Pure Land Buddhist Scriptures
Contemplation Sutra
Home
Buddhism's Sacred Story
Larger Sutra: 1
Larger Sutra: 2
Smaller Sutra
Contemplation Sutra
On Faith Alone
Lotus Sutra
Pure Land Glossary
Interpretation of Scriptures
Scriptures and Spirituality
Our Web Community
Our Shin Buddhist Community

THE SUTRA ON CONTEMPLATION OF AMITAYUS

This sutra was delivered by Shakyamuni Buddha and was translated into Chinese during the Liu-Sung dynasty by the Tripitaka Master Kalayashas from Central Asia

Translated from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki

The text follows the Taisho Tripitaka
edition, vol. 12, and the passage numbers
follow Jodoshinshu Seiten, 1988, pp. 87-117.

Preface

[1] Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was staying on the Vulture
Peak in Rajagriha [341a] with a large assembly of twelve hundred and fifty
monks. He was also accompanied by thirty-two thousand bodhisattvas led by
Manjushri, the Dharma Prince.

King Bimbisara imprisoned by
his son Ajatashatru


[2] At that time, in the great city of Rajagriha, there was a prince named
Ajatashatru. Instigated by his wicked friend, Devadatta, he seized his father,
King Bimbisara, confined him in a room with seven-fold walls, and forbade
all the court officials to visit the king.
Vaidehi, the king's consort, was devoted to him. After having bathed and
cleansed herself, she spread over her body ghee and honey mixed to a paste
with wheat flour, filled her ornaments with grape juice and secretly offered
this food and drink to the king. He ate the flour paste and drank the juice
and then asked for water. Having rinsed his mouth, he joined his palms in
reverence and, facing the Vulture Peak, worshipped the World-Honored One
from afar, said, "Mahamaudgalyayana is my close friend. I beseech you to
have pity on me and send him here to give me the eight precepts."
Then Mahamaudgalyayana flew as swift as a hawk to the king. Day after day
he came like this to give him the eight precepts. The World-Honored One
also sent the Venerable Purna likewise to the palace to expound the Dharma
to the king. Three weeks passed in this way. Because he had eaten the
flour-paste and heard the Dharma, he appeared peaceful and contented.

Queen Vaidehi's
imprisonment


[3] Then Ajatashatru asked the guard, "Is my father still alive?"
The guard replied, "Great king, his consort spreads flour paste over her body
and fills her ornaments with grape juice and offers these to the king. The
monks Mahamaudgalyayana and Purna come here through the air to
expound the Dharma to him. It is impossible to stop them."
Hearing this, Ajatashatru became furious with his mother and said, "Because
you are an accomplice to that enemy, mother, you too are an enemy. Those
monks are evil, for with their delusive magic they have kept this wicked king
alive for many days." So saying, he drew his sharp sword, intending to kill
her.
At that time the king had a minister named Candraprabha who was
intelligent and wise. Together with Jivaka he made obeisances to the king
and said, "Great King, according to a certain Vedic scripture, since the
beginning of this cosmic period, there have been eighteen thousand wicked
kings who have killed their fathers out of their desire to usurp the throne, but
we have never heard of anyone who has committed the outrage of killing his
mother. Your Majesty, if you commit such an outrage, you will bring
disgrace upon the ksatriya class. As your ministers, we cannot bear to hear
what people will say. As this would be the act of an outcaste, we could no
longer remain here."
Having spoken these words, the two ministers grasped their swords and
stepped back. Agitated and frightened, Ajatashatru said to Jivaka, "Are you
not on my side?"
Jivaka replied, "Your Majesty, please restrain yourself and do not kill your
mother."
Hearing this, the king repented and begged their forgiveness. [341b] Having
thrown away his sword, he stopped short of killing his mother and, instead,
ordered the court officials to lock her in an inner chamber and not to allow
her to leave.

Shakyamuni's visit to
Vaidehi


[4] Vaidehi, thus confined, grew emaciated with grief and despair. Facing the
Vulture Peak, she worshipped the Buddha from afar and said, "O Tathagata,
World-Honored One, you used to send Ananda to comfort me. Now I am in
deep sorrow and distress. Since there is no way of my coming to look upon
your august countenance, World-Honored One, I pray you send the
Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana and the Venerable Ananda here to see me."
When she had said these words, tears of sorrow streamed down her cheeks
like rain. Then she bowed towards the Buddha in the distance. Even before
she raised her head, the World-Honored One, who was then staying on the
Vulture Peak, knew Vaidehi's thoughts and immediately ordered
Mahamaudgalyayana and Ananda to go to her through the air; he himself
disappeared from the mountain and reappeared in the inner chamber of the
royal palace.
After worshipping him, Vaidehi raised her head and saw Shakyamuni
Buddha, the World-Honored One. He was the color of purple gold and was
seated upon a lotus-flower of a hundred jewels. He was attended by
Mahamaudgalyayana on his left and Ananda on his right. Shakra, Brahma,
the guardian gods of the world and other devas were in the air about him.
Scattering heavenly blossoms like rain, they paid homage to the Buddha.
When she saw the World-Honored One, Vaidehi tore off her ornaments and
prostrated herself on the ground. Weeping bitterly, she said to the Buddha,
"O World-Honored One, what bad karma did I commit in former lives that I
have borne such an evil son? I wonder, World-Honored One, what karmic
relations could have made you a relative of Devadatta?

Vaidehi wishes to be born in
Amida's Pure Land


[5] "I beseech you, World-Honored One, to reveal to me a land of no sorrow
and no affliction where I can be reborn. I do not wish to live in this defiled
and evil world of Jambudvipa where there are hells, realms of hungry spirits,
animals and many vile beings. I wish that in the future I shall not hear evil
words or see wicked people. World-Honored One, I now kneel down to
repent and beg you to take pity on me. I entreat you, O Sun-like Buddha, to
teach me how to visualize a land of pure karmic perfection."
Then the World-Honored One sent forth from between his eyebrows a flood
of light, which was the color of gold and illuminated the innumerable worlds
in the ten quarters. Returning to the Buddha, the light settled on his head
and transformed itself into a golden platform resembling Mount Sumeru. On
the platform appeared the pure and resplendent lands of all the Buddhas in
the ten quarters. Some of these lands were made of seven jewels, some solely
of lotus-flowers; some resembled the palace in the Heaven of Free Enjoyment
of Manifestation by Others, while some were like a crystal mirror in which all
the lands in the ten quarters were reflected. Innumerable Buddha-lands like
these, glorious and beautiful, were displayed to her.
Vaidehi then said to the Buddha, "O World-Honored One, these
Buddha-lands are pure and free of defilement, and all of them are
resplendent. But I wish to be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss of Amitayus. I
beseech you, World-Honored One, to teach [341c] me how to contemplate
that land and attain samadhi."

