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Mantra Meditation

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Amitabha mantra

(Om Amideva Hrih)

If you have a Unicode font installed you’ll be able to see the mantra with diacritics here: Oṃ Amideva Hrīḥ.

Amitabha (his name means infinite radiance) is an archetypal Buddha who is supremely important in far eastern Buddhism. He represents love and compassion, and he is pictured as being the rich, warm color of the setting sun.

Amitabha is one of the so-called Dhyani-Buddhas, a set of five non-historical, symbolic figures who are arranged in a mandala. The other Buddhas in this set are Vairocana (center), Akshobhya (East), Ratnasambhava (South), and Amoghasiddhi (North).

Amitabha

Amitabha is dressed as a monk, with his hands in the mudra (hand gesture) of dhyana (meditation). The dhyana mudra is how one traditionally arranges one’s hands during Buddhist meditation, all those pictures of yoga practitioners with their hands on their knees notwithstanding. This hand position is very balanced and subtle; the thumbs lightly touch, neither pushing together nor falling apart.

Amitabha is of great important in far-eastern Buddhism, where he is known as Amida. He also has a Bodhisattva form called Amitayus, which means “Infinite Life.” The Bodhisattva form is, unlike the monastic Buddha-form, arrayed as a young prince with long hair and adorned with jewelry and fine silks. In some traditions Amitabha and Amitayus are seen as being essentially the same being, while in other traditions they are distinct.

Amitabha is the head of the Lotus (padma) family. This family includes some of the most famous Buddhas and bodhisattvas, including Avalokiteshvara, Padmasambhava, White Tara, and the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni.

He sits on a lotus throne decorated with his sacred animal, the peacock. In Indian folklore it is said that the peacock’s brilliant colors come from the poison of the snakes they eat. These poisons are transmuted into beauty, and likewise Amitabha’s practice turns the poison of greed into love. The connection between greed and love may not be immediately obvious, but one only has to think of the contrast between lust (desiring another person in order to gratify our appetites) and true love (valuing the uniqueness and the potential of another as a person in their own right) to appreciate the symbolism.

Amitabha was one of the first Buddhas to have his own visualization practice. There are several sutras devoted to him. The Amitayurdhyana Sutra (the Teaching of the Meditation on Amitabha) explains 16 meditations that visualize the Buddha Amitabha and his Pure Land, Sukhavati (“the realm of bliss”). This was a teaching given to Queen Vaidehi, who had been imprisoned by her evil son, Ajatasatru. The Buddha introduces the meditation thus:

Do you not know now that the Buddha Amitayus is not far from here? You should concentrate your thoughts upon and visualize that Buddha-land which is the result of pure actions. I shall now give you detailed instructions so that you and future generations who desire to practice the pure actions may attain birth in the Western Realm of Ultimate Bliss.

Other Sutras concerning Amitabha and his Pure Land are the Greater Sukhavati Vyuha and the Smaller Sukhavati Vyuha (Vyuha meaning “a detailed explanation or description”).

So you may be wondering, what is a Pure Land? A Pure Land is what we might think of as a parallel dimension or alternative universe which has been constructed by the infinite merit of a Buddha in his eons of practice. In a Pure Land everything is conducive to gaining enlightenment. You don’t have to worry about earning a living or finding the time to meditate. You’re born, full grown, in a lotus, and the teaching of the prevailing Buddha is everywhere. A Pure Land is a sort of heaven into which one can aspire to be reborn. This aspiration is the central theme of what is known as Pure Land Buddhism

Amitabha’s mantra is a variant of his name. Amideva is just the Tibetan pronunciation of Amitabha (although I was told for a long time that “deva” here meant “god”).

(As an aside, a friend of mine was ordained and given the name “Amaradeva” which means “deathless god.” Symbolically amara (deathless) signifies enlightenment and deva means “radiant” and so the name could be parsed as “one who radiates awakening.” However his colleagues at work got the understanding of “deathless god” a little mixed up and were perturbed to contemplate that they would soon be working with “The Lord of the Undead.” Such are the perils of using Indic names in the West!)

