I do not think that it is possible for a human being to write the final and definitive text on Amidism. It is part of the definition of this form of spirituality that none of us has such final or ultimate knowledge. Not only that, but there is a sense here that the nature of ultimacy is not such that a once and for all definition would be possible even if one were superlatively wise. Wisdom consists not in knowing something final but in being open to leadings of the Spirit.
Spirituality is a relationship between oneself as a mortal, limited, fallible being and guiding powers that remain mysterious. As we are Buddhist, we associate the guiding powers with Buddhas and bodhisattvas, but we have no problem with the fact that those drawing on traditions other than Buddhism may find other names for them and we ourselves may sometimes use other names. It may sometimes communicate more to talk of angels, saints, celestials, or the divine than to use words drawn from Sanskrit. Spirituality is not the exclusive property of one ancient civilisation, still less any modern one. It has been a dimension of human life all over the planet throughout history. On the other hand, adopting a totally smorgasbroad approach does not provide one with an adequate frame for building community or sharing practice. Amidism, therefore, while being open to the mystical traditions of all great faiths, primarily follows the traditions, symbols and ideational framework of Mahayana Buddhism, especially in its Pureland variety.
Amidism is thus an inclusive, generic form of spirituality that draws its traditions and imagery substantially but not exclusively from Buddhism, especially Mahayana Buddhism, and especially the Pureland traditions of Japan. There are three principle core points that we take as axiomatic in this approach. These three provide us with a framework for understanding and conducting the spiritual life. By holding to them we provide ourselves with enough common ground to work together, yet a sufficiently open space that many people can find a place within it and room there to explore their own unique experience of spirit, The first principle is what we call the bombu paradigm. This is the fact that we are ordinary beings. It is the principle that humans are fallible and subject to conditions; that we do not have the power within ourselves to attain spiritual perfection, salvation or apotheosis; that any such consummation comes as a grace and not as something attained as a result of deliberate aspiring practice.
The second principle is the trikaya: we regard the object of worship or veneration as having threefold nature: ultimate, spiritual and apparent. The ultimate nature stands in relation to ordinary beings rather as infinity stands in relation to finite numbers. The spiritual nature is the fact that the Spirit does appear in dreams and visions, does provide response to the spiritual seeker, and so is accessible through devotional life. The apparent nature is the fact that Buddhas, saints, bodhisattvas, and other great beings do appear in human form in this world and that ordinary beings like ourselves do manifest varying degrees of spirituality in the midst of ordinary life: the Spirit appears in practical ways in our midst.
The third is the principle of prayer, especially the prayer of calling. This is called nembutsu. It often is expressed in a single line prayer that varies with languages but in the English world often has the form "Namo Amida Bu" - "I call to Amida Buddha"
The ordinary nature of ourselves, the graduated manifestation of the Spirit and the practice of calling prayer make up our system. This is our way of clothing what I take to be a universal archetype of the spiritual ife. First there is the experience of finitude - we are limited. Second there is the intuition of infinitude - we can conceive of (though not reach) something that transcends our limited state. Third there is a reaching out across the abyss that separates these two.
This reaching out is active and passive. We reach toward Amida. Amida reaches toward us. In the resulting dynamic transformations occur - some dramatically, some quietly. In the process our appreciation of our finite all-too-seen world and our infinite, mostly unseen one grows, expands, deepens and works in, on and all around us. Something happens. A mystery unfolds. A Life that is more than ordinary occurs in the midst of our ordinariness and we give ourselves to it. This Life is love in myriad forms.
Amidism is the evolving spiritual community of those touched by such love, in which there is a strong sense of common purpose yet a great diversity of activity, in which a simple understanding provides a common, enduring anchor yet wherein new development is always possible. We are led by spiritual powers wiser than ourselves and kinder than ourselves. We can rejoice in them