Down the road from where I live, an old Victorian hotel has been converted into a temple of the Amida Buddhist order. Here, the chant Namo Amida Bu (“I call out to Amida Buddha) calls upon the mercy of Amitābha/Amida, the celestial Buddha of compassion.
For those not familiar with Mahayana iconography, Amida is often shown with the colour red (he is the Buddha of the setting sun). His dying vow — on this earth, or some other earth, or somewhere — was that those who call upon his name would be reborn in the Pure Land, a kind of Buddhist paradise where enlightenment is more easily obtained.
The friendly folk at the temple seem agnostic as to the metaphysics of all of this. No doubt many Amida Buddhists believe in the literal, biographical ontology of Amida. Others are content to see in Amida a kind of celestial love that accepts them just as they are. “Amida” offers grace from without and that is enough. I take refuge in that.
Or I could take refuge in Shakyamuni Buddha — you know, the Buddha, the one Richard Gere likes. Myth and history co-exist in the story of Siddartha but I certainly take refuge in its splendid archetypes: innocence lost, crisis, the search for enlightenment in all the wrong places, the battle with the ego, and finally, one hopes, equilibrium. (If you want to bathe in the radiance of this story, the PBS documentary on the Buddha is the televisual-religious equivalent of what the Danes call hygge.)
Most of all I believe this second kind of “buddha” is earthly embodiment. Incarnation. It is the human form of a truth — the Kingdom is within. I take refuge here.
The Gospel of Thomas says it best:
Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘Look, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will get there first. If they say, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will get there first. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you…”
At Easter, I take refuge in the buddhas.