Emitting of light from
Shakyamuni's smile


[6] The World-Honored One smiled, and from his mouth came five-colored
rays of light, each shining on King Bimbisara's head. Although the old king
was confined, with his unhindered mind's eye he saw the World-Honored
One in the distance. He knelt down in homage to the Buddha and effortlessly
made spiritual progress until he reached the Stage of a Non-returner.

Three acts of virtue for attaining
birth in the Pure Land


[7] Then the World-Honored One said to Vaidehi, "Do you know that
Amitayus is not far away? Fix your thoughts upon and contemplate that
Buddha-land, then you will accomplish the pure acts. I shall describe it to
you in detail with various illustrations, so that all ordinary people in the
future who wish to practice the pure karma may also be born in that Western
Land of Utmost Bliss. Whoever wishes to be born there should practice three
acts of merit: first, caring for one's parents, attending to one's teachers and
elders, compassionately refraining from killing, and doing the ten good
deeds; second, taking the three refuges, keeping the various precepts and
refraining from breaking the rules of conduct; and third, awakening
aspiration for Enlightenment, believing deeply in the law of causality,
chanting the Mahayana sutras and encouraging people to follow their
teachings. These three are called the pure karma."
The Buddha further said to Vaidehi, "Do you know that these three acts are
the pure karma practiced by all the Buddhas of the past, present and future
as the right cause of Enlightenment?"

Vaidehi asks how to visualize the
Pure Land


[8] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "Listen carefully, listen
carefully and ponder deeply. I, the Tathagata, shall discourse on pure karma
for the sake of all sentient beings of the future who are afflicted by the
enemy, evil passions. It is very good, Vaidehi, that you have willingly asked
me about this. Ananda, you must receive and keep the Buddha's words and
widely proclaim them to the multitude of beings. I, the Tathagata, shall now
teach you, Vaidehi, and all sentient beings of the future how to visualize the
Western Land of Utmost Bliss. By the power of the Buddha all will be able to
see the Pure Land as clearly as if they were looking at their own reflections in
a bright mirror. Seeing the utmost beauty and bliss of that land, they will
rejoice and immediately attain the insight into the non-arising of all
dharmas."
The Buddha said to Vaidehi, "You are an unenlightened, and so your
spiritual powers are weak and obscured. Since you have not yet attained the
divine eye, you cannot see that which is distant. But the Buddhas,
Tathagatas, have special ways to enable you to see afar."
Vaidehi said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, through the Buddha's
power, even I have now been able to see that land. But after the Buddha's
passing, sentient beings will become defiled and evil, and be oppressed by the
five kinds of suffering. How then will those beings be able to see the Land of
Utmost Bliss of Amitayus?"

Thirteen contemplations:
1) contemplation of the setting
sun


[9] The Buddha said to Vaidehi, "You and other sentient beings should
concentrate and, with one-pointed attention, turn your thoughts westward.
How do you contemplate? All sentient beings [342a] except those born
blind--that is, all those with the faculty of sight--should look at the setting
sun. Sit in the proper posture, facing west. Clearly gaze at the sun, with mind
firmly fixed on it; concentrate your sight and do not let it wander from the
setting sun, which is like a drum suspended above the horizon. Having done
so, you should then be able to visualize it clearly, whether your eyes are open
or closed. This is the visualizing of the sun and is known as the first
contemplation. To practice in this way is called the correct contemplation,
and to practice otherwise is incorrect."

2) contemplation of the water


[10] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "After you have accomplished
the first contemplation, next practice visualization of water. Envision the
western quarter as entirely flooded by water. Then picture the water as clear
and pure, and let this vision be distinctly perceived. Keep your thoughts from
being distracted. After you have visualized the water, envision it becoming
frozen. After you have visualized the ice as transparent to its depth, see it
turning into beryl. When you have attained this vision, next imagine that the
beryl ground shines brilliantly, inside and out, and that this ground is
supported from below by columns, which are made of diamond and the
seven jewels and hung with golden banners. These columns have eight sides
and eight corners, each side being adorned with a hundred jewels. Each jewel
emits a thousand rays of light, each ray in turn having eighty-four thousand
colors. As they are reflected on the beryl ground, they look like a thousand
kotis of suns, so dazzling that it is impossible to see them in detail.
"On this beryl ground, golden paths intercross like a net of cords. The land is
divided into areas made of one or the other of the seven jewels, so the
partitions are quite distinct. Each jewel emits a flood of light in five hundred
colors. The light appears in the shape of a flower or a star or the moon;
suspended in the sky, it turns into a platform of light, on which there are ten
million pavilions made of a hundred jewels. Both sides of this platform are
adorned with a hundred kotis of flowered banners and innumerable musical
instruments. As eight pure breezes arise from the light and play the musical
instruments, they proclaim the truth of suffering, emptiness, impermanence
and no-self. This is the visualizing of the water and is known as the second
contemplation.

3) contemplation of the ground


[11] "When you have attained this contemplation, visualize each object quite
clearly without losing the image, whether your eyes are closed or open.
Except when sleeping, always keep it in mind. To practice in this way is called
the correct contemplation, and to practice otherwise is incorrect."
The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "When the visualization of the
water has been accomplished, it is called the general perception of the ground
of the Land of Utmost Bliss. If you attain a state of samadhi, you will see this
ground so clearly and distinctly that it will be impossible to describe it in
detail. This is the visualizing of the ground and is known as the third
contemplation."
The Buddha said to Ananda, "Keep these words of the Buddha in mind, and
expound this method of visualizing the ground for the benefit of the
multitude of future beings who will seek emancipation from suffering. If one
has attained a vision of the ground of that land, the evil karma which one
has committed during eighty kotis of kalpas of Samsara will be extinguished,
and so one will certainly be born in the Pure Land in the next life. Do not
doubt this. To practice in this way is called the correct contemplation, and to
practice otherwise [342b] is incorrect."

