The Amitâyur-dhyâna-sûtra
1:14 h Buddhist
The Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra 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.”


Buddha Amitayus

Part I.

Thus it was heard by me: At one time the Buddha dwelt in Rājagṛha, on the mountain Gṛdhrakūṭa, with a large assembly of Bhikshus and with thirty-two thousands of Bodhisattvas; with Mañjuśrī, Prince of the Law , at the head of the assembly.

At that time, in the great city of Rājagṛha 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 wise: 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 the Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa and worshipped duly and respectfully the World-Honoured One, who at that time abode there. And he uttered the following prayer: ‘Mahāyāna is my friend and relative; let him, I pray, feel compassion towards me; and come and communicate to me the eight prohibitive precepts (of Buddha).’ On this, Mahāyāna 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 did he come. The World-Honoured One sent also his worthy disciple Pūrṇa to preach the Law to the king. Thus a period of three weeks passed by. The king showed by his countenance that he was happy and contented when he had an opportunity of hearing the Law as well as of enjoying the honey and flour.

At that time, Ajātaśatru asked the warder of the gate whether his father was yet alive. On this, the warder answered him: ‘O Exalted king, the chief consort (of thy 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, Mahāyāna and Pūrṇa, approached the king through the sky in order to preach the Law to him. It is, O king, impossible 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 company with 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 Candraprabha, who was possessed of great wisdom and intelligence, and Jīva (a famous physician). They saluted the prince and remonstrated with him, saying: ‘We, ministers, O 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 Sūtra 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 thou, O king, shouldst dare to commit such a deadly sin, thou wouldst bring a stain upon the blood of the Kshatriyas (the kingly race). We cannot even bear to hear of it. Thou art indeed a Caṇḍāla (the lowest race); we shall not stay here with thee.’ After this speech, the two great ministers retired stepping backward, each with his hand placed on his sword. Ajātaśatru was then frightened, and greatly afraid of them, and asked Jīva, saying: ‘Wilt thou not be friendly to me?’ In reply Jīva said to him: ‘Do not then, O Great king, by any means think of injuring thy mother.’ On hearing this, the prince repented and sought for mercy, and at once laid down his sword and did his mother no hurt. 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.

When Vaidehī was thus shut up in retirement she became afflicted by sorrow and distress. She began to do homage to Buddha from afar, looking towards the Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa. She uttered the following words: ‘O Tathāgata! World-Honoured One! In former times thou. hast constantly sent Ānanda to me for enquiry and consolation. I am now in sorrow. and grief. Thou, O World-Honoured One, art majestic and exalted; in no way shall I be able to see thee. Wilt thou, I pray thee, command Mahāyāna and thy 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 Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa. Therefore, he instantly ordered Mahāyāna 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 Śākyamuni, whose body was purple gold in colour, sitting on a lotus-flower which consists of a hundred jewels, with Mahāyāna 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 worship. 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: ‘O World-Honoured One! what former sin of mine has produced such a wicked son? And again, O Exalted One, from what cause and circumstances hast thou such an affinity (by blood and religion) with Devadatta (Buddha’s wicked cousin and once his disciple)?’

‘My only prayer,’ she continued, ‘is this: O World-Honoured One, mayst thou 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 (India) which is full of hells, full of hungry spirits (pretas), and of the brute creation. In this world of depravities, there is many an assemblage 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 five limbs down to the ground before thee, and seek for thy 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 Buddha’s head and transformed itself into a golden pillar just like the Mount Sumeru, wherein the pure and admirable countries of the Buddhas in the ten quarters appeared all at once 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: ‘O 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 (or Amitābha), in the world of Highest Happiness (Sukhāvatī), Now I simply pray thee, O World-Honoured One, to teach me how to concentrate my thought so as to obtain aright vision (of that country).’

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 Nirvāṇa ).

