Amitayus - Buddha of Limitless Life
Buddha Amitayus or Buddha of Limitless Life is a Buddha aspect or a deity associated with meditations and mantras for a long life.
Amitayus is in Mahayana and Vajrayana considered another form of Buddha Amitabha, Buddha Amitayus. The major Mahayana sutras describing Amitayus are the small and large Sukhavativyuha where he is teaching beings in the Pure Land of Amitabha, and the Amitayurdhyana sutra. Often both names are used interchangeably. The more specific sutra on Buddha Amitayus is the Arya Aparamita Ayurgyena Nama Mahayana Sutra or the Great Vehicle Sutra of Unfathomable Exalted Life and Transcendental Wisdom, although it is more like a hymn proclaiming the merits and virtues of Amitayus and giving us the long mantra of Amitayus.
Amitayus is usually depicted seated in a meditation posture with a vase (kalasha) in his hands, which contains the elixir of immortality (amrita) and leaves of the Ashoka tree. It symbolizes “a long life without the misery (shoka) of disease. On top of the vase can be an alms bowl.
When we speak on Amitayus, “Limitless Life” refers to his blessings and virtue, while “Limitless Light” refers to his wisdom as Amitabha. Blessings, virtues and wisdom of Amitayus are limitless and so are his spiritual powers, his attributes and his teachings.
The smaller Sukhavativyuha Sutra defines why he is named Amitayus:
“Moreover, Shariputra, the life of that Buddha and that of his people extends for measureless, limitless asamkhyeya(“uncountable”) kalpas (aeons); for this reason he is called Amitayus. And Shariputra, since Amitabha realized Buddhahood ten kalpas have passed.”
The Amitayurdhyana-sutra is concerned with quite another matter. It is a guide to practice and describes a series of sixteen meditations which lead to various grades of transformational rebirth in the Pure Land.
Prince Ajatasatru being enticed by the villain Devadatta threw his parents into jail in order to ascend the throne.
Queen Vaidehi prays to the Shakyamuni Buddha for help, and lamenting the torture in Jambudvipa, she expresses her wish to be born in a place free of hatred and sins. Shakyamuni Buddha went on to tell the Queen in detail how to be reborn in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha.
Amitayurdhyana-sutra was preached at the request of Vaidehi, queen mother of the wicked Prince Ajatasatru:
“My only prayer,” she continued, “is this: O World Honoured One, could you preach to me in detail of all the places where there is no sorrow or trouble, and where I ought to go to be born anew. I am not satisfied with this world of depravities, with Jambudvipa which is full of hells, full of hungry ghosts (pretas), and of the brute creation. In this world of depravities there are many wicked communities. May I not hear, I pray, the voice of the wicked in the future; and may I not see any wicked person!”
The Buddha caused all the buddha-fields to appear before her and let her choose among them. Vaidehi told she still wish to go to the Pure Land Sukhavati. Thereupon the Buddha instructed her in meditation suitable to bring about rebirth in this land. He taught her the following sixteen visualizations, which can bring realization of one of the nine stages of rebirth in the pure land, according to the karma and effort of the individual: contemplation of the setting sun; of water; of the ground; of wondrous trees; of healing waters; of the blissful world of wondrous trees; of the earth and water; of lotus thrones; of the forms of the three sacred ones (Amitabha, - Avalokiteshvara, Mahasthamaprapta); of the corporeal form of the buddha Amitayus; of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara; of the bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta; of Amitabha in the blissful realm; of the middle and lower classes of birth. These visualizations permit the practitioner in this lifetime to see Amitabha and his companions Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta. This is interpreted as sure signs of rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha.
In Tibetan Buddhism we have three major Amitayus mantras, used to pray for a long life and healing from disastrous diseases like cancer and similar:
Om Tadhyata Aparimita Ayu Jnana Hrih
Hung Dhrum Soha
Om Amarani Jiwantiye Soha
It is worth to note, in the Tibetan Amitayus mantras above "amaraņa" comes from "a-"(not) + "maraṇa"(dying) i.e. "immortal" and "jivantaye" comes from "Jiva"(living, existing) and "jivantaye" means "one who is alive (living)".