4) contemplation of the trees


[12] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "When you have
accomplished visualization of the ground, next contemplate the jewelled
trees. This is how to do so. Visualize each one and then form an image of
seven rows of trees, each being eight thousand yojanas high and adorned
with seven-jewelled blossoms and leaves. Each blossom and leaf has the
colors of various jewels. From the beryl-colored blossoms and leaves issues
forth a golden light. From the crystal-colored issues forth a crimson light.
From the agate-colored issues forth a sapphire light. From the
sapphire-colored issues forth a green pearl light. Coral, amber and all the
other jewels serve as illuminating ornaments. Splendid nets of pearls cover
the trees. Between these seven rows of nets covering each tree there are five
hundred kotis of palaces adorned with exquisite flowers, like the palace of
King Brahma, where celestial children naturally dwell. Each of these
children wears ornaments made of five hundred kotis of
Shakra-abhilagna-mani-gems, which light up a hundred yojanas in all
directions, like a hundred kotis of suns and moons shining together, and so it
is impossible to describe them in detail. Manifold jewels intermingle,
producing the most beautiful colors.
"Rows of these jewelled trees are evenly arranged, and their leaves are
equally spaced. From among the leaves appear wonderful blossoms which
spontaneously bear fruits of seven jewels. Each leaf is twenty-five yojanas in
both length and breadth. Like the celestial ornaments, the leaves are of a
thousand colors and a hundred patterns. These trees have
marvelous blossoms which are the color of gold from the Jambu River and
spin like fire-wheels among the leaves. From these blossoms appear various
fruits, as from Shakra's vase, and from the fruits issue forth great floods of
light, which transform themselves into banners and innumerable jewelled
canopies. Inside the jewelled canopies can be seen reflections of all the
activities of the Buddha throughout the universe of a thousand million
worlds. The Buddha-lands in the ten quarters are also reflected in them.
"After you have seen these trees, visualize each detail in order: the trunks,
branches, leaves, blossoms and fruits, and let your vision of all of them be
clear and distinct. This is the visualizing of the trees, and is called the fourth
contemplation. To practice in this way is called the correct contemplation,
and to practice otherwise is incorrect."

5) contemplation of the
ponds


[13] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "When you have
accomplished visualization of the trees, next contemplate the ponds. This is
how to do so. In the Land of Utmost Bliss, there are ponds of water
possessing eight excellent qualities, each made of seven jewels which are soft
and pliable. The water, springing from a wish-fulfilling king-mani-gem, forms
fourteen streams. Each stream is the color of the seven jewels. Its banks are
made of gold and its bed strewn with diamond sand of many colors. In each
stream there are sixty kotis of lotus-flowers of seven jewels, which are round
and symmetrical, measuring twelve yojanas in diameter. The water from the
mani-gem flows among the flowers and meanders between the trees. As it
ripples, it produces exquisite sounds, [342c] which proclaim the truths of
suffering, emptiness, impermanence, no-self and of the Paramitas. Its sound
also praises the physical characteristics and marks of the Buddhas. The king
of wish-fulfilling mani-gem emits a splendid golden light, which transforms
itself into birds with the colors of a hundred jewels. Their songs are
melodious and elegant, constantly praising the virtue of mindfulness of the
Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. This is the visualizing of the water
possessing eight excellent qualities, and is known as the fifth contemplation.
To practice in this way is called the correct contemplation, and to
practice otherwise is incorrect."

6) contemplation of
various objects


[14] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "In each region of this
jewelled land, there are five hundred kotis of jewelled pavilions, in which
innumerable devas play heavenly music. There are also musical instruments
suspended in the sky, which, like those on the heavenly jewelled banners,
spontaneously produce tones even without a player. Each tone proclaims the
virtue of mindfulness of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. When this
contemplation has been accomplished, it is called the general perception of
the jewelled trees, jewelled ground and jewelled ponds of the Land of Utmost
Bliss. This is a composite visualization and is called the sixth contemplation.
"Those who have perceived these objects will be rid of extremely heavy evil
karma which they have committed during innumerable kalpas and will
certainly, after death, be born in that land. To practice in this way is called
the correct contemplation, and to practice otherwise is incorrect."

7) contemplation of the lotus-throne


[15] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "Listen carefully, listen
carefully and ponder deeply. I will expound for you the method of removing
suffering. Bear my words in mind and explain them to the multitude of
beings."
When these words were spoken, Amitayus appeared in the air above,
attended on his left and right by the two Mahasattvas, Avalokiteshvara and
Mahasthamaprapta. So brilliant was their radiance that it was impossible to
see them in detail. They could not be compared even with a hundred
thousand nuggets of gold from the Jambu River.
After she had this vision of Amitayus, Vaidehi knelt down in worship at
Shakyamuni's feet and said to him, "World-Honored One, through your
power I have been able to see Amitayus and the two Bodhisattvas, but how
can sentient beings of the future see them?"
The Buddha said to Vaidehi, "Those who wish to see that Buddha should
form an image of a lotus-flower on the seven-jewelled ground. They visualize
each petal of this flower as having the colors of a hundred jewels and
eighty-four thousand veins like a celestial painting, with eighty-four thousand
rays of light issuing forth from each vein. They should visualize all of these
clearly and distinctly. Its smaller petals are two hundred and fifty yojanas in
both length and breadth. This lotus-flower has eighty-four thousand large
petals. Between the petals there are a hundred kotis of king-mani-gems as
illuminating adornments. Each mani-gem emits a thousand rays of light
which, like canopies of the seven jewels, cover the entire [343a] earth.
"The dais is made of Shakra-abhilagna-mani-gems and is decorated with
eighty thousand diamonds, kimshuka-gems, brahma-mani-gems and also
with exquisite pearl-nets. On the dais four columns with jewelled banners
spontaneously arise, each appearing to be as large as a thousand million
kotis of Mount Sumerus. On the columns rests a jewelled canopy similar to
that in the palace of the Yama Heaven. They are also adorned with five
hundred kotis of excellent gems, each emitting eighty-four thousand rays
shining in eighty-four thousand different tints of golden color. Each golden
light suffuses this jewelled land and transforms itself everywhere into various
forms, such as diamond platforms, nets of pearls and nebulous clusters of
flowers. In all the ten directions it transforms itself into anything according
to one's wishes, and performs the activities of the Buddha. This is the
visualizing of the lotus-throne, and is known as the seventh contemplation."
The Buddha further said to Ananda, "This majestic lotus-flower was
originally produced by the power of the Bhiksu Dharmakara's Vow. Those
who wish to see the Buddha Amitayus should first practice this
contemplation of the flower-throne. In doing so, do not contemplate in a
disorderly way. Visualize the objects one by one -- each petal, each gem, each
ray of light, each dais and each column. See all of these as clearly and
distinctly as if you were looking at your own image in a mirror. When this
contemplation is accomplished, the evil karma which you have committed
during five hundred kotis of kalpas of Samsara will be extinguished, and you
will certainly be born in the Land of Utmost Bliss. To practice in this way is
called the correct contemplation, and to practice otherwise is incorrect."

8) contemplation of the image
of Amida


[16] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "After you have seen this,
next visualize the Buddha. Why the Buddha? Because Buddhas, Tathagatas,
have cosmic bodies, and so enter into the meditating mind of each sentient
being. For this reason, when you contemplate a Buddha, that mind itself
takes the form of his thirty-two physical characteristics and eighty secondary
marks. Your mind produces the Buddha's image, and is itself the Buddha.
The ocean of perfectly and universally enlightened Buddhas thus arises in the
meditating mind. For this reason, you should single-mindedly concentrate
and deeply contemplate the Buddha, Tathagata, Arhat and Perfectly
Enlightened One.
"When you visualize the Buddha, you should first form his image. Whether
your eyes are open or closed, perceive a jewelled image of him, who is the
color of gold from the Jambu River, sitting on that flower-throne. When you
have perceived a seated image of the Buddha, your mind's eye will open and
you will clearly and distinctly see the seven-jewelled glorious objects of the
Land of Utmost Bliss, including the seven-jewelled ground, the jewelled
ponds, the rows of jewelled trees covered with heavenly jewelled curtains and
jewelled nets spreading over the sky. Perceive these as clearly and distinctly
as if you were seeing an object in the palm of your hand.
"After you have seen this image, visualize on the Buddha's left a large
lotus-flower, [343b] which is exactly the same as the one described above,
and then another large one on his right. Visualize an image of the
Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara sitting on the flower-seat on his left, sending
forth a golden light just like the Buddha image described above, and then an
image of the Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta sitting on the flower-seat on his
right.
"When you have attained this vision, you will see these images of the Buddha
and bodhisattvas sending forth golden rays, which illuminate the jewelled
trees. Under each tree there are also three lotus-flowers with images of a
Buddha and two Bodhisattvas sitting on them, so that the land is completely
filled with such images.
"When you have attained this vision, you will perceive the streams, rays of
light, jewelled trees, ducks, geese, male and female mandarin ducks, and so
forth, all expounding the wonderful Dharma. Whether in meditation or not,
you will always hear the wonderful Dharma. When you rise from meditation,
you should remember what you have heard, not forget it, and confirm it with
the sutras. If it does not agree with the sutras, it should be called an illusion,
but if it does agree, it is called the attainment of the general perception of the
Land of Utmost Bliss. This is the visualizing of the Buddha-image, and is
known as the eighth contemplation. If you have attained this, the evil karma
which you have committed during innumerable kotis of kalpas of Samsara
will be extinguished and, while in this life, you will attain the
Buddha-Recollection Samadhi. To practice in this way is called the correct
contemplation, and to practice otherwise is incorrect."

9) contemplation of Amida himself


[17] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "After you have succeeded in
seeing these images, next envision the physical characteristics and the light of
Amitayus. Ananda, you should realize that his body is as glorious as a
thousand million kotis of nuggets of gold from the Jambu River of the Yama
Heaven and that his height is six hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of
yojanas multiplied by the number of the sands of the Ganges. The white tuft
of hair curling to the right between his eyebrows is five times as big as Mount
Sumeru. His eyes are clear and as broad as the four great oceans; their blue
irises and whites are distinct. From all the pores of his body issues forth a
flood of light, as magnificent as Mount Sumeru. His aureole is as broad as a
hundred kotis of universes, each containing a thousand million worlds. In
this aureole reside transformed Buddhas numbering as many as a million
kotis of nayutas multiplied by the number of the sands of the Ganges. Each
Buddha is attended by innumerable and uncountable transformed
bodhisattvas.
"The Buddha Amitayus possesses eighty-four thousand physical
characteristics, each having eighty-four thousand secondary marks of
excellence. Each secondary mark emits eighty-four thousand rays of light;
each light shining universally upon the lands of the ten quarters, embracing,
and not forsaking, those who are mindful of the Buddha. It is impossible to
describe in detail these rays of light, physical characteristics and marks,
transformed Buddhas, and so forth. But you can see them clearly with your
mind's eye through contemplation.
"Those who have envisioned them see all the Buddhas of the ten quarters.
Because they see the Buddhas, this is called the Buddha-Recollection
Samadhi. To attain this contemplation is to perceive the bodies of all the
Buddhas. By perceiving these, one also realizes the Buddha's mind. The
Buddhas' mind is Great Compassion. It embraces sentient beings with
unconditional Benevolence. Those who have practiced this contemplation
will, after death, be born in the presence of the Buddhas and realize the
insight into the non-arising of all dharmas. For this reason, the wise should
concentrate their thoughts and visualize Amitayus.
"In contemplating him, begin with one of his physical characteristics.
Visualize only the white tuft of hair between his eyebrows until you see it
quite clearly and distinctly. When you visualize it, all the eighty-four
thousand physical characteristics will spontaneously become manifest. When
you see Amitayus, you will also see innumerable Buddhas of the ten quarters.
Having visualized these innumerable Buddhas, you will receive from each the
prediction of your future Buddhahood. This is the general perception of all
the physical characteristics of the Buddha and is known as the ninth
contemplation. To practice in this way is called the correct contemplation,
and to practice otherwise is incorrect."

10) contemplation of
Avalokiteshvara


[18] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "After you have seen
Amitayus clearly and distinctly, next visualize the Bodhisattva
Avalokiteshvara. His height is eighty kotis of nayutas of yojanas multiplied
by the number of the sands of the Ganges. His body is the color of
purple-gold, and on the top of his head is a mound surrounded by an aureole
with a radius of a hundred thousand yojanas, in which there are five hundred
transformed Buddhas. Each transformed Buddha resembles Shakyamuni,
and is attended by five hundred transformed bodhisattvas and innumerable
devas. In the light emanating from his entire body are seen the sentient
beings of the five realms of Samsara in all their distinct physical forms. On
his head he wears a heavenly crown made of Shakra-abhilagna-mani-gems,
on which stands a transformed Buddha (Amitayus) measuring twenty-five
yojanas in height.
"The face of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is the color of gold from the
Jambu River, while the tuft of hair between his eyebrows has the colors of
the seven jewels, and from it issue forth eighty-four thousand different rays
of light. In each of these rays dwell innumerable and uncountable hundreds
of thousands of transformed Buddhas, each attended by countless
transformed bodhisattvas, all of whom manifest in various forms at will,
filling completely the worlds of the ten quarters. Avalokiteshvara's arms are
the color of red lotus-flowers. They emit eighty kotis of exquisite [344a] rays
of light in the shape of ornaments, in which are reflected all the glorious
objects of that land. The palms of his hands are the color of five hundred
kotis of various lotus-flowers. Each of his ten fingertips bears eighty-four
thousand signs like impressed patterns, each with eighty-four thousand
colors. Each color in turn emits eighty-four thousand delicate rays of light,
illuminating all beings. With his jewelled hands he welcomes and guides
sentient beings.
"When he lifts one of his feet, the mark of a thousand-spoked wheel on its
sole spontaneously changes into a pedestal, which emits five hundred kotis of
light-rays. When he puts his foot down, flowers made of diamond and
mani-gems are scattered everywhere. All the other physical characteristics
and marks which he fully possesses are the same as the Buddha's, except for
the mound on his head and the uppermost, invisible part, which are not
equal to those of the World-Honored One. This is the visualization of the
true physical features of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and is known as
the tenth contemplation.
Then the Buddha said to Ananda, "Those who wish to see the Bodhisattva
Avalokiteshvara should follow the method of contemplation just mentioned.
Those who practice this contemplation will not encounter any misfortune,
but will be freed from karmic hindrances and rid of the evil karma which
they have committed during innumerable kalpas of Samsara. If you only
hear the name of this bodhisattva, you will obtain immeasurable merit. And
so, how much more merit will you acquire if you clearly visualize him! Those
who wish to see the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara should first envision the
mound on his head and, next, his heavenly crown. Then they should visualize
the other physical characteristics in order, as clearly as if they were looking
at something in the palm of the hand. To practice in this way is called the
correct contemplation, and to practice otherwise is incorrect."

11) contemplation of
Mahasthamaprapta


[19] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "Next visualize the
Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta. The dimensions of this bodhisattva are the
same as those of Avalokiteshvara. His aureole, two hundred and twenty-five
yojanas in diameter, shines to a distance of two hundred and fifty yojanas.
The light emanating from his entire body illuminates the worlds of the ten
quarters, making them shine like purple-gold. This light can be seen by
anyone who has a close karmic relationship with him. Even if one sees the
light emanating from only one pore of his skin, one can perceive the pure
and glorious lights of the innumerable Buddhas of the ten quarters. This is
why this bodhisattva is called Boundless Light. Furthermore, he has great
power to illumine all beings with the light of wisdom in order to deliver them
from the three evil realms. It is for this reason that he is also called Possessed
of Great Power.
"The heavenly crown of this bodhisattva is adorned with five hundred
jewelled lotus-flowers, each having five hundred jewelled pedestals. On each
pedestal appear the pure and resplendent lands of the Buddhas in the ten
quarters with all their boundless and glorious features.
"The mound on his head, shaped like a lotus-bud, has a jewelled vase in
front. This is suffused with various lights which reveal all the activities of the
Buddha. The rest of the characteristics of his body are [344b] exactly the
same as Avalokiteshvara's. When this bodhisattva walks, all the worlds in the
ten quarters shake. Wherever the earth trembles, five hundred kotis of
jewelled flowers appear, each as beautiful and brilliant as a flower in the
Land of Utmost Bliss. When this bodhisattva sits down, all the seven-jewelled
lands, from that of the Buddha Golden Light in the nadir to that of the
Buddha King of Light in the zenith, tremble simultaneously. From between
these, manifested bodies of Amitayus, Avalokiteshvara, and
Mahasthamaprapta, as innumerable as particles of dust, all assemble like
clouds in the Land of Utmost Bliss, filling the entire sky. Sitting on
lotus-seats, they expound the wonderful Dharma to save suffering beings. To
visualize thus is known as the contemplation of Mahasthamaprapta
Bodhisattva, and is also called the contemplation of Mahasthamaprapta's
physical characteristics. To visualize that bodhisattva in this way is known as
the eleventh contemplation. It extinguishes the evil karma which one has
committed during immeasurable and uncountable kalpas of Samsara. Those
who practice this contemplation will no longer be subject to birth from the
womb. They can journey to the pure and exquisite lands of the Buddhas.
These contemplations are called the complete contemplations of
Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta. To practice in this way is called the
correct contemplation, and to practice otherwise is incorrect."

