Amitayurdhyana Sutra

Tibetan painting of Amitābha in his pure land of Sukhāvatī

The Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra (Sanskrit; traditional Chinese: 佛說觀無量壽佛經) is a Mahayana sutra in Pure Land Buddhism, a branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism. It is one of the three principle Pure Land sutras along with the Infinite Life Sutra and the Amitabha Sutra. Amitāyus is another name for the buddha Amitābha, the preeminent figure in Pure Land Buddhism, and this sūtra focuses mainly on meditations involving complex visualization. This is reflected in the name of the sūtra, which translates to the "Amitāyus Meditation Sūtra."

It is considered by modern scholarship to be apocryphal of Chinese origin.[1][2] The Sanskrit name and Sanskrit versions are thus reverse translations. According to Paul Williams, a more accurate Sanskrit title for this text would be Amitāyurbuddhānusmṛti Sūtra, meaning "Amitāyus Buddha-mindfulness Sūtra."[3] No Sanskrit version of the sutra is known to exist.[4]:10

Basic Outline of the Sutra

Preliminary matters

The text begins with a story where a prince named Ajatashatru was enticed by the villain Devadatta to murder his father, King Bimbisara, in order to ascend the throne. Ajatashatru kills his father, and nearly kills his mother, Queen Vaidehi, but after advice from his other ministers, he relented and threw his mother in prison.

Lamenting her fate, Queen Vaidehi prays to the Gautama Buddha for help, and he is able to visit her. Vaidehi expresses her wish to be born in Amitābha's pure land. Shakyamuni smiles, emitting light from his mouth, and goes on to tell Vaidehi how to be reborn in the Pure Land. The Buddha tells her that although she is in prison, she could still obtain liberation through the practices of Amitābha. The Buddha goes on to describe Amitābha and how one could obtain rebirth in his land of Sukhavati.[5]

This tale is references historical incidents of the Haryanka dynasty of Magadha, India, and the religious tension between Gautama Buddha and his brother-in-law, Devadatta.

Attaining birth in the Pure Land

Shakyamuni explains the importance of performing certain meritorious acts in order to be reborn in the Pure Land. He then goes on to teach Vaidehi how to visualize the Pure Land, to further her efforts in attaining rebirth there. Shakyamuni describes thirteen "contemplations," or mental visualization exercises, that are to be followed in order. By deeply contemplating various aspects of the Pure Land and attempting to visualize them in detail, the aspirant draws closer to the Pure Land.

The thirteen contemplations are described in order as follows:[6]

  1. Contemplation of the setting sun
  2. Contemplation of an expanse of water
  3. Contemplation of the ground in the pure land
  4. Contemplation of trees in the pure land
  5. Contemplation of ponds in the pure land
  6. Contemplation of various objects in the pure land
  7. Contemplation of the lotus-throne of the Buddha
  8. Contemplation of the image of Amitābha
  9. Contemplation of Amitābha himself
  10. Contemplation of Avalokiteśvara
  11. Contemplation of Mahasthamaprapta
  12. Contemplation of the aspirants to the pure land
  13. Contemplation of Amitābha and the two bodhisattvas

Nine levels of birth

In the final part of the sutra, Gautama Buddha discusses the nine levels into which those born into the Pure Land are categorized. The levels are ranked from highest to lowest as follows:[7]

  1. The highest level of the highest grade
  2. The middle level of the highest grade
  3. The lowest level of the highest grade
  4. The highest level of the middle grade
  5. The middle level of the middle grade
  6. The lowest level of the middle grade
  7. The highest level of the lowest grade
  8. The middle level of the lowest grade
  9. The lowest level of the lowest grade

According to the Buddha, all nine grades of human beings can achieve rebirth into the Pure Land if they contemplate Amitābha or at least call on his name. This is similar to the 48 vows made by Amitābha, according to the Infinite Life Sutra, which includes the Primal Vow.


The sutra ends with a short section describing the benefits gained by those who listened to these words of the Buddha. Vaidehi experienced "great awakening with clarity of mind and reached the insight into the non-arising of all dharmas," while her five hundred female attendants and "innumerable devas" also awakened aspiration for the highest enlightenment. Shakyamuni names the sutra, mentions benefits connected with the name of Amitabha Buddha, and exhorts all to hold the words of the sutra in their minds. Shakyamuni then returns through the air to Vulture Peak.

Other Pure Land sutras

See also


  1. Muller 1998, p. 68.
  2. Fujita, "The Textual Origins of the Kuan Wu-liang-shou ching: A Canonical Scripture of Pure Land Buddhism", in Buswell, Robert E.; ed. (1990). Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 0585349630
  3. Williams, Paul. Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, 2nd edition. Routledge, 2009, p. 239
  4. "Amitayurdhyana Sutra" in Keown, Damien (2003). A dictionary of Buddhism. [Oxford]: Oxford University Press. pp. 10–11. ISBN 9780191579172.
  5. Hisao Inagaki, Harold Stewart (transl.): The Three Pure Land Sutras, Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research 2003, p. XVIII. ISBN 1-886439-18-4
  6. Hisao Inagaki, Harold Stewart (transl.): The Three Pure Land Sutras, Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research 2003, p. XIX. ISBN 1-886439-18-4
  7. Hisao Inagaki, Harold Stewart (transl.): The Three Pure Land Sutras, Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research 2003, pp. XIX-XXI. ISBN 1-886439-18-4

Further reading

External links

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