The title Sukhāvatīvyūha-sūtra (Sūtra Displaying the Land of Bliss) actually denotes two related but distinct texts, both of which narrate aspects of the mythic story of the buddha called AmitĀbha or Amitāyus (Chinese, Amito; Japanese, Amida) and the paradise where he resides called Sukhāvatī. Following Chinese precedent, the two texts have commonly been distinguished as the Larger Sūtra (Chinese, Wuliangshou jing, Dajing; Japanese, Muryōjukyō, Daikyō; Sūtra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life) and the Smaller Sūtra (Amito jing, Amidakyō, Sūtra on Amitāyus Buddha). These are early MahĀyĀna sūtras, probably composed in northwest India, and translations of the Larger Sūtra began in China in the second or third century. The pervasiveness of this belief is known by manuscripts of the Larger Sūtra also extant in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Khotanese, Uighur, and Xixia. Many core doctrines and practices of the Pure Land school in East Asia are based on the Sukhāvatīvyūha sūtras, but in fact there are 290 translated scriptures in the Chinese canon that discuss Amitābha Buddha and his realm.
The sūtras describe a cosmic order containing both a sacred realm inhabited by buddhas and bodhisattvas living in a paradise of fantastic proportions and an mundane realm inhabited by ordinary people, animals, ghosts, and so on, transmigrating but trapped. The sūtras also describe the promise by Amitābha Buddha to enable beings to transmigrate into his paradise. This is possible through his vows (Sanskrit, praṇidhāna) and the Mahāyāna doctrine of merit-transfer. Orthodox East Asian Pure Land thought views the Buddha's eighteenth vow in the Sanghavarman Chinese translation as the authoritative expression of the Buddha's commitment to help anyone, as it asks only that one sincerely hold in mind (or recite) the Buddha's name a minimum of ten moments in order to be reborn in his Pure Land.
See also:Pure Land Schools
Gómez, Luis, trans. and ed. The Land of Bliss: The Paradise of the Buddha of Measureless Light, Sanskrit and Chinese Versions of the Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996.
Inagaki, Hisao. The Three Pure Land Sutras: A Study and Translation from Chinese. Kyoto: Nagata Bunshodo, 1995.
Mark L. Blum