12) contemplation of the aspirants
themselves


[20] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "After you have contemplated
thus, next visualize yourself as born in the Western Land of Utmost Bliss
sitting cross-legged upon a lotus-flower. Visualize this lotus-flower as closed;
as it opens, five hundred rays of colored light illuminate your body; then
your eyes are open and you see Buddhas and bodhisattvas filling the sky and
hear the sounds of the water, birds and trees, and the voices of the Buddhas
all expounding the wonderful Dharma in accord with the twelve divisions of
the scriptures. When you rise from meditation, keep those things in mind and
do not forget them. Seeing them thus is called the visualization of the Land
of Utmost Bliss of the Buddha Amitayus. This is the comprehensive
visualization, and is known as the twelfth contemplation.
"Innumerable transformed bodies of Amitayus, together with those of
Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta, will always accompany those who
contemplate thus. To practice in this way is called the correct contemplation,
and to practice otherwise is incorrect."

13) contemplation of Amida and
the two bodhisattvas


[21] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "If you sincerely desire to be
born in the Western Land, you should first picture a figure, sixteen feet tall,
on the surface of a pond. The dimensions of Amitayus as previously
described are boundless and beyond the mental scope of ordinary beings.
But, by the power of the original vows of that Tathagata, those who
contemplate him will certainly succeed. You can acquire immeasurable merit
simply by visualizing an image of that Buddha. And so, how much more
merit will you acquire by visualizing his complete physical characteristics!
[344c]
"Amitayus, exercising supernatural powers at will, can freely manifest his
various forms in the lands of the ten quarters. At times he may appear as a
large figure, filling the whole sky; at other times as a small figure, only
sixteen or eight feet high. The figures which he manifests are all of the
color of pure gold. The transformed Buddhas and jewelled lotus-flowers in
the aureole of each manifested form are like those described above.
"The Bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta have a similar
appearance, wherever they are. Sentient beings can only tell one from the
other by looking at the emblems on their heads. These two bodhisattvas
assist Amitayus in saving all beings everywhere. This is the miscellaneous
visualization, and is known as the thirteenth contemplation. To practice in
this way is called the correct contemplation, and to practice otherwise is
incorrect."

Nine grades of birth:
1) the highest level of the
highest grade


[22] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "Those born in the Western
Land are of nine grades. Those who attain birth on the highest level of the
highest grade are sentient beings who resolve to be born in that land, awaken
the three kinds of faith and so are born there. What are the three? They are,
first, the sincere faith; second, the deep faith; and third, the faith that seeks
birth there by transferring one's merit. Those who have these three kinds of
faith will certainly be born there.
"There are three other kinds of sentient beings who also attain birth. Who
are the three? They are, first, those who have a compassionate heart, abstain
from killing and observe the precepts; second, those who chant the
Mahayana sutras of greater scope; and third, those who practice the six
forms of mindfulness. They aspire to be born in that Buddha-land by
transferring there the merit of practice. With the merit acquired from doing
these acts for one to seven days, they attain birth.
"When an aspirant is about to be born in that land through dedicated and
undaunted practices, the Tathagata Amitayus arrives together with
Avalokiteshvara, Mahasthamaprapta, innumerable transformed Buddhas, a
great assembly of a hundred thousand monks and shravakas and
innumerable devas in seven-jewelled palaces. The Bodhisattva
Avalokiteshvara, carrying a vajra-seat, together with the Bodhisattva
Mahasthamaprapta, approaches the aspirant. Amitayus releases a great flood
of light which illuminates the aspirant's body and, along with the
bodhisattvas, extends his hands in welcome. Avalokiteshvara and
Mahasthamaprapta, together with innumerable bodhisattvas, praise and
encourage the aspirant. Seeing this, the aspirant rejoices so greatly as to
dance. Then he sees himself sitting on the vajra-seat, and following the
Buddha, is born into that land in the time it takes to snap one's fingers.
"After being born in that land, he sees the Buddha's body complete with all
its physical characteristics and also [345a] the bodies of the bodhisattvas
equally complete with all their physical characteristics. Hearing the discourse
on the wonderful Dharma sent forth by the light and the jewelled trees, he
then reaches the insight into the non-arising of all dharmas. In a single
moment, he visits and worships all the Buddhas of the ten quarters and
receives from each of them the prediction of his future Buddhahood.
Returning to the Pure Land, he is endowed with innumerable hundreds of
thousands of dharanis. Such a person is called one who attains birth on the
highest level of the highest grade.

2) the middle level of the highest
grade


[23] "Those who attain birth on the middle level of the highest grade, do not
necessarily uphold and chant the sutras of greater scope, but comprehend the
teachings of the Buddha so well that when they hear the supreme truths, they
are not dismayed. They have deep faith in the law of karmic causes and
effects and do not speak slightingly of the Mahayana. They transfer the merit
acquired to the Land of Utmost Bliss, aspiring to be born there.
"When such an aspirant is about to die, Amitayus appears before him,
surrounded by Avalokiteshvara, Mahasthamaprapta and innumerable sages
and attendants, carrying a purple-gold lotus-seat. The Buddha praises him,
saying, 'Son of the Dharma, because you have practiced the Mahayana and
appreciate the supreme truths, I have come to welcome you.' So saying, he
and a thousand transformed Buddhas extend their hands all at once towards
the aspirant, who, seeing himself sitting on the purple-gold seat, joins his
palms and praises the Buddhas. In an instant, he is born in a seven-jewelled
pond of that land.
"The purple-gold seat has become like a great jewelled flower, which opens
after one night. The body of the aspirant has become the color of
purple-gold, and beneath his feet are seven-jewelled lotus-flowers. The
Buddha and bodhisattvas together release a flood of light which illuminates
the aspirant's body. His eyes open, and because of the store of merit from his
previous life, he hears voices everywhere expounding only the most profound
and supreme truths. Descending from his golden seat, he bows with joined
palms and praises the Buddha, the World-Honored One. After seven days, he
immediately reaches the Stage of Non-retrogression for realizing the highest,
perfect Enlightenment. He is also able to fly in the ten quarters, as he wishes,
to revere all the Buddhas and learn various samadhis from them. After the
lapse of a smaller kalpa, he attains the insight into the non-arising of all
dharmas and receives from each Buddha the prediction of his future
Buddhahood. Such a person is called one who attains birth on the middle
level of the highest grade.

