Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra

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Statue of Amitābha seated in meditation. Borobudur, Java, Indonesia

The Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra is the longer of the two Mahayana sutras both named Sukhāvatīvyūha ("The Display of Sukhāvatī"); the other is called the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra. These two sutras, together with the Guan Wuliangshou jing, are the main texts associated with the Pure Land tradition of East Asian Buddhism.[1] All three texts expound on the buddha field (buddhakṣetra) of Buddha Amitābha, called Sukhāvatī.[2]

These texts are highly influential in East Asian Buddhism, including China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

Title variants

This text is known by the following names:

In Sanskrit:

  • Sukhāvatīvyūha (T. bde ba can gyi bkod pa) ("The Display of Sukhāvatī")[3]
  • Sukhāvatīvyūhasūtra (T. bde ba can gyi bkod pa’i mdo; C. Wuliangshou jing 無量壽經) ("The Sutra on the Display of Sukhāvatī")[1]
  • Amitābhavyūhasūtra (T. 'od dpag med kyi bkod pa'i mdo) ("The Array of Amitābha")[4]

In English:

  • Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra
  • Larger Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra
  • The Array of Amitābha

Text and translation history

Indian origins

Both the "longer" and "shorter" Sukhāvatīvyūha sutras are considered genuine Indian compositions.[5]

Some scholars suggest that the Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra was compiled in the age of the Kushan Empire in the first and second centuries by an order of Mahīśāsaka monastics who flourished in the Gandhāra region.[6][7] According to Nakamura (1987), it is likely that the longer Sukhāvatīvyūha owed greatly to the Lokottaravāda sect as well for its compilation, and in this sūtra there are many elements in common with the Mahāvastu.[6] The earliest of the Chinese translations show traces of having been translated from the Gāndhārī language, a prakrit used in the Northwest.[8] It is also known that manuscripts in the Kharoṣṭhī script existed in China during this period.[6]

Chinese translations

Jan Nattier states:

The translation most used in East Asia, the Wuliangshou jing (Jpn. Muryøju kyø; Taishø, vol. 12, no. 360), is credited to the third-century monk Saμghavarman in late medieval Chinese catalogues, an attribution followed by the editors of the Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō. This attribution has not, however, withstood scholarly scrutiny. On the basis of information found in earlier catalogues (notably the Chu sanzang jiji produced by Sengyou in the early sixth century C.E.; Taishō, vol. 55, no. 2145), most scholars now assign this text to Buddhabhadra and Baoyun, two translators who were active in the early fifth century. Thus the most popular Chinese version of the larger Sukhāvatīvyūha is thought to date from approximately the same time as Kumarajiva’s translation of the shorter text.
There are, however, two considerably earlier Chinese translations of the larger Sukhāvatīvyūha. The first goes by the unwieldy title of Amituo sanyesanfo saloufodan guodu ren dao jing (Jpn. Amida-san’yasambutsu- sarubutsudan-kadonindø-kyō, often abbreviated as the Dai amida kyō; Taishø, vol. 12, no. 362), produced by Lokaksema (Jpn. Shi Rukasen) in the late second century C.E. The other, translated in the early to mid-third century by Zhi Qian (Jpn. Shiken), is the Wuliang qingjing pingdengjue jing (Jpn. Muryøshøjøbyødøgaku-kyø; Taishø, vol. 12, no. 361). Not only are these Chinese translations earlier than that contained in the Muryōju kyō, their content makes it clear that their translators were drawing on an earlier stage in the life of the Indian scripture itself.[5]

Tibetan translation

The Tibetan Kangyur includes Tibetan translations of both the “shorter” and "longer" Sukhāvatīvyūha.[2]

The “longer” sūtra is listed with the formal title The Array of Amitābha (Toh 49 in the Heap of Jewels section).[2]


Jan Nattier states:

It is in the larger Sukhāvatīvyūha that we find by far the most detailed account of the career of Amitābha, beginning with his first resolution to attain buddhahood when he was still a bodhisattva named Dharmåkara.[5]

In this sutra, the Buddha begins by describing to his attendant Ānanda a past life of the buddha Amitābha. He states that in a past life, Amitābha was once a king who renounced his kingdom and became a bodhisattva monk named Dharmākara ("Dharma Storehouse").[9] Under the guidance of the buddha Lokeśvararāja ("World Sovereign King"), innumerable buddha-lands throughout the ten directions were revealed to him.[9] After meditating for five eons as a bodhisattva, he then made a great series of vows to save all sentient beings, and through his great merit, created the realm of Sukhāvatī ("Ultimate Bliss").[9] This land of Sukhāvatī would later come to be known as a pure land (Ch. 淨土) in Chinese translation.

The sutra describes in great detail Sukhāvatī and its inhabitants, and how they are able to attain rebirth there. The text also provides a detailed account of the various levels and beings in the Mahāyāna Buddhist cosmology.

The sutra also contains the forty-eight vows of Amitābha to save all sentient beings. The eighteenth vow is among the most important as it forms a basic tenet of Pure Land Buddhism. This vow states that if a sentient being makes even ten recitations of the Amitābha's name (nianfo) they will attain certain rebirth into Amitābha's pure land.

Lastly the sutra shows the Buddha discoursing at length to the future buddha, Maitreya, describing the various forms of evil that Maitreya must avoid to achieve his goal of becoming a buddha as well as other admonitions and advice.

English Translations

  • Gomez, Luis, trans. (1996), The Land of Bliss: The Paradise of the Buddha of Measureless Light: Sanskrit and Chinese Versions of the Sukhavativyuha Sutras, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press
  • Inagaki, Hisao, trans. (2003), The Three Pure Land Sutras, Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research  (free PDF available for download at link)
  • Müller, Max, trans. (1894), The Larger Sukhāvatī-vyūha. In: The Sacred Books of the East, Volume XLIX: Buddhist Mahāyāna Texts, Part II. Oxford: Clarendon Press, ISBN 1-60206-381-8


  1. 1.0 1.1 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Sukhāvatīvyūhasūtra.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Sakya Pandita Translation Group 2023, Introduction.
  3. Internet-icon.svg bde ba can gyi bkod pa, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  4. 84000.png The Array of Amitābha
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Nattier 2003, p. 189.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Nakamura 1987, p. 205.
  7. Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. 2008. p. 239
  8. Mukherjee, Bratindra Nath. India in Early Central Asia. 1996. p. 15
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Inagaki 2003, p. xvi.


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