The Longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra (or Infinite Life Sutra) is one of the two Indian Mahayana sutras which describe the pure land of Amit?bha. Together with the Shorter Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra, this text is highly influential in China and Japan where it is revered by the J?do-sh? and J?do Shinsh? congregations.
Some scholars believe that the Longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra was compiled in the age of the Kushan Empire in the first and second centuries by an order of Mahsaka monastics who flourished in the Gandh?ra region. It is likely that the longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha owed greatly to the Lokottarav?da sect as well for its compilation, and in this s?tra there are many elements in common with the Mah?vastu. The earliest of these translations show traces of having been translated from the G?ndh?r? language, a prakrit used in the Northwest. It is also known that manuscripts in the Kharoh? script existed in China during this period.
Traditionally the Longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra is believed to have been translated twelve times from the original Sanskrit into Chinese from 147 to 713 CE. Of those, only five translations are extant in the Chinese Buddhist canon. The earliest of the five translations is attributed to Zhi Qian, who came from the Kua kingdom to Luoyang during the decline of the Han dynasty and translated the s?tra sometime between 223 and 253 CE. This translation is known most commonly as Dà ?mítuófó J?ng (), or "Larger S?tra of the Amit?bha Buddha." This translation has also been attributed to the earlier Han period Kua translator Lokak?ema, who arrived in Luoyang in 164 CE and translated works through 186 CE.
The most well-known version of the Longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra is the two-fascicle Fó Shu? Wúliángshòu J?ng (Ch. ), which translates to "The Buddha Speaks of the Infinite Life S?tra." This translation is traditionally attributed to the Indian Buddhist monk Sa?ghavarman (Ch. K?ng S?ngk?i), who translated the text in 252 CE at White Horse Temple in Luoyang, during the Three Kingdoms Period. However, the common opinion now is that it was more likely a work of the later Indian monk and translator Buddhabhadra (359-429 CE).
In addition to the Chinese translations, the Longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra is also extant in Sanskrit.
In the Longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra, the Buddha begins by describing to his attendant ?nanda a past life of the buddha Amit?bha. He states that in a past life, Amit?bha was once a king who renounced his kingdom and became a bodhisattva monk named Dharm?kara ("Dharma Storehouse"). Under the guidance of the buddha Loke?varar?ja ("World Sovereign King"), innumerable buddha-lands throughout the ten directions were revealed to him. After meditating for five eons as a bodhisattva, he then made a great series of vows to save all sentient beings, and through his great merit, created the realm of Sukh?vat? ("Ultimate Bliss"). This land of Sukh?vat? would later come to be known as a pure land (Ch. ) in Chinese translation.
The sutra describes in great detail Sukh?vat? and its inhabitants, and how they are able to attain rebirth there. The text also provides a detailed account of the various levels and beings in the Mah?y?na Buddhist cosmology.
The sutra also contains the forty-eight vows of Amit?bha to save all sentient beings. The eighteenth vow is among the most important as it forms a basic tenet of Pure Land Buddhism. This vow states that if a sentient being makes even ten recitations of the Amit?bha's name (nianfo) they will attain certain rebirth into Amit?bha's pure land.
Lastly the sutra shows the Buddha discoursing at length to the future buddha, Maitreya, describing the various forms of evil that Maitreya must avoid to achieve his goal of becoming a buddha as well as other admonitions and advice.
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The English translation (Müller, Max, trans. 1894):
The lord of vast light, incomparable and infinite, has illuminated all Buddha countries in all the quarters, he has quieted passions, all sins and errors, he has quieted the fire in the walk of hell.
The Chinese translation: