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Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra Qi, Guanxiong


Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra The Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra (The Amitābha Sutra; 佛說阿彌陀經; T12, 366) is one of the most fundamental texts for Pure Land Buddhism. It depicts the Sukhāvatī, the wonderous Pure Land of Amitābha, and lists the salvific benefits of being reborn there. Together with the Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra (Infinite Life Sutra; 佛說無量壽經) and the Amitāyus Contemplation Sūtra (Sutra on the Contemplation of the Buddha Immeasurable Life; 佛說觀無量壽經), three sutras constitute the textual pillar of Pure Land Buddhism in East Asia. The sutra starts at the Śākyamuni Buddha’s preaching at Jetavana Vihāra, Śrāvastī, to his major disciples and numerous Boddhisattvas. The Buddha introduces Sukhāvatī, the Amitābha’s distant pure land of ultimate bliss. In his Western Pure Land, all objects—the land, architecture, adornments, and living beings—are the manifestation of the Dharma. Those who are reborn in Sukhāvatī do not even know the ideas of "evil" and "suffering." The three lower realms of rebirth (animal, hungry ghost, hell) do not exist. Those who are reborn there automatically gain salvific progress from hearing the miraculous and dharmic sounds of its heavenly beings. The Buddha then explains the meanings of the name “Amitayus”/“Amitābha” as the Buddha of immeasurable lifespan and immeasurable light. The Pure Land rebirth requires the person to hear the name of Amitābha and hold this name in mind for seven days, without any disturbance. If at the moment of death, one remains mentally undisturbed, Amitābha and his assemblies will appear to facilitate the person to be reborn in the Pure Land. Then, the sutra moves to the confirmation sections. The sutra offers the praises and endorsements of the Amitābha Buddha by all other Buddhas. It proclaims the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from the six directions all affirm the inconceivable qualities of Sukhāvatī and exhort the listeners to seek rebirth there. Finally, the sutra emphasizes the importance of faith and bodhisattva vows. The Bodhisattva Vows made by the realized Buddhas, including Amitābha, are the core tenet that affirms the efficacy of Pure Land practices. And compared to all other practices in the Saha World, the Pure Land belief in Amitābha is the most accessible and easy one. In contrast to other Pure Land sutras, the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra does not contain the specific forty-eight Bodhisattva vows made by the then Dharmākara Bodhisattva, including to create a field with inconceivable wondrous qualities and who collects the mind to the Amitābha Buddha ten times will be reborn in his land (except who violated five deadly precepts). Based on scholastic commentaries, the path of Pure Land is the “easy path.” In Japan, the power of Amitābha is further labeled as the Tariki (the Power of the Other). Philologically speaking, the origin of the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra is still a mystery. The earliest Sanskrit copy was discovered in the Gandhāra region, northern India, and probably composed in the first century CE. Presumably the sutra, as part of the Mahāyāna repertoire, was popular in pre-Islamic Central Asia. The Sanskrit edition was first translated by Max Müller and his cohorts in 1875. It was translated again by Luis O. Gomez in 1996. Since its translation into Chinese, the sutra gradually became the most fundamental text in East Asia. The first Chinese translation was by Kumārajīva in 402. It was subsequently translated again by Guṇabhadra from 454-456 and by Xuanzang in 650. The text was also translated into Tibetan from the ninth century onward. The sutra received extensive commentaries from East Asia monastics. In China, nianfo (being Mindful of the Buddha) became a diffused Buddhist practice that was adopted by many indigenous traditions. In Japan, monastics who favored the text formed Jōdo shū, Jōdo Shinshū, and Nichiren.

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