Click below to hear an MP3 version:

Pronunciation notes:

  • a is pronounced as u in cut
  • e is like ay in lay
  • ii is like ee in bee

The final h in hriih has the effect of producing an echo sound. So the syllable is pronounced hrii-hii.

Comments

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Comment from David
Time: July 1, 2007, 12:10 pm

a thousand Thanks ! …

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 25, 2007, 10:42 am

Apparently not!

Even in the earliest days of Buddhism Shakyamuni was seen as just the latest (and not the last) in a lineage of Buddhas. So there was always more than one Buddha, although the past ones seemed to be seen as gone and out of reach, while Maitreya, the coming Buddha was prayed to.

It’s likely that the other Buddhas like Amitabha, who are non-historical and dwell in a mythic dimension, first arose in meditators’ visionary experiences. They just appeared! Presumably the did so because there was some psychological/spiritual need for them. Partly this might be because of a need for the sense of a “present” spiritual force, while Shakymuni, like the Buddhas before him, was seen as gone beyond and hence unreachable. But then why shouldn’t the view of Shakyamuni simply change so that he’s seen as being a source of present comfort and inspiration? Why “invent” new Buddhas to take this role?

I’d side with Sangharakshita’s “Guide to the Buddhist Path” and guess that the arising of new Buddhas was more to do with the need to represent enlightenment iconographically. One figure simply isn’t enough to represent all the different qualities of Enlightenment, and so you end up with a variety of Buddhas. Ultimately I think in some sense they’re all the same Buddha — like white light refracted through various prisms they reveal different “colors” of the same experience.

Anyway, if you want to stick with one Buddha that’s just fine! It’s just a question of what suits you.

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Comment from mario loy
Time: September 25, 2007, 10:12 am

why so many buddhas – isn’t one enough ?

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Comment from Mbeleck Mandenge
Time: September 28, 2007, 7:41 am

How is the meditation with this mantra practised? Would you give us some leads. We will be greatly obliged. What of the medicine Buddha? Has the medicine Buddha got a mantra? If yes how would it be used?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 10, 2007, 4:28 pm

Hello Mbeleck,

Apologies for the delay.

I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the visualizations of Amitabha or the Medicine Buddha. I have chanted the Amitayur Dhyana Sutra, which is an Amitabha visualization. To my surprise the text doesn’t seem to be available online.

The essence of visualization practice, however, is that you visualize the figure in front of and above you, you chant the mantra, and you receive blessings flowing from the figure in the form of light that radiates from the Buddha to you. I’m sure some Tibetans would disagree with me, but I think there’s no harm at all in making up your own visualization practice if you’re not able to get an introduction to it from an experienced teacher.

I recently had a friend who does the Medicine Buddha practice chant the mantra for me and I plan to add something about that Buddha on the site. That’s not the same as the visualization practice of course, but that’s not my aim!

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from rsm
Time: March 21, 2008, 8:38 pm

Sometimes, it seems they say Amitabha, at other times, Namo Amito Fo (Fwo in some texts), it’s interesting and they’d have this going on all day, in sleep, on their phone message machines, everywhere for mindfulness.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: March 22, 2008, 1:00 pm

Hi RSM,

That would be Chinese speakers you’re referring to. In Chinese Amitabha is rendered as something like A-mi-t’o-p’o or O-mi-t’o-fo — the transliterations seem to vary widely!

That’s really interesting about the mantra being on phone messages. It’s very reminiscent of Amitabha’s Pure Land, Sukhavati, where even the sounds of the birds remind one of Awakening.

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Comment from rsm
Time: March 23, 2008, 5:29 pm

Thank you for your response, well, I’ve been going through some books I have, you all provide useful guidance in the English language and I have attended sessions in the Twin Cities where really I did not know what was going on at times but I thank them for their gracious kindness for letting me attend.

