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 [On] 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, [and to Śākyamuni] Buddha said, ‘World-Honoured [One], what should [be the] name [of] this sūtra? Of this Dharma [teaching’s] essence, how should [it be] accepted [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 [On The] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss, Immeasurable Life Buddha, Contemplator [Of The] World’s Sounds Bodhisattva [And] Great Power Arrived Bodhisattva.” Likewise named “Pure 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 accept [and] uphold [it], without enabling [it to be] forgotten [and] lost. Those [who] practise this samādhi, [will in their] present lives attain sight [of] Immeasurable Life Buddha, and [the] two Great Bodhisattvas. If good men and good women, only [with] hearing [of the] Buddha’s name, [and the] two Bodhisattvas’ names, [they will] eradicate immeasurable kalpas’ transgressions [of] births [and] deaths, furthermore [if] recollecting 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 the] Buddha, [you] should known [that] these persons, are then within humans, puṇḍarīka [i.e. white lotus] flowers. Contemplator [Of The] World’s Sounds Bodhisattva [and] Great Power Arrived Bodhisattva, [are] as their supreme friends. [They] will sit [in their] bodhimaṇḍa, [by being] born [in] all Buddhas’ home.’

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] well uphold this spoken. Those upholding this spoken, are thus [those] upholding 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》,


‘From “[Śākyamuni] Buddha told Ānanda, ‘You [should] uphold well this spoken'” afterwards, [is the] main explanation [of] entrusting [Ā]mítuó[fó]’s name, [to be] transmitted for distant generations. [With 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 contemplations and] scattered [goodness (散善) by practising the last 3 contemplations’ final practice, it can be] seen [that the] Buddha’s fundamental wish, [is with the] desire [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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