The Sutra of Visualization of the Buddha of Infinite Life

as Expounded by Shakyamuni Buddha

The Visualization Sutra, also known as the Kuan Wu-Liang-Shou-Fo Ching, is another expedient means by which one may attain Buddhanusmrti, the Buddha-Remembrance Samadhi.  In the Visualization Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha teaches a series of 16 visualizations which, when perfected, allow one to have a vision of Amitabha Buddha, Amitabha's Bohdisattvic attendants and the Pure Land itself in this very lifetime.  This Sutra differs from the Larger and Smaller Sukhavati Sutras in that it is an actual manual of meditation.  To many, this Sutra played a central role in the emergence of Pure Land Buddhism as a major Buddhist school.  Our sincere gratitude is extended to Mr. Charles Patton, also known as Ven. Shih Fa-Men, for his invaluable assistance.   Mr. Patton's own translation of the Visualization Sutra may be read on his web site, The Gateless Passage.

 

I.      Prologue X.      The Body of the Buddha Amitayus
II.    The Setting Sun XI.     Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
III.   Water XII.    Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta
IV.   The Ground XIII.   The World of Sukhavati
V.    The Jeweled Trees XIV.   The Three Sages
VI.   The Bodies of Water XV.    The Superior Grade of Rebirth
VII.  The Trees, Ground & Lakes XVI.   The Middle Grade of Rebirth
VIII. The Lotus Seat XVII.  The Lowest Grade of Rebirth
IX.   The Three Sages XVIII. Epilogue

 

 

I. PROLOGUE

Thus have I heard: at one time, Shakyamuni Buddha was staying on Vulture Peak near Rajagrha with a great assembly of 1,250 bhiksus and 32,000 bodhisattvas, led by the Dharma-Prince Manjushri.

At that time, in the great city of Rajagrha, there was a prince named Ajatasatru. Following the counsel of Devadatta, an evil friend, he arrested his father, King Bimbisara, and confined him in a cell surrounded by walls seven layers deep, forbidding any officials or ministers from going there. The queen, whose name was Vaidehi, remained loyal to the king. Purifying herself by bathing, she anointed her body with an ointment of cream and honey mixed with wheat flour, and filled her ornaments with grape juice. She then offered them to the king in secret.

At that time, the king ate the flour-paste and drank the grape juice, then asked for some water. Having rinsed his mouth completely, he respectfully placed his palms together and, facing Vulture Peak, bowed to the World-Honored One. He said, "Great Maudgalyayana is my friend and compatriot; I beg you to have the compassion to come and initiate me in the Eight Precepts."

Thereupon, Maudgalyayana flew to the king like a swooping bird of prey. Day after day, he came like this to initiate the king in the Eight Precepts. The World-Honored One also sent the Venerable Purnamaitrayaniputra, who delivered Dharma discourses and Sutras to the king. Three weeks passed in this fashion. Because the king was able to eat the flour-paste and honey and to hear the Dharma teachings, his countenance became peaceful and calm.

At that time, Ajatasatru questioned the guard at the entrance: "Is my father, the king, still alive?" The guard replied, "Your Majesty, the queen daily anoints her body with flour-paste and fills her ornaments with grape juice. And the monks Maudgalyayana and Purnamaitrayaniputra swoop down from the sky and deliver Dharma discourses to the king. It is impossible to stop them."

Hearing this, Ajatasatru became enraged with his mother and said, "My own mother is a criminal and with criminals does she associate! Those evil monks, with their tricks, illusions and magical incantations, have caused this evil king to have escaped death for many days." With this, he seized a sharp sword intending to kill his mother.

At that time, there was a wise and intelligent minister whose name was Moonlight. Along with the physician Jivaka, he bowed to the king and said, "Your Majesty, we have heard it said in the Vedic discourses that from the beginning of this aeon to the present there have been some 18,000 evil kings who have killed their own fathers because they desired the throne; yet never have we heard of anyone who committed the outrageous crime of killing his mother. Your majesty, if you commit such a vicious murder, you will bring disgrace upon the Noble Caste. As your ministers, we cannot even bear to hear of it, for this indeed is the act of an outcaste. We cannot stay here any longer." Having spoken these words, the two ministers began to withdraw, each with his hand grasping on his sword.

