ Buddhas, in the word “Mí” are all Bodhisattvas, and in the word “Tuó” (Tā) are all 84,000 noble teachings, of these three words (Āmítuó/Amitā) within is (spiritual) completion.

Thus, all Buddhas (佛), all Dharma (法) teachings and all in the Noble Saṃgha (圣僧) are within Āmítuófó’s name. Including Śākyamuni Buddha, no Buddhas are omitted. Technically, Āmítuófó’s name in terms of ‘Amitā Buddha’ also means ‘Immeasurable Buddha(s) (无量佛) or ‘Buddha Of Immeasurability’. To be mindful of Āmítuófó is to take refuge (皈依) in the mind, and ideally in person by the end of this life too, to meet the Triple Gem in his Pure Land, and become part of it.

Thus, traditional, time-tested and long cherished Buddhist practices founded by the Buddhas and Great Masters (大师) should not be changed, unless they can be improved. And it is actually impossible to outdo this practice that even all Buddhas with perfect compassion (慈悲), wisdom (智慧) and skilful means (方便) practise. The best Buddhist greeting then, is surely Āmítuófó’s name. Why change to another greeting if it is already so auspicious, and if it is hard to find a more meaningful one? Āmítuófó!

Related Teachings:

[1] Why Do Buddhists Say ‘Āmítuófó’ So Much?

[2] 如何速证无上正等菩提
How To Quickly Realise Unsurpassable Equal And Right Bodhi
Why The Swiftest Path To Buddhahood Is Via Āmítuófó’s Pure Land

[3] 为何念阿弥陀佛而不念本师?
Why Be Mindful Of Āmítuófó Instead Of Our Fundamental Teacher?

Related Sūtras:

The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Amitā(bha) Buddha’s Fundamental Esoteric Spiritual Mantra

Immeasurable Life Sūtra

Amitā(bha) Sūtra

The Sūtra On Praises Of The Pure Land With Buddhas’ Protection And Reception

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