The merciful Buddha of the Pure Land. The conceptualizations of Amida have always been very vague in Japanese myth. Like many other Buddhas and bodhisattvas, Amida appears in myths, if at all, as influencing the protagonist or as
a figure of appeal, but never as an active protagonist himself. Nonetheless, the presence of Amida is a very powerful one in Japanese myth, and a great many other religious figures appear either as his avatar or representing him in one way or another.

Amida is portrayed as a seated, contemplative Buddha. He is often shown accompanied by the boddhisattvas Kannon and Seishi-bosatsu. The origins of Amida may well be found in the figure of Ahura Mazda, the Persian-Zoroastrian
god of light. Certainly Joly, at least, argues that the great similarities in both characteristics and ritual addresses to Amida make it all but certain that this figure represents a transfer into Buddhism of elements of Zoroastrian worship. One thing that lends supposition to this idea is that Amida has no existence in any of the original Buddhist sutras. The belief in Amida is a product of the expansion of the Chinese empire under the T’ang, when contact was established on a regular basis with Persia and its ideas.

Though Amida is a background figure in Japanese mythology, he is of primary importance in Japanese religion. A major figure in esoteric Buddhism, belief in Amida was promulgated by Hπnen, who sought an “easier path” to salvation than that advocated by earlier Buddhist schools. Because Amida is infinitely merciful, this requires little more than a repetition of the nembutsu formula “Namu Amida Butsu” (Hail Buddha Amida). Amida is all-hearing, and a repetition of this formula ensures the repeater entrance into Jπdπ, the Pure Land of paradise. The Buddha Amida is venerated as the main deity of the Jπdπ and Jπdπ-Shinshu sects. His main characteristics are love and benevolence. Thusthe way to salvation is dependent simply upon repeating the nembutsu (in Jπdπ), by absolute belief and trust in the deity (Jπdπ-Shinshu).

References and further reading:

  • Eliot, Sir Charles Norton Edgcumbe. 1959. Japanese Buddhism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Frank, Bernard. 1991. Le pantheon bouddhique au Japon. Paris: Collections
    d’Emile Guimet. Reunion des musees nationaux.
  • Getty, Alice. 1988. The Gods of Northern Buddhism. New York: Dover Publications.
  • Joly, Henri L. 1967. Legend in Japanese Art. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co.


Handbook of Japanese Mythology written by Michael Ashkenazi – Copyright © 2003 by Michael Ashkenazi