Ajatasatru, astounded and fearful, called out to Jivaka and said, "Are you going to desert me?" Jivaka replied, "Great King, please restrain yourself; do not harm your mother." Hearing this, the king repented and begged their forgiveness. Thereupon he immediately put away his sword and gave up all thought of killing his mother. Instead he ordered that she be detained in her quarters and kept in the palace so that she could not leave again.

Having thus been detained, Vaidehi was stricken with sorrow and grief. Facing faraway Vulture Peak, she prostrated herself towards the Buddha and said, "O Tathagata, World-Honored One, in former times you never failed to send Ananda to come and comfort me. Now I am greatly distressed and have no way to look upon World-Honored One’s majesty. I pray, send the Venerable Maudgalyayana and the Venerable Ananda to come and meet with me." Having said this, she wept sorrowful tears that fell like rain as she bowed to the Buddha.

But even before she raised her head, the World-Honored one, who was then staying on Vulture Peak and knew the thoughts in Vaidehi’s mind, ordered Great Maudgalyayana and Ananda to go to her through the sky. The Buddha also disappeared from Vulture Peak and reappeared in the inner chamber of the royal palace.

When Vaidehi finished her prayer and raised her head, she saw the World-Honored One, the Buddha Shakyamuni. His body was the color of purple-gold and he was seated on a hundred-jeweled lotus flower, attended by Maudgalyayana on his left side and Ananda on his right. Indra and Brahma, along with the other heavenly beings guarding the world, hovered in the sky about him; scattering heavenly blossoms like rain, they paid homage to the Buddha.

When Vaidehi saw the Buddha, the World-Honored One, she tore off her ornaments, rose and prostrated herself on the ground. Weeping bitterly, she faced the Buddha and said, "O World-Honored One, what evil karma did I commit in a previous life that should cause the birth of such an evil son? World-Honored One, what were the causes and conditions of his association with Devadatta and his kind? My only wish is for the World-Honored One to reveal to me a place where I might be reborn that is without distress, for unhappy is this impure world in this evil kasaya era. This defiled and evil place is full of hell-beings, hungry spirits and beasts, and there is an accumulation of much evil. I pray that in the future I may hear no evil worlds and may see no evil beings. Now, World-Honored One, prostrating before you, I ask for your compassion. My only wish is for you to teach me to visualize a place where one can be born by performing pure and undefiled acts."

At that time, the World-Honored One emitted a golden light from between his eyebrows. It illuminated all the countless worlds of the Ten Directions, and upon returning rested atop the Buddha’s head, forming a golden tower resembling Mount Sumeru. Upon the tower were revealed the pure and wondrous worlds of all the Buddhas of the Ten Directions. Some of these lands were made of the seven kinds of jewels, others consisted entirely of lotus flowers; some resembled the heavenly palace of Isvara, and others were like crystal mirrors in which all the lands of the Ten Directions were reflected. These countless lands of the Buddhas could be seen by Vaidehi in all their majesty.

Then Vaidehi said to the Buddha, "O World-Honored One, all these Buddha Lands are pure, free of defilement and brilliant, but I would prefer to be born in the Realm of Ultimate Bliss where the Buddha Amitayus resides. My only wish is that you instruct me in how to concentrate my thoughts and attain samadhi."

At that time, the World-Honored One gently smiled, and from the Buddha’s mouth emerged five-colored rays of light, each ray illuminating the top of King Bimbisara’s head. Although the great king was in his cell and despite the obstacle of distance, his mind’s eye remained unhindered, and he saw the World-Honored One. Touching his forehead to the ground in homage, he spontaneously advanced to the Stage of a Non-Returner.

At that time, the World-Honored One said to Vaidehi, "Do you not know now that the Buddha Amitayus is not far from here? You should concentrate your thoughts upon and visualize that Buddha-land which is the result of pure actions. I shall now give you detailed instructions so that you and future generations who desire to practice the pure actions may attain birth in the Western Realm of Ultimate Bliss."