3) the lowest level of the
highest grade


[24] "Those who attain birth on the lowest level of the highest grade likewise
accept the law of karmic causes and effects, do not speak slightingly of the
Mahayana and awaken aspiration for the highest Enlightenment. They
transfer the merit acquired to the Land of Utmost Bliss, aspiring to be born
there.
"When such an aspirant is about to die, Amitayus, together with
Avalokiteshvara, Mahasthamaprapta and a host of attendants, come to
welcome him, bringing a golden lotus-flower and manifesting five hundred
transformed Buddhas. Those transformed Buddhas extend their hands all at
once and praise the aspirant, saying, 'Son of the Dharma, since you have
awakened pure aspiration for the highest Enlightenment, we have come to
welcome you.'
"When he has viewed all this, the aspirant finds himself seated upon a golden
lotus-flower, which then closes. Following the World-Honored One, he
immediately attains birth on a seven-jewelled pond. After a day and night,
the lotus-flower [345b] opens and, within seven days, the aspirant beholds the
Buddha. Although he sees the Buddha's body, he is still unable to discern his
physical characteristics and marks clearly. But after three weeks he sees them
distinctly, and also hears all the sounds and voices proclaiming the wonderful
Dharma. Then he can travel in all the ten quarters to make offerings to the
Buddhas and hear their profound teachings. After three smaller kalpas he
acquires clear understanding of the one hundred dharmas and dwells in the
Stage of Joy. Such a person is called one who attains birth on the lowest level
of the highest grade. These three together are known as the contemplation of
the highest grade of aspirants, and the fourteenth contemplation. To
practice in this way is called the correct contemplation, and to
practice otherwise is incorrect."

4) the highest level of the
middle grade


[25] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "Those who attain birth on
the highest level of the middle grade are the sentient beings who keep the five
precepts, observe the eight abstinences, practice in compliance with various
precepts, and abstain from committing the five gravest offenses and other
transgressions. They transfer the merit acquired to the Western Land of
Utmost Bliss, aspiring to be born there.
"When such a person is about to die, Amitayus appears before him,
surrounded by a host of monks and radiating a golden light. He then
expounds the truth of suffering, emptiness, impermanence and no-self, and
praises renunciation of the world as the way to escape from suffering.
"Seeing this, the aspirant greatly rejoices and finds himself seated upon a
lotus-flower. He kneels down, joins his palms and worships the Buddha.
Before he raises his head, he attains birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss, where
his lotus-bud soon opens. When the flower opens, he hears various sounds
and voices extolling the Four Noble Truths. He immediately attains
Arhatship, acquires the three kinds of transcendent knowledge and the six
supernatural powers, and realizes the eight samadhis of emancipation. Such a
person is called one who attains birth on the highest level of the middle
grade.

5) the middle level of the middle
grade


[26] "Those who attain birth on the middle level of the middle grade are the
sentient beings who observe for at least a day and night the eight abstinences,
the precepts for a novice or the complete precepts of a monk or a nun, and
do not violate any of the rules of conduct. They transfer the merit acquired
to the Land of Utmost Bliss, aspiring to be born there.
"When such an aspirant, perfumed by the virtue of observing the precepts, is
about to die, he sees Amitayus coming towards him with his attendants,
radiating a golden light and carrying a seven-jewelled lotus-flower. He hears
a voice in the sky above praising him, saying 'Man of good deeds, since you
are virtuous and have followed the teachings of the Buddhas of the three
periods, I have come to welcome you.' The aspirant finds himself seated
upon the lotus-flower. The flower having closed, the aspirant is born on a
jewelled pond of the Western Land of Utmost Bliss. After seven days the
lotus-bud unfolds, and then he opens his eyes. With joined palms he pays
homage to the World-Honored One, rejoices at hearing the Dharma and
reaches the Stage of a Stream-Winner. After half a kalpa, he becomes an
Arhat. Such a person is called one who attains birth on the middle level of
the middle grade. [345c]

6) the lowest level of the middle
grade


[27] "Those who attain birth on the lowest level of the middle grade are good
men and women who are dutiful to and care for their parents and do
benevolent deeds for others. When such a person is about to die, he may
meet a good teacher, who fully explains to him the bliss of the land of
Amitayus and the Forty-eight Great Vows of the Bhiksu Dharmakara.
Having heard this, he dies and in the short time it takes a strong man to bend
and straighten his arm, he attains birth in the Western Land of Utmost Bliss.
Seven days after his birth there, he meets Avalokiteshvara and
Mahasthamaprapta, rejoices at hearing the Dharma from them and so
reaches the Stage of a Stream-Winner. After one smaller kalpa, he becomes
an Arhat. Such a person is called one who attains birth on the lowest level of
the middle grade. These three together are known as the contemplation of the
middle grade of aspirants and the fifteenth contemplation. To practice in this
way is called the correct contemplation, and to practice otherwise is
incorrect."

7) the highest level of the lowest
grade


[28] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "Those who attain birth on
the highest level of the lowest grade are the sentient beings who commit
various evil acts but do not slander the Mahayana sutras of greater scope.
When a foolish person such as this, who has committed much evil but feels
no remorse, is about to die, he may meet a good teacher, who praises the
titles of the twelve divisions of the Mahayana scriptures. By hearing these
sutra-titles, he is released from the burden of evil karma which he has
accumulated during a thousand kalpas. Furthermore, this wise teacher
advises him to join his palms and call, 'Homage to Amitayus Buddha'
[Na-mo-o-mi-t'o-fo].' Calling the name of the Buddha extinguishes the evil
karma that the dying person has committed during fifty kotis of kalpas of
Samsara.
"The Buddha then sends his transformed body and those of Avalokiteshvara
and Mahasthamaprapta to the aspirant; they praise him, saying, 'Well done,
man of good deeds! By calling the Name of the Buddha your evil karma has
been extinguished, and so we have come to welcome you.' When these words
are uttered, the aspirant sees a flood of light from that transformed Buddha
fill his room. Having seen this, he rejoices and dies. Seated on a jewelled
lotus-flower, he follows the transformed Buddha and is born on a jewelled
pond. In seven weeks the lotus-bud opens and Avalokiteshvara, the
Bodhisattva of Great Compassion, and Mahasthamaprapta appear before
him, releasing great floods of light, and explain to him the extremely
profound teachings of the twelve divisions of the scriptures. Having heard
these, the aspirant accepts them in faith, and awakens aspiration for the
highest Enlightenment. After ten smaller kalpas, he acquires clear
understanding of the one hundred dharmas and enters the First Stage of
Bodhisattvahood. Such a person is called one who attains birth on the
highest level of the lowest grade. Thus he is born by hearing the Name of the
Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha -- that is, the Three Treasures."

