Most people believe that an advanced religion worships only one god. They do not understand that Buddhism is not a religion, that we do not worship the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas but rather we regard them as teaching aids, which help us to understand the different methods of cultivation.
One single method is insufficient to represent all phenomena in our world, so Buddhism uses many kinds of artistic works to represent them. Once we have understood the educational significance of Buddhist artistry , we will naturally give rise to admiration and appreciation.
All Buddhas symbolize our virtuous nature. All Budhisattvas and Arhats symbolize the virtue of practice. Without the virtue of practice, the innate virtuous can not be revealed. This complementary relationship is why the Buddha Table includes both Buddhas and Bodhisattvas images.Why are there two Bodhisattvas to represent application?
The infinite and innumerable form and application are divided into two categories; wisdom and practice or understanding and behavior. Practice corresponds with understanding. Understanding is the principle and practice is the application. When we see the image of Buddha Shakyamuni, usually Ananda and Kasyapa, two great Arhats are on either side of him. Buddha Shakyamuni represents our original nature. Ananda,who is foremost in hearing, represents understanding and wisdom. Kasyapa, who is foremost in asceticism, represents practice.
Pure Land Buddhism regards Buddha Amitabha as the original nature with Quan Yin Bodhisattva representing compassion and practice, and Great Strength Bodhisattva representing wisdom and understanding. Due to these profound meanings, there cannot be two or more Buddhas and three or more Bodhisattvas.
Each Buddha represents a part of the virtuous nature. Every part of it is perfect so "One is all, all is one ". Each name illustrates the virtues. For example, "Shakya" means kindness,teaching us that we need to treat others with kindness and compassion. "Muni" means stillness and purity. The whole meaning of Shakyamuni teaches us to behave towards others with kindness and compassion, to strive for purity of mind for ourselves.This is the meaning of Shakyamuni and is innate to our original nature.
Amituofo is a Sanskrite transliteration. "Amituo" means Infinite. "Fo" means Buddha.
What is Infinite ? Everything , infinite wisdom,ability,long life,etc. But of all infinites, infinite life in the most important for without it all infinites are useless. With it, we can enjoy all other infinites.How can we gain these infinites ?
Infinity is none other than our self-nature, our original true nature. The Sixth Patriach of Zen, Master Hui-Neng said, " Self-nature is innate; from self-nature arises all phenomena in the universe". In other words, it means infinity.What method do we use to obtain this infinity ?
We practice the teachings of Guan Yin Bodhisattva and Great Strength Bodhisattva. The former teaches us to be compassionate; the latter teaches us the single-minded concentration of Buddha amitabha. Great Strength Bodhisattva taught us " Concentrate solely on Buddha Amitabha, without ceasing, without intermingling with other methods, and in this way we will surely attain wisdom and enlightenment".
Adding to this is the compassionate way of Guan Yin Bodhisattva. Behaving towards others with compassion and chanting only "Namo Amituofo " will enable us to enjoy infinite life. In this way we will develop our virtuous nature and uncover our infinite merits and vitues. Thus, when we pay respect to the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattves, we need to understand that each is representative of a way of cultivation and of the truth of the universe.