"Those who desire to be born in that land must perform the three meritorious acts: first, they should attend dutifully to their parents, honor the work of teachers and elders, with a compassionate mind refrain from killing, and cultivate the ten virtuous acts; second, they should receive and uphold the Three Refuges, keep the various precepts, and refrain from breaking the rules of conduct; third, they should awaken the mind that aspires for Enlightenment, believe deeply in the principle of cause and effect, read and recite the Mahayana teachings, and encourage those who practice the way. These three acts are called the undefiled acts."

The Buddha further said to Vaidehi: "You should know that these three kinds of virtuous deeds are none other than the true cause for the Enlightenment of all the Buddhas of the past, present and future."

The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "Listen closely and think well upon this! I, the Tathagata, will now expound the pure and undefiled acts for the benefit of the future generations of all sentient beings who are affected by the enemy – blind passions. Excellent is this Vaidehi, who has done well to ask about this! Ananda, you should receive and keep the Buddha’s words and proclaim them widely for the benefit of the multitudes of beings.

"I, the Tathagata, will now instruct you, Vaidehi and all the sentient beings of future generations in the visualization of the Western Realm of Ultimate Bliss. By the power of the Buddha, they will see that Pure Land as though seeing their own images in a bright mirror. When they see that land of ultimate and wondrous joy, they will rejoice and immediately acquire the insight into the non-origination of all existence."

The Buddha said to Vaidehi, "You are but an ordinary person whose mental capacities are weak and feeble. As you have yet to attain the divine eye, you are unable to see very far. But the Buddhas, the Tathagatas, have special means to allow you to see that far."

Then Vaidehi said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, because of the Buddha’s transcendent power, I may be able to see that land. But how will sentient beings who come after the Buddha’s death be able to see Buddha Amitayus’ Realm of Ultimate Bliss when they are constrained by defilements, unwholesomeness and the five afflictions?"

 

II. FIRST VISUALIZATION: THE SETTING SUN

The Buddha said to Vaidehi, "You and all sentient beings should single-mindedly concentrate your thoughts with one-pointed attention, on the Western Quarter. How is this to be done? All the multitudes of sentient beings who are not born blind and have the sense of sight have seen the setting sun. Focusing your attention and sitting in the proper posture, you should face the west. Contemplatively examine the sun, with your mind firmly fixed upon it. Firmly concentrate upon the setting sun and do not let your sight wander from it. It should appear like a (red) drum suspended above the horizon. Once the sun is visualized in this way, then whether the eyes are shut or open, it can be clearly seen. This is the image of the sun and is called the First Visualization."

 

 III. SECOND VISUALIZATION: WATER

The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "When the First Visualization has been completed, next form the perception of water. Envision the Western Quarter as being completely filled with water, and picture the water as clean and pure. Seeing water that is clear leads to clear sight and then there is no scattering of the mind. Once this water has been visualized, envision it as turning into ice. Having visualized the ice as brilliant and transparent to its depth, see it as turning into lapis lazuli.

"When this vision is completed, next imagine that this ground of lapis lazuli shines brilliantly, both inside and out, and that the lapis lazuli ground is supported from below by majestic golden-bannered pillars made of adamant and the seven precious jewels. Each golden-bannered pillar has eight corners and eight sides, each side is made of a hundred jewels, each jewel shines with a thousand rays of light, and each ray of light has eighty-four thousand colors. As they are reflected on the lapis lazuli ground, they look like thousands of millions of suns, so dazzling that it is impossible to see them all in detail.

"On the surface of this lapis lazuli ground, golden paths intricately mesh and crisscross like a net of cords, and the seven kinds of precious jewels form borders that demarcate the intersected parts of the ground. Each jewel emits a flood of light in five hundred colors. The light appears in the shape of a flower, or a star or the moon; suspended in the sky, these rays form a tower of light on which there are ten million pavilions made of a hundred jewels. Both sides of the tower are adorned with a billion flower-banners and countless musical instruments. Pure breezes of the eight pleasing qualities are produced by these rays of light, causing the musical instruments to play in voices which proclaim the truths of ‘suffering, emptiness, impermanence and non-self.’ This is the visualization of water and is called the Second Visualization. To do this visualization is called the right visualization; to do another is called an incorrect visualization."