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Comment from Rocco
Time: May 21, 2008, 4:38 am

Thank you for this valuable service, Bodhipaksa!
I was looking on the Internet for the mantra of Buddha Amitabha, and found this:

OM AMARANI ZEWÄNTEYE SÖHA (Tibetan)

OM AMARANI JIWANTIYE SWAHA (Sanskrit)

Now I should really be confused. But further search on the Internet shows that there are numerous versions of the Amitabha mantra.
I have been reciting the Tibetan version (above) with faith and love, and it didn’t seem to do any harm. Maybe faith supersedes accuracy? :)

Thank you again!
All best wishes
Rocco

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: May 21, 2008, 8:33 am

Hi Rocco,

Thanks for the kind words.

According to my friend Jayarava over at Visible Mantra — who knows way more about mantras than I do — the correct Tibetan and Sanskrit forms of that mantra are:

oṃ ā ma ra ṇi dzi wa na te ye svā hā (Tibetan — but svāhā would be pronounced so-hā in Tibetan)

which he says would correspond to the Sanskrit:

oṃ amaraṇi jivanatiye svāhā.

This is the mantra of Amitayus, who has a complex relationship with Amitabha. At certain times and in certain places they’re regarded as the same figure, while sometimes they’re seen as separate. Amitabha is portrayed as a monk, wearing robes, while Amitayus is in Bodhisattva form, that is looking like a young prince with long hair and jewelry.

Some people have argued that it’s the pronunciation that’s important, but more generally it’s the spirit that counts. For myself, I tend to take the view that we should at least make an effort to pronounce mantras reasonably correctly, but that we shouldn’t become paranoid about it.

By way of a parallel, I think Americans would do well to get out of the habit of pronouncing the French chaise longue as if it were the English “shay’s lounge” (or sometimes even “chase lounge”) but that it’s going to ludicrous extremes to adopt a French accent in order to refer to a piece of furniture!

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Comment from Rocco
Time: May 21, 2008, 9:34 am

Hello Bodhipaksa!
My grateful thanks to you and to Jayarava for your input. You have both illuminated this mantra for me. I see that Jayarava’s suggestion corresponds to the Tibetan version I found (above) — although I do find the Sanskrit somewhat easier to pronounce. But I guess that both are equally powerful.

Thank you also for the comment about pronunciation. I agree that we should at least TRY (as you suggest) to get it right. But there are various ancient Tibetan stories about ignorant people (like myself) doing things somewhat wrongly, but with faith, and reaching a desired goal. :) But, yes, I agree with you. We need to keep the tradition as pure as possible.

I am amazed that Tibetans can keep a straight face when they listen to our pronunciation of transliterations of Tibetan. But they do. Maybe that’s why they smile so much? :)

Thank you also for your helpful comments about the relationship between Amitayus and Amitabha. I believe that a Buddha can manifest infinite forms, and so maybe Amitayus is a Bodhisattva form of Amitabha (the same continuum)? I just accept that Amitayus is a Buddha of long-life, etc. and that Amitabha is the root guru of Buddha Shakyamuni (he is usually depicted on BS’s crown). Is that right?

I surmise that we can use this mantra for both Amitayus and Amitabha?

On another tack, the weirdest variations in pronunciation I have heard occur in the Medicine Buddha’s mantra. Which makes me a bit sad because I would love to use it more. Have you any ideas about that, Bodhipaksa?

Thank you once again, and all blessings
Rocco

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: May 22, 2008, 10:37 am

Hi Rocco,

I’m sure Westerners’ pronunciation of Tibetan is frequently hilarious. There are also sounds in Sanskrit that we simply don’t have — all of those letters with dots below them involve turning the tip of the tongue backwards on the roof of the mouth, for example — and so most of us are never going to pronounce Sanskrit correctly. It’s not impossible, just a huge amount of effort. And then again, the pronunciation of Sanskrit has undoubtedly changed over the millennia, so perhaps no one pronounces mantras exactly the way they used to be pronounced in the early days.

