The complete title is The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra. Two sutras, the large and the small, have this title, both taking as subject Amitabha Buddha, his pure Buddhaland to the West, and the means to rebirth therein. Sukhavati, or, as translated from the Chinese, Ultimate Bliss, is the name of this land. A third sutra also describes Sukhavati: the Meditation on Amitabha Sutra (Amiturdhyana-sutra). Together, these three sutras comprise the basic texts of the Pure Land School.
The large Amitabha Sutra explains the causal affinities resulting in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. It relates Amitabha Buddha’s vows made in a former life and their realization in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
The Meditation on Amitabha Sutra is concerned with quite another matter. It is a guide to cultivation and describes a series of sixteen meditations which lead to various grades of rebirth by transformation in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Both sutras contain Dharmas preached in specific response to the requests of sentient beings: the large Amitabha Sutra at the request of Ananda, “who had still to be advanced on the path of disciples”; and the Meditation on Amitabha Sutra at the request of Vaidehi, queen mother of the wicked Prince Ajatasatru:
“My only prayer,” she continued, “is this: O World Honored One, mayest 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 Jambudvipa, which is full of hells, full of hungry ghosts (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.”
The small Amitabha Sutra, although the shortest of the three, is by no means unimportant. Nor is it just a summary recapitulation of the doctrine set forth in the other two. It is unique, because the entire sutra belongs to the “self-spoken division.” In other words, the Buddha spontaneously preached the Dharma of this sutra, overstepping the usual practice of speaking Dharma only upon request. The very fact that no one in the Great Assembly knew to ask shows the extreme importance and inconceivability of the Dharma of this sutra. The Buddha proclaims in the text of the Sutra: “You should know that I, in the evil time of the Five Turbidities . . . for all the world speak this Dharma, difficult to believe, extremely difficult.”
The Sutra explains the causes and circumstances for rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
“The essential message of this sutra is to teach us to recite the name ‘Namo Amitabha Buddha’. Amitabha Buddha has a great affinity with living beings in the Saha world. Before realizing Buddhahood, he made forty-eight vows and each one involved taking living beings to Buddhahood. At that time, he was a Bhikshu named Dharma Treasury. He said, ‘When I realize Buddhahood, I vow that living beings who recite my name will also realize Buddhahood. Otherwise, I won’t either. . . .’
“By the power of his vows, Amitabha Buddha leads all beings to rebirth in his country where they realize Buddhahood. This power attracts living beings to the Land of Ultimate Bliss, just as a magnet attracts iron filings. If living beings do not attain enlightenment, he himself won’t realize Buddhahood.Therefore, all who recite his name can realize Buddhahood.” (AS 20)
1) Ch. fo shuo a mi to jing , 2) Skt. sukhavati-vyuha sutra.
3) Pali ……………..
See also: Amita (Buddha), pure land, Five Types of Buddhist Study and Practice-Pure Land, Buddha-recitation, sutra.
BTTS References: AS.