Notes On The Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》注释

Below is a growing list of notes on the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》, as can be studied at

[The] Sūtra [In Which The] Buddha Speaks [Of] Immeasurable Life

1. Sūtra (经): A teaching of the Buddha first memorised and later recorded in writing as scripture.

2. Buddha (佛): A (completely) awakened (觉者) or fully enlightened one, who has attain True Happiness with liberation from all suffering, with perfect compassion and wisdom and all other virtues, for guiding all sentient beings to the same goal of Buddhahood attained.

3. The Buddha (佛): Unless otherwise stated in context, ‘the Buddha’ usually refers to the historical Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) (1027-947 B.C.E. according to Chinese records).

4. The Buddha Speaks (佛说): Category of sūtras named with this prefix are especially important as they are teachings taught by the Buddha on his own initiative, without direct request by the assembly. This means these teachings were not known (with the limited wisdom of sentient beings), yet were crucial to share (with the unlimited compassion of the Buddha). ‘说’ also refers to the Buddha’s ‘joyous (喜悦) speaking’ of this sūtra.

5. Immeasurable Life (无量寿): Immeasurable (or infinite) life represents immeasurable (or perfect) meritorious virtues (and compassion) reaching out all the time, pervading all time. This is one of the names of Amitā Buddha (阿弥陀佛), in terms of Amitāyus (Immeasurable Life) Buddha. The other more popular name is Amitābha (Immeasurable Light) Buddha. Immeasurable (or infinite) light represents immeasurable (or perfect) wisdom (and blessings) reaching out in all directions, pervading all space.

[The] Great[er] Sūtra

6. Great[er] Sūtra《大经》: Alternative name of the Immeasurable Life Sūtra. Also named the Larger (or Longer) (Amitābha) Sūtra《大(阿弥陀)经》, in contrast with the Lesser (or Smaller; Shorter) Sūtra《小经》, which is the (Smaller) Amitābha Sūtra《(小)阿弥陀经》. These two sūtras are named so due to their relative lengths and related contents, although each contains distinct details not found in each other, not with the ‘lesser’ being a literal summary of the ‘greater’. The shorter sūtra is usually used for introducing teachings leading to the longer sūtra’s teachings.

[公元 252 年] 曹魏康僧铠译
[In 252 C.E. By] Cáo Wèi [Dynasty’s] Saṅghavarman Translated [To Chinese]

7. Cáo Wèi (曹魏): A dynasty (220–266) named after Cáo Pī (曹丕) and Wèi country (魏国), one of the three major states that competed for supremacy over China in the Three Kingdoms (三国) period (220–280).

8. Saṅghavarman (康僧铠): Indian Dharma Master whose name literally means ‘Saṅgha Armour’, with the ‘surname’ of Kāng (康) implying origin from Kāngjū (康居) kingdom of Central Asia (中亚). At Luòyáng’s (洛阳) White Horse Monastery (白马寺), this sūtra was translated from Sanskrit to Chinese in 252. C.E., among the earliest Buddhists scriptures translated in China.

Translated to Chinese 12 times between 147 and 713, there is no Buddhist sūtra more often translated from Sanskrit, probably due to its perceived importance by its translators. Of the five extant translations, this is the most popular, as most often referred to by the Pure Land Patriarchs.

公元 2020 年文殊菩萨圣诞(农历四月初四)优婆塞沈时安译
[In] 2020 C.E. [On] Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva’s Sacred Birthday (4th Day Of 4th Lunar Month) [By] Upāsakā Shěn Shí’ān Translated [To English]

9. Mañjuśrī (文殊): Literally ‘Wonderful Auspiciousness’ (妙吉祥). The Bodhisattva who personifies the perfect wisdom of all Buddhas.

10. Bodhisattva (菩萨): One who aspires for Buddhahood, while guiding all sentient beings to the same goal. If named in sūtras, usually is a Great Bodhisattva (大菩萨), who might have already attained Buddhahood, but re-manifests as a Bodhisattva to continue guiding other beings out of perfect compassion.

11. Upāsakā (优婆塞): Literally ‘attendant’. Male Buddhist layperson, who has received the Threefold Refuge (三皈依) in the Triple Gem (三宝) and has committed to the Five Precepts (五戒), or also the Bodhisattva Precepts (菩萨戒). A female Buddhist layperson is a Upāsikā (优婆夷).

Immeasurable Life Sūtra: Higher Scroll

12. Higher Scroll (卷上): Approximate upper half of this sūtra, as divided due to length and change of focus in the Lower Scroll (卷下), for easier reference and study. 

Preface Section

13. Preface Section (序分): Equivalent of introduction of sūtra, stating origin and context of teaching.

[01] First [Chapter On] Time [And] Place [Of] Hearing [This] Sūtra

14. Dharma Assembly (法会): … for hearing ‘the Buddha’s teachings’ (Dharma) leading to birth in Pure Land for accomplishment of Buddhahood.

15. Noble Assembly (圣众): … of ‘enlightened beings’ listed and named, along with many others unenlightened ones unlisted and unnamed.

16. I (我): Ānanda (阿难), the Buddha’s personal attendant, (and later Arhat after his Parinirvāṇa), foremost in hearing and remembering the Buddha’s teachings (多闻第一), and personal attention. This sūtra is as narrated by Ānanda after the Buddha’s Parinirvāṇa, as agreed upon and committed to memory by all 500 Arhats present, before recording in writing later.

17. Rājagṛha city (王舍城): Capital of Magadha (摩羯陀国), present day Bihar (比哈尔邦) in India.

18. Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa (耆阇崛山): Vulture Peak or Spiritual Vulture Mountain (灵鹫山), named so due to being shaped like a seated vulture.

19. Bhikṣu (比丘): Fully ordained Buddhist monk. One fully committed to Dharma learning and practice to attain enlightenment, or at least birth in Pure Land.

20. Great Bhikṣu (大比丘): Senior and virtuous Buddhist monk.

21. Great Sages (大圣): In Buddhism, Sages or Noble Ones (圣者) are those who have at least attained some form of definite enlightenment while progressing towards liberation, such as Srotāpannas (须陀洹; Stream-Enterers [入流]; First Fruit [初果]), Sakṛdāgāmins (斯陀含; Once-Returners [一来向]; Second Fruit [二果]) and Anāgāmins [阿那含; Non-Returners [不还]; Third Fruit [三果]) and Arhats (阿罗汉; Worthy Of Offerings [应供]; Fourth Fruit [四果]). Arhats, having attained self-liberation, are Great Sages. The various 52 fruits of Bodhisattvas who have attained beyond this are Great(er) Sages. Buddhas who have attained complete liberation are the Great(est) Sages, due to having perfect compassion and wisdom. All above can be considered Great Sages generally.

22. Supernormal Powers (神通力): Six main supernormal powers of heavenly eye (天眼通), heavenly ear (天耳通), knowledge of others’ minds (他心通), supernormal feet (travel) (神足通), knowledge of past lives (宿命通) and end of outflows (漏尽通).

To be continued…


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