(Sūtra on the Contemplation of Buddha Amitāyus or Amitāyus Meditation Sutra)
The famous "Sutra on the Contemplation of Buddha Amitāyus" (also called the "Amitāyus Meditation Sutra" or Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra) is revered as canonical by all Pure Land Buddhists, and is one of the Three Sutras of Pure Land Buddhism, the others being the Larger Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sutra and the Smaller Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sutra.
In this sutra, the Nembutsu (Namu Amida Butsu) is specifically proclaimed as the avenue to liberation of suffering beings from Samsāra. In the context of Pure Land practice, it generally refers to the repetition of the name of Amitābha. It is a translation of Sanskrit buddhānusmṛti "recollection of the Buddha."
Shakyamuni explains the importance of performing certain meritorious acts in order to be reborn in the Pure Land. He then goes on to teach Vaidehī 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:
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 Mahāsthāmaprāpta
12. Contemplation of the aspirants to the pure land
13. Contemplation of Amitābha and the two bodhisattvas
At the conclusion of the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra Buddha Shakyamuni specifically describes several types of personalities with higher or ordinary or lower spiritual attainments or defilements and what happens after their death, when the Buddha Amitābha shinning in red light arrives at the person together with his attendants – Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara and Bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta (Vajrapani in Tibetan Buddhism).
It is also stressed that even the worst of sinners can significantly improve their situation and eventually reach the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha by always repeating the prayer "Adoration to Buddha Amitāyus" (Namo Amitābhāya (Sanskrit), Namu Amida Butsu (Japanese)). In Tibetan Buddhism the mantra Om Ami Deva Hrī is used.
1. Thus have I heard: At one time the Buddha dwelt in Rajagriha, on Vulture Peak, with a large assembly of Bhikkhus and with thirty-two thousand Bodhisattvas, with Manjushri the Dharma-Prince at the head of the assembly.
2. At that time, in the great city of Rajagriha there was a prince, the heir-apparent, named Ajātaśatru.
He listened to the wicked counsel of Devadatta and other friends and forcibly arrested Bimbisāra, his father, the king, and shut him up by himself in a room with seven walls, proclaiming to all the courtiers that no one should approach (the king).
The chief consort of the king, Vaidehī by name, was true and faithful to her lord, the king. She supported him in this way:
having purified herself by bathing and washing, she anointed her body with honey and ghee mixed with corn-flour, and she concealed the juice of grapes in the various garlands she wore in order to give him food without being noticed by the warder.
As she stole in and made an offering to him, he was able to eat the flour and to drink the juice of grapes. Then he called for water and rinsed his mouth.
That done, the king stretched forth his folded hands towards Vulture Peak and duly and respectfully made obeisance to the World-Honoured One, who at that time was living there.
And he uttered the following prayer:
'Maha Maudgalyayana is my friend and relative; let him, I pray, feel compassion towards me, and come and communicate to me the eight prohibitive precepts of the Buddha.'
On this, Maha Maudgalyayana at once appeared before the king, coming with a speed equal to the flight of a falcon or an eagle, and communicated to him the eight precepts.
Day after day he visited the king. The World-Honoured One sent also his worthy disciple Purna to preach the Dharma to the king. Thus a period of three weeks passed by.
The king showed in his expression that he was happy and contented when he had an opportunity of hearing the Dharma as well as of enjoying the honey and flour.
3. At that time, Ajātaśatru asked the warder of the gate whether his father was yet alive. On this, the warder answered him:
'Exalted king, the chief consort of your father brought food and presented it to him by anointing her body with honey and flour and filling her garlands with the juice of grapes,
and the Śramaṇas, Maha Maudgalyayana and Purna, approached the king through the sky in order to preach the Dharma to him. It is impossible, king, to prevent them coming.'
When the prince heard this answer his indignation arose against his mother:
'My mother,' he cried, 'is indeed a rebel, for she was found in the company of that rebel. Wicked people are those Śramaṇas, and it is their art of spells causing illusion and delusion that delayed the death of that wicked king for so many days.'