8) the middle level of the
lowest grade


[29] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "Those who attain birth on
the middle level of the lowest grade are the sentient beings who violate the
five precepts, the eight precepts or the complete precepts of a monk or a nun.
A foolish person such as these steals from the Sangha or takes the personal
belongings of monks, or preaches the Dharma with impure motives but feels
no remorse. Thus he [346a] defiles himself by evil karma, and because of this
he will fall into hell.
"When he is about to die and the flames of hell suddenly close in on him, he
may meet a good teacher, who compassionately explains to him the ten
supernal powers of Amitayus, fully describing the majestic power of the light
of that Buddha, his virtues in the observance of the precepts, meditation,
wisdom, emancipation and knowledge of emancipation. When he has heard
this, the evil karma which he has committed during eighty kotis of kalpas of
Samsara are extinguished; thus, the fierce flames of hell turn into cool and
refreshing breezes, wafting heavenly flowers. On each flower is a transformed
Buddha accompanied by bodhisattvas welcoming him.
"In an instant, he attains birth within a lotus-bud on a seven-jewelled pond.
After six kalpas the lotus-bud opens, and then Avalokiteshvara and
Mahasthamaprapta comfort him with their noble voices and teach him
profound Mahayana sutras. Upon hearing these, he immediately awakens
aspiration for the highest Enlightenment. Such a person is called one who
attains birth on the middle level of the lowest grade."

9) the lowest level of the
lowest grade


[30] The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "Those who attain birth on
the lowest level of the lowest grade are the sentient beings who commit such
evils as the five gravest offenses, the ten evil acts and all kinds of immorality.
Owing to such evil karma, the fool like this will fall into evil realms and
suffer endless agony for many kalpas. When he is about to die, he may meet
a good teacher, who consoles him in various ways, teaching him the
wonderful Dharma and urging him to be mindful of the Buddha; but he is
too tormented by pain to do so. The good teacher then advises him, 'If you
cannot concentrate on the Buddha, then you should say instead, Homage to
Amitayus Buddha.' In this way, he sincerely and continuously says 'Homage
to Amitayus Buddha' [Na-mo-o-mi-t'o-fo] ten times. Because he calls the
Buddha's Name, with each repetition, the evil karma which he has committed
during eighty kotis of kalpas of Samsara is extinguished. When he comes to
die, he sees before him a golden lotus-flower like the disk of the sun, and in
an instant he is born within a lotus-bud in the Land of Utmost Bliss. After
twelve great kalpas the lotus-bud opens. When the flower opens,
Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta teach him with voices of great
compassion the method of extinguishing evil karma through the realization
of Suchness of all dharmas. Hearing this, he rejoices and immediately
awakens aspiration for Enlightenment. Such a person is called one who
attains birth on the lowest level of the lowest grade. These three together are
known as the contemplation of the lowest grade of aspirants and the
sixteenth contemplation."

Benefits gained by the
audience


[31] As the Buddha delivered these words, Vaidehi and her five hundred
female attendants listened to his teaching. Having envisioned the boundless
features of the Land of Utmost Bliss, the Buddha (Amitayus) and the two
bodhisattvas, Vaidehi rejoiced in her heart. Wonder-struck at this revelation,
[346b] she attained great awakening with clarity of mind and reached the
insight into the non-arising of all dharmas. Her five hundred female
attendants awakened aspiration for the highest, perfect Enlightenment and
desired to be born in that land. The World-Honored One gave all of them
assurances that they would be born there and that they would then attain the
Samadhi of Being in the Presence of All the Buddhas. Innumerable devas
also awakened aspiration for the highest Enlightenment.

Names of this sutra


[32] Then Ananda rose from his seat, stepped forward, and said to the
Buddha, "World-Honored One, what should we call this sutra and how
should we receive and retain the essentials of its teaching?"
The Buddha answered, "Ananda, this sutra is called the Visualization of the
Land of Utmost Bliss, of the Buddha Amitayus, and of the Bodhisattvas
Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta. It is also called the Purification
and Elimination of Karmic Hindrances for Attaining Birth in the Presence of
All the Buddhas. Hold fast to this sutra and do not forget it. Those who
practice this samadhi will be able to see, during their lifetime, the Buddha
Amitayus and the two Mahasattvas. If good men or women simply hear the
Name of this Buddha or the names of those two bodhisattvas, the evil karma
which they have committed during innumerable kalpas of Samsara will be
extinguished. And so, how much more merit will they acquire if they
concentrate on them! You should know that all who are mindful of that
Buddha are like white lotus-flowers among humankind; the Bodhisattvas
Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta become their good friends. They
will sit in the place of Enlightenment and be born into the family of the
Buddhas."
The Buddha further said to Ananda, "Bear these words well in mind. To bear
these words in mind means to hold fast to the Name of the Buddha
Amitayus."
When the Buddha had spoken thus, the Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana,
Venerable Ananda, Vaidehi and all the others greatly rejoiced to hear the
Buddha's discourse.

Epilogue


[33] Then the World-Honored One returned to the Vulture Peak through the
air. There Ananda fully explained to the assembly what had happened.
Innumerable humans, devas, nagas, yaksas and all the other beings greatly
rejoiced to hear the Buddha's teaching. Having worshipped the
World-Honored One, they departed.


The end of
The Sutra on Visualization of
the Buddha of Infinite Life
delivered by Shakyamuni Buddha