 

IV. THIRD VISUALIZATION: THE GROUND

The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "When the visualization of the water has been achieved, each image should be clearly seen whether the eyes are shut or open, and should be constantly kept in your mind except when sleeping. Accordingly, these images are called the general perception of the ground of the Realm of Ultimate Bliss. If you succeed in realizing the state of samadhi, seeing the ground of that land so clearly and distinctly that it cannot be adequately described, then it is the perception of the ground which is called the Third Visualization."

The Buddha said to Ananda, "You are the keeper of the Buddha’s discourses for future generations and for the benefit of the multitudes of beings who wish to be liberated from suffering. For them I proclaim the Dharma of visualizing the ground. If they can visualize the ground, the evil karma binding them to birth-and-death for eight hundred million aeons is eliminated, and when they take leave of this life, they will assuredly be born into the Pure Land with a heart that is free of doubt. To do this visualization is called the right visualization; to do another is called a wrong visualization."

 

V. FOURTH VISUALIZATION: THE JEWELED TREES

The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "When the visualization of the ground has been completed, the next visualization is of the jeweled trees. In visualizing the jeweled trees, one should see them one by one and form an image of seven pathways that are lined with these trees. Each tree is eight thousand yojanas high, and is adorned with blossoms and leaves made of the seven kinds of jewels. Each blossom and leaf is the color of a different jewel. From the lapis lazuli-colored blossoms is emitted a golden light; from the rock crystal-colored is emitted a crimson light; from the emerald-colored is emitted a sapphire light; and from the sapphire-colored is emitted a pearl-green ray of light. In addition, coral, amber and all the other myriad jewels serve as dazzling ornaments.

"Exquisite nets of pearls completely cover the trees, and each tree is veiled by seven layers of nets. Between each of the nets there are five billion exquisite flower palaces that resemble the palace of Lord Brahma, and within each of them reside celestial children. Each of these children wears ornaments made of five billion noble wish-fulfilling jewels. The light from these mani jewels shines brightly for a radius of a hundred yojanas in all directions, not unlike a constellation of a billion suns and moons, but no words can fully describe the brilliance of this light. The intermingling of the light from these various jewels produces a color unexcelled among all colors.

"The rows of these jeweled-tree paths are evenly arranged, and their foliage is equally spaced. From among the leaves appear exquisite blossoms, and upon these flowers, fruits made of the seven kinds of jewels spontaneously appear. Each blossom is twenty-five yojanas in diameter, and their petals shine with a thousand colors and have a hundred different patterns so that altogether, the leaves are like heavenly ornaments. This array of exquisite blossoms is the color of the golden sands of the Jambu River and resembles revolving wheels of fire gently turning among the leaves; and from these flowers, fruits well up as if from Sakra’s vase.

"These fruits issue forth great floods of light that form banners, flags and countless canopies adorned with jewels. Within these jeweled canopies, all the deeds of the Buddhas of the three-thousand-great-thousand worlds are illuminated, and the Buddha-Lands of the Ten Directions also appear within.

"When you have seen the trees in this way, visualize each detail in order: perceive the trunks, the branches, the leaves, the blossoms and the fruits, and let your vision of all of them be clear and district. This is the visualization of the trees and is called the Fourth Visualization. To do this visualization is called the right visualization; to do another is called an incorrect visualization."

 

VI. FIFTH VISUALIZATION: THE BODIES OF WATER

The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "When the visualization of the trees has been completed, next perceive the bodies of water. The Land of Utmost Bliss has eight bodies of water; the waters of each one of these lakes are made of the seven treasures and are begotten from a wish-fulfilling pearl. The water of each lake flows into fourteen streams, each of which is made of the seven treasures and is wondrous in color. The banks of each channel are golden in color, and the bed is strewn with the sand of variegated diamonds.