Instantly he brandished his sharp sword, intending to slay his mother.
At that moment, there intervened a minister named Chandraprabha, who was possessed of great wisdom and intelligence, and Jīva (a famous physician). They saluted the prince and remonstrated with him, saying:
'We, ministers, Great king, heard that since the beginning of the kalpas there had been several wicked kings, even to the number of eighteen thousand, who killed their own fathers, coveting the throne of their respective kingdoms, as mentioned in the Sutra of the discourse of the Veda.
Yet never have we heard of a man killing his mother, though he be void of virtue.
Now, if you, king, should dare to commit such a deadly sin, you would bring a stain upon the blood of the Kshatriyas, the kingly race. We cannot even bear to hear of it. You are indeed a Chāṇḍāla, the lowest race; we will not stay here with you.'
After this, the two great ministers withdrew stepping backward, each with his hand placed on his sword.
Ajātaśatru was then frightened and greatly afraid of them, and asked Jīva: 'Will you not be my friend?'
In reply Jīva said to him, 'Do not then, O great king, by any means think of injuring your mother.'
On hearing this, the prince repented and sought for mercy, and at once laid down his sword and did his mother no harm. He finally ordered the officers of the inner chambers to put the queen in a hidden palace and not to allow her to come out again.
4. When Vaidehī was thus locked up in confinement she became afflicted by sorrow and distress. She began to do homage to Buddha from afar, looking towards the Vulture Peak. She uttered the following words:
'Tathagata! World-Honoured One! In former times you have constantly sent Ānanda to me for enquiry and consolation. I am now in sorrow and grief. You, World-Honoured One, are majestic and exalted; in no way shall I be able to see thee.
Will thou, I pray you, command Maha Maudgalyayana and your honoured disciple, Ānanda, to come and have an interview with me?'
After this speech, she grieved and wept, shedding tears like a shower of rain.
Before she raised her head from doing homage to the distant Buddha, the World-Honoured One knew what Vaidehī was wishing in her mind, though he was on the Vulture Peak.
Therefore, he instantly ordered Maha Maudgalyayana and Ānanda to go to her through the sky. Buddha himself disappeared from that mountain and appeared in the royal palace.
When the queen raised her head as she finished homage to Buddha, she saw before her the World-Honoured Buddha Shakyamuni, whose body was purple gold in colour, sitting on a lotus-flower which consists of a hundred jewels, with Maha Maudgalyayana attending on his left, and with Ānanda on his right.
Śakra (Indra), Brahman, and other gods that protect the world were seen in the midst of the sky, everywhere showering heavenly flowers with which they made offerings to Buddha in their obeisance.
Vaidehī, at the sight of Buddha the World-Honoured One, took off her garlands and prostrated herself on the ground, crying, sobbing, and speaking to Buddha:
'World-Honoured One! What former sin of mine has produced such a wicked son? And again, Exalted One, from what cause and circumstances have you such an affinity (by blood and religion) with Devadatta (Buddha's wicked cousin and once his disciple)?'
5. 'My only prayer,' she continued, 'is this:
World-Honoured One, may you preach to me in detail of all the places where there is no sorrow or trouble, and where I ought to go to be born anew.
I am not satisfied with this world of depravities, with Jambudvīpa, which is full of hells, full of hungry spirits, and of the brute creatures.
In this world of depravities, there are many assemblies of the wicked. May I not hear, I pray, the voice of the wicked in the future and may I not see any wicked person.
'Now I throw my limbs down to the ground before you, and seek for your mercy by confessing my sins. I pray for this only that the Sun-like Buddha may instruct me how to meditate on a world wherein all actions are pure.'
At that moment, the World-Honoured One flashed forth a golden ray from between his eyebrows. It extended to all the innumerable worlds of the ten quarters.
On its return the ray rested on the top of the Buddha's head and transformed itself into a golden pillar just like Mount Śumeru, wherein the pure and admirable countries of the Buddhas in the ten quarters appeared simultaneously illuminated.
