Amitayurdhyana Sutra

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 generally considered by modern scholarship to be apocryphal, a composition originally written in Chinese.[1][2][3] No Sanskrit original has been discovered and the Sanskrit name and Sanskrit versions would thus be reverse translations.[4]:10 According to Paul Williams, a more accurate Sanskrit title for this text would be Amitāyurbuddhānusmṛti Sūtra, meaning "Amitāyus Buddha-mindfulness Sūtra."[5]

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 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.[6]

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

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.

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:[8]

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.