Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra
Amitabha is the Buddha in Western Pure Land. His name stands for Immeasurable Light, which can shine through the ten directions without any boundary. When standing alone, Amitabha is often portrayed with his right hand stretching downward and facing outward. This hand gesture means that wisdom and compassion is accessible not only to the educated beings but also to the lowest sentient beings.
Pure Land Buddhism centers on faith in Amitabha Buddha. Amitabha's Pure Land, Sukhavati, is located at the west and is translated as "The Land of Ultimate Bliss".
The three main Pure Land scriptures are “The Infinite Life Sutra”, “The Contemplation Sutra” and “The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra”.
“The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra”, or commonly referred to as “Amitabha Sutra”, is a short but colorful doctrine. It provides a basic understanding of Pure Land belief and practice. It is also a rare sutra that is initialized by Shakyamuni Buddha, rather than traditionally initialized by his disciples through questions and answers.
Buddha begins “Amitabha Sutra” by proclaiming the existence of Amitabha. Then, the sutra describes about the elegance of the Western Pure Land, such as trees and ponds made of jewels, buildings made of precious stones, wondrous lotuses emitting colored lights, celestial music constantly playing, gorgeous flowers falling from the sky, the earth covered with tawny gold, and birds communicating the Buddhist teachings in their songs.
Afterward, Shakyamuni Buddha explains about the meaning of his name, Amitabha, and his immeasurable length of life. Shakyamuni Buddha points out that the essential practice in Pure Land Buddhism is by reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha with total concentration, trusting that one will be reborn in the Pure Land, a place where it is much easier for a sentient being to work towards enlightenment.
Buddha name chanting is a method that is accessible to anyone, even to people who are untrained and uneducated. Amitabha Buddha, along with other Bodhisattvas, will appear before those who call upon him at the moment of death. This openness and acceptance of all kinds of people has made belief in Pure Land popular in China and Japan.
“Amitabha Sutra” concludes with Buddhas from all directions giving praises and respect to Amitabha Buddha and his Pure Land.
Before Amitabha attained Buddhahood, he was used to be a king. Due to his compassion to people with suffering, he gave up his throne and became a monk named Dharmakara. He made forty-eight vows, and his eighteenth vow, which stated about chanting his name for liberation, is the most important one in Pure Land Buddhism.
There is no restriction on how to recite Amitabha’s name. It can be done silently or aloud, alone or in a group, or with or without musical accompaniment. The most important thing is to chant the name single-mindedly, while sincerely wishing to be reborn in the Pure Land.
Reciting “The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra” and the name of Amitabha are daily activities in Buddhist temples, and that further explains the importance of Pure Land practice in the mainstream Buddhism.