Guan Wuliangshou jing

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Guan Wuliangshou jing (觀無量壽經; S. *Amitāyurdhyānasūtra) is one of the three main sutras of the Pure Land school, along with the Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra and the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra.

The title for the text translates as “Sūtra on the Visualization of [the Buddha of] Immeasurable Life”.[1] The text is often referred to more simply as Guan jing (which translates as "Contemplation sutra,"[2] "Visualization sutra,"[1] etc.).

The Princeton Dictionary states:

The Guan jing was extremely influential in East Asian Buddhism for advocating specific types of visualizations or contemplations (guan) on the person of the buddha Amitābha (C. Wuliangshou; S. Amitāyu), and for encouraging oral recitation of Amitābha’s name (chengming; see nianfo).[1]

The text and translation

According to tradition, the Guan jing was translated into Chinese by a monk named Kalayashas (Kālayaśas) between 424 and 442 AD. However, modern scholars generally consider this text to be apocryphal, a composition originally written in Chinese.[1][3][4][5]

No Sanskrit original has been discovered and the Sanskrit name and Sanskrit versions would thus be reverse translations.[6]:10 The text also shows Chinese influences, including references to earlier translations of Chinese Pure Land texts. Modern scholars generally accept that the text describes a meditation which was practiced in Central Asia, but with Chinese additions.[1]

This text is also counted among a group of six visualization sutras found in the Chinese canon.[2]

Basic Outline of the Sutra

Preliminary matters

The text begins with a story where a prince named Ajātasattu was enticed by the villain Devadatta to murder his father, King Bimbisara, in order to ascend the throne. Ajātasattu 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.[7]

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.

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:[8]

  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

A fragment of a copy of the Amitayurdhyana Sutra at Wenzhou Museum.

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:[9]

  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.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Guan Wuliangshou jing.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Quinter 2018.
  3. Silk 1997, pp. 181ff.
  4. Muller 1998, p. 68.
  5. 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 0-5853-4963-0
  6. Keown, Damien (2003). "Amitayurdhyana Sutra". A dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0-19-157917-3. 
  7. Hisao Inagaki, Harold Stewart (transl.): The Three Pure Land Sutras, p. XVIII. Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research 2003. ISBN 1-886439-18-4
  8. The Three Pure Land Sutras, p. XIX.
  9. The Three Pure Land Sutras, pp. XIX–XXI.


Further reading

External links

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