By the way, I don’t really see correct pronunciation as a question of “purity” but more as a form of respect for another language and as a way of taking mindful care of the way we speak religious words.

Anyway, I just don’t know whether, in the parts of the Buddhist world where Amitayus and Amitabha are regarded as being the same figure, the mantras are used interchangeably. That would be an interesting research project — perhaps for Jayarava? I’ll write and ask.

The Medicine Buddha mantra (and the figure himself) is one I know very little about, for some reason. There’s a Wikipedia article that shows the Sanskrit mantra, and you can compare that with the various Tibetan manglings!

namo bhagavate bhaiṣajyaguru vaidūryaprabharājāya vathāgatāya arhate samyaksambuddhāya tadyathā: oṃ bhaiṣajye bhaiṣajye bhaiṣajya-samudgate svāhā

It’s a very long mantra, and in the Western Buddhist Order (in which I practice) people who do the Bhaisajyaguru visualization use a shorter version of the mantra. Thus traditions evolve! I plan to post an article on Bhaisajyaguru written by a friend of mine. She’s also recorded the short form of the mantra for me.

You’re correct in thinking that Amitabha is the head of the Lotus family that includes Shakyamuni.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from Pip
Time: June 2, 2008, 3:12 am

Hari om…great site to discover so thanks…do you know the meaning of the words in the long mantra of Amitayus?
It starts
NAMO RATNA TRA YAYA/ OM NAMO BHAGAVATE/ APARIMITA AYUR JNANA/……….and finishes……MAHA NAYA PARIVARA YE SVAHA
many blessings,
Pip

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 2, 2008, 6:36 am

Hi Pip,

For the benefit of other people who might be interested, here’s the full mantra/dharani:

NAMO RATNA TRAYAYA
OM NAMO BHAGAVATE
APARIMITA AYUR JÑANA
SUPINISH CHITATAYE
JORA JAYA
TATHAGATAYA
ARHATE SAMYAKSAMBUDDHAYA
TADYATHA
OM PUNYE PUNYE
MAHA PUNYE
APARIMITA PUNYE
AYU PUNYE
MAHA PUNYE
AYUR JÑANA
SARVA RUPA SIDDHI
AYUR JÑANA
KE CHE BHRUM
OM BHRUM
AH BHRUM
SVA BHRUM
HA BHRUM
CHE BHRUM
OM SARVA SAMSKARA
PARI SHUDDHA DHARMATE
GAGANA SAMUDGATE
SVABHAVA VISHUDDHE
MAHA NAYA PARIVARA YE SVAHA

There’s an MP3 version of this available on Lama Zopa’s site.

This isn’t a mantra I’m familiar with — thanks for flagging it up. Khenpo Thubten Lodru Nyima has a rather unsatisfactory translation here (PDF). I say unsatisfactory because he seems to gloss over some parts of the mantra. Unfortunately some of the parts he skates over don’t (to my untrained eye) look like proper Sanskrit. And perhaps equally unfortunately I don’t have time at present to do the kind of research that would be needed to untangle it (If indeed I’d be capable of doing that). But his partial translation will give you some idea of what the mantra’s saying, bearing in mind that some of it is composed of seed syllables and doesn’t have any conceptual meaning anyway.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Pingback from Vajrapani: Breaking free | Wildmind Buddhist Meditation
Time: July 29, 2008, 11:06 pm

[…] knowledge of Bodhisattvas was limited to beautiful and refined peaceful deities, such as Tara and Amitabha. Vajrapani seemed unconventional to say the least. He wore a tiger skin (or sometimes an elephant […]

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Comment from Mbeleck Mandenge
Time: January 24, 2009, 7:46 am

We have waited for the entry you promised on the medicine Buddha mantra. We would be delighted to read and…practise.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 27, 2009, 10:15 am

Hello Mbeleck,

You got me! I’ll aim to create a page on the Medicine Buddha this week.

Thanks for the reminder,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 2, 2009, 8:39 pm

Hi Mbeleck,

You have your wish. The Medicine Buddha page and mantra have been published. I’ll no doubt add more material later.

