The Principal Sutras & Texts of Pure Land Buddhism

In Pure Land Buddhism, three sutras form the core of the teaching: the Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Skt. Larger Sukhavativyuha sutra), the Meditation Sutra (Ch. Kuan wu-liang-shou ching), and the Amida Sutra (Skt. Smaller Sukhavativyuha sutra). Of these three sutras, scholars generally agree that the Meditation Sutra did not originate in India but rather evolved into form in either Central Asia or China and is the most recent of these three sutras. Concerning the dating of the other two, scholarly opinion is divided over which is the oldest. In Japan, Mochitzuki Shinko and Mano Ryukai posit the Amida Sutra as the oldest, while Shiio Benkyo posits the Sutra of Immeasurable Life as the oldest. However, a third opinion by Fujita Kotatsu says that the Amida Sutra consists of two different sections. The first half is clearly the oldest, but the second half was added at an unknown time later. He says that the second half is actually a completely different sutra known as the Fo-mei ching or the Sutra of the Buddha's Names (Fujita, 206-221, 121-132). Concerning other sutras related to Pure Land worship, the Pratyutpanna Sutra (Jp. Hanju-zammai-kyo), translated in 179 by Lokaksema, is the earliest datable sutra concerning worship of Amida Buddha as well as one of the first sutras to be translated into Chinese. It details a method for meditation on the Buddha's enlightened qualities (Williams, 220-221). The Lotus Sutra (Jp. Myoho-renge-kyo) also briefly refers to Amida Buddha and his Pure Land in the West.

I. Sutra of Immeasurable Life

Vasubandhu's Treatise on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Ch.Wang-shemg lun)

II. Meditation Sutra

Shan-tao's Commentary on the Meditation Sutra (Ch. Kuan wu-liang-shou ching shu)

III. Amida Sutra (annotated translation)

Background on the Text

IV. Jodosanbukyo (the Three Pure Land Sutras): Honen's Interpretation of the Pure Land Sutras


Fujita Kotatsu, Genshi Jodo Shiso no kenkyu (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1970).

Williams, Paul Mahayana Buddhism:the Doctrinal Foundations (London: Routledge, 1989).

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