Lately, I’ve been taking an interest in Buddhist visualization-meditation. I talked about it a little bit in the past, and a few years ago, I used to follow Venerable Yin-Shun’s advice and visualize an image of Amitabha Buddha regularly. However, I didn’t have very guided instructions, so eventually self-doubt got the better of me and I gave up.
But lately, while perusing the Intertubes, I took up a study of the Sutra of the Contemplation of Amitabha Buddha, more colloquially known as the “Contemplation Sutra”. This is one of the Three Pure Land Sutras, but of the three, it is probably the least emphasized. In the Jodo Shinshu sect of Pure Land Buddhism, the meditation practices are considered too advanced for the average, deluded person (who is otherwise the target of Amitabha Buddha’s compassion), so in the past, when I read this sutra, I tended to just skim past much of the sutra or my eyes would just glaze over.
But then I stumbled upon this passage, translated by the late Rev. Hisao Inagaki:
The Buddha said to Ananda and [Queen] Vaidehi, “After you have seen this, next visualize the Buddha. Why the Buddha? Because Buddhas, Tathagatas, have cosmic bodies, and so enter into the meditating mind of each sentient being. For this reason, when you contemplate a Buddha, that mind itself takes the form of his thirty-two physical characteristics and eighty secondary marks. Your mind produces the Buddha’s image, and is itself the Buddha. The ocean of perfectly and universally enlightened Buddhas thus arises in the meditating mind.
“This mind is Buddha” is something you’d more likely associate with Zen Buddhist teachings, not Pure Land teachings, but there it is.1
Meditation on, and visualization of, Amitabha Buddha is a fascinating aspect of the Pure Land Tradition that I feel is sometimes unfairly sidelined for the sake of sectarian orthodoxy. I hope to explore this subject more in future posts. 🙂
P.S. The full text of the Contemplation Sutra translated by Rev. Inakagaki. The quote above is from 8th meditation.