Then the World-Honoured One said: ‘Now dost thou not know, O Vaidehī, that Buddha Amitāyus is not very far from here? Thou shouldst apply thy 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 thee 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 a threefold goodness. Firstly, 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 . Secondly, 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. Thirdly, they should give their whole mind to the attainment of the Bodhi (perfect wisdom), deeply believe in (the principle of) cause and effect, study and recite (the Sūtras of) the Mahāyāna 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).’ ‘O Vaidehī!’ Buddha continued, ‘dost thou not understand now? These three classes of actions are the efficient cause of the pure actions taught by all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future.’

Buddha then addressed Ānanda as well as Vaidehī: ‘Listen carefully, listen carefully! Ponder carefully on what you hear! I, Tathāgata, now declare the pure actions needful (for that Buddha country) for the sake of all beings hereafter, that are subject to the misery (inflicted) by the enemy, i.e. passion. Well done, O Vaidehī! Appropriate questions are those which thou hast asked ! O Ānanda, do thou remember these words of me, of Buddha, and repeat them openly to many assemblies. I, Tathāgata, 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: ‘Thou art but an ordinary person; the quality of thy mind is feeble and inferior.

‘Thou hast not as yet obtained the divine eye and canst not perceive what is at a distance. All the Buddhas, Tathāgatas have various means at their disposal and can therefore afford thee an opportunity of seeing (that Buddha country).’ Then Vaidehī rejoined: ‘O 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 Nirvāṇa, 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?’

Part II.

Buddha then replied: ‘Thou and all other beings besides ought to make it their only aim, with concentrated thought, to get a perception of the western quarter. You will ask how that perception is to be formed. I will explain it now. All beings, if not blind from birth, are uniformly possessed of sight, and they all see the setting sun. Thou shouldst sit down properly, looking in the western direction, and prepare thy thought for a close meditation on the sun; cause thy mind to be firmly fixed (on it) so as to have an unwavering perception by the exclusive application (of thy thought), and gaze upon it (more particularly) when it is about to set and looks like a suspended drum.

‘After thou hast thus seen the sun, let (that image) remain clear and fixed, whether thine eyes be shut or open;—such is the perception of the sun, which is the First Meditation.

‘Next thou shouldst form the perception of water; gaze on the water clear and pure, and let (this image) also remain clear and fixed (afterwards); never allow thy thought to be scattered and lost.

‘When thou hast thus seen the water thou shouldst form the perception of ice. As thou seest the ice shining and transparent, thou shouldst imagine the appearance of lapis lazuli.

‘After that has been done, thou wilt see the ground consisting of lapis lazuli, transparent and shining both within and without. Beneath this ground of lapis lazuli there will be seen a golden banner with the seven jewels, diamonds and the rest, supporting the ground . It extends to the eight points of the compass, and thus the eight corners (of the ground) are perfectly filled up. Every side of the eight quarters consists of a hundred jewels, every jewel has a thousand rays, and every ray has eighty-four thousand colours which, when reflected in the ground of lapis lazuli, look like a thousand millions of suns, and it is difficult to see them all one by one. Over the surface of that ground of lapis lazuli there are stretched golden ropes intertwined crosswise; divisions are made by means of (strings of) seven jewels with every part clear and distinct.

‘Each jewel has rays of five hundred colours which look like flowers or like the moon and stars. Lodged high up in the open sky these rays form a tower of rays, whose storeys and galleries are ten millions in number and built of a hundred jewels. Both sides of the tower have each a hundred millions of flowery banners furnished and decked with numberless musical instruments. Eight kinds of cool breezes proceed from the brilliant rays. When those musical instruments are played, they emit the sounds “suffering,” “non-existence,” “impermanence,” and “non-self;”—such is the perception of the water, which is the Second Meditation.

‘When this perception has been formed, thou shouldst meditate on its (constituents) one by one and make (the images) as clear as possible, so that they may never be scattered and lost, whether thine eyes be shut or open. Except only during the time of thy sleep, thou shouldst always keep this in thy mind. One who has reached this (stage of) perception is said to have dimly seen