One was a country consisting of seven jewels, another was a country all full of lotus-flowers; one was like the palace of Maheśvara Deva (god Śiva), another was like a mirror of crystal, with the countries in the ten quarters reflected therein.
There were innumerable countries like these, resplendent, gorgeous, and delightful to look upon. All were meant for Vaidehī to see (and choose from).
Thereupon Vaidehī again spoke to Buddha:
'World-Honoured One, although all other Buddha countries are pure and radiant with light, I should, nevertheless, wish myself to be born in the realm of Buddha Amitāyus, in the world of Highest Happiness, Sukhāvatī.
Now I simply pray you, World-Honoured One, to teach me how to concentrate my thought so as to obtain a right vision of that country.'
6. Thereupon the World-Honoured One gently smiled upon her, and rays of five colours issued forth out of his mouth, each ray shining as far as the head of king Bimbisāra.
At that moment, the mental vision of that exalted king was perfectly clear though he was shut up in lonely retirement, and he could see the World-Honoured One from afar.
As he paid homage with his head and face, he naturally increased and advanced in wisdom, whereby he attained to the fruition of an Anāgāmin, the third of the four grades to Nirvana.
7. Then the World-Honoured One said:
'Now do you not know, Vaidehī, that Buddha Amitāyus is not very far from here?
You should apply your mind entirely to close meditation upon those who have already perfected the pure actions necessary for that Buddha country.
'I now proceed to fully expound them for you in many parables, and thereby afford all ordinary persons of the future who wish to cultivate these pure actions an opportunity of being born in the Land of Highest Happiness (Sukhāvatī) in the western quarter.
Those who wish to be born in that country of Buddha have to cultivate threefold goodness:
First, they should act filially towards their parents and support them; serve and respect their teachers and elders; be of compassionate mind, abstain from doing any injury, and cultivate the ten virtuous actions".
Second, they should take and observe the vow of seeking refuge with the Three jewels, fulfil all moral precepts, and not lower their dignity or neglect any ceremonial observance.
Third, they should give their whole mind to the attainment of perfect wisdom, deeply believe in the principle of cause and effect, study and recite the Mahayana doctrine, and persuade and encourage others who pursue the same course as themselves.
'These three groups as enumerated are called the pure actions leading to the Buddha country.'
'Vaidehī!' Buddha continued, 'To clarify if do you not understand now:
These three classes of actions are the effective cause of the pure actions taught by all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future.'
8. The Buddha then addressed Ānanda as well as Vaidehī:
'Listen carefully, listen carefully! Ponder carefully on what you hear! I, Tathagata, now declare the pure actions needful for Birth in that Buddha country, for the sake of all beings hereafter that are subject to the misery inflicted by the enemy of the passions.
Well done, Vaidehī! Appropriate are the questions which you have asked!
Ānanda, be sure to remember these words of mine, the Buddha, and repeat them openly to many assemblies. I, Tathagata, now teach Vaidehī and also all beings hereafter in order that they may meditate on the World of Highest Happiness, Sukhāvatī, in the western quarter.
'It is by the power of Buddha only that one can see that pure land of Buddha as clear as one sees the image of one's face reflected in the transparent mirror held up before one.
'When one sees the state of happiness of that country in its highest excellence, one greatly rejoices in one's heart and immediately attains a spirit of resignation prepared to endure whatever consequences may yet arise.'
Buddha, turning again to Vaidehī, said:
'You are but an ordinary person; the quality of your mind is weak and confused. You have not as yet obtained the divine eye and cannot perceive what is at a distance. All the Buddhas, Tathagatas have various means at their disposal and can therefore afford you an opportunity of seeing that Buddha country.'
Then Vaidehī rejoined:
'World-Honoured One, people such as I can now see that land by the power of Buddha, but how shall all those beings who are to come after Buddha's Nirvana, and who, as being depraved and devoid of good qualities, will be harassed by the five worldly sufferings - how shall they see the World of Highest Happiness of the Buddha Amitāyus?'