Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra

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Japanese sutra book open to the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra

The Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra is the shorter of the two Mahayana sutras both named Sukhāvatīvyūha ("The Display of Sukhāvatī"); the other is called the Longer 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 pure realm (buddhakṣetra) of Buddha Amitābha, called Sukhāvatī.[2]

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

Title

This text is known by the following names:

  • Sukhāvatīvyūha (The Display of Sukhāvatī)
  • Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra
  • Smaller Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra
  • Sutra on Amitāyus Buddha
  • Smaller Sutra on Amitāyus

Summary

The Sakya Pandita Translation Group states:

In the Jeta Grove of Śrāvastī, the Buddha Śākyamuni, surrounded by a large audience, presents to his disciple Śāriputra a detailed description of the realm of Sukhāvatī, a delightful, enlightened abode, free of suffering. Its inhabitants are described as mature beings in an environment where everything enhances their spiritual inclinations. The principal buddha of Sukhāvatī is addressed as Amitāyus (Limitless Life) as well as Amitābha (Limitless Light).
The Buddha Śākyamuni further explains how virtuous people who focus single-mindedly on the Buddha Amitābha will obtain a rebirth in Sukhāvatī in their next life, and he urges all to develop faith in this teaching. In support, he cites the similar way in which the various buddhas of the six directions exhort their followers to develop confidence in this teaching on Sukhāvatī.
The sūtra ends with a short dialogue between Śāriputra and the Buddha Śākyamuni that highlights the difficulty of enlightened activity in a degenerate age.[3]

Text and translation history

Three main texts on Sukhāvatī

The Sakya Pandita Translation Group states:

The Display of the Pure Land of Sukhāvatī is the shortest of three sūtras that expound the Land of Delight, the pure realm of Amitābha, called Sukhāvatī. The Tibetan Kangyur includes Tibetan translations of two of these texts: this one, often called the “shorter” Sukhāvatī, and the “longer” sūtra, with the formal title The Array of Amitābha (Toh 49 in the Heap of Jewels section). The third, The Amitāyus Meditation Sūtra, is only extant in Chinese.
The shorter sūtra, according to the Sanskrit scholar Luis Gomez, first appeared in its written form during the first century ᴄᴇ, possibly in what was then Northwest India and is now Pakistan.[2]

Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan versions

The Sakya Pandita Translation Group states:

A Sanskrit version of the smaller Display of the Pure Land of Sukhāvatī is extant today, as well as Tibetan and Chinese translations. All the translations show some variation from the Sanskrit source in content and style, which can be attributed in part to cultural and geographic conditions in Tibet and China. The translations have become more influential than the original itself, for which we presently lack any contextual information.
There are several Chinese translations of this sūtra, dating from between 240 and 400 ᴄᴇ, but only one Tibetan version, translated in the eighth or ninth century. The Chinese versions of the sūtra spread through China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam and played an important role in the formation of the Pure Land schools in these countries. These versions appear to embellish the description of the wonders of the realm of Sukhāvatī, whereas the Tibetan version is more subdued and shows its main variations from the Sanskrit original in the names and the number of buddhas presiding over the different buddha realms. The various editions in the Tibetan canon, i.e., the Degé, Narthang, Peking, and Lhasa editions, show no major differences that would alter any meaning.[2]

The smaller Display of the Pure Land of Sukhāvatī was translated into Chinese by famous translators such as Kumarajiva and Xuanzang.[1]

The Tibetan version of this text was translated by the Indian preceptor Dānaśīla and the chief editor-translator Bandé Yeshé Dé, as indicated in the colophon.[2]

Content

Main points of subject matter

The Sakya Pandita Translation Group states:

The sūtra’s overall subject is revealed in the title. The Sanskrit term sukhāvatī, in Tibetan Dewachen (bde ba can), designates a realm of delight, a place where no suffering is experienced. The inhabitants of this realm are spiritually advanced beings who enjoy the presence of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and arhats, and engage exclusively in wholesome activities. The principal buddha of this realm has two names, Amitāyus (Limitless Life) and Amitābha (Limitless Light). Even though it is not explicitly stated in this particular sūtra, Amitāyus is, in Vajrayāna contexts, sometimes considered a sambhogakāya form of Buddha Amitābha.
The term vyūha (Tib. bkod pa) means “display,” indicating that the sūtra is to a large extent a description of this buddha realm and its characteristics. It is a land with lakes and forests full of jewels, with magical birds, and with little bells producing lovely sounds. Its ideal environment enhances the spiritual practice of Sukhāvatī’s inhabitants.[2]

Four main topics

The sūtra contains four main topics:[2]

  1. the description of Sukhāvatī;
  2. the prerequisites needed to take birth in this realm;
  3. praise of this discourse expressed by other buddhas; and
  4. the Buddha Śākyamuni’s supreme feat.

The setting

The Sakya Pandita Translation Group states:

The narrative of the sūtra takes place in the Jeta Grove of Śrāvastī, where the Buddha Śākyamuni, in the presence of a large audience consisting of arhats and bodhisattvas, addresses his disciple Śāriputra and tells him about the realm of Sukhāvatī. The sūtra is in large part a discourse spoken by the Buddha. Even though the Buddha regularly asks the question, “Śāriputra, what do you think about this?” Śāriputra speaks only at the very end of the sūtra and praises the Buddha.
The sūtra ends with a short dialogue between Śāriputra and the Buddha Śākyamuni that highlights the difficulty of the Buddha Śākyamuni’s attaining enlightenment and preaching in a degenerate age.[2]

Significance of the buddha realms

The Sakya Pandita Translation Group states:

The notion of innumerable buddha realms coexisting with our reality became popular with the emergence of Mahāyāna Buddhism around the first century ᴄᴇ. They have been interchangeably translated as buddhafields, buddha realms, or pure lands.
In The Display of the Pure Land of Sukhāvatī, the Land of Delight is described as a realm beyond space and time. The two larger sūtras elaborate on the history of its emergence. According to those sūtras, the Land of Delight is the result of the powerful vows of the Buddha Amitābha, who out of great compassion created a safe environment for fortunate beings to progress toward spiritual maturity. The smaller sūtra, however, refers only to the existence of such a realm and its characteristics.
In this sūtra, the Buddha Śākyamuni explains the manner in which beings take birth in this realm: fortunate sons and daughters are told to accumulate a significant amount of merit and direct their faith single-mindedly toward the Buddha Amitābha.
Śākyamuni’s discourse mentions an alternative title for this sūtra. He explains that there are countless buddha realms with tathāgatas who praise Sukhāvatī with a Dharma discourse called “Complete Embrace by All Buddhas.”[2]

English Translations

  • 84000.png Sakya Pandita Translation Group (2023), The Display of the Pure Land of Sukhāvatī , 84000 Reading Room
  • 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

References

Sources

External links