Xifang sansheng means three saints in the west. They are Amituo fo (阿彌陀佛: Amitabha), Dashizhi (大勢至菩薩: Mahāsthāmaprāpta) , and Guanyin (觀音: Avalokiteśvara). The west means the Pure Land of Amitabha. Xifang sansheng are mainly worshiped by the devotees of Buddhist Pure Land sect. In the arrangement of their statues, Amitabha is situated in the middle. The left one is Avalokiteśvara. The right one is Mahāsthāmaprāpta.
In Chinese Buddhism, Amitābha is also called Wuliangshou fo (無量壽佛), the Buddha of Infinite lifespan, or Wuliangguang fo (無量光佛), the Buddha of Infinite Light. Avalokiteśvara is an important bodhisattva in Chinese Buddhism who often be depicted as a goddess. Dashizhi means great strength. It is translated literally by the meaning of Mahāsthāmaprāpta.
Among Xifang sansheng, the trinity of Amitabha’s Pure Land, Mahāsthāmaprāpta is the one been lesser known. Though he is mentioned often, his stories and rold is not clear. Comparing to a saying that there are Amitābha and Avalokiteśvara enshrined in each and every family (家家彌陀，戶戶觀音), Mahāsthāmaprāpta is apparently neglected.
Reagarding to the Wuliangshou jing (無量壽經), The Infinite Life Sutra, Amitābha has two bodhisattvas as his assistants. They are bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta, and Avalokiteśvara. According to another sutra, the Beihua jing (悲華經), Karuṇā-puṇḍarīka-sūtra in Sanskrit, when Amitābha used to be a king named Wuzheng Nian (無諍念) eones before, Mahāsthāmaprāpta was his second son named Nimo (尼摩). He followed King Wuzheng Nian taking refuge in Buddhism. When King Wuzheng Nian by eones efforts became Amitābha, Nimo became Mahāsthāmaprāpta to assist Amitābha.
Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between statues of Mahāsthāmaprāpta and Avalokiteśvara. A simple was is that there is a standing statue of Buddha in the crest of Avalokiteśvara. There is a bottle in Mahāsthāmaprāpta’s coiffure with a topknot.
In Taiwan, the temples dedicated to Xifang sansheng are often belong to the Pure Land Buddhism. According to the doctrine of Pure Land Buddhism, a dying person or a dead will be guided by Amitabha, Mahāsthāmaprāpta, and Avalokiteśvara to the Pure Land, if the dead oneself or ones family chant Amitābha’s name or visualize Amitābha’s image at that time. For this reason, in the hospice of hospital, there is hung the image of them of place their statues sometimes, especially Buddhist founded hospital. In the funeral, the dead’s family members chant Amitābha as a way to help the deat ascenting to the Pure Land. In other words, Xifang sansheng are important in hospice care today.
Keywords: Xifang sansheng, the Pure Land sect, Amitabha, Mahāsthāmaprāpta, Avalokiteśvara