Is Amida Buddha Fat or Skinny?
In his commentary on the Shoshinge, Rev. Haya Akegarasu mentions something quite humorous. He mentions that in Buddhist art, Amida Buddha is depicted in two ways, one as very skinny, and the other as being plump, or fat.
In my life, I have gone from being a slim, trim, fit young man, to an overweight, out of shape, senior citizen. Oh, to be young again. When I went to the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, now more than 35 years ago, I lived near Lake Merritt in Oakland. Lake Merritt has a nice walking/jogging path around the little lake. I used to jog around the lake every day. I think it was about 2.5 miles. I couldn’t jog around a kiddie pond now.
A few years ago I saw a friend from Japan whom I hadn’t seen in years, and the first thing she said to me was, “Wow, did you get fat!” (In Japanese, Maa, futotta ne!”
What a crush to my ego that was. As I politely laughed with her on the outside, on the inside I was thinking, “The nerve of this lady! I would never say something like that to someone.”
As of lately, I have started to exercise in the morning and try to watch what I eat in an attempt to lose some of the weight I have gained over the past 30 years. Needless to say, it will take some time.
But to return to the question of, is Amida skinny or fat, Rev. Akegarasu reflects on it in this manner. He says that some people think that Amida Buddha goes through great struggle and sacrifices for all sentient beings and works so hard that Amida is nothing but skin and bones. Another way to look at Amida being skinny, Rev. Akegarasu points out, is that if work is a struggle and is stressful, then Amida would be skinny. But if, on the other hand, Amida is
Enjoying what he/she is doing, then Amida would naturally be plump, even fat, because there is no stress, no strain, no matter how difficult the task is.
I wish I could say that my weight gain is because I have become more “Amida-like” but I am afraid that the only thing I have in common with Amida would be the plumpness.
But I agree with Rev. Akegarasu in his interpretation of these two types of Amida. If Amida is stressed out, he would be skinny. If Amida enjoyed his work, he would be fat.
Some would argue and say that if their job was less stressful and their working conditions were better, then they would be able to enjoy their work better. But the fact that
Amida is enjoying his work is not a reflection that his job is necessarily easy. How easy can it be to try and save all sentient beings?
Amida’s being plump, is a metaphor for being one with what you are doing, to love what you are doing. I think that the awakened person does this no matter what the task that is before them.
When I studied under Rev. Gyomay Kubose, his demeanor rarely changed. He was always positive, bright, and smiling. It didn’t matter if he was planting flowers in the temple yard, or if he was fixing lunch for his wife, or if he was giving a lecture for a study class, or if he was doing the tedious work of putting the addresses on the temple newsletters, he never seemed stressed. He never seemed like his work was a chore. In those days, the temple used what was called an “address-o-graph”, which was a machine in which you had to put a metal plate with the member’s address on it, place the newsletter on the machine, and then press the machine down to imprint the address. It was a time consuming job, doing one newsletter at a time. But Sensei never appeared like he detested the tedious job, which came around every month.
I am not saying that I am like Rev. Kubose in the least, but I feel very fortunate to be able to do work that is truly a joy to do. Even having the two jobs of serving OCBC and
serving the BCA as the CBE Co-Director, to me is not stressful or a burden. I feel like I get the best of both worlds. I am able to work as a minister at the local level at OCBC, giving Sunday sermons, teaching BEC classes, officiating at funerals and memorial services, making the
oden at the festivals, working in the office, and all the other tasks that involve being a minister. I also get to help develop educational programs at the National level that hopefully helps all of the BCA and its members on a broader basis as well. What could be stressful? What could be a chore?
Maybe I will lose a little weight as I try to exercise and eat healthier, but maybe I won’t if I keep enjoying what I am privileged to do. Maybe I will always be the plump version of Amida (without the enlightened qualities of Amida). Maybe this work will just continue to be more meaningful, more fulfilling, as each year passes.
I think that Buddhism provides us with a foundation for our life such that we can be one with whatever we are doing. Whether we are washing dishes, doing the laundry, enjoying a concert, or even doing our taxes, the task at hand is not a “chore” but it is what we want to do. If we enjoy what we are doing, how can we not help but become plump.
Rev. Marvin Harada