The Pure Land Sutras
The Shorter Sukhavati Sutra (Sukhavati-Vyuha Sutra or Amitabha Sutra)
Sukhavati is a Sanskrit word meaning “Realm of Bliss” or “Land of Happiness” and Vyuha means “magnificent display.” And so “Sukhavati-Vyuha Sutra” could be translated as “The Sutra of the Magnificent Display of the Realm of Bliss.” Both the Shorter and Longer Sutras are thought to have been written about 1700 years ago on the frontier of northwest India in what is now Pakistan. The earliest renditions are said to have been written in the first or second century C.E. Kumarajiva wrote a Chinese translation of the Shorter Sutra in the fifth century C.E.
The Shorter Sukhavati Sutra introduces us to the fact that there is hope for suffering beings due to the boundless compassion of the Buddha Amitayus/Amitabha (Boundless Life, Boundless Light), that a realm of rebirth exists in which enlightenment is easy to attain, that one should generate an earnest desire to be reborn there and that Amitabha Buddha will meet sentient beings more than halfway, a function of Amitabha’s boundless compassion and wisdom.
The Longer Sukhavati-Vyuha Sutra
This sutra is dedicated exclusively to Amitabha Buddha, the direct realization of the Pure Land and the vows which created the Pure Land. In many ways the Longer Sutra is seen as an expansion of the Shorter Sutra. The principles of self-cultivation and hope or trust come together, which may also be seen as the combination of faith and practice. Additionally, the Sutra is a demonstration of the transference of merit on a vast scale and of the power of vows.
A principal teaching of the Longer Sutra is that powerful vows may change the external environment of the person who makes them if that person trusts the vows with a serene mind (Sk. prasada,meaning “serene trust”). This causes one to be transformed from one’s former state, so it may be said that the mind which trusts a vow participates in that vow. The vows which are responsible for the creation of Sukhavati are the culmination of a Bodhisattva’s eons of effort. This effort resulted in an incredible storehouse of merit which is now available to sentient beings in order to help them attain Nirvana.
We are currently engaged in obtaining a version of the Longer Sutra which clarifies some of the language confusion of other versions. In the meantime, you may access the following translation of the Longer Sutra by Max Mueller:
The Visualization Sutra (Amitayur-Buddhanusmrti Sutra or Amitayur-Dhyana Sutra)
Amitayur is a Sanskrit word referring to the Buddha Amitayus/Amitabha (Endless Life, Endless Light). Dhyana means “meditation” or “meditative concentration.” Buddhanusmrti means “visualization or recollection of a Buddha.” The title of this sutra in its original Chinese uses the term “kuan” which means “recollection through visualization.” For many years the term “ch’an” (Sk. dhyana) was mistakenly used to refer to this sutra, leading those in the English-speaking world to think of it as the “Meditation Sutra.” The proper short title for this sutra is "The Visualization Sutra,” with the correct longer title being “The Sutra of Visualizing the Buddha of Infinite Life and Light.”
The Visualization Sutra was written in the 4th century C.E. in Central Asia and was first translated into Chinese between the mid-4th and mid-5th century C.E. No evidence of Sanskrit or Tibetan versions exists.
The Visualization Sutra isn’t as devotional in tone as the Shorter or Longer Sutras. This sutra is actually a manual of Buddhanusmrti or “Buddha-visualization” which encourages one to have a vision of Amitabha Buddha in this life. In the Longer and Shorter Sukhavati Sutras, the primary emphasis is rebirth based on recollection and vows; in the Visualization Sutra, the Buddha vision and how to attain it is emphasized. This sutra was actually one of a series of visualization sutras dealing with various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, but it’s generally accepted that it played the most central role in the emergence of Pure Land Buddhism as a major Buddhist school.
Click here to read the Visualization Sutra.