I hope you find it useful.

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Comment from Brandon
Time: March 18, 2009, 3:49 pm

Greetings

A few years back I felt an affection for Padmasambhava when I first ran across his story as recounted by R.A. Ray in “Indestructible Truth.” Later I acquired a tanka that shows Padmasambhava along with what appears to be Amitaba and Avalokatishvara as well as other figures I can’t identify.

Im wondering if the mantras of related figures are ever used together? I know these three are members of the Padma Family. Also has anyone heard the mantra “Om Amitabha Harii-hiih” before?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: March 18, 2009, 4:30 pm

I have great respect for Acharya Ray. He’s a fine teacher.

I’ve never come across the variant you mention, although it wouldn’t surprise me to know it’s out there. Mantras are very mutable, and of course “amitabha” is the actual name. Your “Harii-hiih” is just a more-or-less phonetic rendering of the pronunciation of Hrih (see the pronunciation guide on this page for details).

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Comment from Jayarava
Time: September 6, 2009, 3:49 am

Please note that I have made an amendment to my re-creation of the Sanskrit Amitāyus mantra. I still haven’t found a Sanskrit source, but I think the mantra makes more sense if we read it as: oṃ amaraṇi jīvantaye svāhā. Probably aramaṇi should be aramaṇa as well, but I’m not certain.

My reasoning is laid out on the Amitābha Mantra page on my website. Apologies for any confusion I may have caused.

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Pingback from between thoughts » Blog Archive » Passing – the space between the thoughts
Time: February 10, 2010, 2:03 am

[…] you so wish you can chant Om Ami Deva Hrih for […]

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Comment from zensho rafananda
Time: December 16, 2010, 7:03 am

Dear friends in Dhamma,
on the mp3 version mentioned here, the monk is chanting something before the actual beginning of the “NAMO RATNA TRAYAYA
OM NAMO BHAGAVATE …” – verses. Does anybody know what it is?
Dhamma greetings and much METTA 2 U

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: December 16, 2010, 1:14 pm

Hi, Zensho. Are you talking about the chant on lamayeshe.com? I don’t hear anything before the start of the mantra there. Perhaps you’re talking about a different MP3?

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Comment from zensho rafananda
Time: December 19, 2010, 2:51 pm

Thank You very much for Your answer, Bodhipaksa. Sorry, it took me some time to find it again in the internet from where I downloaded it. But here it is:
http://www.home.earthlink.net/~pcd_dallas/Prayers.htm
Scrolling down You will find:
Tse Nyen (Amitayuus) MP3 – 3.5 megs
Thank You again for Your help and
Maha-Metta 2 U

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: December 19, 2010, 3:31 pm

Apart from knowing that it sounds like Tibetan, I’m at a loss!

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Comment from Clinton
Time: December 25, 2010, 4:06 pm

I find Amitabha so appealing! Pure Land Buddhism was my very first real encounter with Buddhism, I was lent a book by a friend about it and I found it wonderful. As mentioned in previous posts on this site I joined a Tibetan Buddhist Centre in the beginning of 2010 but now I seem to be more and more drawn to Zen. I just love the beautiful simplicity of Zen, the more I read about it the more I want to do it. I’m joining a Zen group in the New Year to further explore my Buddhist journey and to find which Buddhist school suits my nature the best. This site has been a big help! Thank you!

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Comment from Sittingshrink
Time: May 7, 2011, 3:16 pm

I just found your site; great stuff. I understand your reluctance to be an online master teacher, but help with basic dharma and practice questions like “how do I pronounce hrih?” is invaluable… not just for students but for all sentient beings.

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Comment from Ilex
Time: August 14, 2011, 12:03 am

…”Amitabha is not a creator god (there’s no such animal in Buddhism)”… How very unhappy this kind of witty comment is! Sad. “We are the smart ones, unlike you, poor ignorant non-buddhist”… That’s the message, isn’t it?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 14, 2011, 10:31 am

It’s certainly not what I had in mind, Ilex. I think you’re being a tad over-sensitive.

