The Amitayurdhayana Sutra is one of the Mahayana Sutra as per Pure Land Buddhism, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism. It is one of the three principle Pure Land sutras along with the Infinite Life Sutra and the Amitabha Sutra. This Amitayurdhyana Sutra especially focuses on meditations involving complex visualization. Since this sutra is associated with Amitayus Buddha, another name for Amitabha Buddha, this sutra is also known as Amitayus Meditation Sutra. As Paul Williams suggest the more accurate Sanskrit title for the sutra would be Amitayurbuddhanusmrti Sutra. The meaning is Amitayus Buddha-mindfulness Sutra.
This sutra mainly composes of the discourse of the Buddha to the imprisoned queen Vaidehi about rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha.
Outline of the Amitayurdhayana Sutra
The sutra begins with a story of a prince, Ajatashatru where he was lured to murder his father, King Bimbisara by the villain Devadatta in order to ascend the throne. As suggested by the Devadatta, Prince Ajatashatru killed his father and nearly killed his mother, Queen Vaidehi. With the advice from his other ministers, he relented and threw his mother in prison.
Complaining her fate, queen Vaidehi prays the Buddha for help. The Buddha then visits the queen. After the queen saws the Buddha, she expresses her wish to be born in Amitabha's Pure Land. Shakyamuni then smiles and emits the light from his mouth and tell Vaidehi how to be reborn in the Pure Land. The Buddha further explains that although she was in prison, she could still obtain liberation through the practices of Amitabha. Then the Buddha goes on to describe Amitabha and how could one obtain rebirth in the land of Sukhavati.
The references of historical incidents of the Haryanka dynasty of Magadha, India and the religious tension between Gautama Buddha and his brother-in-law, Devadatta have been mentioned in this sutra.
Attaining birth in the Pure Land
After the Buddha describe Amitabha Buddha and his Pure Land Sukhavati, he further explains the importance of performing certain meritorious acts. These acts helps the person to be reborn in the Pure Land. The Buddha then teaches Vaidehi how to visualize the Pure Land, to further her efforts in attaining rebirth in Sukhavati. Shakyamuni then describes thirteen contemplations that need to be followed which helps the practitioner draw closer to the Sukhavati. The thirteen contemplations that the Buddha described are as follows:
Contemplation of the setting sun
Contemplation of an expanse of water
Contemplation of the ground in the pure land
Contemplation of trees in the pure land
Contemplation of ponds in the pure land
Contemplation various objects in the pure land
Contemplation of the lotus-throne of the Buddha
Contemplation of the image of Amitabha
Contemplation of the Amitabha himself
Contemplation of Avalokitesvara
Contemplation of Mahasthamaprapta
Contemplation of the aspirants to the pure land
Contemplation of Amitabha and the two Bodhisattvas
The Buddha also mentioned that the above mentioned contemplations should be followed in the given order.
Nine levels of birth
At the final section of the sutra, the Buddha explained that even though the beings are reborn in the Pure Land they will not get the equal grades. He further explained that the beings after reborn in the Pure Land will be categorized into the nine levels. These levels are ranked from highest to lowest which is mentioned as follows.
The highest level of the highest grade
The middle level of the highest grade
The lowest level of the highest grade
The highest level of the middle grade
The middle level of the middle grade
The lowest level of the middle grade
The highest level of the lowest grade
The middle level of the lowest grade
The lowest level of the lowest grade
These levels as mentioned by the Buddha is similar to the 48 vows made by Amitabha according to the Infinite Life Sutra.
At the end of the sutra, there has been mentioned the benefits of listening to these words of the Buddha. Vaidehi expresses her experience of great awakening with clarity of mind. She also experienced the insight of the non-arising of all dharmas. Finally the Buddha named the sutra and then mentioned the benefits of connecting with the name of Amitabha Buddha. He greatly encourages the beings to understand and memorize the words of the sutra.