What Is The Essential Teaching In The Contemplation Sūtra? 何为观经之法要?

Question: What is the main teaching in the Contemplation Sūtra《观经》?

Answer: Although the name and contents of the sūtra seem to focus on contemplation in terms of visualisation, as we can see below in an excerpt from ‘[The] Sūtra [In Which The] Buddha Speaks [Of] Contemplation [Of] Immeasurable Life Buddha’《佛说观无量寿佛经》, towards its end in red (and with notes), is the Buddha’s repeated emphasis upon mindfulness of Amitā[bha] Buddha’s name (i.e. Āmítuófó). This is so as it is the easiest and safest to practise for most, without any disadvantage, and with the greatest benefits. This should be contemplated upon.


At that time, Ānanda, immediately from [his] seat arose, [to Śākyamuni] Buddha said, ‘World-Honoured [One], what should [be the] name [of] this sūtra? Of these Dharma [teachings’] essence, how should [it be] said, [to be] received [and] upheld?’

Note [1]: Thus, as can be seen below, the essential Dharma to be received and upheld is mindfulness of the name of Āmítuófó.


The Buddha told Ānanda, ‘This sūtra [is] named “Contemplation [Of The] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss, Immeasurable Life Buddha, Contemplator [Of The] World’s Sounds Bodhisattva, [and] Great Strength Arrived Bodhisattva.” Also named “Purification [And] Eradication [Of] Karmic Obstacles, [For] Birth Before All Buddhas”.

Note [2]: Thus, mindfulness of the name of Āmítuófó can purify and eradicate karmic obstacles, to see all Buddhas.


You should receive [and] uphold [it], without enabling [it to be] forgotten [and] lost. Those [who] practise this samādhi, [will have their] bodies appear [to] attain sight [of] Immeasurable Life Buddha, and [the] two great beings. If good men, and good women, only hear [this] Buddha’s name, [and the] two Bodhisattvas’ names, [they will] eradicate transgressions of immeasurable kalpas [of] births [and] deaths, what more [to] recollect [them] mindfully?    

Note [3]: Thus, even only mindfulness of the name of Āmítuófó will lead to sight of him, and eradicate transgressions of immeasurable kalpas.


If [there are] those mindful [of] Buddha, [it] should [be] known [that] these humans, thus are among humans, white lotus [i.e. puṇḍarīka] flowers, [with] Contemplator [Of The] World’s Sounds Bodhisattva, [and] Great Strength Arrived Bodhisattva, as their excellent friends, [and] will sit [upon the] seat of enlightenment, [to be] born [in] all Buddhas’ family.’

Note [4]: Thus, those who practise mindfulness of the name of Āmítuófó are the rarest and most precious of humans, with the best of spiritual friends, who are bound for Buddhahood.


The Buddha told Ānanda, ‘You [should] uphold well these words. To uphold these words, is the same as [to] uphold Immeasurable Life Buddha’s name.’

Note [5]: Thus, to uphold mindfulness of the name of Āmítuófó is to uphold the essence of the Buddha’s teachings in this sūtra.

Also as taught by the Pure Land Tradition’s 2nd Patriarch Great Master Shàndǎo (净宗二祖善导大师) in the ‘Commentary [On The] Contemplation Sūtra [In] Four Fascicles’《观经四帖疏》,


‘[Śākyamuni] Buddha told Ānanda, “You [should] uphold well these words”, as below, [with their] main [and] direct objective [to] explain clearly [and] entrust [with] Āmítuófó’s name, [to be] transmitted for distant generations. [The] above [teachings in this sūtra], although speaking [of the] benefits of [the] two doors [of] concentrated [goodness (定善) by practising the first 13 visualisations and] scattered [goodness (散善) by practising the last 3 visualisations, it can be] seen [that the] Buddha’s fundamental wish [is] that sentient beings [have] wholehearted focused recitation [of] Āmítuófó’s name [as their Focused Cultivation (专修) or Main Practice (正行)].’

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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