I am a Westerner raised in the Christian faith but have left it in search of a path that fits with my beliefs and philosophy. Over the past few years, I have studied, prayed, researched, etc of the different schools of Buddhism. In my readings, a type popped up that was more of a Buddhist/Hindu mix - it was a long word that started with an "A" and that is all I can remember. Can anyone help? Thank you!
I believe you are thinking of the Amitabha Buddha - which is the principal - or rather the most popular Buddha in Pure Land Buddhism.
He's represented with the attribute Infinite Life and Infinite Light (of Wisdom) presiding over the Pure Land of Supreme Bliss (Sukhavati).
I am from a Chinese Buddhist organization which holds Chan lineage, but is non denominational, and devotion to Amitabha is one of the fundamental practices through the chanting of the Amitabha Sutra.
I will repeat what I have said else where about him:
After more than a year of chanting the sutra, my conclusion is that it is a metaphor for the Dharma! Remember that Pure Land Buddhism is an outgrowth of Mahayana Buddhism and therefore one of the highest goals is the Perfection of Skillful Means (Upaya Paramita). Mahayana texts utilize fantastical imageries and stories to bring across the difficult to understand technical concepts and teachings in early Buddhism, preserved in the Pali Canon and the Sanskrit Agama.
Imagine your average person being told about the Four Noble Truths, Suffering, Cause of suffering, End of Suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path. It doesn't interest him - "Give up my desires? That's ridiculous! And end of suffering doesn't sound exciting at all! Impermanence sounds so depressing!"
So this is where Pure Land Buddhism comes in. "What if we tell you that there is a place called the World of Supreme Bliss better than any worldly pleasures? And to reach there you need chant this sutra everyday, and I promise you Amitabha Buddha will appear before you". If you didn't realize, chanting is actually a very powerful form of meditation, in fact for the novice, it is faster and more effective than sitting meditation and trying to watch your breath. Here your attention and focus is on the sutra, attaining Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. With that it is possible to experiences the mental factors of the Jhana, joy, happiness, peace, and realizations.
Further more the description of the Pure Land has peppered references throughout to the numbers four, seven and eight. Referring to the Four Noble Truths, Seven Factor of Enlightenment, Noble Eightfold Path.
There are many other messages within. For example, the name of Amitabha himself is Infinite Life and Infinite Light, referring to the Deathless Truth and Wisdom of the Dharma, reminding people that ultimately the goal of Buddhism is Eternal Life, and that the buddhas are ultimately immortal.
Further more it is stated in sutra that in the Pure Land of Amitabha, even lower realms (hell, hungry ghost, and animals) do not exist, this is a Mahayana message that ultimately the goal is not only to save yourself, but purify the whole world. Pure Land Buddhists vow to turn this very world into a paradise. And have a Pure Land in their hearts wherever they maybe.
At the end of the Amitabha sutra, the theme of perfection of skillful means repeats, It said that to attain enlightenment is difficult, but what is even more difficult is to teach it.
There are many other messages which I am slowly absorbing as I encounter them, but I hope this clarify the intentions of Pure Land Buddhism.