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Comment from ilex
Time: August 14, 2011, 4:42 pm

Oh, no, not at all. Your methaphor is not offensive to me. I just put myself in the place of a non-buddhist who comes up against the word “animal” attached to his/her concept of God. It’s not about my sensitiveness. It’s about being delicate with others’.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 14, 2011, 5:50 pm

So had I used another common expression and said it was a “different kettle of fish,” you’d think I was comparing the deity to a pot of cold-blooded water-dwelling vertebrates? Or you’d be concerned someone else would? Sometimes an idiom — “a whole other animal,” “a different kettle of fish,” “a bird of another feather” — is just an idiom, and to draw from such an idiom the assumption that I believe non-Buddhists to be ignorant is rather a stretch. I might even say you’re barking up the wrong tree. So even if you keep badgering me, I won’t feel sheepish about the issue. See what I did there? Sorry, I just can’t stop horsing around.

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Comment from Bob Zane
Time: January 25, 2012, 6:38 am

very late comment – is there a qualitative difference between this chant and the Shin chant NamuAmidaBu? and not corny Animal puns, dammit.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 25, 2012, 9:53 am

I don’t think there’s any real difference, Bob.

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Pingback from Chanting | Standing in an Open Field
Time: April 12, 2012, 12:25 pm

[…] short description of Amitabha Buddha and the mantra from Wildmind : http://www.wildmind.org/mantras/figures/amitabha Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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Comment from svhk
Time: November 18, 2012, 2:00 pm

Thanks for the mantra audio. I’ve been looking for the prononciytion of hrih for hours.
And let me say, I appreciate the rest of the site too, it seems to blend just the right amount of rationalism and spiritualism.
In a nutshell, thanks for everything.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 18, 2012, 2:15 pm

You’re welcome.

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Comment from david
Time: January 9, 2013, 5:49 am

Please note that this debate over “Gods” is unwarranted, as the mantra is here (and often) mis-transliterated. “Om Amidewa Hrih” is merely a Tibetan mis-pronunciation of Om Amitabha Hrih. It does not mean “infinite God” (as amita+deva would imply).
In Tibetan, the letter chosen to encode a sanskrit “Bha” is the “Wa”, and also in Tibetan the syllable “Tab” would be said by a native as “De” because those kind of a’s get ‘umlauted’ in Tibetan. So “Amitabha” encountered by the Tibetan reader would be said “Amidewa” but not because it means anything other than Amitabha: Infinite Light.

Please note that this mistake is repeated at http://www.visiblemantra.org/amitabha.html

Om Amitabha Hrih

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 9, 2013, 10:57 am

Both Jayarava and I would be party to the same “received wisdom” (often a misnomer, I find). I’ll look into this and change the article if necessary. Thanks, David.

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Pingback from Mantra on Monday | The Hornchurch Buddhist Group
Time: February 7, 2013, 10:12 am

[…] For more information on Amitabha and his mantra: http://www.wildmind.org/mantras/figures/amitabha […]

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Comment from jaimy
Time: June 13, 2014, 3:10 pm

So does that mean om amitabha hrih is the origin spelling of the mantra???amideva is just simply the way Tibetan pronounced amitabha.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 13, 2014, 3:40 pm

It must be. By the way, I’ve been meaning to correct this article for ages. I’d been told that Amideva was Sanskrit, rather than a Tibetan pronunciation of Sanskrit. Anyway, it’s fixed now.

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Comment from jaimy
Time: June 14, 2014, 3:13 am

Thanks a million. om amitabha hrih

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Comment from kelly
Time: August 26, 2014, 6:45 pm

There is a video on you tube called “The Mantra of Amitabha (best version).” This seemed to be the mantra above but not quite. Is this another shortened version of the above mantra?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 26, 2014, 8:01 pm

That’s a completely different (and much longer) mantra, Kelly. It’s not uncommon for there to be a variety of mantras for one figure.

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