"In the midst of each lake there are six hundred million seven-treasured lotus flowers. Each lotus flower is perfectly round and is twelve yojanas in diameter. The pearly water flows among the flowers and courses back and forth amidst the trees. The delicate and exquisite sounds of the flowing waters proclaim the teachings of suffering, emptiness, impermanence, non-self and the Paramitas. They also praise the physical characteristics and marks of the Buddhas.

"From the wish-fulfilling pearl, delicate and exquisite golden rays of light issue forth and become singing birds as colorful as a hundred jewels; and their harmonious and sweet songs continually praise the mindfulness of the Buddha, the mindfulness of the Dharma and the mindfulness of the Sangha. This is the visualization of the eight lakes of excellent qualities and it is called the Fifth Visualization. To do this visualization is called the right visualization; to do another is called an incorrect visualization."

 

VII. SIXTH VISUALIZATION: THE TREES, GROUND AND LAKES

The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "In every region of that land of myriad treasures there are five billion treasure palaces adorned with jewels, and in those palaces there are countless heavenly beings playing heavenly music. Like heavenly jeweled banners, musical instruments are suspended in the sky, producing myriad sounds that proclaim the mindfulness of the Buddha, the mindfulness of the Dharma and the mindfulness of the Sangha.

"When this visualization has been completed, it is called the general perception of the jeweled trees, the jeweled ground and the jeweled lakes in the Realm of Ultimate Bliss. This is the unified visualization of these images which is called the Sixth Visualization. For those who see this, the heavy and evil karma binding them to birth-and-death for measureless tens of millions of aeons is eliminated, and when they take leave of this life, they will assuredly be born in that land. To do this visualization is called the right visualization; to do another is called an incorrect visualization."

 

VIII. THE LOTUS SEAT

The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "Listen closely! Listen closely! Consider my words carefully. I shall now analyze and expound for you the Dharma by which you may free yourselves from sufferings and afflictions; keep it in your minds, and explain it widely for the benefits of the multitudes of beings."

After Shakyamuni Buddha had spoken these words, the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Span appeared in the sky with the two great beings, Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta standing in attendance to the left and right. They shone with such a radiant and brilliant light that it was impossible to see them in detail. The golden hue of the sands of a hundred thousand Jambu rivers could not compare to it.

Once Vaidehi saw the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Span, she fell to her knees at the feet of Shakyamuni Buddha saying, "O World-Honored One, it is by your transcendental power that I am now able to see the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Span and the two Bodhisattvas; but how can sentient beings in the future visualize the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Span and the two Bodhisattvas?"

The Buddha said to Vaidehi, "Those who wish to visualize that Buddha should concentrate their thoughts and form the visualization of a lotus flower on the seven-jeweled ground; each petal of that lotus flower has the color of hundreds of jewels and eighty-four thousand veins that are like heavenly patterns; each vein has eighty-four thousand rays of light so clear and distinct that one can see all of them. Even the smallest petals are two hundred and fifty yojanas in diameter. Each lotus flower has eighty-four thousand such petals, and between each petal are a billion mani-pearls, the king of jewels, serving as dazzling ornaments. Each of these mani-pearls sends forth a thousand rays of light which, like canopies made of the seven kinds of jewels, cover the entire land.

"There is a pedestal made of sakrabhilagna-mani jewels, and this lotus flower pedestal is studded and adorned with eighty thousand diamonds, rubies and wondrous nets made of brahma mani-pearls. Four columns with jeweled banners spontaneously arise from this pedestal, each jeweled banner as large as a hundred trillion Mount Sumerus.

"Atop these bannered columns is a jeweled canopy like that of the palace of the Yama Heaven, and this canopy shines with five billion rare and exquisite jewels that serve as dazzling ornaments. Each of these precious jewels emits eighty-four thousand rays of light, and each ray of light creates eighty-four thousand different shades of gold. Each golden ray of light illuminates the entire jeweled ground and transforms itself everywhere into various forms: some become diamond pedestals, some form nets of pearls, and others create clouds of various kinds of flowers. In all the Ten Directions, they transform themselves according to one’s wishes, performing the works of the Buddhas. This is the visualization of the lotus seat and is called the Seventh Visualization."

