Buddhānusmṛti | Buddha-mindfulness

Buddha statue, Thailand
Buddha statue, Thailand

1. Buddhānusmṛti

Buddhānusmṛti (Pāḷi: buddhānussati), meaning Buddha-mindfulness, is a common Buddhist practice in all Buddhist traditions which involves meditating with a Buddha, such as Gautama Buddha, Historical Buddhas or Mahāyāna Buddha-aspects, as the meditation subject.

2. Gāthā

The most widely used meditation text in Theravāda Buddhism, the Visuddhimagga uses the following 'Buddhānusmṛti Gāthā' for contemplation of the Buddha's 9 qualities (Nava Guṇa):

Iti’ pi so bhagava araham sammasambuddho vijjacaranasampanno sugato lokavidu anuttaro purisadammasarathi sattha devamanussanam buddho bhagava’ti.

It's Sanskrit counterpart, which occurs in many Mahāyāna Sūtras and in Ārya-Trirātna-anusmṛti sūtra, is given as:

ityapi buddho bhagavāṃstathāgato'rhan samyaksaṃbuddho vidyācaraṇasampannaḥ sugato lokavidanuttaraḥ puruṣadamyasārathiḥ śāstā devamanuṣyāṇāṃ buddho bhagavāniti

This Gāthā can be translated in English as:

Thus indeed is the Exalted One (1) an accomplished one, (2) a fully-enlightened one, (3) endowed with knowledge and good conduct, (4) well gone or gone to bliss,

(5) a knower of the world, (6) an unsurpassed leader of persons to be tamed, (7) a teacher of humans and devas, (8) the awakened or the one who knows, (9) the sublime or exalted.

3. Theravāda

In all Theravāda countries chanting and devotion (Bhaṭṭi) is a big part of lay and monastic Buddhist practice, and devotional chants which praise the qualities of the Buddha are widely used.

Buddhānusmṛti is considered one of the 4 Guardian meditations, as well as part of the 10 Recollections and the 40 meditation subjects (Kammaṭṭhāna) which also includes recollection of the Dharma, Saṅgha, morality, generosity and Devas.

According to Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu, recollection of the Buddha is meant to induce a sense of joy and confidence (pasāda) in the practice that can bring the mind to concentration and cleanse it of defilement.

The Pāḷi Nikāyas mention of the 10 recollections, and Buddhānusmṛti is defined thus:

One thing—when developed & pursued—leads solely to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

Which one thing? - Recollection of the Buddha.

This is one thing that—when developed & pursued—leads solely to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

— AN 1.287–296

Buddhaghoṣa’s exposition in the Visuddhimagga states that this practice endows one with confidence, mindfulness, understanding and merit.

He also states that the practitioner comes to feel as if he were living in the Master's presence.

According to the 'Netti Sutta' of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka a yogi who wishes to practice Buddhānusmṛti can use Buddha statues to practice.

In the Tantric Theravāda tradition, Buddha-mindfulness visualizations are also practiced.

Dhammakāya meditation, which was influenced by this Southern tantric tradition, uses the visualization of a clear crystal Buddha image at the centre of the body and the repetition of the mantra Sammā-Arahaṁ.

4. Mahāyāna

While in Theravāda Buddhism, this practice is collectively to all Buddhas(of past, present and future),

in Mahāyāna Buddhism Buddhānusmṛti and related mindfulness practices are also specialized to specific Buddhas or Bodhisattvas such as Amitābha, Maitreya, Avalokiteśvara and Tārā.

These practices also sometimes involve mental visualization of their physical qualities, bodies and 'Buddha fields'.

The development of Mahāyāna Buddhānusmṛti practices can be traced to the Buddhist meditation teachers of Kashmir who composed several Sūtras which emphasized mindfulness of Buddhas.

One of the earliest Sūtras which mention mindfulness of Amitābha Buddha is the Pratyutpanna Samādhi Sūtra (translated into Chinese in 179 CE).

This Sūtra, and others such as the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra, includes lengthy descriptions of the Buddha Amitābha's physical qualities and of his Pure Land

which are used in practices that are meant to allow the meditator to access the Pure Land of Sukhāvatī, worship Amitābha directly and receive teachings from Amitābha.

In Pure Land Buddhism this practice is called Nianfo, and the Infinite Life Sūtra says that if one practices visualization meditation on the Buddha Amitābha, upon death one will have a vision of Amitābha who will then take them to the Pure Land.

Recollection of the names of the 88 Buddhas is also a common practice among Buddhists.

In Vajrayāna Buddhism, a tantric type of Buddhānusmṛti is developed in a practice called Deity Yoga (Sanskrit: Devatā-yoga) which is classified as an Inner Tantra.

The practice of Deity Yoga involves the use of a Mandala image, mantra recitation and visualization of a chosen meditation deity called a Yidam.

There are various types of Deity Yoga:

One of the practices involves the meditator visualizing the Deity in front of them and another involves the meditator visualizing themselves as their chosen Deity and their surroundings with the elements of their Yidam's Mandala.

Buddhānusmṛti in form of Deity Yoga is the most common type of meditation in Vajrayāna Buddhism.