The Infinite Life Sutra, or Larger Pure Land Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist text, is the primary text of Pure Land Buddhism, and the longest of its three major texts. It is also referred to as the Sukhāvatīvyūha-sūtra in Sanskrit, the Muryojukyo in Japanese, and as Wúliáng shòu jīng in Chinese (traditional Chinese 無量壽經, simplified Chinese 无量寿经). Alternative readings of title include Daimuryōju kyō (Japanese); 무량수경 (Muryangsu gyeong (Korean)); and Vô lượng thọ kinh (Vietnamese).
Traditionally it is believed to have been translated twelve times from the original Sanskrit into Chinese from 147 to 713 CE. Of those, only five translations are extant in the Chinese dàzàng jīng (traditional Chinese 大藏經/simplified Chinese 大藏经, Buddhist canon). There are also many historical commentaries on the text written in China, Japan, and Korea.
The most well-known version is the two-fascicle fó shuō wúliáng shòu jīng (佛說無量壽經/佛说无量寿经), meaning "The Buddha speaks of the Infinite Life Sutra". This translation is traditionally attributed to Saņghavarman (康僧鎧/康僧铠 Kāng Sēngkǎi), an Indian monk, in 252 CE at the White Horse Temple in Luoyang under the Kingdom of Wei of the Three Kingdoms Period of Chinese history. The common opinion now is that it was more likely a work of the Indian monk and translator Buddhabhadra.
The earliest of the five translations is attributed to Zhi Qian. He came from the Kushan kingdom to Luoyang during the decline of the Han Dynasty and translated the sūtra sometime between 223 and 253 CE. This translation is known most commonly as dà āmítuófó jīng (大阿彌陀經/大阿弥陀(佛)经, "Larger Sūtra of the Amitābha Buddha"). It has also been attributed to the earlier Han period Kushan translator Lokaksema. He arrived in Luoyang 164 CE and translated works through 186 CE.
The sūtra begins as a discourse between the Buddha and Ānanda (阿難/阿难 Ānán), disciple and personal attendant to the Buddha. In the first sections, the Buddha describes his awareness of the existence of other Buddhas, who in turn are aware of him. He then describes a lineage of Buddhas that existed before him, starting with Dipankara all the way to the 53rd Buddha, named Lokesvararaja Buddha, or Sovereign of the World Buddha.
Later, it goes on to relay the story of Dharmakara (法藏 Fǎzàng), a king who lived eons ago, who met Lokesvararaja Buddha, and was so impressed by his sermon that he become a monk who renounced his royal status to pursue enlightenment. He vowed to become a buddha to earn a land of bliss - the Pure Land - whose inhabitants would be assured a life of bliss until they earned entry into Nirvana. Through his efforts he attained this, becoming the Amitābha Buddha (阿彌陀佛/阿弥陀佛 Āmítuófó).
The sūtra describes in great detail this Land of Bliss and its inhabitants. It also details how sentient beings are able to attain rebirth into it. The text also provides a detailed account of the various levels and beings in the Mahayana Buddhist cosmology.
The sūtra also contains the Forty-eight Vows (四十八願/四十八愿 sìshíbā yuàn) made by the Amitābha Buddha to save all sentient beings. The eighteenth vow is among the most important as it forms a basic tenet of the Pure Land school. This vow is most commonly known as 十念必生願/十念必生愿 (shí niàn bì shēng yuàn) because it states that if a sentient being makes even "ten recitations" (十念 shí niàn) of the Amitābha Buddha's name they will attain "certain rebirth" (必生 bì shēng) into the Pure Land.
Lastly the Sutra shows the Buddha discoursing at length to the next Buddha to come, 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.
- The Infinite Life Sutra, Part One - translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki
- The Infinite Life Sutra, Part Two - translation from Chinese by Hisao Inagaki
- 佛說無量壽經 - The Infinite Life Sutra in traditional Chinese. (Acrobat PDF file)
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