The Buddha further said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "These exquisite flowers were originally created by the power of the Bodhisattva Dharmakara’s vows. Those who wish to be mindful of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life should first visualize the image of the Lotus Seat. When visualizing this image they should not stray into other visualizations, but should perceive each detail one by one. Each petal, each jewel, each ray of light, each pedestal and each bannered column should be as clear and distinct as when seeing the reflection of one’s own face in a mirror. For those who have completed this visualization, the evil karma binding them to birth-and-death for fifty thousand aeons is eliminated, and they assuredly will be born in the Realm of Ultimate Bliss. Performing this visualization is called the right visualization; if one performs another visualization, that is called an incorrect visualization."

 

IX. EIGHTH VISUALIZATION: THE THREE SAGES

The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "When you have seen these things, next you should visualize the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Span. And why is that? Because each Buddha-Tathagata, as the body of the Dharmadhatu, pervades the mind of all sentient beings. This is why when your mind perceives the Buddha, it is your mind that possesses the thirty-two prominent features and the eighty secondary attributes. This mind that creates the Buddha is the mind that is the Buddha, and the wisdom of the Buddhas – true, universal and ocean-like – arises from this mind. This is why you should single-mindedly fix your thoughts and contemplatively examine that Buddha, that Tathagata, that Arhat, that Supremely Awakened One.

"To perceive the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, you must first imagine Amitayus’ form, and whether your eyes are open or closed, you should see this precious form – the color of the golden sands of the Jambu river – seated upon that flower-throne. Once that Buddha’s figure is seen sitting there, your minds eye will be opened, and you will clearly see the Land of Ultimate Bliss adorned with the seven kinds of jewels; you will see the jeweled ground, the jeweled lakes and the paths lined with jeweled trees; you will see the heavenly jeweled canopies completely covering the trees and the jeweled nets completely filling the sky; you will see these things as clearly and distinctly as you might see the palm of your hand.

"Once this has been seen, you should again from the visualization of a large lotus flower and place it on the Buddha’s left. This lotus flower should be exactly like the one described before. Then form the visualization of another large lotus flower and place it on the Buddha’s right. Next visualize an image of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara seated on the left flower throne, sending forth golden rays of light exactly as described before. Then visualize an image of Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta seated on the right flower throne.

"When this visualization has been completed, the figures of the Buddha and the two Bodhisattvas all send forth exquisite rays of light, and these golden rays illuminate the jeweled trees. At the food of each of the trees there are also three lotus flowers, and atop these lotus flowers sit the figures of the Buddha and the two Bodhisattvas so that the land is completely filled with such images.

"When this visualization has been completed, you, the practitioner, will hear the flowing waters, the rays of light, the jeweled trees, the ducks, geese and so forth which proclaim the exquisite Dharma teachings; and whether you are in meditation or not, you will always hear these exquisite teachings. Even after you rise from meditation, keep in mind and do not forget what you have heard, then confirm it with the Sutras. If it does not agree with the Sutras, it is called an illusory perception, but if it does accord, it is called the attainment of the general perception of the Land of Ultimate Bliss. This is the perception of the Three Sages which is called the Eighth Visualization. Those who perform this visualization eliminate the evil karma of an immeasurable number of aeons of births and deaths, and in this very life attain the Buddha-Remembrance Samadhi. Performing this visualization is called the right visualization; if one performs another visualization, that is called an incorrect visualization."

 

X. NINTH VISUALIZATION:

THE BODY OF THE BUDDHA OF IMMEASURABLE LIFE SPAN

The Buddha said to Ananda and Vaidehi, "When this visualization has been completed, next one should further visualize the physical features and the light of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Span. Ananda, it should be known that the Body of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Span is as bright as the sands of a trillion Jambu rivers in the Yama Heavens. That Buddha’s body is as tall as the number of yojanas equaling that of the sands of six sextillions of Ganges Rivers.

"Between that Buddha’s eyebrows there is a tuft of white hair that curls gently to the right and is the size of five Mount Sumerus. The Buddha’s eyes are pure like the waters of the four great oceans; the blue irises and the whites are clear and distinct; the pores of the Buddha’s body emit rays of light that are the size of Mount Sume