C1 Key Texts

The Sutra on the Contemplation of the Buddha Amitayus

The Sutra on the Contemplation of the Buddha Amitayus


NOTE: The famous "Sutra on the Contemplation of Buddha Amitayus" (or simply, "Contemplation Sutra") is revered as canonical by all Pure Land Buddhists, and is one of the Three Sutras of Pure Land Buddhism, the others being the Larger Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra and the Smaller Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra. In the Contemplation Sutra, the Nembutsu (Namo Amida Butsu) is specifically proclaimed as the avenue to liberation of suffering beings from samsara. This English translation by J. Takakusu published originally as vol. XLIX of The Sacred Books of the East series (Oxford, 1894, public domain) has been edited for ease of reading and comprehension by modern readers. Footnotes from the original edition are dated and have thus been eliminated. A reprint of the unaltered and fully annotated translation exists in Dover paperback.


PART I.

1. Thus have I heard: At one time the Buddha dwelt in Rajagriha, on Vulture Peak, with a large assembly of Bhikkhus and with thirty-two thousand Bodhisattvas, with Manjushri the Dharma-Prince at the head of the assembly.

2. At that time, in the great city of Rajagriha there was a prince, the heir-apparent, named Ajatasatru. He listened to the wicked counsel of Devadatta and other friends and forcibly arrested Bimbisara his father, the king, and shut him up by himself in a room with seven walls, proclaiming to all the courtiers that no one should approach (the king). The chief consort of the king, Vaidehi by name, was true and faithful to her lord, the king. She supported him in this way: having purified herself by bathing and washing, she anointed her body with honey and ghee mixed with corn-flour, and she concealed the juice of grapes in the various garlands she wore in order to give him food without being noticed by the warder. As she stole in and made an offering to him, he was able to eat the flour and to drink the juice of grapes. Then he called for water and rinsed his mouth. That done, the king stretched forth his folded hands towards Vulture Peak and duly and respectfully made obeisance to the World-Honored One, who at that time was living there. And he uttered the following prayer: 'Mahamaudgalyayana is my friend and relative; let him, I pray, feel compassion towards me, and come and communicate to me the eight prohibitive precepts of the Buddha.' On this, Mahamaudgalyayana at once appeared before the king, coming with a speed equal to the flight of a falcon or an eagle, and communicated to him the eight precepts.

Day after day he visited the king. The World-Honored One sent also his worthy disciple Purna to preach the Dharma to the king. Thus a period of three weeks passed by. The king showed in his expression that he was happy and contented when he had an opportunity of hearing the Dharma as well as of enjoying the honey and flour.

3. At that time, Ajatasatru asked the warder of the gate whether his father was yet alive. On this, the warder answered him : 'Exalted king, the chief consort of your father brought food and presented it to him by anointing her body with honey and flour and filling her garlands with the juice of grapes, and the Sramanas, Mahamaudgalyayana and Purna, approached the king through the sky in order to preach the Dharma to him. It is impossible, king, to prevent them coming.'

When the prince heard this answer his indignation arose against his mother: 'My mother,' he cried, 'is indeed a rebel, for she was found in the company of that rebel. Wicked people are those Sramanas, and it is their art of spells causing illusion and delusion that delayed the death of that wicked king for so many days.' Instantly he brandished his sharp sword, intending to slay his mother. At that moment, there intervened a minister named Chandraprabha, who was possessed of great wisdom and intelligence, and Jiva (a famous physician). They saluted the prince and remonstrated with him, saying: 'We, ministers, Great king, heard that since the beginning of the kalpas there had been several wicked kings, even to the number of eighteen thousand, who killed their own fathers, coveting the throne of their respective kingdoms, as mentioned in the Sutra of the discourse of the Veda. Yet never have we heard of a man killing his mother, though he be void of virtue. Now, if you, king, should dare to commit such a deadly sin, you would bring a stain upon the blood of the Kshatriyas, the kingly race. We cannot even bear to hear of it. You are indeed a Chandala, the lowest race; we will not stay here with you.'

After this, the two great ministers withdrew stepping backward, each with his hand placed on his sword. Ajatasatru was then frightened and greatly afraid of them, and asked Jiva, 'Will you not be my friend?' In reply Jiva said to him, 'Do not then, O great king, by any means think of injuring your mother.' On hearing this, the prince repented and sought for mercy, and at once laid down his sword and did his mother no harm. He finally ordered the officers of the inner chambers to put the queen in a hidden palace and not to allow her to come out again.

4. When Vaidehi was thus locked up in confinement she became afflicted by sorrow and distress. She began to do homage to Buddha from afar, looking towards the Vulture Peak. She uttered the following words: 'Tathagata! World-Honored One! In former times you have constantly sent Ananda to me for enquiry and consolation. I am now in sorrow and grief. You, World-Honored One, are majestic and exalted; in no way shall I be able to see thee. Will thou, I pray you, command Mahamaudgalyayana and your honoured disciple, Ananda, to come and have an interview with me ?' After this speech, she grieved and wept, shedding tears like a shower of rain. Before she raised her head from doing homage to the distant Buddha, the World-Honored One knew what Vaidehi was wishing in her mind, though he was on the Vulture Peak. Therefore, he instantly ordered Mahamaudgalyayana and Ananda to go to her through the sky. Buddha himself disappeared from that mountain and appeared in the royal palace.

Continue reading "The Sutra on the Contemplation of the Buddha Amitayus" »