And now, for some fun pics I found!
Excellent that you’re visiting a Buddhist temple! It’s good for getting a perspective of Buddhism as it is actually practiced.
Great question. The answer is yes, they are different Buddhas. Buddhism in Vietnam is heavily heavily influenced by Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, which most often incorporates both Pure Land and Ch’an elements to it. The statues most likely looked something like this, right?
In East Asian Mahayana Buddhism, this is a very standard shrine. This is a popular Buddhist “trinity”. Usually, the Buddha in the center with the dhyana mudra is Sakyamuni Buddha, the most recent Buddha in our world system. The one holding the pagoda to the right is usually the Medicine Buddha, who vowed to use his merit to alleviate not only mental but also physical ailments. He’s very a very popular buddha prayed to for health. And the buddha to the left is usually Amitabha Buddha, a celestial buddha who established the Western Pure Land. If you recite his name with sincerity in your mind, then you can be reborn into his Pure Land where one can practice the dharma most easily and attain liberation.
However, the three Buddha statues also represent a very beautiful and important concept in the Mahayana schools—The Trikaya, or three bodies of the Buddha.
In the Mahayana tradition, the Sakyamuni Buddha (along with all other Buddhas) is believed to have had at least 3 bodies:
1) nirmanakaya, or physical body, with which they come to earth to teach the Dharma,
2) sambhogakaya, or manifestation body, with which the buddhas continue to reveal teachings to us (sentient beings) in dreams or visions, and with which they divinely intervene to help us out on the path
3) dharmakaya, or their transcendent body, which is the manifestation of ultimate reality, and can thus not be talked about or described. This last body cannot be described or comprehended.
This is a reminder that the message of Sakyamuni Buddha is well and alive, that his compassion for us continually manifests, and that the ultimate reality is ineffable.
Hope this helped!
Trikaya Doctrine (explained with a Theravada bias, but still good explanation)
Amitabha and Pure Land Teachings
Medicine Buddha (page 236 of this, which refers to him by his Sanskrit name, Bhaisajyaguru)
Sky burial is a ritual that has great religious meaning. Tibetans are encouraged to witness this ritual, to confront death openly and to feel the impermanence of life. They believe that the corpse is nothing more than an empty vessel. The spirit, or the soul, of the deceased has exited the body to be reincarnated into another circle of life. The corpse is offered to the vultures.
It is believed that the vultures are Dakinis. Dakinis are the Tibetan equivalent of angels. In Tibetan, Dakini means “sky dancer”. Dakinis will take the soul into the heavens, which is understood to be a windy place where souls await reincarnation into their next lives.
Hey! Here’s a side of Buddhism that you don’t see every day on the internet! Yeup, sky burial is still practiced in Tibetan Buddhism.
300 years old Tibetan Carved Skull.
This is awesome, but it makes me feel a little icky. Maybe that’s what it is supposed to do!
Did you guys see that the Dalai Lama led the US Senate in prayer on Thursday? That’s interesting! Click link to see video. Kind of cool, in terms of representation of different religious groups. But the ever-present skeptic part of me always wonders: why did His Holiness speak now? What was the motivation behind congress to do so?
Still, very interesting and cool!
Here is the paper I presented for the AAR! You are more than welcome to read it!
Today’s conference on Buddhism and Ecology at the AAR went great! I was so nervous in anticipation, but I finally got through it. I’m so happy with the way it turned out. I’m going to convert my document to PDF and show you guys what I presented. Happy to have participated in academic discourse of Buddhism!
(Alberto) Dan Diaz